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At UN, Transparency Debated in Secret, Labor Discussed in the Basement, Arnault in DPKO Mix

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 10 -- At the UN these days, there is talk of accountability and reform. A closed-door meeting was held on the topic on Wednesday; the press was not allowed t hear what UN management said to member states or vice versa.

  A glimpse was to be had Thursday in the basement, when Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena took the podium to speak to the UN Staff Council, and to take their questions. She acknowledged that the Compact that she signed with Ban Ki-moon, uploaded to the UN's internal website under the heading Accountability, blurred to May 1 a March 1 deadline set by the General Assembly.

  She noted the Staff Union's critique of the appointment of the UN's new Ombudsman. She implored not only the Union, however, but also Inner City Press to help her with reforms. "I don't always like what you write," she told the Press, "but you help raise the visibility." So here goes.

            The Staff Council says Management wants only to consult, not negotiate, that as in the case of the tour guides, it responds only to negative media coverage and, in that case, a sick-out by the guides. A member asked if the Union will be allowed to make a presentation directly to the General Assembly, saying this was blocked under the tenure of the previous head of the Office of Human Resources Management, Jan Beagle. On accountability, he said that "heads should roll" over the failure in the implementation of the UN's system of performance reviews.

            But at the level of UN Management, heads never figuratively roll; there is little accountability. Ms. Beagle was rewarded with an assignment to Geneva, using an UNCTAD deputy chief post the work of which she is not doing. (It is said that the Thai chief of UNCTAD Supachai Panitshpakdi now wants this post back, watch this space.) There's not even accountability on the failure to move the UN's accountability proposal. With much fanfare, the Department of Management said it would create a ten-person Office of Accountability, with at the top a new D-2 post. Cynics said this post was specifically created to reward, a la Jan Beagle, long time official Nancy Hurtz-Soyka.  Then Inner City Press was told, the report on the new Office is coming out soon, no questions would be answered until the report came out.

            Well, even during the March resumed session of the UN's budget committee, no report on the proposal came out from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Ms. Barcena confirmed this Thursday afternoon in the basement. So the question is, who is going to be accountable for this failure to move even this accountability proposal?

Mr. Ban and some of Staff Council, UN Reform not shown

            Also present Thursday in the basement was the new Assistant Secretary General of the Office of Human Resources Management, Catherine Pollard.  As previously reported, prior to her being named to the post, Inner City Press e-mailed Ms. Pollard a copy of a staff complaint against her, seeking in fairness her comment before publication. She did not respond, then or since. Thursday she spoke only briefly, and she was generally greeted with openness, and a hope she will at least be more open that her predecessor. A cynic in the room opined that perhaps given the Caribbean leadership of the Group of 77 this year, Ms. Pollard being Guyanese was viewed as politically savvy.

            Ms. Barcena also confirmed that even Ban's proposal to move the UN to one form of contract (Barcena put it at three forms) would not break down the wall between General Services and Professional staff. She showed Inner City Press a glimpse of a binder of color-coded proposals, some that the Secretary-General could implement on his own, the rest requiring General Assembly approval. Perhaps at Wednesday's session on reform, some commitments were obtained.  This is not known, because the discussion on transparency was held behind closed doors. And, despite Ms. Barcena's statements for more than a year now about implementing a UN Freedom of Information policy, nothing has been done. Perhaps this, too, was discussed Wednesday in secret. Only at the UN...

Footnotes: while the topic was not mentioned at Thursday's basement session, rumors continue to circulate that Ms. Barcena will leave, either to ECLAC in Santiago or the UN's University of Peace in Costa Rica, and that her successor may be the German Joaquim Rucker, who is said to have recently threatened, along with his deputy Larry Rossin, to resign from the UN Mission in Kosovo, but was told if he left UNMIK, there could be no USG of Management post. Other rumors have UN Georgia mission chief Jean Arnault being considered to replace his fellow Frenchman Jean-Marie Guehenno as head of UN Peacekeeping. Unlike Ruecker, Arnault at least has filled out his public financial disclosure, noting a country house in Guatemala. Coming full circle, it's said Guehenno is being considered as a special envoy on Northern Kosovo, to "pull a Bosnia," as one insider put it, meaning to negotiate some form of cantonization or even de facto partition. We'll see.

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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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