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As Darfur Is Debated at UN, Lockheed No-Bid Contract Questions Dodged

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 27 -- As UN Peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno warned the Security Council Tuesday of the risk of "humiliation" in Darfur, he and the Ambassadors of three of the five Permanent members of the Council dodged questions, raised in the General Assembly's budgetary committee, about the UN's $250 million no-bid Darfur contract with Lockheed Martin. UK Ambassador John Sawers told Inner City Press, "You're mentioned this to me once before... The Secretary-General has made a response and it is now before the Fifth Committee." The issue was the one raised last week in the Fifth Committee by the Russian Federation and others: when the UK voted for the Darfur peacekeeping mission on July 31, did it know the a $250 million sole-source contract was involved? Amb. Sawers' answer was that "I arrived here in August and don't know the chain of events." Video here, from Minute 5:08. Presumably the UK Mission to the UN has a memory that goes back before August, and the question has been put to the UK Mission.

            Jean-Marie Guehenno, asked what the UN's response is to the questions raised in the Fifth Committee about the Lockheed contract, dodged the question by saying "these are the kind of things that are discussed between the Department of Field Support and the organs of the General Assembly that deal with financial matters."

   Those "organs" are in the UN's basement. One wag who traveled Tuesday between the media scrum in front of the Security Council on the UN's second floor, where no one would address Lockheed's windfall, and the basement where the windfall is in question, called this a case of "Upstairs, Downstairs." If Mr. Guehenno can't or won't speak for DFS, where is the head of that agency, who one week ago when asked about the Lockheed arrangement at a panel discussion on Accountability at the UN said that it was not the right forum to discuss particular contracts. Some say these evasions are advised.


Rocking the mic, dodge the (Lockheed) questions

            On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said, backing away from the microphone, "I'll have to get back to you on that." French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said, smiling, that "as long as the Committee checks that the procedures were right and fully respected," it is okay. Video here, from Minute 5:17. Since the Fifth Committee publicly raised doubts last week, no public response has been made. Six days ago, a number of UN correspondents asked for such a briefing, which has yet to be provided.

            At Tuesday's UN noon briefing, the following was asked:

Inner City Press: It seems that the PAE, the company that has now the Darfur infrastructure contract, was named the winner of the air field support contract for MONUC, despite not being the lowest bidder.  They bid 35 million and an Australian company, Patrick Defence, bid 18.  And now documents emerge showing that they were nevertheless selected.  So it's left me wondering... Is it the UNís policy to choose the lowest qualified bidder, when they do a bidding operation, and if they don't, why wouldn't they choose it, the lowest...

Spokesperson:  Well, it depends on the qualifications, also, of bidders.  You can have a lower bid that does not fit the requirements that are asked for in this specific task.  I don't have any specifics on this issue that you mentioned, on that PAE contract.  I can get more information for you on this.  However, the policy is to get, of course the lowest bidder, but also someone who can actually properly carry on the contract.

Inner City Press: it seems they were called "qualified." but I understand maybe there's some difference.  There are only two things, as you look into that, I would ask you, if you could, which would be:  one, did PAE -- there seemed to be some dispute in the middle of this year whether PAE would get the Congo contract or not -- to find out who has that contract, and if there's any relation between that contract and the Darfur contract.

Spokesperson:  I don't think there is any relationship between the two, but I can get more for you on it.

            We're still waiting. Watch this site.

  Inner City Press also asked Mr. Guehenno how the Justice and Equality Movement's threats against Chinese engineers may impact the commitments he won in his recent trip to Beijing. Guehenno answered that the UN takes the threats seriously, and that diversity of peacekeepers is a goal and a strength (diversity of contractors and suppliers apparently less so). 

   Guehenno specifically criticized, with merit, Sudanese a proposal to "temporarily disable the communications network" of peacekeepers. Discussing the "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA), Guehenno said there is an Egyptian special forces unit that should be included in the hybrid force. Some say the Egyptian unit is already off the table. Guehenno's quaintest line: "I will also apprise the Council on the challenges we have encountered in our discussions with the Government of Sudan on the UNAMID SOFA." Sitting on the UNAMID sofa...

   Both Amb. Ripert and Sawers were asked about the missing helicopters: is there an African country which would contribute them? Amb. Sawers said "yes," but declined to name a country. "They are lacking," said Amb. Ripert. So are answers. Developing.

* * *

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.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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

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