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UN's Ban Speaks on Fair Cuts, Calls on Staff to be Less Selfish, Conflict Brews

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 22 -- Ever since the UN Budget Committee's session ended on Christmas eve with calls for $100 million in budget cuts and the deferral of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's mobility proposal until at least March 2013, Inner City Press has asked for Ban's reaction.

  First the answer was to wait for Ban's "Town Hall" meeting with staff. That meeting was closed-door, but Inner City Press learned that staff in Geneva criticized the proposal and in Africa asked for it to be withdrawn.

  The head of the UN Staff Union in New York compared the way she was lobbied to an "intellectual gang rape" - strange, given the UN's continuing inaction on actual gang rape of 126 women in Minova by the Congolese Army, the UN's partners.

  Then Inner City Press was told Ban would address it in his January 22 meeting with member states, and that Ban's opening speech would be open. Inner City Press went, but was blocked from getting in. Nor was it visible on UNTV, which doesn't work on Android phones.

  When Ban did his "monthly" press conference after the member states meeting, the first two questions were both about Syria.

  Three of the first four were given to Executive Committee members of the UN Correspondents Association, which should have pushed for access to Ban's speech but didn't. UNCA engaged in censorship and stealth complaints throughout 2012, so it is not surprising.

  After a question about Ban's participation in a concert this month culminating in a song some link to genocide, Inner City Press was called on. Transcript below.

  On behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, Ban was told about the exclusion of the press from his speech. Then Inner City Press asked him about mobility and how he is proposing to cut $100 million -- only 30% from "non-post" cuts, meaning 70% comes from staff salary.

  Inner City Press has obtained Ban's Controller Maria Eugenia Casar's memos, the first of which is addressed to Herve Ladsous and "Jerry," not Jeffrey, Feltman. The second, including to Alicia Barcena, is here.

  Ban said he would look into the denial of access, ascribing it to member states. (Actually, it was access to Ban's part of the program that was offered then denied.)

  On budget cuts, Ban said even without guidance from the member states he made cuts "to flesh and bones." Then in December, he said, member states demanded $100 million more in cuts.

  This $100 million cut was explained to Inner City Press by a Fifth Committee member as involving the so-called "re-costing" of the budget. Of the $220 million, $100 million was left for the Secretariat to do.

  But why demand that 70% be from staff salaries?

Ban shifted and spoke with some passion about mobility, saying it is not fair that some UN staff are in the field, in danger, for years.

 Ban called the UN Staff Union in New York "selfish" -- sure to be a big hit when the Union has its emergency meeting -- and said there are some member states, too, opposing the plan.

   Ban argued at length for it, ranging from corporate-speak about "silos" to a rhyme of agile and mobile.

  It should be noted that senior officials like Nicholas "Fink" Haysom and prospectively Michael Myer have gone to the field, to Afghanistan and Darfur respectively.

  But others have stayed in New York -- what was that "S" word Ban used? -- including Mister Mobility Kim Won-soo, Bob Orr and Angela Kane. We'll have more on this.

  In other answers, Ban clarified that Lakhdar Brahimi said only that the "Syrian people" think 40 years is too long for the Assads.

  On Africa he said the UN should not just be a fire brigade, but should engage in preventive diplomacy. On the other hand some think sending Prodi to Mali and the Sahel was more about European patronage than problem solving.

   On Mali, Ban said he "applauds" France, only "appreciates" ECOWAS, the African Union and Troop Contributing Countries.

  Some think that should be reversed, and wonder how it will be known when Ban finally does what he's assigned under Security Council Resolution 2085: confirming in advance the satisfaction of the Council with the planned military action. Watch this site.

From the UN's January 22, 2013 transcript:

Inner City Press: Secretary-General, on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access, a new organization here, thanks for doing this. I wanted you also to know also, in the speech you gave to the GA, we would have thought it was going to be open to the press – actually to physically go in and see the responses – but it wasn’t. Maybe it is a slip up, but I would really push for more openness and transparency.

