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UN "Fires" From Kiswahili, Spokesman Admits Staffer Ousted Feb 1, Smale No Answers

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, January 29 – How lawless, some even say racist, is today's UN and its Department of Public Information? Kiswahili jobs and funds that the General Assembly specified to DPI must be returned and retained are nevertheless being eliminated or "stolen," DPI whistleblowers have complained to Inner City Press. DPI chief Alison Smale has refused to answer Press questions; after Inner City Press published the story it was discussed in the UN African Group meeting, and is the subject of a note verbale complaint this week. This goes to the top: Smale in November 2017 to the UN Communication Group insisted that everything must go digital. (Inner City Press is publishing the leaked 12-page minutes here.) On January 26, Secretary General Antonio Guterrs' Youth Envoy said that Guterres personally told her the UN is too analog and must go digital. Video here. Now, despite the General Assembly specifically ordering the the funds allocated for Kiswahili Radio be restored to that use, Smale's (and ultimately Guterres' DPI has refused, the staff now ostensibly free to speak to the press say. Inner City Press asked again, having received no response at all from Smale, on January 29. From the UN transcript: Inner City Press: the budget resolution that was passed says that resources for Kiswahili radio in particular should be reallocated back to where they were supposed to be.  My understanding is that this was raised now in the Africa group, and there's a note verbale coming to him.  Is it DPI's [Department of Public Information] position that they complied with that resolution that…? Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We've checked with our DPI colleagues.  Yes, they have complied with the resolution.  There's a certain amount of detail about how they provide Kiswahili and Portuguese services, but the bottom line is, yes, they have been working with Member States and working within the framework of the resolution.
Inner City Press: Are there Kiswahili-speaking staffers that are being let go 1 February and losing their visa and returning to Tanzania? Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that there was one case of someone who had… actually whose contract had ended at the end of last year and then got a one-month extension, in other words for the month of January, and that has now ended.  So, that is a case where the previous contract simply had gone to its limit. Inner City Press: But, is that post actually being filled?  My understanding is that it's not, that you're basically going to have one of the few Kiswahili things empty. Deputy Spokesman:  DPI is trying to fulfil all of the language functions within the range of the number of posts it has and the budget it has.  And with that, Brenden, come on up." The word used by whistleblowers is "fired." Then, from the PGA Spokesman's summary: "The Spokesperson was asked what would happen if there was disagreement over whether the Secretariat was fulfilling mandates outlined in the United Nations’ recently adopted budget – and whether there was a role for the President in that regard. The Spokesperson replied that it was up to the Secretary-General to provide periodic performance reports, which would focus on financial aspects, to the General Assembly. When the reporter referred to a specific budget line that referred to posts in the Department of Public Information, the Spokesperson responded that it would be premature to comment on whether this line was being complied with; he added that it would not be up to the President to weigh in on such a specific staffing matter within the Secretariat. Asked when exactly the Secretariat would report on its compliance with the budget that had been adopted by the General Assembly in December 2017, the Spokesperson later added that the first performance report would be expected at the end of 2018, and the second by the end of 2019." Inner City Press replied: "the issue of whether Para 167 of the UNGA budget resolution is being violated, as whistleblowing staff have said, will not be resolved by this schedule of reporting." The results is not only the loss of employment and US visas for Africans, but they say a steep decline in the provision of information in Kiswahili. One account which was "merged into" DPI's non-Africa specific account had a drop off in followers from 255,000 to 90,000. But, the sources say, Under Secretary General Alison Smale's DPI has misled Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who Smale so often cites for her anti-staff moves, telling him the overall account is up to 3 million. "It's a fraud," one source said. "And it's a real 'sh*ithole' disrespect to Kenya and Tanzania and countries like it, by the UN." Others have noted the irony, as Guterres flew off to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, avoiding Donald Trump in Davos. Inner City Press has sought a response, including to the below, directly from Alison Smale, the former NYT Berlin editor who previously ignored detailed written questions in September 2017 when she arrived to take over DPI as Guterres' "Global Communicator." In November, according to the UNCG minutes, she said among other things "We need to make sure we are set up with our platforms and our resources to take advantage of the rapidly evolving ways in which the global public, and particularly the young, are consuming information. This means more social media." Then the Kiswahili radio resources were shifted, despite the GA resolution, to social media. Inner City Press asked Smale, "beyond the questions asked to date in the UN noon briefings, I would like you to explain DPI's compliance with the most recent budget resolution's Paragraph 167, to explain what has happened to the Kiswahili (and Portuguese) posts, and more generally to state what you are doing about the complaints raised to Inner City Press by DPI staff," below. The cited Paragraph 167, adopted by the UN Fifth (Budget) Committee at 2 am on Christmas Eve with Inner City Press the only media bothering to cover it, but still restricted, reads: "167. Requests the Secretary-General to ensure that the two posts from the Kiswahili Radio Unit and the two posts from the Portuguese Radio Unit are deployed for the purposes originally approved." The UN Secretariat reportedly tried to get the paragraph out, first by negotiation and then by stealth; now DPI officials are said to refer to it as "bullsh*t," another "sh*thole" echo. January 25, with no response as before from Smale, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN transcript here: Inner City Press: in the 2 a.m.  Christmas Eve budget resolution, there was a paragraph that remained in.  There was some contention about it, and I think the Secretariat tried to have it removed, but Member States wanted it in.  And it said, request the Secretary-General to ensure the two posts from Kiswahili radio unit and two posts from the Portuguese radio unit are deployed for the purposes originally approved.  And having reported at the time, the Member States were concerned that these resources had been shifted to non Kiswahili or Portuguese social media.  And I learned from whistleblowers, those affected, who believe they can now speak to the press freely, as you've said from this podium, that, in fact, the posts have not been returned and that the approach of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who I've also written to before you say that, they've been very dismissive of… of this General Assembly resolution.  And, in fact, I've heard that the Facebook page of… of the Kiswahili — they get very specific about it — has declined in followers from 255,000 to 90,000.  So, the feeling is that this is a disrespect for the language of a region that the Secretary-General is about to visit.  And I wonder if you can get an answer of whether this has been complied with and why people from that unit are being let go 1 February. Spokesman:  Okay.  I can't speak to a specific case of people being let go.  I don't know if that's true or not true.  I'm not going to start talking about people's employment without knowing more.  What I do know is that we have full respect for the General Assembly resolution, for the budget that was passed.  And, of course, it is the responsibility of the Secretariat to implement those resolutions.  So, that's not a… that's just a statement of fact.  The work that the Kiswahili unit does, that other language units does, whether it's Portuguese or any of the six languages, is extremely important in our efforts to do… to communicate in as many languages as possible.  Whether it's communicating through radio, through web, through social media, that is a very important… it goes at the heart of how we try to work and how we try to communicate.  And we have to be able to communicate in not only different languages but through many different media, whether so-called traditional or so-called new media.  And the Department of Public Information will continue to do that with, of course, the respect of the… that they have to follow in terms of the General Assembly resolutions. Inner City Press: That's a direct quote from the resolution.  It says, ensure that they are done as originally approved.  So, clearly there was a feeling that it wasn't taking place.  Since then… What's the status? Spokesman:  I feel I've answered the question.  I feel I've answered that question.  Okay.  Thank you." No thanks.  Questions have also been raised separately to Guterres and his Deputy Amina J. Mohammed. We'll have more on this, and on Guterres' UN's inaction on Cameroon and mis-steps in Kenya, the undisclosed sending of Obasanjo and Fore's UNICEF's strange youth empowerment move, Inner City Press' coverage of which was picked up by the Star and Standard.

