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Inner City Press Podcast --

At the UN, Ban Ki-moon is Knocking on the Door, 46th Street Lease, Larsen as Volunteer

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 9 -- Some are locked out, and some are locked in, at the UN. At 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday evening, as three reporters joked about the news of the day, Ban Ki-moon and his small entourage came down the hallway toward the spokesman's office. Ban stopped, as he does, to shake hands. One reporter asked about an Assistant Secretary-General who abruptly quit on Friday, Javier Ruperez of the Counter-Terrorism Secretariat.

            Ban smiled, as he does, and proceeded to the sliding glass doors of the -- his -- Spokesperson's Office. The doors, sometimes open at this hour, were closed, and things were dark inside. Ban knocked on the door and waited. Two reporters said in unison, where's a camera when you need one? One told a story of a similar Ban Ki-moon moment, when he flew to the wrong airport in Jordan. He got off the plane and looked around, finally sat alone in a room waiting for the motorcade to arrive through traffic from the other airport.

            That Amman moment was memorialized, and now this knocking on the glass door of the Mouthpiece is as well, in its way.  Finally the doors opened, and laughter came from within. Mrs. Ban arrived. This was a social call then, the reporters concluded. A read-out was requested but not surprisingly was not provided as it grew dark out the window.

Ban in Amman -- but where's a camera when you need one?

            Earlier in the day, two read-outs or counter-corrections were provided by the Office, about Terje Roed-Larsen. Whereas the Spokesperson had said that Larsen accompanied Ban in this meeting with Syria's Assad, it was later clarified that this was a "tete a tete." That is, Larsen did not attend. And after Inner City Press had been told that, like Jan Egeland, Larsen is paid When Actually Employed -- that is, at the rate of an Under Secretary General, but only on days actually spent on or in the Middle East -- now Larsen states that he is a volunteer. His travel and expenses are covered. This Daily Sustenance Allowance can runs to hundreds of dollars a day. But duly noted.

            An expert in UN money is the chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, Mr. Rajat Saha. Thursday Inner City Press got a chance to question him about the audit of the UN Development Program in North Korea, and wrote the results up in an earlier article available here. Mr. Saha ended the conversation with a challenge, or a counter-question: have you read my reports on cross-cutting issues? In response to which UN-ism we can only provide our readers with the following link, to all of his / ACABQ's reports on Cross-cutting issues as the Administration of Justice, Pension Fund and Conditions of Service.

            At the noon briefing, before Anna Tibaijuka appeared, Inner City Press asked about the audit:

Inner City Press: we were told by people who have seen the document that it says things like "national staff in positions of authority noted, but outside of our terms of reference; counterfeiting allegations, noted, but outside the terms of our reference."  I think the concern is that... can you explain, what were they looking for? If things... since hed said that seconded staff and the use of them was one of the things he was looking into, how could an issue like that be outside the terms of reference of the audit?

Spokesperson:  I haven't seen the audit.  You have seen it, apparently.  I have not seen it and I will not comment on it as long as it is not submitted to the General Assembly.

Inner City Press: And in your letter to the Wall Street Journal today, where you say... congratulations, its a well-written letter.  It says, you know, that the clock started ticking on March 19, but I thought like earlier... it had been asked and you, I mean, I wasn't, in terms of the 90 day thing, is that then when it began?

Spokesperson: Yes.

Inner City Press: So, any statements that it started earlier than that...

Spokesperson:  No, actually, what happened is that the Secretary-General initiated the process before, but the 90-day start was the time when the independent auditors started actually working on it.

Inner City Press: I spoke with the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), and he said they have absolutely nothing.  They have no paper about the audit and that no funding was asked for from them for the audit.  So, what's... we kept hearing that its on the way to the ACABQ, or the ACABQ... has the ACABQ provided any funding for the audit, and where is the audit now, if you say it's finished?

Spokesperson:  Well, I told you, it is going to be shortly given to the ACABQ and the General Assembly.  If they don't have it yet, it's because it's not there yet.

Inner City Press: Okay, thank you.

            So if the audit is, as she says, finished, how long does it take to get it to ACABQ in the basement of the UN Headquarters?

            Also appearing in the morning with Mr. Saha on the rostrum of Conference Room 3 was the furtive Mr. Brodeur of the UN Board of Auditors, Ms. Ahlenius, the press conference-allergic head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and Warren Sach, long-time Controller, successor to Halbwachs, and now reportedly seeking unlike Ruperez to stay in his ASG job. There is continuity, and there is also the working of pensions (this is one reference, above, to being locked in to the UN.)  Some say the way is through the Capital Master Plan -- speaking of which, now several sources say the UN's nearing office space on 46th between First and Second Avenues, soon to sign a lease. And that the groundbreaking on the North Lawn will not be June but rather in October, once the annual General Assembly meetings end. Already there's some delay, and as acknowledged by insiders, already things are over-budget.

            The reporters drifted upstairs, to a reception by Qatar's mission, filet mignon and a Syrian red pepper spread called muhamara, with pecans in it. Still seeking answers on the departure of Ruperez, an Ambassador widely reputed to be savvy -- hair wavy as well -- was questioned, and confessed to having the same doubt. What resignation so abrupt is voluntary? The Ambassador proffered a theory, which will be posed Thursday to Ruperez himself. For results and both sides of the story, watch this site.

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540