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UN Waited 3 Days to Say Where SG Guterres Was, No Answer on Costs, Future, Earth Hour Lights On

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Series

UNITED NATIONS, March 27 – With the UN facing budget cuts while being unwilling to explain how it spends the public's money, Inner City Press on March 24 asked UN spokespeople the simplest of questions: where is UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres? They did not answer on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. After this questions and others was submitted again on Monday, March 27, they replied: "Regarding the Secretary-General's travels. the Secretary-General was in Lisbon over the weekend, en route to Jordan." But here's what was asked by Inner City Press on this: "As asked on Friday, state where the SG has been from Friday to now, and state in advance if he intends to stop over in Portugal on his way back to NYC April 3. More generally, when the SG travels or stops over for personal reason, what have been the costs to the UN so far in his tenure? Please explain why, in light of SG Guterres' UNTV appeal to join him in turning off lights on March 25 at 8:30 pm local time, lights were on at UNDP, UN residence on Sutton Place, and separately even some on Secretariat's 36th and 35th floor, and lobby cafe." So, nothing so far on costs, on this coming weekend, or on Earth Hour fraud.

The spokespeople, including holdovers Stephane Dujarric and Farhan Haq, have previously refused to answer; Haq like Dujarric before him on March 24 refused to even let Inner City Press put a question to the head of UN Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous.

  What's different this time? On March 24, in a Periscope livestream with more than 10,000 viewers, Inner City Press went to find out, and documented Guterres and three UN vehicles leaving Manhattan's Sutton Place, presumably for the airport and Guterres' native Lisbon. Video here.

This is exactly the kind of coverage given to leaders in Washington and other capitals. Why not disclose it? Inner City Press has asked the UN's top three spokespeople:

"While your Office did not respond in any way to last week's questions, this is a Press question on deadline to know where the UN Secretary General is, prior to his appearance on March 27 in Jordan. This is a request for a reading of the Secretary General's meeting earlier today with Bert Koenders, including for disclosure of whether the UNDP Administrator position was raised by either side... Again, this is a Press request for a list of who is working in the Executive Office of the Secretary General; within that, who is paid by the UN general budget, who is paid by or through any other UN-affiliated fund  and who funds that, and who is paid by / seconded from a country." While we await answers, it is for this type of questioning and accountability coverage that UN Under Secretary General for "Public" Information Cristina Gallach evicted Inner City Press with no hearing and no appeal, and restricts it still, with no reversal.

  The UN Secretariat of Antonio Guterres and his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed are moving to take over the UN Development Program's "Resident Coordinator" system and the funding that goes with it, multiple sources have told Inner City Press. But Guterres' spokespeople refuse to confirm, deny or explain it, in continued lack of transparency.

Whereas for now outgoing UNDP Administrator Helen Clark chairs the UN Development Group, Amina Mohammed would take it over before a new Administrator, perhaps outgoing Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders, is installed. He met Guterres on March 24. Earlier on March 24, Inner City Press again asked Guterres' holdover deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, UN transcript here:

Inner City Press: two things about UNDP [United Nations Development Programme].  One is Ségolène Royal, the French Minister of Environment, has now said publicly that she is a candidate to head UNDP.  So I wanted to know, is there going to be any kind of, like, short list announced?  I know, under some previous Administrations, there were for such top jobs.  Do you anticipate announcing… given that one candidate has said publicly… there are other names I would like you to confirm.  Mr. [Bert] Koenders is running, Mr. [David] Miliband, Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag.  Do you anticipate there being a public process so that people know who the candidates are?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't anticipate us providing a short list.  That process was discontinued almost a decade ago.

Inner City Press: Okay.  Then my other question is this.  In terms of candidates knowing what the job entails, because it remains open until 27 March to apply for it, I'd like… I tried to ask you yesterday about the Secretariat trying to get funding for the Resident Coordinator system, but I want to ask you more directly.  Is it the intention of the Secretary-General and his Deputy Secretary-General to have Amina Mohammed become the chair of the UN Development Group, a position previously belonging to the administrator of UNDP, and essentially bring the Resident Coordinator system under the Secretariat?  And, in part, I think you should disclose it, but certainly, if people are applying, does the UNDP job they're applying for include heading the Resident Coordinator system?

Deputy Spokesman:  Any reforms to the way the UN Development Group is organized is something we'll announce if that change is made.  Right now, there hasn't been, and there's nothing to announce about the Resident Coordinator system.

Inner City Press: But when a reform is being proposed, usually, like, most… in most systems, the proponent of the reform discusses it publicly, argues for it.  Are you saying it's a totally secret process of reform?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, but if there's any need… there's some things that go to lower levels of discussion that never get to become policy discussions.  If there's any real major change of policy that we're planning, of course, we'll announce that.  But we don't have… we're not at that stage.

