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After Ashe Charged, PGA Lykketoft Says UNfair to Ask of Use of His Office

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 6 -- While some in the UN are purporting to be surprised by the indictment of 2013-14 President of the General Assembly John Ashe on charges of soliciting bribes from Macao businessmen, what is surprising is that it took this long for the laxness not only of Ashe but of the President of the General Assembly office's structure and UN's easy penetration by business interests to lead to this.

Even the current PGA has let his Office be used to lobby for fellow Dane Helle Thorning-Schmidt to become UNHCR chief, see below.

   At the October 6 noon briefing, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed faux surprise at the number of journalists in the room. He gave the first question to Reuters, which asked a generic softball question; he said current President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft will answer at 3 pm (Ban is going out of town, to Peru).

  At 3 pm when Lykketoft appeared to answer for the UN, the first question went to the UN Correspondents Association which has already invited Lykketoft in for a champagne (or Prosecco) toast, and a softball question. (For the record, and as Inner City Press tweeted hours before the press conference, the applicable UN document is A/66/748).

  Inner City Press asked Lykketoft if, unlike Ashe, he would disclose who pays for his travel and for the people in his office. The goal here is to clean up the UN. In that spirit, Inner City Press then asked Lykketoft, with all due respect, about its previous exclusive report that his Office was used to lobby for the candidacy of Helle Thorning Schmidt.

  Lykketoft replied that a room in his Office was used for that purpose - but, he said, not with member states, only with UN officials.  But why? He said there was a lack of space during the General Assembly week. But was it appropriate to use the PGA Office for one candidate?

  No follow ups were possible. Lykketoft was asked if he thought the Ashe story is an unfair attack on the UN. He said no - but pointed out what he was just asked about Helle Thorning-Schmidt and called it an "unfounded allegation." Video here.

  So that was unfair, to ask why the PGA's Office was used as part of a campaign for a candidate to  head UNHCR? We will continue to report - watch this site.

  At noon, Inner City Press asked Dujarric to confirm or deny that Ashe gave Ban Ki-moon a document about a proposed UN Macau Conference Center. Dujarric said the UN couldn't find it. Long Periscope video here with these questions near the end.

   So Inner City Press asked about another document - a press release by the “South South Awards,” which UN DPI next to Dujarric office sent to UN journalists last week. Isn't that a “non-UN” group? What is its relation with the UN?

  After Dujarric emphasized the PGA's office does not report to Ban, Inner City Press asked if Ban after seven years sees a need to more transparency, as one example, who pays the people in the PGA's office? We'll have more on this.

   During Ashe's tenure, Inner City Press covered his various failures; the example of an indigenous conference is below. But it's been similar with other PGAs, who travel around the world with little press coverage or accountability, often cutting deals.

  It's not even a full time job: as Inner City Press first reported and got confirmed, in 2014-15 Sam Kutesa remained Uganda's foreign minister, while PGA. (Kutesa tried to place his chief of staff as head of Africa 1 in the UN Department of Political Affairs, here.)

  More recently, Inner City Press has reported that current PGA Mogens Lykketoft's office has been used to lobby for the candidacy of fellow Dane Helle Thorning-Schmidt to take over the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, despite her own record as Danish PM being criticized by UNHCR.

   There are a number of business groups which use the UN -- one of them was even allowed to sponsor the annual event of Herve Ladsous' UN Peacekeeping -- and get awards, like just last week in an ITU event inside the UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is aware, or should be aware, of all of this, but won't even disclose who pays for his trips (Inner City Press and the new Free UN Coalition for Access have asked).

  Apparently Ashe excused his wheeling and dealing by referring to “South South Cooperation.” While a laudable concept, Inner City Press was struck last week when Ban Ki-moon's UN Spokesperson's office sent out to journalists the news of a non-UN “South South” group at which Ashe had previously appeared. It's a murky world.

Update: an African diplomat, by the UN Security Council after publication of the above, told Inner City Press Ashe taking bribes to pitch a UN Conference Center was "not suprrising." Another said, "They're ruining the UN's name." Ruining?

  So is UN corruption a surprise? Hardly. Ashe's indictment, however, and where it leads, bear watching.

Ashe Background: On May 23, 2014, hours after the end of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the buzz at the UN was why and by whose decision the finale of the Forum was taken over by the Crimean Tatar issue.

   Many participants sympathetic to the Tatars' plight nevertheless opined that it was a misuse of the Permanent Forum. They said they had not been consulted and asked, Who decided? The chair.

  Some Forum members said it was good to "get revenge on Russia" for question the modalities of the scheduled World Conference. But several of these said it was still a hijacking of a long-standing issues, the plight of the indigenous, by the "flavor of the month."

  "It's not like the Tatars don't have other defenders," one UNPFII veteran said. For example, there was a UN Security Council Arria formula meeting about the Tatars held, sponsored by Security Council member Lithuania (click here for more recent on that mission).

  Another added, "India just wanted more time, and Bangladesh was angry because of a half-hour screed against them by an advocate whose relative is an insider."

   "We shouldn't have let the Forum get politicized," said another. But it was done.

  When a constituency lets their issues be taken over in the heat of the moment, it might seem strategic - and might turn out not to be. The issue of injustice to the indigenous is too serious to be a play-thing for the flavor of the month, the Free UN Coalition for Access opines.

  Nearly unanimous, however, was criticism of UN President of the General Assembly John Ashe.

Background: The failure of UN President of the General Assembly John Ashe to “show leadership” in setting up the World Conference on Indigenous People scheduled for September was strongly criticized on May 23.

For more than a week, Inner City Press has been asking indigenous leaders what they expected from PGA Ashe. Only that he implement the “modalities” already agreed to for the Conference, was the answer. One speaker, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, noted that Ashe's office had tried to blame a member state for blocking things but this wasn't true.

  But at 4 pm on May 23 in the General Assembly, when a statement was read out for Ashe, it said that “no consensus” had been reached, even on Monday's watered-down proposal, and that Ashe would be calling for another meeting next week.

 There followed speeches of disappointment, not only from indigenous representatives but also countries: beginning with Mexico and Norway, through Denmark and Guatemala's Permanent Representative Rosenthal, heavily indigenous Bolivia, Finland, Australia and New Zealand.

 Nicaragua's deputy Permanent Representative spoke, then Sweden. Kenneth Deer called for full and equal participation. Panama spoke, and a representative of the United States, with obstructed view.

Earlier in the week Inner City Press asked Grand Chief Edward John from Western Canada about the proposed oil sands and tar sands pipelines there. He said the Harper government is expected to gives its approval. Then what?

Footnote: at these indigenous press conferences, the new Free UN Coalition for Access thanked the speakers; the old UN Correspondents Association was generally not there, except an appearance that triggers a response that Morocco is not in the African Union and therefore didn't participate in its programs. UNCA big wigs were trying a scam elsewhere, it emerged. Typical.


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