In UN Communications Group Minutes, Talk of Spin and Digital Over Analog, Before Kiswahili Funds Diverted by Matthew Russell Lee on Scribd

Back on January 17 when UN Guterres held a "Global Town Hall Meeting," the meeting was closed but Inner City Press came in early to stake it out: to stand in front and ask the attendees what they think of Guterres' performance. Unlike other correspondents at the UN, Inner City Press is required to have a minder to do such stakeouts on the UN's second floor - and on January 17 at the appointed hour, 8:45 am, there was no minder available. Periscope video here. Finally it was possible, after Guterres passed by and started his pitch. At his press conference the day before he twice said, "there were no budget cuts in relation to the regular budget of the United Nations." This is contrary to what Inner City Press found when it, as the only media present, covered the UN budget endgame through 2 am on Christmas Eve. It is also contradicted by this statement exclusively to Inner City Press from staff, edited to preserve anonymity: "What I feel the public or even the missions themselves don't understand, are the repercussions of the proposed cuts. The Fifth Committee members slashed the budget left and right, without thinking for one second what it actually meant. The first thing to go as a result, is one of your favorite topics: transparency. Based on what has been said internally, they are looking to cut down on multilingualism and language accessibility within DPI production, leaving English as a lingua franca (!).  This means that missions interested in staying up to date on UN news and events will not be able to access information in their language, if that language is indeed French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese or Russian [Ed's note: or Kiswahli - or Portuguese, which some think Guterres would take note of.] Nor will the public. As you may imagine, this raises a serious issue in regards to transparency and multilingualism. The founding values of the UN were set in place in order to make the body a fair playing field for all. By making information available only in English, what message will that send? How will it affect the missions? How will the UN be able to forge a closer relationship with the public around the world? The bias will shift heavily in favor of developed countries, who will have the initial access to all information due to linguistic advantages. These talks on cuts are happening behind closed doors and only potentially affected employees are being informed. The missions and the public won't know until it's too late to do anything about it, unless somebody holds them accountable now. But now, you know. And I hope that disseminating this information and holding those in power at the higher echelons of DPI accountable, will help preserve access to information -- which is after all, a human right. We hope to see you there too." But the meeting was closed, and minder only belatedly available. We'll have more on this. The day before on January 16 when Guterres came to give his speech for 2018 to the UN General Assembly, the Press was blocked from staking it out by the censorship restricts he has in place. Periscope here, UNresponded to letter here. Once inside the Trusteeship Council Chamber, Guterres said he had 12 points. One was Myanmar, although he did not even mention the mandate on his to name an envoy to the country, which he has not done. Another was North Korea; he confirmed he will go to the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics. He lumped all of Africa into just one of his 12 points, despite the Continent being 60% of the UN Security Council's agenda. He did not mention Cameroon or other long time family ruled countries like Togo and Gabon that his envoys are propping up. His Deputy Amina J. Mohammed, who is in “her” Nigeria silent on the abductions there, was not present; her chief staff was, but as before, no response to emails or questions about the 4000 rosewood signature. Guterres hasn't even started an audit of the UN bribery indictments of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio and regarding China Energy Fund Committee brought November 20 in the Southern District of New York. Guterres said he has zero tolerance for sexual harassment but has done none, and his spokesman Stephane Dujarric hasn't even answered Inner City Press on, the case of Frank La Rule at UNESCO. The UN like UNESCO claims it is for free speech and press freedom, but no answer on The Rappler; nor has DPI chief Alison Smale even answered Inner City Press' and the Free UN Coalition for Access' three petitions about even handed media access and content neutral rules, or this petition. Guterres is slated to take, selected by Dujarric, questions at 12:45. Watch this site. The spring thaw in Antonio Guterres' first year as UN Secretary General, in March and April, began to reveal hypocrisy. A small but telling example was when, after Guterres called on people all over the world to turn off their lights for Earth Hour, Inner City Press found the lights on at the UN-owned mansion on Sutton Place where Guterres lives.

