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Focus on General Assembly President's Finances Finds Floridian Dinners in Naples, Latin Mysteries

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

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 14, updated Feb. 17 -- Srgjan Kerim, president of the General Assembly, traveled to Naples last Friday on a diplomatic mission. The venue was a restaurant, the host a restaurant owner, and the Naples was not in Italy but Florida. The only media coverage, until Inner City Press asked about it, was in the metro section of the Naples News, whose lead was "a little bit of Eastern Europe is coming to Southwest Florida." The article went on to explain that "along with President Kerim, more than 125 people attended Friday's luncheon event at Vergina restaurant... Friday's events also marked the official recognition of Naples resident Lou Vlasho's appointment as Honorary Consul of the [Former Yugoslav] Republic of Macedonia," FYROM. Vlasho, as it turns out, is the owner of the restaurant where the celebration was held. One imagines a glad-handing photograph already up on the wall over the bar.

            Inner City Press asked Kerim's tireless spokesman Janos Tisovszky who paid for the trip, and on February 11 was told that it was paid for by "the hosts." Would that be Vlasho? Or FYROM? The question has yet to be answered. On Thursday, after Tisovszky announced another Kerim trip, this one to Latin America, Inner City Press was compelled to ask about the financial arrangements for the tour. Tisovszky answered that "as I think I've mentioned to you at least on a one-on-one, that when it comes to official trips of the President, these are covered by the budget of the Office of the President, which is roughly about $280,000 per year... some of the costs may be covered by the host."

            Inner City Press asked, for this particular trip, which hosts would pick up which costs. Video here, from Minute 33:31. Tisovszky bristled that "I will try to brief you on the substance because, to be quite honest from our point of view, that's a little bit more important than the actual cost.  I understand that, from your point of view, you're looking for transparency.  You want to see where every dime and nickel is spent.  But I'll try to get that for you, both the substantive part, and also the cost part."

Srgjan Kerim in the home of Ban Ki-moon

            While we'll await and report on the substantive part of the trip -- for the record, Inner City Press was the only media outlet that remained outside the General Assembly chamber on the night of February 13 to ask Kerim about his two day climate change debate -- the question about costs seems eminently reasonable. The president of the General Assembly, often called the PGA, is at the pinnacle of the UN system, at least according to the Charter. But the office is accorded much less scrutiny and press coverage than the Secretary-General or the president or even elected members of the Security Council. Still, Inner City Press has covered Kerim's views on UN ethics, the budget, climate change and vows of transparency. Based on concerns raised by former staff members, who say Kerim's tenure reminds them of PGA Samir Shihabi, of financial demands from the PGA, Inner City Press asked Tisovszky to confirm or deny some of these demands. In context, the response was not denials but explanations:

"The existing practice is that the living costs of the GA President is covered by his/her own government -- so that's the case with President Kerim as well... As regards the credit card issue: no, the President has not requested a credit card, he inquired about how to facilitate access to the use of the budget available to his Office especially when away from Headquarters...The President prior to assuming his office inquired about his entitlements including also any entitlements and obligations covering family members. He has not made any request for car and security for his wife."

            While the comprehensiveness of Tisovszky's answers stand out, some of the questions raised remained outstanding, for example, "to Srgjan Kerim's lodging in New York, reportedly in a hotel, is his government covering the cost?" Subsequently, it was confirmed that the FYROM government is paying, for an apartment, not a hotel room. The need to modernize and increase UN funding to the Office of the GA presidency was stressed, and going forward, will be assessed.

    And what of the trip through five Latin American countries? As Tisovszky noted on Thursday, the next PGA will come from the so-called GRULAC Latin group. Who will Kerim meet with? For the Secretary-General, a list of meetings is issued - why not for the President of the General Assembly? As of Feb. 17, due to illness, the PGA has not left on trip, may do so Wednesday or postpone the Latin tour. Watch this site.

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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

  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