UN, Leaked Memo Shows Low Morale and Commuting in Afghan Mission
Amid Arrivals of de Mistura and from Dubai
Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive
NATIONS, February 22, updated -- A UN memo leaked to Inner City Press
the UN's embattled mission in Afghanistan UNAMA paints a picture of
low morale and a closed down recruitment system as relocated staff
prepare to return from Dubai, to Afghan locations from which they'll
have to commute.
memo, sent out
by UNAMA chief of staff Peter Schmitz on February 22 and nearly
immediately forwarded to Inner City Press, concerns relocation and
safety issues in the continuing aftermath of the "Bakhtar Guest
in which the UN was directly
targeted for the first time."
It announces that
by the end of February, 30
additional housing units will be become available. They will,
however, be where "the commute takes a lot of time" and
exposes staff "to additional risks."
acknowledges that "in the second half of 2009, virtually no new
staff joined the mission. Partly, we have ourselves to blame." Now, the
UN in Afghanistan and Iraq (UNAMI) have been "given the
special authority to issue mission specific one year contracts."
acknowledges that since the UNAMA budget has twice doubled, it is
"important that we do not lose credibility in the eyes of the
ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions]
and Fifth [Budget] Committee."
is now. Kai Eide, the UN's top envoy who quit in the wake of
allegations he covered up Hamid Karzai's electoral fraud, will leave
on March 6, when his successor Staffan de Mistura, who even the New
York Times described as a faceless bureaucrat, will arrive. According
to the memo, "we will be able to discontinue the relocation
arrangement in Dubai by 8 March 2010 and have all staff return from
there to Kabul."
with some cheerleading to tell de Mistura what works and what
doesn't. Given the UN's lack of whistleblower protections, and di
Mistura's insider connections, will such candid recommendations be
made or implemented? We'll see. Below is the memo.
publishing the article above, Inner City Press asked
Martin Nesirky about the memo at the February 22 noon briefing:
City Press: on Afghanistan, a memo has emerged from the Chief of
Staff of UNAMA, Mr. [Peter] Schmitz, saying among other things, that
virtually no new staff have joined the mission in the second half of
2009, and that new units are being, that the relocation from Dubai
will take place by 8 March. Can you, one, can you confirm that the
move to Dubai will be finished by 8 March? And two, how can it be,
what does it mean if the budget is doubled that no new staff have
been hired? Galaxy is closed, which used to be the way that they
recruited staff. If Galaxy is closed, what’s it been replaced by
and what are the plans to actually spend the money that’s been
allocated to UNAMA?
Nesirky: Okay. A lot of questions there, and I can’t really go
into detail on each of them. What I can say is the Secretary-General
has said very clearly that he is concerned about the slow pace of
recruitment for positions in UNAMA. There were some fairly stark
reasons why that was the case, and he is certainly keen that people
should be able to take up posts as soon as possible and should be
able to apply for position as soon as possible. On the details, the
various technical parts -- I’ll have to come back to you on that.
waiting for the "technical" answers, the memo has been
syndicated by the WaPo FP, with credit, here.
The memo is below.
UN's Ban, de Mistura and Hamid Karzai, low
morale and commuting not shown
22 February 2010
15 December 2009, when we sent the last circular on the security and
relocation issues, there have been a number of developments that
should improve the situation of the Mission in the weeks and months
Accommodation and Office Space
you know, the need to provide secure accommodation that meets the
higher standards established after the Bakhtar Guest House tragedy,
has been a major bottleneck for UNAMA. The good news is that by the
end of this month, 30 additional housing units will be come available
in UNOCA. Moreover, a further 50 units will be completed by the end
of April. As a result, we will be able to discontinue the relocation
arrangement in Dubai by 8 March 2010 and have all staff return from
there to Kabul.
80 units available by the end of April, we should also be able to
accommodate the new staff coming on board over the next few months.
is understood that UNOCA is not an ideal location for those staff who
have their offices or frequent meetings in the center of the city.
The commute takes a lot of time and exposes them to additional risks
even though the use of armoured vehicles has now been mandatory for
some time. Therefore, we continue to look for additional
accommodation and office space inside the city and we have identified
some promising options. Once the negotiations on these options are
completed, we will inform staff who wish to be closer to the city.
the beginning of the year with the 2010 budget coming into effect,
UNAMA had a vacancy rate of 44%. The situation had reached a point
where the SRSG felt obliged to alert the Security Council that if the
staffing back log were to continue, UNAMA would not be able to
implement key elements of its mandate.
is not the only mission suffering from this situation. We all know
that the more stringent recruitment procedures required by the new
contractual arrangements, in particular the introduction of a review
by the newly established Field Central Review Boards (FCRB), created
delays to a degree that in the second half of 2009, virtually no new
staff joined the Mission. Partly, we have ourselves to blame because
we started too late with the implementation of the new procedures. As
a result, numerous recruitment cases were returned to the Mission by
the FCRB for further clarifications.
