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At UN, Meeting on Billion-Dollar Rehab Plan Closed to the Press, Safety Questions

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 7 -- As the UN spends billions of dollars on renovations with a general contractor Skanska embroiled in litigation about mishandling asbestos, its Capital Master Plan director Michael Adlerstein through his spokesman on Monday ordered security officers to eject a reporter from a “Town Hall Meeting” about the CMP. Adlerstein is under fire for having claimed that the litigation against Skanska doesn't exist, and for the claim that required Security Risk Assessments were either not required or were already done. In a letter delivered May 5, but dated April 23, Adlerstein acknowledged that the Security Risk Assessment are belatedly being done, to be finished, he wrote, by the end of June.

  At Thursday meeting, senior UN Security officials arrived late at 1:45 pm. They are waiting for you, another officer told them. It is said that Adlerstein is trying to explain his own mis-statement by laying the entire blame on the UN Safety and Security Service, specifically on Bruno Henn.

   In the brief portion of the meeting observed by this reporter prior to the ejection directed by Adlerstein's spokesman Werner Schmidt, Adlerstein narrated a slide about the reduction in service in the UN cafeteria. Monday, workers in the cafeteria complained to Inner City Press that they that day received notice of layoffs starting on August 2, with no relocation or retraining. They contrasts this treatment at the UN to what governments around the world are going during the financial crisis.

CMP announced on lawn, UN photo says Adlerstein there

  These issues, and the CMP, are overseen by the UN Department of Management, headed by Angela Kane, who is being questioned by staff and even member states these days on issues ranging from irregularities in the UN Medical Service she oversees through now triple confirmed attempts to keep her unit inside the UN compound during the CMP and force other units to move twice, to the suspension of the National Competitive Exam, one of the few merit-based ways that applicants from under-represented countries can work for the UN.

   A well-placed UN staff member on Thursday told Inner City Press that since Germany is over-represented, it and Angela Kane, who he called a German national, favor the suspension of the NCE. Another said that when Germans took the test, their over-representation led to throwing out of some results. Another has chimed in noting that there are over 400 people "on the roster." But the reality is, hirings and "regularization" are being done for those hired outside the NCE, from the field.

   Ms. Kane has said she has no time to answer questions, that all these should be asked at the UN's noon briefing. There, however, a limitation on the number of questions that can be asked appears to be in place.

 Even so, at the noon briefing of May 6, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: a letter has emerged from Mr. Adlerstein of the Capital Master Plan confirming something that had been earlier, I think, denied by the Secretariat that these security risk assessments that were supposed to be produced for the swing spaces and for this building, in fact have not been produced. But now they claim they will be done by the end of June. What’s the explanation of the earlier statement that these were either done or were not necessary? And there is a reference to the CEB meeting of 4 April in one of the letters. Can you confirm that this issue came up and how does this impact...[interrupted]?

Spokesperson: I cannot confirm it at this point. I can ask, of course, Mr. Adlerstein to answer your question.

   More than 24 hours later, no answer had been provided. And then Adlerstein through his spokesman had UN Security eject the Press from covering his "Town Hall" meeting.

News analysis: While Adlerstein, Kane and the UN's Ban Ki-moon administration have claimed to be transparent, the ejection of Press trying to cover essentially public comments about the billions of dollars the UN is proposing to spend is a new low. Watch this site.

Update of 1:58 p.m. -- as another UN correspondent has said, since the Capital Master Plan impacts everyone who works here, including the press, it is particularly inappropriate to close the CMP "town hall" meeting to the press who work here....

Update of 2:16 p.m., still outside the meeting room -- given his CMP chief's exclusion of the Press from a meeting the sign for which didn't even say "Closed," it seems more than a little ironic that earlier on May 7 -- and May 6 on Park Avenue -- Ban Ki-moon praised the press, and even "bloggers," for "holding authorities to account."

Update of 2:29 p.m. -- it emerges that even though the UN has not done the Security Risk Assessments, it has already moved staff to 380 Madison Avenue, starting on April 27...

Update of 2:59 p.m. -- While SSS's Bruno Henn, leaving the meeting, said "no comment" to Inner City Press, after another wait Inner City Press spoke with both Werner Schmidt and Michael Adlerstein. The former maintained that the press had to be excluded, saying "you wouldn't want staff in the press briefing room, would you?"  Inner City Press said it had no problem with that, and asked when Adlerstein would hold a press conference. While that wasn't answered, Adlerstein said, "you are invited to the next town hall meeting."  We will continue to follow this story, short- and long-term.


As UN Admits Risk Assessments Not Done, Top Brass Jostle For Position

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 5, updated -- Despite the massive funds raised for it, the UN's Capital Master Plan has an amateur quality to it. Most recently, CMP director Michael Adlerstein back-dated a letter in which he implicitly takes back an earlier claim that all necessary Security Risk Assessments had already been completed.

   Meanwhile, Adlerstein's boss Angela Kane of the Department of Management is said to be making a play to avoid relocation across First Avenue, now telling the Outreach Division of the UN's Department of Public Information that it should relinquish its space in the library to Kane, and instead be relocated twice.

    Sources tell Inner City Press this shows a double standard: workers at the UN are impacted -- fired in the cafeteria, relocated even now in other units -- while their purported leaders seek special benefits and do not, as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon once promised, "lead by example."

   Mr. Ban on Tuesday gave a press conference largest about the UN's report on Gaza and, as asked by Inner City Press, Sri Lanka (click here for that). But when asked about how often he is away from Headquarters, Ban said that he spends a lot of time managing the UN.

    But why then, for example, has there been little action taken on the expose of controlled substance irregularities in the UN Medical Service

UN's Ban and Angela Kane, Risk Assessments and relocations not shown

  Why is the head of security David Veness still in place a year after he resigned after the bombing of the UN in Algiers? Source say Veness has been told to clean up the mess caused by the lack of risk assessment. Veness has passed it on to Mohammad Bani-Faris, who asked Adlerstein to sign a letter responding to criticism. Adlerstein did not want to sign, so Bani-Faris sent the letter himself on April 28, click here to view.

   Then -- perhaps after Inner City Press' May 4 report of Adlerstein blaming UN Security -- on May 5 a letter from Adlerstein surfaced, back-dated, the Staff Union alleges, to April 23, click here to view, with near-identical language to Bani-Faris' April 28 missive. While some laugh at this chaos, others don't -- for example, the food service workers in the cafeteria who were unceremoniously told this week that layoffs start on August 2. They were still grumbling on Tuesday -- click here for Inner City Press' article on Monday -- and asking about others being impacted. Watch this site.

  Click here for a new YouTube video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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