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In Ban's UN, S. Korean Nationals Placed in Other UN Offices Avoid "Regular Procedures"

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN 5th 4 3 2 1

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- After eight days of questions, it emerged Friday that of the five South Koreans Ban Ki-moon brought into his Executive Office of the Secretary General earlier this year, the two that were assigned to other offices still "perform tasks that are closely related to EOSG work," and avoided the normal recruitment, interview and evaluation processes applicable to the offices they work in.

            In a terse statement read out at Friday's noon press briefing, spokesperson Michele Montas said that in light of repeated questions at the briefing, "as indicated repeatedly, there are five nationals from the Republic of Korea who came with the Secretary General."  Ms. Montas said that the Secretary General has authority "to appoint staff to his own office outside the regular procedures." Video here, from Minute 8:40.

            This came a week after refusing to provide the name of a person brought in by Ban Ki-moon and placed in the Department of Management, and two days after providing the name: Kweon Ki-hwan.

            On Friday Inner City Press asked if the statement Ms. Montas read out meant that Mr. Kweon is "in Ban Ki-moon's office on the 38th floor?"

            "No," Ms. Montas answered. "This professional is in the Department of Management, just as there is a professional who is in my office, who is in the Department of Public Information."

            Inner City Press then asked, since the authority to go "outside the regular procedures" was said to be limited to those in the Secretary-General's own office, if for these two in DM and DPI were given posts after "interviews and a process." Ms. Montas nodded yes. Video here, from Minute 13:22.

            An hour later, Ms. Montas sent an email that

"The five staff members from the Republic of Korea ,who were appointed by the Secretary-General, were appointed to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG). Two of them, Choi Soung-ah and Kweon Ki-hwan, have been assigned to other departments the Department of Public Information and the Department of Management respectively. But they remain staff members of EOSG, and perform tasks that are closely related to EOSG work."

            So the position is that the two are "in" the Departments of Management and Public Information, to which recruiting, interview and evaluation procedures apply, but are technically "staff members of the Executive Office of the SG," allowing them to bypass the recruiting, interview and evaluation procedures.

Ready for questions --  but only if they like them, some say

            In the past week, numerous UN staff members afraid of retaliation have urged Inner City Press to ask through what process these non-38th floor posts were given. Others uses the word "plants" or "minders" to describe the job functions. A sample email Inner City Press has received, followed by more from Ms. Montas' formal missive:

Subject: Attn: Matthew Lee, Senior Reporter

From: [Anonymity requested]

To: Matthew.Lee [at] innercitypress.com

Sent: Fri, 25 May 2007 11:03 am

hi - good reporting and keep it up. On the Koreans in Secretariat story, I think the question to ask is this:

"No previous UN Secretary-General has brought more than a single national to work in his office, usually as a personal assistant or press officer (Kofi Annan brought zero, Boutros brought one Egyptian... to be his personal spokesman, Perez de Cuellar brought on junior diplomat to help him. Why has Ban Ki-Moon needed to bring so many and appoint them to such high positions (ASG, D1, etc)?  What is different?"

There is a Korean 'team' which is a virtual cabinet, shadowing and if necessary circumventing all normal systems.  good luck.

            While publishing the above, Inner City Press notes, for example, that other say that Boutros brought in two Egyptians.

            Ms. Montas wrote:

Subject: Fw: Michele - Noon question(s) in writing as request: who can see The List, S-G/Bashir communications, and Fiji peacekeepers follow-up, thanks

From: Michele Montas [at] un.org

To: matthew.lee [at] innercitypress.com

Sent: Fri, 25 May 2007 1:39 pm

Matthew, One clarification:

The five staff members from the Republic of Korea ,who were appointed by the Secretary-General, were appointed to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG). Two of them, Choi Soung-ah and Kweon Ki-hwan, have been assigned to other departments -- the Department of Public Information and the Department of Management respectively. But they remain staff members of EOSG, and perform tasks that are closely related to EOSG work.

While we recognize your right to report, the publication and singling out of UN staffers simply because of the passport they carry is unfair to these international civil servants. It is especially unfair to have targeted nationals of the Republic of Korea who were in the organization before Ban Ki-moon became Secretary-General.

As requested and in accordance with UN policy on staff privacy, we would appreciate it if you removed that list from your website. I specifically told you that the document listing the names of all UN staffers was strictly for  background information and could not be published. I am truly disappopinted [sic] that once more you did not respect the journalistic norms on background information.  Michele

            This "once more" reference is to a briefing given to dozens of UN correspondents by a person who insisted on only being identified as "a senior UN official," and who proceeded to repeatedly state that a white plane used by the Sudanese government in Darfur, with "UN" on its wing, came from Kazakhstan. Later, Inner City Press' research, still not contested by the UN, matched the number on the plane's wing with a Russian airline, and after deliberation, Inner City Press did not name the UN briefer, but stated his nationality, Russian.

   Inner City Press was approached by an individual in the UN Department of Public Information -- apparently no one in the UN is supposed to be named -- and had what seemed to be a clarifying conversation. Among other things, Inner City Press advised that particularly in light of the UN's position that as an inter-governmental body they must defer to member states (most recently canceling a human rights film about the Hmong at the request of Vietnam, click here for that), the UN should not be requesting anonymity in order to accuse, as it now appears falsely, a member state.  The conversation seemed productive.

    Now Ms. Montas bootstraps on the "white plane" situation to claim that Inner City Press' use of the List of Staff of the UN Secretariat, which Inner City Press did not access in Ms. Montas' office in light of her demand that this only be on "background" and could not be used. Inner City Press was provided with the information by a source, without any restriction, just as the Sudan white plane story originated by a leak of a then-confidential UN report to a UN correspondent.

   Ms. Montas and DPI did not ask that the white plane information not be published, or be retracted. But now the claim is that since the UN made an offer of the List on background -- an offer that was rejected -- the UN can now state that it is disappointed that information that it characterizes as background was published. Inner City Press  -- and the Swiss mission to the UN, as previously reported -- dispute that the List should be withheld, and Inner City Press obtained it from another source, and even then redacted a portion of it, contract status.

            It is worth noting, as simply one example, that the U.S. State Department phone book of names and posts is on its Web site. In fact, public UN information lists names, and the definition (by "grade") of posts. So apparently the claim is that nationality is confidential, even though the UN has a hiring system (called "desirable ranges") that is explicitly based on nationality.

            To accommodate this request, however, Inner City Press today redacts from its May 22 article the names of the 51 South Koreans employed in the UN Secretariat in mid-2006, pre-Ban. Inner City Press has asked that this number be updated; there has been no response yet to that request. To be clear, the number at December 31, 2006 may have been higher than 51. Inner City Press is told by well placed sources that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, DESA, noticeably started hiring South Koreans after Mr. Ban's selection as S-G, but before the end of the year.

            Questions that should in the interim be answered: what was the number on December 31, 2006; what is the number now, and when and how frequently will updates be provided?

            And as to the claim at Friday's noon briefing that there was an interview and evaluation process for the post, the vacancy announcements should be produced.

            A statement made at Friday's noon briefing was that "all posts on the 38th floor were staffed through a competitive process." Video here, from Minute 12:35.This has elicited laughter from several of Inner City Press' sources, distilled to a question: was there a competitive process for the posts of Messrs. Kim Won-soo, Lee Sang-hwa and Yoon Yeocheol? But we'll assume that the "all" was mis-spoken. And we'll hope for -- and invest time in -- a better question-and-answer process next week.

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