   Inner City Press on March 23 asked or tried to ask Guterres himself, as he left the UN Security Council along with Katrin Hett: "Is the Secretariat trying to take over the Resident Coordinator system?" Guterres as is his way for now did not answer. Vine video here and here. Ongoing YouTube here. Guterres heads out on a trip from March 24 to April 3. We'll have more on this. From the UN's March 23 noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you, overall, I've heard that there's a proposal by the Secretary-General to begin getting funding currently that goes to UNDP for the resident coordinator system to get some of it devoted to the Secretariat itself given its… the work it expands, in any case, to take an income stream that currently goes through UNDP and bring it to the Secretariat… to the Secretariat.  And I'd like you… maybe you know or don't know.  Can you get an answer and… and… I guess you might wait until tomorrow, but it seems like it's a major proposal.  You're talking about, you know, he's thinking of reforms.  If he's trying to get in money by changing the way the resident coordinator system works, can you confirm that that is the plan?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I cannot confirm that.

Inner City Press:  Meaning it's not happening or you refuse to confirm or deny this reform…?

Deputy Spokesman:  No I don't have any details to share on that.  There's any number of different proposals that may or may not be considered.  But I don't have any confirmation of whether that's… that's…

Inner City Press:  It's in the QCPR… [Quarterly Comprehensive Periodic Review]

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, but different things may be up for discussion.  Whether they advance or not, it's too early to tell.  I don't have any confirmation of that.  It's certainly not policy right now.

Inner City Press:  But wouldn't you want to say why you would want to do it?  I mean, that's what I'm asking… I'm sort of asking you, if that's the proposal, why does he want to do it?

Deputy Spokesman:  When these discussions take place, they take place among different Member States.  I wouldn't have anything to say at this stage about them.  Ultimately, it… ultimately, what I get to announce is what's resolved.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

  Good? While there are good Resident Coordinators, Inner City Press has also written about Ban Ki-moon son in law Siddarth Chatterjee, given the top Kenya post by his own father in law without recusal, and now Najat Rochdi, who covered up Cameroon's abuse of the Anglophone western part of the country. Both of them block Inner City Press on Twitter. This is today's UN.

How transparent, or intentionally opaque, is today's UN? After Inner City Press exclusively reported that staff on the UN's 38th floor were paid through the UN Office of Project Services and not the regular budget, the UN admitted it but refused to answer Inner City Press' follow up questions. From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press: On the answer on UNOPS.  I wanted to, I guess, ask it a little bit broader, because my understanding is that there's a proposal to the Fifth Committee to approve a number of new positions on the 38th Floor.  But, until they rule… so I guess I wanted to know, rather than piss and… you know, pick and… pick and, you know, choose and see if you say that… I heard Lusophone; you said no Lusophone.  I heard UNOPS; you said, yes, one UNOPS.  Can I ask you generally about UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]?  And two, could you just provide a list of the people that have been hired on [the 38th Floor] to work on political matters and whether, in fact, they have posts currently in the UN budget, and if they don't, how they're being paid?  You could even do it without the names, but there's a lot of questions that people have about people hired where there's no underlying posts to be filled.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, the bottom line is that, as I made clear just now, all of this… all the questions of posts are that they go through the normal budgetary process.  And so, whatever posts we have for the 38th Floor will be posts that we get approved from the budgetary system.

Inner City Press:  But, I guess my… my question is, until May and these posts are approved, are you saying that there's nobody that's working on [the 38th Floor] for which a post has yet to be approved by the Fifth Committee?  That's the question that I'm asking.

Deputy Spokesman:  Whatever the posts are, those are posts for which we're seeking budgetary funds from the 38th… from the budgetary committees.

Inner City Press:  But, if you haven't received the approval yet, how do you pay them?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are ways to pay people up until you get the funding, but we're going to go through the normal budgetary process as we do through the previous Secretaries-General, as well.

Inner City Press: Can you just put out a fact sheet on that?  I guess what I'm wondering is, it does seem if there's… if people are being paid and it's yet to be approved, there's obviously some lack…

Deputy Spokesman:  The facts are all information that are provided to the budgetary committees.  They have that, and it's their information. 

  Inner City Press had asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' top two spokesmen simple factual questions: who works on the 38th floor? Who pays them? But the two, both holdovers from the Ban Ki-moon administration, refused to answer, so on March 20 Inner City Press published its scoop about the murky use of trust funds to pay people on the UN's 38th floor. Even on March 21 when Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq who pays whom, he refused to answer. Video here; from the UN transcript.

Inner City Press: It would be important for the public to know if somebody working on the 38th Floor is, in fact, paid by a country as opposed from the regular budget.

Deputy Spokesman:  The financial details of how the Executive Office works, all that is shared with the relevant budgetary committees of the General Assembly, and so they have that information.

Well not really. Haq and his boss Stephane Dujarric refused for four days to answer this: "This is a Press request for a list of who is working in the Executive Office of the Secretary General; within that, who is paid by the UN general budget, who is paid by or through any other UN-affiliated fund and who funds that, and who is paid by / seconded from a country."  Why not just answer?

  On March 20, as Inner City Press pointed out the seeming hypocrisy not only of the UN preaching media freedom while having evicted and still restricting Inner City Press but also of an all-male UN team meeting with the DR Congo, it was told Yes, UNOPS is involved, citing to General Assembly documents saying that some working in the UN do not have to be categories, or disclosed, as staff. But isn't this opacity simply inviting budget cuts? We'll have more on this.


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