UN Cuts Ribbon in NY, "Good Offices," Asbestos and Mismanagement
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, January 11, updated below --
As the UN formally opens its $140 million
North Lawn Conference Building in New York, its management cries poor
and too often under-performs. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the
New Year moved out of the 38th floor of the hollowed out
Headquarters, to a suite with a view of the NLCB's roof and little
what was supposed to be Ban's office, overlooking the East River, as
too unprotected. And so the Deputy S-G, Asha Rose Migiro, was
assigned that office. This is emblematic of the UN under fire and
under prepared, failing to plan.
Headquarters building, journalists and staff remain as controversial
asbestos removal proceeds. Inner City Press was visited to the UN's
contractor Skanska and told to remove computer and video equipment
for the weekend. Was it for asbestos dust or the chance of theft, not
Oil for Food but Laptops for Asbestos?
UN press corps
is being moved to a space above the library. But the UN claimed it
did not have enough money for floor to ceiling walls. Now they can
listen to reporters conversations, and only removed panopticon
security cameras over the press area after Inner City Press exposed
them. UN Management is aiming at a dry, whistleblower free zone.
UN's Ban, advisers' backs turned, prepares for ribbon cutting
anonymous because in fear of retaliation which has become more
prevalent at the UN, complained over the weekend to Inner City Press
this past weekend's asbestos abatement at the
From: Name withheld for fear of retaliation
To: Inner City Press
1/10/2010 9:27:50 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Hello,With regard to
the asbestos removal at the Secretariat over the weekend, I have the
1) management within my department is of the
belief that all questions and concerns have been addressed in the
Skanska/CMP-supplied video available on iSeek. In other words, my
senior management is not vouchsafing that the work has been done
correctly, only that those in charge of doing the work intended that
it be done so. Perhaps they believe that this places senior
management beyond any future legal liability.
2) any concerns
such as when the air sampling will be done (before or after staff
show up to work on Monday?) are not material.
3) whether "bad
news" from the air sampling will be shared with staff who, after
all, would be potential litigants against CMP, Skanska and the UN.
the work done this past weekend was represented as a one-shot and
presumably final effort to remove the remaining asbestos. From what I
have gathered from innercitypress.com, the work consisted of borings
to determine the extent of the problem and does not represent the
removal of the last known traces of asbestos in the building. It
therefore seems likely that the impression given that the work done
this weekend is final is incorrect, and that actual removal of the
asbestos will be done at a later date.
official, also insisting that his name not be used but this time to
not steal the stage from Ban Ki-moon, said that there remain 1,000
pounds of asbestos in the UN's skyscraper, and that only "a half
a pound per floor" was removed on January 8 through 10.
Press' fourth floor office on Monday morning, there was sheet plastic
covering a hole in the ceiling, and dust on the floor.
at the North
Lawn, a morning of festivities are planned. Ban will cut the ribbon
and then talk to staff. He will briefing member states -- those which
come -- on his goals for 2010. These apparently do not include
following through on his commitments in Sri Lanka in May 2009, to
pursue political opening to minorities and accountability for war
crimes. He turned down a request to monitor this month's elections,
and in the face of authenticated footage of soldiers executing naked
and blindfolded prisoners, passed the buck first to Geneva then to a
three month old statement.
Holbrooke scooped Ban Ki-moon's on offering the UN's top Kabul job to
Staffan de Mistura, who hired Ban's son in law as his deputy in Iraq.
Ban's scandal plagued envoy to the Congo Alan Doss is, Kinshasa
sources tell Inner City Press, spending $150,000 to renovate this
apartment, while his contract expires in June (and he should leave
before). Ban's Myanmar "good offices" post was left empty
as Ibrahim Gambari was shuffled to Darfur.
are empty, Ban's office has no view. Needed at the UN in 2010: that
vision thing. We will blog Monday's proceedings herebelow
Update of 9:19 a.m.
-- on the way from the old building to the new, there is fake green
grass, "like the stuff in Easter baskets," one construction worker
said. U.S. Number Three Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo is by the podium.
Of Ban, "there will be no Q and A," a staffer says.
Update of 9:23 a.m.
- Also at the podium is the Ambassador of Cameroon, with whom UNDP
Administrator Helen Clark refused to meet for months. There's the
seldom seen Gregory Starr of Security, who's yet to hold a press
conference, and Angela Kane of Management, who leaves questions posed
in press conferences unanswered -- like how the Bob Orr ASG post is
funded -- and then demands "corrections" when belatedly providing
partial answers. There's Shabaan Shabaan, who told staff in the Albano
swing space that lack of heat is their fault. And soon, Mr. Ban.
Update of 9:37 a.m.
-- Ban is speaking, he says there are no carpets, the building will be
dismantled. He thanks CMP's Michael "Adler"stein. Who is representing
the City of New York? Cameroon's Ambassador, spurned by UNDP, is
speaking "for all member states as temporary president of the General
Update of 9:55 a.m.
-- as the speeches proceeded, Michael Adlerstein's name was said
several ways, not only by Ban but also Cameroon's Ambassador
("Adel-stine"). Then his was called "a household name." Ambassadors
were invited upstairs for coffee in... the relocated Viennese Cafe.
Friday evening, Austria's Ambassador was checking out the condition of
the furniture his country donated to the cafe. But where will drinks be
Update of 10:17 a.m.
-- as Ambassadors and UN officials mill around free coffee and pastries
on the second floor, already some of the most senior UN officials are
already questioning the all cement floor. Cameroon's Ambassadors stops
to give Inner City Press his speech in English. It is confirmed: Mr.