Department of Field Support and the Office for Human Resources
Management have realized that UNAMA (and UNAMI) had reached a choking
point. Therefore, we and UNAMI have been given the special authority
to issue mission specific one-year contracts to staff who have been
interviewed by the Mission and recommended to be placed on the roster
concerned for selection.
the Field Personnel Division (FPD) of DFS sent a team led by Masaki
Sato to assist UNAMA in addressing the back log of cases pending
endorsement by the FCRB. As of mid-February, exercising its new
authority, UNAMA has issued 53 mission specific contracts. The
selected staff should be arriving over the next two months, providing
a desperately needed respite. Nevertheless, there are still numerous
vacancies yet to be filled. Stephani Scheer, the Chief of Mission
Support, together with the team from New York and the Section Chiefs
have prioritized the vacancies and established interview panels that
will pursue the necessary recruitment steps.
key element in this context is the issuance of mission specific
vacancy announcements. Since the Galaxy system is closed, and since
many of those who applied previously never intended to come to
Afghanistan, FPD has established lists of candidates who indeed are
willing to join UNAMA. If we cannot find any suitable candidates on
these lists or if we know of eminently suitable candidates who are
not currently in Galaxy, mission specific vacancy announcements can
will continue to get help from FPD. However, the brunt of the
time-consuming interview work will have to be borne by us. While it
is understood that the steps involved in recruiting staff seem
arduous and take time away from our daily work, we must approach this
task with a sense of urgency. If we don’t prioritize recruitment
now we will not be able to get out of this slump. Moreover, UNAMA’s
budget virtually doubled in two consecutive years, 2009 and 2010.
This not only shows that Afghanistan is still high on the
international agenda, it also places a lot of responsibility on us.
It is important that we do not lose credibility in the eyes of the
ACABQ and the Fifth Committee which placed a lot of trust in our
ability to utilize the additional resources in an effective and
my regular visits to UNAMA’s field offices, I know that our
colleagues in the field have particular hardships to endure. They
live in remote locations and their offices and living accommodations
are more often not at the standard we would like them to enjoy.
Moreover, with the new MOSS and MORSS requirements, many field
locations need to be upgraded to a higher category. Where premises
cannot be upgraded, new locations have to be found. The CMS has
established a priority engineering plan to address these issues. She
is also making every effort to improve internet and Lotus
connectivity, crucial tools of communication, particularly in remote
of Additional Security Cost
new security requirements, in particular the need for internal guards
(Gurkhas), have increased the cost for office and accommodation
security exponentially. The Security Management Team (SMT) has before
it a proposal to increase the amount reimbursable to staff for
security upgrades. The SMT’s decision is expected shortly. Staff
should not suffer financially because of the additional security
requirements. The CMS is devising a policy for the various housing
situations to ensure that nobody will incur financial losses.
this context it is important, that those staff members who were the
primary lease holders for one of the many guest houses that had to be
vacated following the Bakhtar guest house tragedy, approach their
landlords to recover any rent they may have paid in advance. The
Legal Office will provide assistance, if necessary. In the event that
landlords decline to return rent paid in advance, they should make
this known to the CMS. A separate circular will be issued in this
regard providing more details.
should, however, keep in mind that efforts to homogenize the salaries
and entitlements of all entities in the UN System have not yet come
to pass. UNAMA staff will have lesser entitlements than the staff of
the agencies, funds and programmes. Hence, while we are trying to
interpret our rules and regulations with the maximum benefit for
staff in mind, there are things that we cannot not do within the
current regulatory framework.
the Bakhtar guest house incident in which the UN was directly
targeted for the first time, we all felt somewhat depressed.
Moreover, the rather tumultuous unfolding of the elections last year
led to vehement and often unfair criticism of the Mission and UNDP
ELECT which, no doubt, left some scars on our self-esteem. How we
perceive our work and how our work is perceived by others clearly has
an effect on our morale.
weeks ago, I convened a meeting with all Section Chiefs to address
these issues. They raised many of the problems mentioned above
relating to secure accommodation and staffing. They also put forward
a number of ideas and proposals that we will follow up upon in the
key to staff morale is also the relationship between staff and their
supervisors. Particularly in the remote locations in the field with
little opportunity for other than office related activities,
inter-personal relations can become strained. Such situations should
be addressed in an open and transparent spirit in discussions with
the supervisor. No purpose is served if conflicts are left to fester
and then turn into formal complaints to the Conduct and Discipline
Unit. I would appeal to all managers and supervisors to actively
engage with their staff and to nip interpersonal conflicts in the
Staffan de Mistura has been appointed as the new Special
representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan. He will have
in-briefings in New York during the first week of March and is
expected to arrive in Kabul in the course of the second week. Kai
Eide will leave on 6 March. A new Deputy Special Representative for
Pillar I is expected in early April.
quite some time, UNAMA has been suffering from the fact that one or
the other position of the leadership troika was vacant. With the full
complement of senior leaders in place, we should be able to make
UNAMA’s structures work in the way that they were designed to.
a new SRSG will make changes and adjustments. Change can be a
challenge, but it should also be considered as an opportunity. We
should all strive to help the new SRSG to settle in and take on his
heavy responsibilities. Please be frank in pointing out to him what
you believe works and what doesn’t. There is always room for
are many challenges ahead, but with an open and collegial approach we
can master them.
