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After UNGA Adopts $5.4B Budget, ICP Asks of Saudi Discount, Press Ban

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 24 -- When the UN General Assembly approved a $5.4 billion two-year budget on the evening on December 23, there were a lot of late nights in the basement's Conference Rooms 5, 6, 7 and 8 were behind it.

But did the Secretariat of Ban Ki-moon negotiate with any staff union? Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman on December 24:

Inner City Press: in his speech, the Secretary-General said he'd consulted with federations, which made it sound like unions.  And I wanted to know, as the year ends, what does he say about the continuing, I guess, lack of representation on the... at least in terms of the New York headquarters, on the staff side, and who did he consult with?  And I also… I have to… I guess I just want to say this to you.  There was no MALU here.  Like, there was no way to cover the budget from the media booth.  So, from the balcony, I'd like you to maybe respond to that.  The one thing that I heard or one thing that I heard that jumped out at me that I'm finally lucky I could ask is… and I know you may say it was Member States, but there was an announcement of a discount to Saudi Arabia of 7.5 per cent, which, to many, seems strange given the wealth of the country.  I mean, I understand there's an Article 19 for lower-income countries.  Can you explain what's that about in terms of a relatively affluent… fairly affluent country getting a discount on the UN…

Spokesman:  On your last question, you are right in offering me an answer, which is a Member States issue.  I think the Secretary-General noted that there was consensus on the new scale of assessment including on the scale of assessment for peacekeeping.  On your second to last question, if I… if you'll allow me to be slightly Talmudic and answer your question with another question, I'm wondering if you actually tried to reach anybody in MALU? ...

Inner City Press:  It's a GA meeting.

Spokesman:  I understand, Matthew, but obviously, if you don't contact people that are needed to be contacted, I can't help you.  Nizar.  You got a... first question or was that it?

Inner City Press:  Yeah, I guess… overall, what is the status of labor relations at UN headquarters if there's…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary-General has consulted with a number of global federations which represent the whole of UN workers.  As for the status of the… unfortunate status of the staff union which represents… should represent all of us in New York, I don't think that's been resolved.

Inner City Press: On the other thing, I appreciate what you said.  I guess I'd just say, for General Assembly meetings, especially about $5.4 billion, I'd suggest just like either leaving the door open or having somebody there, because once it starts…

Spokesman:  I understand but Matthew, you can always… if there's a problem, you can always pick up a call before writing about it.

  And before writing about this?

On the night of December 23, after Dujarric's office promoted Ban Ki-moon budget speech, Inner City Press ran there. Finding the door to the media booths locked, it found the nearest UN Security officer, who asked his supervisor who curtly said no, the door would not be opened. By then speeches had begun.

Note while the Free UN Coalition, FUNCA, is asking for more access in 2016, before the UN approved $5.4 billion in spending, its UN Corruption Association UNCA closed for the year:

"This is to inform you that the UNCA Office will be closed from tomorrow, Tuesday, December 22nd and will re-open on Monday, January 4th, 2016.On behalf of the UNCA Executive Committee,
Giampaolo Pioli, UNCA President"

   Inner City Press went to cover the budget approval session but found the door to media booths locked, and no one to open them. Through a circuitous route, Inner City Press arrived at the public balcony - which was entirely empty. A supervisor from UN Security - which this week told Inner City Press to be quiet as it spoke about corruption by former President of the GA John Ashe -- said he would not open the media booths.

 So Inner City Press observed from the otherwise empty balcony. Some Periscope video here. (The new Free UN Coalition for Access, FUNCA, will be pursuing this.)

  There was some drama: Cuba called a point of order that left new PGA Mogens Lykketoft flummoxed, conferring with Catherine Pollard. Turkey, El Salvador and others took the floor to say they are not party to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Iran criticized the politicization of this year's Syria human rights resolution.

   Ironically, Canada and EU and US spoke at length about transparency, even as the public balcony was empty and the media booths locked. Worse, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “openness benefits everyone,” though he has presided over the closing, and refused Inner City Press questions on Burundi, then on any topic including the UN corruption scandals at his end of the year press conference. He left Wednesday without taking questions. Periscope video here.

  By contrast, India's outgoing Ambassador Asoke Mukerji congratulated his Nepali counterpart on a job well done; others congratuled South Africa as chair of the Group of 77. There was a lot of hard work done in the Committee and it should be praised. In 2016, however, the UN must do better. Watch this site.


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