 I actually wanted to ask about a slightly different issue that you raised in your speech, which is management reform and budget cuts. I know that in the budget session entered in December, that you had wanted mobility to pass, it didn’t. It got deferred. And now there is a lot of talk within the UN about this memo from your Controller, Maria Eugenia Casar, saying there should be $100 million in budget cuts, and that only 30 per cent should be non-posts – i.e. 70 per cent should be posts eliminated. Given all of the programmes that you outlined in your speech – sustainable development, peacekeeping and the Congo – how can it be done with these cuts? And what to do you say to people in the town hall meeting that said that the mobility plan should be better explained or withdrawn? I’d just like to hear, if you could, you’d explain what you hope to affect with these two programmes of yours? Thank you.
SG Ban Ki-moon: Your question in fact covers a wide range of Secretariat management [issues]. First, on this access issue, I will try to discuss with the President of the General Assembly for better access or more information. Sometimes, it’s not my decision. It’s the decision of the Member States to have their meeting in a closed session to allow a freer and more thought-provoking exchange of views, but sometimes, and [in] most of the cases, I know that you are very much interested in what Member States are discussing. And I will try to discuss, to facilitate, this process.
On managing the Secretariat through reform, there are many areas. One key priority, key vision, of my reform management as Secretary-General, is to make this organization, the Secretariat, a global Secretariat – adapting ourselves to changing situations, both politically and financially. The United Nations, as the largest international organization composed of 193 Member States, cannot be an exception when most of the Member States are going through a very difficult economic and financial situation. Particularly when it comes to major donors, then it is much more so.
That is why, without any direction or guidance from the Member States, I have initiated, despite a very difficult situation, budget cuts, streamlined our budget and also strengthened our budgetary discipline. It started as early as three years ago during my first term. I asked my senior managers to cut 2 percent across the board. That was my first attempt, and it was done and much appreciated.
As you know, the last biennium budget was cut almost 5 percent, again across the board. That was only the second time, I was told, in the history of the United Nations, when the UN budget was cut below the previous biennium budget line. It was quite painful, but I’m also very much appreciative of our UN staff for their patience and also [for] going through this painful reduction process that Member States have very much appreciated.
Then last year, this time, in presenting my budgetary outline for the biennium 2014-15, last year and the previous year, we have reduced a significant amount of the budget. It’s not because they were the fat – we were almost cutting even flesh, if not bones. For example, some missions had to cut 19% – in the case of UNAMA, [the United Nations Assistance Mission] in Afghanistan, 19%. And in the case of Iraq, 14%. In the case of DGACM, the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, this was $50 million. That was quite a significant budget cut, voluntary budget cut, initiated by me.
It was quite difficult.  Then, on top of that, the General Assembly adopted the resolution, guidelines, that we should cut $100 million more. It’s quite difficult, but we are determined to maintain this budgetary discipline; this one of the messages which I have conveyed to the Member States. We are ready, even though it may be very painful.
On top of $60 or $70 million of budget cuts I have initiated, then if I have to cut $100 million more, then both the Secretariat and Member States should work together. It is not realistic if Member States add and add the mandates and the Secretariat is asked to cut and cut. The Member States should also look at the possibility of cutting. If we review the mandates, there are many mandates which have already [been] overtaken by new developments of the situations. Then in such cases, there should be a review so we can reduce the source of our expenditures. That was my message. I know this is a very difficult situation. Our budget outline for the next biennium will be far below the current budget outline.
While there is inflation and exchange rate differences adding to our already constrained resources, then on top of this, I just wanted to make this Organization more mobile, more agile. If you meet some of the UN staff, there are some people who have been working in one post for 10 years, 15 years, without any change. I thought that this Organization [was] somehow very stagnant. If this whole Organization is stagnant, can we really be able to adapt to changing situations very efficiently and effectively? I really wanted to make all the staff more functional – multifunctional, multitasking. It’s not that somebody is working in a silo. When you work in a silo, you do not know anything other than what you are doing. You don’t know what your colleagues are doing. We are just one team. We are required to deliver and work and think as one United Nations team.
That is why I really wanted to have this mobility. There is strong resistance, even opposition, both from staff and Member States. I can understand some concerns, a lot of them; most of them [are] family problems, family obligations, education, health or cultural. In a country like the United States or some other developed world and European countries, that is the best place in terms of environment. But remember that tens of thousands of our staff who are working in very difficult and dangerous situations – 5 years, 7 years, 10 years in one place; very difficult. Their own safety and security is threatened. If you go to Iraq, if you go to Afghanistan, they are living not in houses; they are living in Quonsets or containers. They are not able to move out of this camp –just going out of the camp means risk to your life. Then is it really fair that one stays in that very difficult, dangerous situation for many, many years, while people are just enjoying very good atmospheres like this? I just wanted to have, let’s have some fair opportunities and equal opportunities for all of the staff.
I do not understand why, sometimes, Member States are not supporting this. I can understand if some staff are reluctant to move out of New York to [the] developing world. The Member States are coming all from nations where they themselves are very mobile. Diplomats are moving from here to there after 3 to 5 years. They themselves have been moving. Then I really count on strong support from Member States to this. There is no reasonable reason to oppose this.
I sincerely hope that in March the General Assembly will agree to my proposal. I have been promoting this one during the last six years. Finally, it has gone to the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly has begun to address this very seriously. Most of the Member States are supporting this. I think I have almost consensus, except [from] a few Member States. And we have consensus, except the UN staff union in New York. It took two years to convince the staff, first of all. Now everybody is on board, except the UN staff union in New York. Isn’t it too selfish? As Secretary-General, it think it is not fair – if one really wants to stick to the UN, I do not want to move out of the UN, it’s not possible. It’s not possible. So that’s why I proposed this mobility. This is my firm belief, firm commitment.

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