Rice of US Insists UN "Misconstrues" Somalia Aid
Matthew Russell Lee
NATIONS, February 19 -- Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN,
accused the UN's humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Mark Bowden of
"misconstruing" US restrictions on aid. Ambassador Rice
asserted a "diversion of resources" to the Islamist group
Al Shabab. Since it is on US terrorism lists, US law requires the
restrictions the US is demanding.
what are these
U.S. restrictions? Bowden, while publicly complaining about them, would
not provide any description. Rather, he said that when he went to
Washington to discussed them with US aid officials, they told him the
issue was "above [their] pay grade."
asked Ambassador Rice about precisely this quote. She insisted that
it is Al Shabab which is responsible for the lack of aid. Video here,
But what of
Bowden's quoting of US aid officials? A US State Department official
in Washington, described as "irritated," has said of
Bowden, "We're going to talk to him." The
quote reminded on
UN observer of "something from the Sopranos," or the Mafia
film "Good Fellas."
boss, top UN humanitarian John Holmes,
stood before a UN microphone
on Thursday evening, Inner City Press asked him to explain what
Bowden had said, and to describe the US restrictions to which the UN
is publicly taking exception.
responded that the message was only that the UN needs more funds.
Even pressed, he declined to follow or back up Bowden. Video here,
cop, bad cop," an observer mused afterwards. Or was Holmes
showing his political stripes, declining to criticize the U.S. as,
for example, his predecessor Jan Egeland did after the tsunami?
Susan Rice back on Jan. 26, US Somalia aid
restrictions not shown
Ambassador Rice's two responses to the Press about Somalia, she went
in to a Security Council meeting about Haiti. Speaking first, from a
prepared text, was the UN's John Holmes. So goes diplomacy at the UN.
While Ambassador Rice also took two questions about Iran's nuclear
program, the Press was not able to ask for her views on developments
in Sudan and Darfur, or on anti-democratic moves in Niger and Cote
d'Ivoire, nor the incorporation of a presumptive war criminal into
Guinea's interim government. But the answers on Somalia, although of
a piece with Washington's script, were appreciated.
official told Inner City Press that "Susan Rice, as an expected
future Secretary of State, is playing it safe. She will not, for
example, criticize [former South African president Thabo] Mbeki about
Sudan." Until questions are asked, and answered, we'll stick to
an open mind.
the US Mission to the UN's transcript:
City Press: On Somalia, the U.N. has said that the U.S. is
politicizing aid, and has made restrictions that make it impossible
to feed people in southern Somalia. Could you say what the
restrictions are and what the reasons for them are?
Rice: Well, first of all we utterly reject that claim; we think it's
false and unfounded. The reason why aid is not now proceeding to the
people of southern Somalia is one reason alone and it's quite clear:
it's Al Shabaab's attacks on WFP and other U.N. agencies, its
kidnapping of innocent relief workers, its extortion of funds which
prompted WFP on January 5th to take the decision that it could not
and would not continue to deliver life saving assistance in southern
Somalia. That's an unfortunate development but it is a direct
consequence of Al Shabaab's attacks and efforts. The U.S. is the
largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, we have been
consistently over many years, and in 2009 we contributed $150 million
in humanitarian assistance to Somalia. So, as I said we reject that
claim as false and unfounded.
City Press: One follow up, Mark Bowden of the UN had said when he
traveled to Washington and met with USAID officials they said to him
that the decision was above their pay-grade and was being made by the
State Department on a political basis.
Rice: He's conflating and misconstruing two different things. The
reason why the people of Somalia in the South are not able to receive
the assistance that we and others have traditionally provided at
present is because WFP took a decision, a decision they felt
compelled to take and we understand why they had to take it, that
they could no longer continue to provide assistance safely, given Al
Shabaab's harassment, attacks, and terrorist activities. The question
of how the U.S. government has responded, and we have been in
discussions with humanitarian delivery agencies about the fact that
we have grave concerns about the diversion of resources to Al Shabaab
and other terrorist organizations in contravention of U.S. law. And
we have had those discussions, they have been ongoing but
nonetheless, the U.S. provided $150 million of humanitarian
assistance to Somalia last year. We remain, as we have been for many
years, the largest donor, and what is precluding the delivery of
assistance to people in southern Somalia is Al Shabaab.