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Ban Described as "Heartbroken" At Layoffs His Spokespeople Denied, Doubts

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 9 -- After UN spokespeople declined to confirm UN layoff letters which were handed out on January 6, at a Town Hall meeting on January 9 Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was described as "heartbroken" when he signed the order for then on December 31.

  That description came from Ban's chief of staff Susana Malcorra later in the meeting, after Ban had left. Before that, he was for example asked by the head of the staff union in Geneva to focus on merit and not nationality in appointing Under Secretaries General.

  Ban replied that merits is his focus, saying that in every case he interviews at least three finalists and picks only based on his judgment. But with France controlling the Department of Peacekeeping Operations four times in a row, and the US and UK controlling Political and Humanitarian Affairs twice in a row respectively, this is dubious.

  The meeting, which was closed door, began with technical snafus, as the Nairobi duty station could not be patched in, and master of ceremonies Yukio Takasu's voice echoed as through an Alpine valley.

  The question from Nairobi concerned translators flying to Takasu's native Japan, for twenty seven hours, then having to report for duty four hours after they got there, under rules that went into effect in August 2013. (These are dubbed the "Torsella Rules" for the just-departed US Ambassador for Management and Reform Joe Torsella, whose farewell was held on January 6.)

   Ban replied, as he did on layoffs, that it was the General Assembly's decision. Many staff members have since contacted Inner City Press dubious of this spin, asking if it wasn't Ban's budget, and his push. Takasu for now does not recognize any UN staff union in New York - which, an opinion goes, only benefits the Ban administration.

   From many of the questions at the January 9 Town Hall, and other contacts, there are UN staff that mean extremely well and could do much better, under better middle- and upper-level leadership.

   The UN handed out lay-off letters to staff on the morning of Monday, January 6, as exclusively reported by Inner City Press.

  But on January 7, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq refused to confirm that the UN had given out the "notices of termination," either at the noon briefing when Inner City Press asked about them -- video here and embedded below -- or in at least the twenty four hours that followed.

 (When Inner City Press asked again at the January 8 noon briefing, Haq had a prepared statement to read-out about Ban Ki-moon's move to a "digital" UN. Why wasn't this sent to Inner City Press after it asked the question on January 7? We'll have more on this.)

   On January 7, Haq said that the initial move would be "Town Hall" meetings with staff, including one involving Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Here's from the UN's January 7 transcript:

Inner City Press: there were people who work in the Publishing Section here at the UN, received letters yesterday that seemed to talk about separation from service, notices of termination. I wanted to know, is that accurate? Since the budget was adopted in late December, have there been, essentially, lay-off letters issued, and, if so, how many?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: I donítÖ the budget was only just agreed to. I believe that thereís a series of Town Hall meetings being conducted with staff to reflect on what the results of the budget mean. So Iíll wait for those town hall meetings to proceed and then letís see whether we can say anything further after that.

Inner City Press: Iím specifically asking about a DGACM [Department for General Assembly and Conference Management] meeting that was held yesterday at 11:15, at which letters were handed out, called formal termination, notice of termination and separation of service letters. I just want your confirmation that, prior to the town hall and anything else, that these letters did go out.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Haq: Iím not aware of anything like that. I can check with them, but ultimately the initial result of the last few weeksí developments on a budget is that weíll be able to discuss with staff through town hall meetings. I believe one of them was happening today with the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet. I believe the Secretary-General will also have town hall meetings with staff.

  Well, prior to this "Town Hall meeting," which Inner City Press will also cover, the letter DID go out. Inner City Press had on January 6 published the e-mail inviting those to be laid-off to the meeting to get the letter, and now publishes, with consent, one of the lay-off letters, here.

 The letters were dated December 31, 2013 and were handed out on January 6, 2013. But see January 7 noon briefing

  Why would the UN not confirm what it did? In seven hours after they were asked, and the Department and even (sub) Section at issue was specified?

  The UN wants to be perceived in one way, and to operate in another.

  This is true with regard to freedom of the press and of association, too, as combated by the new Free UN Coalition for Access - for example, the UN on January 7 met with Google's "Head of Free Expression" after Google banned from its Search a leaked anti-Press email to the UN from the bureau chief of Reuters based on a bad faith complaint under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now, legal questions exist about these notices of termination. We'll have more on this. Watch this site.


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