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At the UN, Ban's Coherence Plan Is Critiqued, Lead Agency UNDP is Headless and Silent

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 16 -- Like several Secretaries-General before him, Ban Ki-moon has proposed for the UN system greater "coherence." But what's in a name? Monday as Mr. Ban's proposal was unveiled in the General Assembly, its structure was questioned not only from the side of the developing nations in the Group of 77, for also from the donor side.

            Sweden's Minister Counselor on Development Issues Harald Fries noted that "many agencies are concerned about the neutrality of the resident representative system managed by UNDP," the UN Development Program. Following a question from Inner City Press about how long the General Assembly process on Ban's "system-wide coherence" proposal might take, Mr. Fries said "in the next several months, or half-year, or year."

            Inner City Press asked if within the Group of 77 there is a split between the poorest nations, who favored consolidation of UN funding into a single source, and the moderate income countries, which dispute Ban's plan's "narrow" focus on the structure of UN development programs in countries, without trying to bring democratic or populist control to the World Bank and IMF.

            From the South Center, a Geneva think-tank closely associated with the Group of 77, Vicente Paulo Yu acknowledged that in Geneva, he has heard least developed countries "looking at the positives" of the plan, that is would reduce the "load of reporting" required of them. South Center is, Mr. Yu said Monday, skeptical about the proposal, which would make the UN "just another developer" like the World Bank, rather than an advocate, a norm-maker, a global governance institution with a universal membership.  The chairman of South Center's board of directors is Tanzania's ex-president Benjamin Mkapa, who was on the panel that drew up the plan. (The timing makes this less of a conflict, or less ironic, than might appear, Mr. Yu argues.)  The South Center will be releasing a critique of the proposal next week, which Inner City Press has requested and will be reviewed on this site.

            Earlier on Monday, Ban Ki-moon spoke in the Economic and Social Council chamber, in a "special high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions" -- that is, the IMF and the World Bank. On his way in, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban is he had any advise for embattled World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. "I have no comment at all," Mr. Ban answered, not without a smile.

High Level Troika Re World Bank - GA President, S-G, President of ECOSOC: coherent?

            Smiling more openly was Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. Asked by Inner City Press for his views in the hall outside the General Assembly before a 4:30 debate on Ban's coherence if not coherent plan, Amb. Churkin laughed. "System-wide coherence, oh yes," he said. The rest of the UN press corps, and the ambassadors of the Permanent Five nations on the Security Council, were focused on the day's meeting about Darfur in Sudan, click here for Inner City Press' story. But as Ban said last week,

"I am going to propose again my own  recommendations on system wide coherence next Monday.  I hope this will receive a good debate among the Member States so that the United Nations can work and deliver service as one United Nations.  This will be one of the important reform agendas for me in the coming few months."

            Good luck. Mr. Ban has also said that he will ensure that under his watch, the heads of UN funds and programs will be accessible to the media and will answer questions. Thus far with UNDP, this has not been the case. UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis has not held or attended a press conference in the more than 100 days of the Ban administration. On Monday, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesperson, video here:

Inner City Press: We've heard that UNDP people -- Kemal Dervis, and Ad Melkert -- are away.  If so, we'd like to know where and who runs UNDP in their absence? 

Spokesperson:  Why don't you talk to UNDPís public information people?

Question:  You know why?  Because last week while you were away I was referred to them on a very simple question about Mr. Melkertís hiring of a Dutch Labor Party official and they never sent me any response at all.  That's why I'm asking you if you could just get an answer.  If the two are away, and if so, who's running UNDP this week?

Spokesperson:  I would suggest you talk to them again.  You call them again.

            Particularly in light of the calls for "One UN" and of Mr. Ban's statements that the heads of UN funds and programs will be available to the media, this referral to the Kafka-esque echo chamber of UNDP is disconcerting. Even so, Inner City Press immediately reiterated its questions in writing to UNDP:

Subj: Unanswered UNDP questions: Philippines, Mr Keij, retaliation, where are #1 & #2  
Date: 4/16/2007 12:53:03 PM Eastern Standard Time
To: david.morrison [at] undp.org, ad.melkert [at] undp.org, kemal.dervis [at] undp.org  CC:  [Spokesperson at] un.org,
 From: Inner City Press

Messrs. Morrison, Melkert and Dervis, and Michele via cc --

   The simple March 25 question regarding UNDP's hiring of Eelco  Keij, NY secretary of the Dutch Labor Party of which Mr. Melkert was leader,  reiterated to you on April 12, has still not been answered. Nor have other 3/25  questions...

