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At UN, Buck Passing on Privacy Breach, Dodging on Budget Cuts, Ahlenius in Hiding on Lockheed

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 21 -- What is accountability, in today's UN? Following the publication of hundreds of UN staff members' signatures and identification card numbers on the UN's intranet last week, the Staff Union accused the Department Management, headed by Angela Kane, with the breach of privacy and security. On October 20, Ms. Kane wrote to the Union that her Department "does not control the contact of iSeek... I would appreciate it if a correction could be made for the record." Click here from Ms. Kane's letter.

   The Staff Union responded the next day, expanding the scope of their demand for investigation and accountability to the head of the Department of Public Information, Kiyotaka Akasaka. Click here for Staff Union's letter.

  The UN Spokesperson has declined to comment on any of these matters. Meanwhile Fifth (Budget) Committee sources tell Inner City Press that Ban Ki-moon's "Accountability" proposal faces serious opposition and will be "cut into pieces."  It is also said that the contested "Views of Staff Representatives" publication is now being translated for distribution. We'll see.

  Even when the UN investigates itself, these days it leaves out its biggest flaws, and then refuses to answer questions.

UN says Stand Up, accountability not shown

At Tuesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked about

the Procurement Task Force report saying, alleging corruption in DRC ( Democratic Republic of the Congo), Kenya, New York and elsewhere.  First of all, what’s the response of the Secretary-General to the picture this paints of procurement, and also, can we, at what point will we get either Mr. [Robert] Appleton or Ms. Inga-Britt Ahlenius to come in and talk about these findings and what’s being done about them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me start from the beginning.  This is a report; it’s the same report that I saw, this is the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) report on the activities of the Procurement Task Force for the period of 1 July 2007 to 31 July 2008.  It came out in August of 2008 as a document, it’s been on the racks for many, many weeks, and it will be introduced to the Fifth Committee on Thursday morning, along with the Secretary-General’s comments on the report, which has also been on the racks for several weeks.  So I would draw your attention to both of these reports on the findings of the task force and the Secretary-General’s report on this.

In addition, the Committee will have the Board of Auditors report on the activities of the Procurement Task Force and the ACABQ’s (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) report therein.  I don’t want to get too into the article which you report on because… first, read the report, and then, I think you should come up with the questions, as not all the information contained in the press report is from the report.  Okay?

Inner City Press: Will Mr. Appleton or Ms. Ahlenius…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that is, again, you need to contact them to see if that’s something they’re willing to do.  As you know, we have passed on your request, and it’s really up to them if they want to come and brief you or not.

  How can major UN officials like Inga-Britt Ahlenius refuse to brief the press or answer questions? Months ago, Inner City Press asked Ms. Ahlenius in writing for an update into the investigation the General Assembly demanded that she conduct into a $250 million no-bid contract the UN awarded to U.S. military contractor Lockheed Martin, for Darfur "super camps."  Nothing has been announced, and Ms. Ahlenius has not answered. Spotted recently in a supermarket near the UN, Ms. Ahlenius sped off. So too within the UN building. She went on a multi-month vacation. Where is the accountability?

  Another embattled official apparently intends to address some swirling issues in the Dag Hammarskjold Library auditorium in a town hall meeting Wednesday. Unless the meeting is closed, we'll be there. And even if not...

Budget note: That the UN has quietly ordered its departments to cut their budgets by two percent across the board, as first reported last week by Inner City Press, was inquired into Tuesday by Inner City Press, with the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly

Inner City Press: This morning in the Fifth Committee, the spokesman for the Group of 77 and China said: "The General Assembly never approved a 2 per cent reduction across the board," speaking of the UN budget.  I wanted to know, first, whether this is now –- I’ve heard this, but is it confirmed -- that the Secretary-General sought to cut all portions of the UN budget by 2 per cent?  Is it true that the General Assembly never approved it, and if so, what does the President of the General Assembly think of the Secretariat moving unilaterally on the budget?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I don’t have any details on the budget, but I will check for you

   After the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked for and appeared to receive confirmation from the Deputy Spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who subsequently wrote to Inner City Press that

The Secretariat is at the initial phase of its preparations for proposed programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011 to be submitted to the General Assembly next year.

The Secretary-General is fully aware of the views of Member States calling for budget discipline, value for the significant resources provided to the Organization and overall concern at the growth of the regular budget of the Organization against also a backdrop of a significant expansion of peacekeeping activities.  Notably it might be recalled that just last Summer, the General Assembly approved budgets amounting to $7 billion for one year of operations relating to peacekeeping.  At the present session of the General Assembly, as already earlier indicated during the briefing of the Under-Secretary-General for Management and the Controller on 9 October, the Assembly will have before it various initiatives to be funded; the bulk emanating from the Security Council and technical adjustments for exchange rate fluctuations and inflation.

It is within this framework and the current overall global financial context that the Secretary-General has requested his senior managers to conduct a thorough analysis of their activities to identify areas where a possible reduction in their budget could be made through a variety of actions such as but not limited to value engineering, streamlining operations etc.  This is not new in so far as Member States have over the years continually sought such reviews as part of overall programme planning, monitoring and evaluation.

At this point the intent is to seek the views and input of his managers.  From such information the Secretary-General would then be in a position to make well formed decisions as to the realignment of the resources of the Organization to priority areas. 

  So why not just admit that Ban Ki-moon has asked for two percent cuts? But this is the UN...

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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