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UN Rehab Losers Named, Durbin's Claimed Call Denied, Let the Transparency Begin

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 3 -- After seven months of little action on reform, the team of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has, at least momentarily, become concerned. Well-placed sources say that within the UN Management Committee, questions are being asked, why hasn't more been accomplished? Why is Ban's UN being portrayed as less than transparent? 

            Here's a sample (non) accomplishment which could have been done but hasn't been: the enactment of a freedom of information procedure, under which documents could be requested and would be provided, unless specific portions had to be confidential, for specific reasons. Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena has three times said such a procedure is in the works, is being improved before being finalized -- and still, nothing. Last Friday July 27, Inner City Press asked again, and was told the matter would be addressed in some other briefing, which not yet taken place.

            Ms. Barcena was announcing the Capital Master Plan competition winner last Friday -- but declined to name over whom Skanska had been selected. Inner City Press pursued the matter, and a week later, the following has arrived:

Subj: Your question on Capital Master Plan 

From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 8/3/2007 3:05:02 PM Eastern Standard Time

As you are aware , the UN conducted a fully open and transparent global solicitation exercise for the selection of the Construction Manager (CM) for the Capital Master Plan (CMP). As part of the procurement process, an Expression of Interest (EOI) was issued, followed by a Request for Proposal (RFP). A total of seven firms responded to the EOI. They were Bovis Lend Lease, Skanka USA, Turner Construction Company, Tishman Construction Corp & Structure Tone as a TST Joint Venture, Builders Group, and The Mickissack Group.

            Well, that's a step forward - it should be done for all of the UN's procurement. Still un-responded to is Inner City Press' questions a week ago to the Ethics Office:

Subj: Mr. Benson- Hi, press question re CMP, 3 person panel, court ruling v. Skanska, and re whistleblower(s), thanks 
From: Inner City Press
To: Ethics Office officials
Date: 7/27/2007 3:36:27 PM Eastern Standard Time

Mr. Benson (and Ms. John) --

 Hello. Earlier this afternoon, USG Barcena said that you headed a panel, with two outside people, to do due diligence prior to the selection of Skanska for the Capital Master Plan.  Afterwards I asked Procurement's Mr. Paul Buardes for the names of the two outside representative, he said "that was under Bob Benson," so I'm asking you.   Also, if you could, were you aware of the court finding below about  Skanska, and can you comment on it.

  Unrelated, if you could explain why the 45 day time period for ruling on the request for whistleblower protection filed with your Office on June 5 (or thereabouts -- the filer has give consent for you to speak) -- why was the time extended?  And, separately, is OIOS' activity at UNDP related to seeing if the filer complied with the requirements of whistleblower status? Finally, do you have a view if a UN rule requiring a staffer to turn in counterfeit currency to the country whose currency it is would override otherwise applicable requirements for whistleblower status?

  While we hear that the Ethics Office report on the UNDP whistleblower will be release immanently, no explanation of the delay (or of the Skanska ethics review) has been provided.

Sen Dick Durbin and Chicago politicians (Ban Ki-moon not shown, see below)

Another report that is hovering concerns long-suspended Singaporean Andrew Toh. Sources say that two versions of the draft report are circulation -- to simplify, one pro-Toh, one more critical. How will the two be resolved? And how will Team Ban look if a procurement officials suspended under Kofi Annan is exonerated under Ban Ki-moon?

            There might even be talk in the U.S. Congress. In terms of talking with Capitol Hill, Sen. Dick Durbin was quoted that he spoke with Ban Ki-moon, about the Darfur resolution. Thursday Inner City Press asked, and the Associate Spokesman said he'd look into it. With no answer provided, Friday saw this Q&A, which we'll annotate to end the week:

Inner City Press: On the talks in Arusha about Darfur, there's this issue of the SLA's Humanitarian Coordinator, Suleiman Jamous.  There's at least one article saying that Jan Eliasson didn't raise it.

Associate Spokesperson:  That's false.  In fact, I spoke to Eliasson and he made it very clear.  He and his African Union counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, have raised the issue at the highest levels, including with President [Omer al-]Bashir, and they're certainly hopeful that the pressure that's being brought to bear on this case will help to contribute to the early release of Suleiman Jamous.

Inner City Press: I guess this is housekeeping, but the management committee of the Secretary-General.  How often does it have a meeting or when was its last meeting?  Do you ever give readouts on those?  Their themes or topics?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don't tend to.  I can check when the last meeting took place, but it's not a standard sort of thing in terms of getting information for briefings.

  Ah, transparency...

Inner City Press: And the meeting of Deputy Secretary-General [Asha-Rose Mi]giro with the head of the Staff Union today.  Can you say what that's about?

Associate Spokesperson:  This is part of our continuing effort to reach out to the Staff Union and discuss issues of mutual concern.  I don't know whether we'll have anything to say following that, but I'll see if there's anything.

Inner City Press: And finally, Senator Durbin, the thing I asked yesterday.

Associate Spokesperson:  I checked.  It's not on the call logs that I got from the last few days.  As far as that goes, for the last few days there were a number of calls that seemed relevant to the issue of Sudan, including calls with the United States Secretary of State, the Saudi Foreign Minister, the [Kenyan] Foreign Minister, and Alpha Oumar Konare from the African Union.

Question:  Marie [Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson] promised me earlier in the week to give me details about the exchange of letters, or not exchange, but the fact that Special Adviser Gambari wrote to the Nigerian Government to offer the United Nations' help regarding the situation in the Niger Delta.  I'd like to know, what is the United Nations offering Nigeria in regards to the Niger Delta, if there is something?

Associate Spokesperson:  This is still in an exploratory stage, but what we've done is offered to help in terms of dealing with the situation in the Niger Delta, and the Secretary-General actually raised the matter with, I believe it was the Nigerian President, when they met in Heiligendamm, Germany, a few months ago.  And beyond that, Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari has started the process, in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, of trying to see what kind of help the Nigerian Government needs in this.  The UN Development Program is also involved in terms of looking to see what kinds of projects could be brought to bear in the Niger Delta region that could help calm the situation down.

            And just after the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ibrahim Gambari himself in what capacity he wrote the letter. Mr. Gambari said to re-check what Ban Ki-moon said, when asked about consolidating the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, that he "still has Gambari." While a UN official acting on or in his own country might not be the norm, Mr. Gambari on Friday pointed out that he was Kofi Annan's and UNICEF's envoy to Nigeria about polio in 2004.

            And from UNICEF, finally an answer about the Central African Republic refugees now in Cameroon:

Just one update today. Awaiting responses on other issues.
Q: At yesterdays' OSSG noon briefing, I asked about a  Reuters report on the Central African Republic, quoting MSF on the "worsening  food situation of those populations and the delay in sending assistance." This  is in the less-covered Cameroon border region. Is UNICEF present or active in  the area, aware of the problem? What will be done?
A: The area referred to is actually inside Cameroon, and UNICEF, pending on the results of a nutritional survey conducted in May 2007, has been responding to the situation for 6523 under five children. Working with partners, including UNHCR, WFP, Medecins Sans Frontiere with whom we have a MOU, we have distributed plumpynut, BP5  and other therapeutic foods for malnourished children. We have also been supporting the Ministry of Health by training health workers to detect and treat children with malnutrition and install therapeutic nutrition centers in the five concerned health districts.

  Ah, plumpynut...

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

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