Ban was getting the river view office until it was deemed unsecure. Ms.
Migiro seems happy with it. There is news, of Guinea Bissau and
separately the EU, but that'll be written later today. It's still
ribbon fest, attention Wal-Mart shoppers -- or, in a reference to Ikea,
Update of 11:24 a.m.
-- over raspberries and pineapple, news flows. In Guinea-Bissau, the
former coup leader holed up in the UN building will be turned over to
the authorities, after a negotiation on how he will be treated. The
government, the UN says, would like the coup leader to leave the
country but he won't.
A Georgian diplomat stops to tell Inner City Press that
former Ambassador Irakli Alasania was a signatory to the request to the
UN for elections observers that the UN rejected. That request came from
the opposition. But Sri Lanka's request was a official, but still
turned down. We meant to tell them it's not credible, a UN official
tells Inner City Press. Then why didn't you?
Down on the
first floor, Ban is speaking to staff in Conference Room 4. Inner City
Press is not allowed to enter. But when the door opens, the Number Two
in the SMCC (non NY Unions) is speaking, on the screen. Some Ban will
speak to member states.
Georgian diplomat asks Inner City Pres, can we still smoke in here? No.
And no drinking either. He scoffs. This isn't the UN.
Update of 11:52 a.m.
-- as the Town Hall for staff let out, a Staff Union official
complains to Inner City Press that while the more pro-Ban non-NY SMCC
union was given time to speak, there were no arrangements for the UN
Staff Union. Nor is the Headquarters union given a video link to speak
when Ban is in Geneva, Vienna or Nairobi.
lull between meetings, UN chief Peacekeeper (and Frenchman) Alain Le
Roy chats with France's Ambassador Gerard Araud. Then he goes in with
him to Conference Room 3, the site of Ban's meeting with member states.
Inner City Press has previously remarked on Russian ASG Dmitry Titov
moving through the UN with Foreign Minister Lavrov. "You'd never say
that about a European," was the response. Well, we've said it.
member states arrive late, and ask directions. They are
disproportionarely from a regional group that is in the process of
getting out flanked by the European Union. We'll have more on this.
Update of 12:38 p.m.
-- Ban's stakeout has been delayed. One disgusted delegate, leaving
Ban's briefing, tells Inner City Press, "He gives his state of the
union, and then the same from member states. Blah blah blah." Inner
City Press asks for an impromptu noon briefing while we wait. The
request is not granted, and questions posed Friday have not been
Update of 1 p.m. --
with Ban half an hour late, some in the press corps suggest we leave in
boycott. The Palestinian Observer Mansoor stops to chat. France's Araud
pauses when a French journalist calls out, then continues without
returning the greeting. Helen Clark of UNDP, who still hasn't done a
press conference, leaves. And so it goes.
Update of 1:18 p.m.
-- with Ban nearly an hour later, one correspondent reminds others this
is like the last time Ban met the General Assembly, and did not attend
the scheduled time for his holiday party for the press. But at least
then, Ms. Migiro worked the crowd. Here, no sign of Nesirky, no warm up
Update of 1:25 p.m.
-- Nesirky emerges, says Ban continues listening to member states. Why
not move this to the briefing room, he is asked. Impossible, he
replies, Ban is going on retreat. How long will he answer questions? As
long as he would have. Then what about the retreat? And can it be
of 2:20 p.m. -- and when Ban finally emerged, he began by saying he
couldn't take many questions, because he had to go to Greentree for
the retreat with regional organizations. His spokesman Martin Nesirky
controlled, or tried to control, who could ask questions. The first
was whether this building will be demolished. The answer was, yes.
had been given to Nesirky in advance, about North Korea's new stance.
Ban had an answer, from written notes, about the 2005 Six Party
talks. The third concerned the Middle East and the wall Egypt it
building to cut off Gaza's tunnels. Ban answered, without mentioning
was about Cyprus; Ban answered that the leaders have met "sixty
times," with the help of "Alexander Downer." Next the
Grey Lady, being chased from its office by asbestos, asked not only
about asbestos but also whether Ban's third floor has hardwood floors
(it does) and why.
said that only
some asbestos is being taken out, "four feet of pipe" -- he
must have been briefed -- and the rest when the building's fully
empty. He confirmed the wooden floors, saying they are for foreign
dignitaries. There will be no overruns.
out to be the final question, Nesirky pointed to a longtime French
journalist, who'd called out after Araud. Inner City Press, the
microphone near, said "On Afghanistan?" Nesirky indicated
the French journalist, something about Afghanistan afterwards. But
the French journalist, to her credit, said she didn't have a
question. And so Inner City Press asked:
Richard Holbrooke has been quoted that you've offered the top UN post
in Kabul to Staffan de Mistura. Is he wrong?
said it is
still under consideration, not appropriate to talk about. Tell that
to Richard Holbrooke, and to de Mistura. It was argued to Inner City
Press on Monday morning that de Mistura might have been sounding out
Holbrooke, saying he wouldn't take the offered job without U.S.
support (which he got, because Holbrooke saw the writing on the wall
and wanted to distance himself from the anti-Mistura, pro-Guehenno op
ed he planted in the Grey Lady, in this view).
asked about Sri Lanka, Philip Alston urging Ban to name a commission
on inquiry on war crimes. While we're report this in more detail, Ban
was strangely defensive, pointing out that Alston doesn't work for
him, is a special rapporteur, and that Sri Lanka has had things to
say about Alston and his report. Yes they have. But where does Ban
Ki-moon stand? Watch this site.
* * *