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Inner City Press Podcast --

UN Withholds Nationality and Job Data Which Even Swiss Would Release, As Japan Wants More Posts

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 17, updated May 23 -- There is a publication which the UN withholds from the public, which lists staff of the UN Secretariat sorted by nationality. At the UN's noon briefing on May 17, when Inner City Press asked why the document is restricted, the UN Spokesperson replied that "there are things that go to the Member States. You are not a Member State that I know of.  Okay?"

            Later on May 17, Inner City Press interviewed Switzerland's Ambassador Peter Maurer, and asked if it is the UN's member states that demand that the list of who the UN hires and from where be kept secret. "We are certainly not a member state thinking that this should be secret," Amb. Maurer said.

            The Spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who said that transparency is one of his major goals, told Inner City Press on Thursday that this list, which only contains names, job rank and location and nationality, "can be consulted by a Member State but not by you." Unsaid is that, while not a solution and within any thanks to the Secretariat, a Member State can make some or all of the list available.

            Switzerland had, as of the publication ST/ADM/R.60, 202 UN Secretariat jobs. (The figures in this report tally UN Secretariat jobs in all duty stations, including Geneva, Nairobi, Santiago, Bangkok, Addis Ababa and Vienna, but not including jobs with funds and programs like UNICEF or the UN Development Program, which separately keeps track of each staff member's nationality, reputedly to trade posts for donations.)

            While France had 1046 UN Secretariat jobs, Japan had only 213. Inner City Press on Thursday asked Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative Takahiro Shinyo about this. Amb. Shinyo replied that Japan's "is a very small number... we ask the Secretariat to give more chances." He added that job selection is "of course merit-based."

            Amb. Maurer used the same term, saying that while a nation being "under-quota" meant that its nationals would be given a leg up in competition for UN jobs, they still have to be qualified. In fact, Switzerland pre-qualifies its nationals who apply to the UN. "We would like to make available to the UN good Swiss," he said. "It is a question of reputation, at the end of the day."

            The question remains why this basic information -- names of UN staff members, the job level and location, their nationalities and pay-status -- is being withheld from the press and public. Names and locations, along with telephone numbers and email address protocols, are available in the UN phone book. So why is nationality, so often mentioned under the code word "geographic balance," still so taboo?

            Pay-status means that the List distinguishes "staff appointed on a 'when actually employed' basis" and "staff serving on one-dollar-per-year special agreement." Since the beginning of the year, Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's office has repeatedly refused requests by Inner City Press and other journalists for a list of dollar-a-year UN officials, and more recently for those paid "when actually employed." The List makes clear that the Spokesperson's office could easily have provided such information, but chose not to. What was that again, about transparency?

Team Ban and (some) member states: doling out the jobs? But even some states say end the secrecy

            For now, the following exchange on this topic took place at Thursday's noon briefing:

Inner City Press: Thereís a United Nations document or publication called "List of Staff of the United Nations Secretariat" that's sorted by nationality.  Iíve heard this document, publication exists.  Today I went to the library and asked to see it and was told it was a restricted document.  My question, I guess, is why is the information collected by nationality, and if itís restricted, why is it restricted from the press and public?  Who can see it?  Whatís the purpose of the document?

Spokesperson:  Well, itís for people in this building.  Not everything in this building is available to the press.  You are aware that this is an organization made of Member States.  There are 192 Member States, and the 192 Member States are first given information which they need for their own work, which are not necessarily given to the press, which means it is restricted.  This is what it means.

Inner City Press: Yesterday, Ms. Barcena said something about transparency.  Thatís why I guess Iím just wondering whether the nationality of individuals is something thatís considered private.

Spokesperson:  Absolutely not.  It is not considered private.  However, a table like this is reserved for Member States and there are a number of documents in the house that are restricted, like in any institution in the world.

Inner City Press: Iím just asking what the basis of the restriction is and if the purpose of providing it to Member States is to somehow gauge contributions to posts?  Whatís the goal?

Spokesperson:  Well, the goal essentially is that we have to...  As you know, there are quotas per nationality.  Okay?  In this institution.  Okay?  This has always existed and so you have to know how many people are over quota, under quota.  This is a working document.

Inner City Press: Why is it restricted?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are things that go to the Member States.  You are not a Member State that I know of.  Okay?  There are certain documents -- like at any regional organization, any international organization, any Government -- that are part of the working process, documents which are part of the working process of an institution, which are not necessarily open to the press.

Inner City Press: Is that document restricted because of the listing of nationality or is there some other category of information that makes it so?  I thought the presumption was that a document should be made available unless there is some reason it should be withheld.  So, all Iím asking for is the reason for the restriction.  I donít disagree that there should be some documents that are withheld.

Spokesperson:  Well, Iíll ask for you what the reason is but there are thousands of documents like this.

Inner City Press: Absolutely.

Spokesperson:  Which, in any institution.

Inner City Press: Right.

Spokesperson:  Which are just for working purposes for the staff.

Inner City Press: Itís in the library, itís just restricted.

Spokesperson:  Well, yes.

Inner City Press: Fine, okay, I donít want to go on.

Spokesperson:  ...which means it can be consulted by a Member State but not by you.

Inner City Press: And if you could just...

Spokesperson:  I can find out for you, sure.

  Video here. Subsequently, one hour after deadline, this was provided in writing by the Spokesperson:

"The document you mentioned, 'List of staff of the United Nations Secretariat,' contains a list of names, with ranks and nationality and is restricted most obviously for privacy reasons. This has nothing to do with any lack of transparency. These statistical data are used by member states that make up this organization and oversee the work of the Secretariat. The quota system is devised by OHRM [the Office of Human Resource Management] and is linked to geographical representation, population, etc."

            During the noon briefing, the Spokesperson had said that nationality and rank information is not private. But then this information is described by Ban Ki-moon's Office of the Spokesperson as being withheld "most obviously for privacy reasons." Which is it? And how is it, that they can still claim that this withholding "has nothing to do with any lack of transparency?"

            Right after Thursday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson for data concerning monetary contributions by Japan, and hiring information. While no such information has yet been provided -- the request was ignored in the written response quoted from above -- we will have more on this issue.

Update of May 23, 2007 -- a week after declining to provide the name, on Wednesday evening Associate UN Spokesperson Choi Soung-ah wrote to Inner City Press that

"the Secretary-General brought five Koreans with him to the Secretariat. The five were with him during the transition period as well. Of the five, three are on the 38th floor as you have previously been informed, myself  (you know who I am) assigned to the Spokesperson's office, and Mr. Kweon Ki-hwan assigned to the Office of the Under-Secretary General for Management."

   Along with thanking Ms. Choi for this response, how ever belated, Inner City Press has asked among other things, "what post in the UN Department of Management was Kweon Ki-hwan put into, and what process was followed to put him in this post?" Developing.

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