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As UN Budget Deadline Looms, GA President Foreshadows Its Passage, US Plays Coy

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 19 -- As the deadline previously set for passing the UN budget approached on Wednesday, General Assembly president Srgjan Kerim predicted that it would be finalized by Friday, with a message to the Secretariat for more savings and more transparency in how the money is used. Inner City Press had asked specifically about questions raised in the GA's Fifth (budget) committee about the $250 million no-bid contract given to Lockheed Martin for Darfur infrastructure, and the lack of public answers to these questions.

            "There can be answers afterwards," Kerim said. "I would not be prepared to reach out to the public, it could be understood as a sort of pressure." He said that many countries are working "constructively" on the budget, and named Japan as coordinating them. He said he gets calls at night -- "because I allow them to do it, to bother me" -- and attended an early morning meeting at which "the EU was there, the U.S. is there, the UK, Egypt, India, many more."

            Why is there so little transparency, Inner City Press asked. "You said yourself, while there is a debate, it needs to be behind closed doors," Kerim said. "You would not go to a board of a company, where people are saying the worst things imaginable to each other... they make the decisions public after."  He said he would brief the press about the budget after it is passed, on Friday. "We do not want to postpone it," he said, adding that the GA can use the budget process "to exercise pressure for management reform." But if it is all secret, what kind of reform is it? 

Srgjan Kerim, UN budget not shown

            Inner City Press caught up with U.S. Ambassador for reform Mark D. Wallace in the hall outside the Security Council late Wednesday afternoon. "Finally attention is being paid" to the budget, he said, praising the experts in the Fifth Committee, "particularly the G-77," for identifying budget offsets. "What's coming next year is the real budget," Amb. Wallace said, adding "we want reasonable growth, not unreasonable growth." Asked for the odds of the budget being passed on Friday, Wallace said, "I don't make predictions."

  At 11 p.m. Wednesday, UN Controller Warren Sach joined Under Secretary General Barcena in the basement. They chatted with Fifth Committee staff, who answered a delegate's question about the likelihood of passage of the budget with a shrug, "It's your budget." Information was tightly controlled, but word on the street, as it were, has the U.S. and Japan making a deal with the Group of 77, and using as their "offset" the proposed strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs. Maybe next year, one DPA staffer said. Watch this site.

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

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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

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