Additionally, here is a simple factual question, also on deadline for today--

-is UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis out of New York? If so, where and doing  what? Direct question: medical leave?

-is UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert out of New York? If so, where  and doing what? Given Mr. Melkert's granting of a quote to the FT about Paul  Wolfowitz, and since-released documents, where and when will Mr. Melkert respond  to questions on this important UN system matter?

-if both are out of New York, who is in charge of UNDP?

  There are other questions which UNDP has not answered or even  acknowledged [including]

An update on the status of the urgent  audit of UNDP's North  Korean operations is needed, and is requested. As  the Secretary-General was asked earlier today, is the 90-day time line being  extended? Is UNDP aware if the auditors will be able to enter North Korea? Did  Timo Pakkala and Mr. Povenzano speak with the U.S. Attorney's office / SDNY? Did  anyone else at UNDP?

Please explain the sudden retirement (party) for Luis  Gomez-Echerverri;

 Please confirm or deny that Nora Lustig is now in line for a consulting  contract with UNDP, including as related to immigration laws;

Please  confirm or deny that senior UNDP officials discussion with the Slovak foreign  minister in late February possible movement of jobs from (or in the alternative  to) Bratislava, and separately whether there is consideration of moving regional  centre from Bratislava to another city, possible (and specifically confirm or  deny) Istanbul;

Question asked Feb. 1 -- someone gave me a copy of an  advertisement in  the  Weekly Pakistan Express of September 15,  2006, for a UNDP  fundraiser held Sept. 24, 2006, with the  involvement of Pakistani president  Musharaf, with Grand  invitations for two costing $10,000.  Can it  be said how much  money was  raised, and the purpose and use of the  money?

            One would think that the UN agency proposed by the Secretary-General to take on new powers would be able, in two and a half months, to answer simple questions about its fundraising. But if you thought that, at this time, you'd be wrong. Despite all of the question above and more having been reiterated to UNDP on Monday at 1 p.m., by 9 p.m. only part of one question was answered:

Subj: Answer to question in noon briefing 

From: [Press Officer to the Administrator at] undp.org

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 4/16/2007 5:46:07 PM Eastern Standard Time

Mr. Dervis is on official business in Washington today and tomorrow. Ad Melkert is in Europe.

Whenever both of them are outside of the country, an officer in charge is designated.

            But even the identify of this "officer in charge" is not provided, nor the nature of Mr. Dervis' "official business" in DC, nor Mr. Melkert's presumably non-official business in Europe, right in the midst of the scandal of the World Bank, whose "ethics committee" Melkert chaired until he came to UNDP.

            UNDP refuses to answer any of the other written questions, only (part of) the one asked during the UN's noon briefing. In the spirit of coherence and "One UN," to get questions answered, putting them in writing to UNDP apparently does not suffice. Is this coherence from UNDP?

Again, 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.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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On Darfur, Sudan and UN Speak Two Different Hybrid Languages, Arguing in the Hall

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 16 -- Following an afternoon of meetings about Darfur, the head of UN Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno stood before the cameras with Sudan's Permanent Representative to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem.

   Mr. Guehenno made everything sound fine. The so-called "Heavy Support Package" had been agreed to, and he implied that Sudan will accept non-African peacekeeping troops if not enough Africans can be found.

            But minutes earlier, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem had told reporters that it is Sudan's position that the Darfur Peace Agreement that it has signed prohibits the introduction of non-African Union peacekeepers. Speaking exclusively to Inner City Press by the espresso bar of the UN's Vienna Cafe, Amb. Abdalhaleem complained that Sudan's experience with the UN has been "bureaucratic and unforthcoming." Asked if the purpose of his letter to Ban Ki-moon was only to trigger funding, Amb. Abdalhaleem said that the Security Council has to come forth with funding "or we will withdraw our offer."

            Having heard this real politik, it was not surprising when the meeting and interviews broken up that Amb. Abdalhaleem and Jean-Marie Guehenno were opening arguing as they walked in the hallway from the Vienna Cafe to the UN's Conference Building. The happy talk of earlier in the day gave way to acrimony. UN insiders tell Inner City Press that Ban Ki-moon so much wants to declare success in Darfur that he convinces himself, and than others, that Sudan's commitments and motives are not what they are. For his part, Sudanese Amb. Abdalhaleem accused some reporters who asked, as Inner City Press did, "who will fly the helicopters" that have been agreed to purportedly without strings, of only looking for problems, of trying to cast Sudan in a negative light. Under the camera lights after the meeting, it was the UN that tried to hold to two positions at once, a balancing act that broken down later in the hallways when it was thought no reporters were around. But we are everywhere...         