At first the UN refused to answer Inner City Press where Guterres was - Lisbon - then accused it of “monitoring the residence.” It's called journalism: with the UN refusing to disclose even what country Guterres is in, checking the residence is the only way. The UN also refuses to disclose how much these Lisbon trips cost the global taxpayers, for example how many UN Security officials are taken, where they stay and for how much.

Likewise Guterres' 2016 financial disclosure differed significantly from what he filed as head of UNHCR in 2013. This has yet to be explained. In April Guterres was petitioned to replace the UN's pro-Saudi Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. But when Inner City Press asked, Guterres' spokespeople refused to even confirm receipt of the letter.

This happened on a petition by staff too, about retaliation by Francis Gurry the head of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, whose assistance to North Korea's cyanide patents Guterres did not act on.

In late April, Guterres did nothing as Tanzania expelled his resident coordinator, a far cry from his knee-jerk defense later in the year - continuing on December 27 - of the 4000 rosewood signatures by his Deputy SG Amina J. Mohammed. Sustainable development? Try hypocrisy, and censorship and restriction of the Press which covers it - and Cameroon, here. We'll have more on this.

In Antonio Guterres' first two months as UN Secretary General, the longstanding Cyprus talks began to fall apart, and Guterres stood silent as Burundi, for example, banned access by UN officials. Guterres ignored a protest by whistleblowers against Francis Gurry of the UN World Intellectual Property Organization, and that UN agency's work on North Korea's cyanide patents.

 He did nothing about a UN waste dump exposed by Inner City Press in the Central African Republic, despite his predecessor Ban Ki-moon's record with waste in Haiti and elsewhere. While he announced that Kenyan troops would head back to South Sudan to join UN Peacekeeping, he appointed the fifth Frenchman in a row to head this DPKO, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

Meanwhile he was rebuffed in his attempt to appoint Fayyad to head the UN's Libya mission, perhaps explaining his refusal later in the year to take a single press question after reading out his canned statement on Jerusalem. In a harbinger of his approach to UN corruption and (non) reform, his UN was named as not providing requested documents in the first UN bribery case, of Ng Lap Seng. (In the second case, of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio, Guterres has yet to even launch an audit).

February 2017 ended with a seeming second wind, the belated arrival of Guterres deputy Amina J. Mohammed. Inner City Press was throughout constructive; it would later emerge that during the delay Mohammed signed 4000 certificates for endangered Nigerian and Cameroonian rosewood already exported to China, something Guterres has refused to investigate despite a petition with 92,000 requests. 

Guterres' first interaction with UN staff was a Town Hall meeting on January 9. Even though it was on the UN's public website, when Inner City Press live-streamed it on Periscope for the impacted public to see it received a threat that this violated unspecified UN's guidelines. This has been a pattern in Guterres' first year: threats to Press for unspecified violations, such as that of Maher Nasser on October 20, and a total failure to respond or reform by Nasser's boss, Alison Smale. Ultimately, Guterres is responsible.


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