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To Fix Palais, UN "Engages Private Actors,” Banks, With No Freedom of Info

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 21 -- When the UN's Budget Committee took up the plans to repair the UN's Palais des Nations in Geneva, there was praise of Switzerland's contributions but little talk about Swiss banks being solicited. There should have been.

Back on July 28, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq:

Inner City Press: At the UN in Geneva, the Acting Director said that he’s going to solicit contributions from private Swiss banks for the renovation. He said that this could help them rebrand themselves from the financial crisis. I wonder are there any possibilities of conflicts of interest, given, for example, the multi-billion dollar Pension Fund, or would there be any prohibitions on banks that have contracts with the UN or are seeking contracts in the UN, making such donations? Would there be disclosure of who makes the donations? And I want to return again to the topic of last week, is it possible to know on whose plane or if it was an outside donation that the Secretary-General few to Cairo and came back to New York? And, two, this request that of the ten most recent trips, is it possible to know trips funded by non-UN sources? Who paid for them and where they went?

Deputy Spokesman Haq: No, that would take considerable work involving going over the details of many different trip participants and trip captains. Regarding the flight back from Cairo, that was a commercial flight. I’m aware that several of the flights that he took were also on UN planes, so there was a mixture of commercial, UN planes, and as you know, as we pointed out, there was one Qatari-funded and one Saudi-funded plane.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later shared the following with the correspondents: “The General Assembly has asked the Secretariat to look for innovative sources of funding to cover part of the ?costs associated with the Strategic Heritage Plan for the renovation of the Palais des Nations. To that end, the Acting Director-General of UNOG actively engages with an increasing number of different actors, both governmental and private, in Switzerland and beyond.”]

The UN's doctored transcript says that Haq later shared information with the correspondentS, plural -- Inner City Press received the above by direct email but it is not clear it was sent to anyone else.

In the UN's Fifth (Budget) Committee on November 21, Swiss Deputy Permanent Representative Olivier Zehnder concluded, “Switzerland is bringing its full support to the project and is committed to its success. Switzerland also expects that Member States shoulder their responsibility as the owners of the Palais des Nations and calls upon them to continue their support for this important project.”

But what about the UN soliciting banks for money - what are the standards? Where are the disclosures? The new Free UN Coalition for Access, which presses for a Freedom of Information Act to cover the UN, is asking. Watch this site.


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