            Ban Ki-moon had praised Amb. Abdalhaleem's letter, telling reporters:

"This morning, I have received an official communication from the Sudanese Government through their Permanent Representative in New York, informing me that they agreed on the heavy support package in its entirety, including the helicopter component. This is a very positive sign, and I and the African Union intend to move quickly to prepare for the deployment of the heavy support package and the hybrid force."

            But Permanent Representative Abdalhaleem said again and again that given Sudan's position that the Darfur Peace Agreement prohibits UN peacekeepers, a force would be hybrid only in that the UN could provide a "backstop," and funding.

Peacekeepers: still in the bullpen, still on ice

   African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, speaking in French, told reporters that the AU peacekeepers have been doing their job, they are just underfunded.  When Inner City Press tried to ask Jean-Marie Guehenno what has happened on Senegal's threat to pull its troops from Darfur, Mr. Guehenno said, "I think I'll stop answering now." Minutes later, he was arguing in the hallway with Amb. Abdalhaleem. Heavy Support Package indeed...

Steamroller or Slippery Eel, Ban Ki-Moon's 100 Days at the Helm, Silence Doesn't Help

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 -- "I have many years to go," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told UN staff on Thursday, apologizing for bureaucratic delays in recruitment and promotion and what he is calling "mobility."

            He could have been directing this "give me time" plea more widely, as anonymous UN insiders quoted ad nauseam in this week's "Ban's First Hundred Days" stories have been saying. The critiques, which Mr. Ban has been closely reading, have focused on the ham-handed introduction of proposals to split the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations in two, and to alter the UN's Division of Disarmament Affairs. After acrimony, the proposals were modified, after Ban mollified UN power players (or steamrollers) whom many say Ban hadn't sufficiently considered, if only to work around, in the first place.

         To belatedly play the Hundred-Day, sources-say game, a just-left Ambassador of a Permanent Five member of the Security Council credited Mr. Ban for acting on what this ex-Ambassador calls the "Cash for Kim scandal," in which the UN Development Program was found in withheld internal audits to be paying the Kim Jong Il regime in hard currency. Ban's reaction, on January 19, was to call for an "urgent audit" -- initially worldwide, then scaled back to only North Korea. Still, it was said the "urgent audit" would be completed in 90 days. In a stakeout interview Thursday morning, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban, video here, from Minute 13:12 --

Inner City Press: The urgent audit that you called for of UNDP in North Korea, that was supposed to be done in 90 days, we are almost at that time and they still haven't finished the terms of reference.  So I am wondering is the time for the audit to be completed going to be extended, and also if the auditors are not allowed enter the DPRK, what will the UN system do in terms of concluding the audit?

Ban Ki-moon: It is still under investigation.  I do not have anything to tell you at this time.  Whenever I have further information I will let you know.

            The background to this (non-) answer is not only that Mr. Ban was called Slippery Eel by the South Korean press, but also that Mr. Ban has previously been asked to let the UN Board of Auditors speak to the press about their work, which still hasn't happened. Likewise, Mr. Ban previously said he would instruct his heads of funds and programs like UNDP's Kemal Dervis to be available to the media.

   But Mr. Dervis has not held a single press conference since the Cash for Kim scandal broke. In fact, Mr. Ban's deputy secretary general, Asha Rose Migiro, has yet to hold a press conference, having so far publicly taken a total of four questions from the media, including one from Inner City Press about UNDP. Thursday a "senior UN official," who spoke only on that basis, said that Ms. Migiro will head up Ban's next structural hot potato, "System-Wide Coherence." Ms. Migiro will meet Friday on the topic with General Assembly president Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa. Good time to take questions? We'll see.

Ban Ki-moon responding to if not answering questions, on April 12

            This being a Hundred-Day, Sources-Say story, the focus is on management style and on telling details. Beyond the bungling announcement of the DPKO split, Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi only learned that he is being let go by watching on in-house TV the noon press briefing of February 9, at which chief of staff Vijay Nambiar read out a (hit) list.

