Inner City Press


In Other Media-e.g. Somalia, Ghana, Azerbaijan, The Gambia   For further information, click here to contact us          .

Home -

Search is just below this first article

Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

Reuters AlertNet 7/14/07 7/19/07 6/29/07 6/14/7 6/1/7

How to Contact Us


Support this work by buying this book

Click on cover for secure site orders

also includes "Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City"

Inner City Press Podcast --

At UN, Budget Flux Amid Claims of Transparency, Favoritism Called Minor, FOIA On Its Way

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, October 25 -- The UN's new two-year budget is either $4.2 billion, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it in his speech Thursday to the General Assembly's Fifth Committee, or $200 million higher, at $4.4 billion.  The latter figure was cited by Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena in a press conference Thursday afternoon, after Mr. Ban's budget speech. Reporters asked about the extra $200 million and were told it was due to inflation and exchange rate changes. The questions persisted despite Ms. Barcena's talk about transparency. She was also asked, by Inner City Press, about perceived favoritism and retaliation against whistleblowers in her department. "We need to recruit better," she said generally on the first topic. "We have a system that is dysfunctional." Video here, at Minute 35:50.

    Some viewed this as a disarming admission, given questions that have arisen about an e-mail chain showing UN investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius recommending to Ms. Barcena a candidate for a top procurement job at what's called the D-2 level, and Barcena telling her chief of staff Simona Petrova, "Make sure I am on all D-2 interview panels." Three weeks ago, Ms. Barcena declined to comment on the e-mails. The response, sources tell Inner City Press, was to interrogate staff in the Department of Management to find who had blown the whistle. Thursday in front of the UN TV cameras, Ms. Barcena said that she recuses herself from the Senior Management group that approves D-2 appointments, if she has done the interviews. Video here, from Minute 24:27. Off-camera, she told Inner City Press that the procurement post is the first D-2 position that has opened during her ten month tenure. So the stated policy of recusal, it seems, has not yet been implemented.

            Despite Ms. Barcena's initially dismissive approach -- at a press conference at which only five reporters asked questions, she said she didn't want to waste correspondents' time responding to allegations of favoritism and retaliation -- she did, if only in the corridor, answer a number of outstanding policy questions. Asked by Inner City Press about the status of the UN's freedom of information policy, which in May she said was immanent, Ms. Barcena said it should now be in place by the end of the year, as part of the "Accountability Framework. Ironically, she said, the delay is attributable to member states' concerns about how under the policy their e-mails might be disclosed. (Ms. Barcena chuckled after saying this, referring to her own e-mails about the procurement post having been disclosed). On the long-delayed harassment policy, she said that "I finalized that" and it is now with the UN Office of Legal Affairs. "You see?" she asked Inner City Press, "We are very transparent."

            Barcena's chief of staff Simona Petrova took issue with Inner City Press' previous publication of an Office of Internal Oversight Services memo criticizing her recent promotion(s). Ms. Petrova said that she had not had a promotion since 1999, and that the page Inner City Press published was of an initial stage of the audit, by "an auditor sent from Geneva" who looked "only at paper." Explaining Barcena's and her refusal to comment, Ms. Petrova said they felt they didn't "have to defend ourselves... I couldn't have promoted myself."  Regarding the Ahlenius e-mails, Petrova said if it had been "hush hush," it wouldn't have been forwarded. "We are so transparent," she said, "you see who gets it." Only if a whistleblower steps forward.

Mr. Ban and his budget, Ms. Barcena second row, Freedom of Information still off-stage

            Ms. Barcena said that staff who see or think they see wrongdoing must go, in the first instance, to the UN Ethics Office. This does not take into account the degree to which the Ethics Office undermined its credibility with many staff earlier this year, when after finding a prima facie case of retaliation, it allowed itself to be called off the case. Thursday Ms. Barcena implied that it might be alright, at least for her, if UN funds and programs remained independent from the UN Ethics Office. This is contrary to the General Assembly's statements in 2005, and to the interpretation of the Government Accountability Project, which advised on the UN's whistleblower policy. It is also contrary to the position of the UN Staff Union. Beyond saying that she is a proponent of transparency and protection of whistleblowers, Ms. Barcena said she is committed to reforming the UN's administration for justice. The UN Staff Union, as Ms. Barcena knows, is critical of her approach.

            On another matter, though, Ms. Barcena said "we are here to do with the member states want." She was referring to Member States' criticism of the UN annual report her department recently produced. If they want us to stop, we will, Ms. Barcena said, also arguing that the report became under her predecessor. The previous report was 392 pages long, yet was criticized for being too superficial. Ms. Barcena's report was half the length, and has been recommended for discontinuance. Such recommendations are spreading.

            Whether a UN freedom of information policy is actually propounded and put into effect will be a test, of past legacy and future transparency. There is more to being accountable than repeatedly using the word.

            The only other hard number in Ban Ki-moon's budget speech was a request for $18 million to strengthen the Department of Political Affairs. Ms. Barcena specified this would mean 90 new jobs. The system to fill them, by Ms. Barcena's own admission, is dysfunctional. So how will they be filled? We'll see. Inner City Press also asked about the $250 million no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin which Ms. Barcena recently signed. Ms. Barcena deferred answer this question to Controller Warren Sach, click here for that story. Developing.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Feedback: Editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540

Search WWW Search

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006-07 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540