   Inner City Press is informed -- not by Mr. Sach, who now only intermittently replies to emails -- that UN Controller Warren Sach has yet to know "will I stay or will I go," even as his contract expires this month. The LA Times' 100 Day story, sharper than most, described an incident most UN correspondents had heard, of Ban Ki-moon rebuking outgoing disarmament chief Nobuaki Tanaka in such a way that "talk that Ban would not brook dissent ricocheted all the way to U.N. outposts in Geneva and Vienna."

            How openly under Ban UN whistleblowers can be retaliated against is a question that still hasn't been answered. Recently a UNDP staffer, close to the Cash for Kim matter, was accused of leaking information and was told, "You're fired and by the way, you have to leave the country." UN staff who are not U.S. citizens can be silenced with the threat of loss of not only their UN jobs, but their ability to stay in the U.S.. This could be fixed, by Ban or the host country. But will it be fixed?

            UN staff have other questions, including whether the outsourcing of $9 billion from their Pension Fund, pushed forward by Kofi Annan's USG for Management Chris Burnham, will go forward. At Thursday's town hall meeting, Mr. Ban said he still hasn't decided. Last month, Mr. Ban passed the hat of being his Pension Fund representative from Warren Sach to USG for Management Alicia Barcena back to Mr. Sach. Ms. Barcena, among the most approachable of Team Ban, has told Inner City Press that the switch did not indicate any change in policy about privatization. But then why switch?

            In the town hall meeting, Ban emphasized the idea of job mobility within the UN system, saying that Ms. Barcena and ASG for Human Resources Jan Beagle would develop the idea. The Staff Union has called on Mr. Ban to remove Ms. Beagle from that position, something on which there's as yet no response.)  Nor has there been any announcement of the winners of the dozen "mobility posts," including a speechwriter's gig, that he announced months ago. Some staff say those jobs were already handed out. How the winners are announced will be another test.

            Ban has reacted to other Hundred-Days stories by congratulating reporters, even those perceived as critical. There is at the UN something of a symbiosis: the beat reporters see their stars (and airtime or column inches) rise to the degree that the UN is important and its Secretary-General articulate and of interest. Recently, some question at Mr. Ban's press encounters are pre-screened, or at least pre-posed. Perhaps, one wag wondered, this is how it's done in South Korea.

            In fact, the back story to Mr. Ban's press availability on Thursday was his granting of face time to the South Korean media on Tuesday. When it was raised, a stakeout was arranged. It's been reported that during his recent trip through the Middle East, Mr. Ban dined each night with the South Korean ambassador to the country he was in. Some say that's fine, he knows these people. Others wonder at entanglements and influence.

            In the Cash for Kim audit, an irony's arisen. Some of the funding that is subject to the audit flowed from South to North Korea while Mr. Ban was Foreign Minister of South Korea. Inner City Press has asked the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General, how much? The spokesperson to whom such questions are assigned has referred Inner City Press first to the South Korean mission to the UN (which refused to answer or even respond), then to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (where the spokesperson used to work, with Mr. Ban).

            "You can go beg the South Korean government," Inner City Press was told. Click here for that story. Well, no. The story will be told -- like Mr. Ban said, there are "many years to go."

            For now, we'll close with a seemingly apples-and-oranges comparison of the first 100 days, in the same state, of Ban Ki-moon and New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who has asked the press to call him a steamroller.

Steamroller Versus Slippery Eel: Tale of the Tape After 100 Days

            Ban Ki-moon took office promising to clean up the UN and its reputation, among other things. Eliot Spitzer said the same, and zeroed in on earmarks in the state budget, and lobbyist disclosure. While Ban Ki-moon made public his own financial disclosure form, none of the senior officials he has named has followed suit. Some argue that this must await action by the UN General Assembly. But Mr. Ban could have conditioned the granting of posts on the grantee making disclosure.

            One similarity is the need to back down. Spitzer had to back down on the budget, and was roughed up by the union of health care employees. Ban had to change, for example, his Disarmament program, had to go down himself -- not only sending chief of staff Vijay Nambiar -- to mollify the G77, as he will now have to do on System-Wide Coherence. Some say that the remaining ASG posts will be Ban's carrots to get needed support.

            Spitzer has quipped, "if we solved every problem in 100 days, there would be nothing left for us to do over the next three years and nine months." Mr. Ban might say the same -- perhaps he meant to -- except that it's FOUR year and nine months. Or maybe NINE years and nine months. Time alone will tell.

Other Inner City Press reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on www.InnerCityPress.com --

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