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At UN as Ban Takes States' Questions on Sandy Email Failures, Press Ordered Out

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 9 -- During and for days after Super Storm Sandy, the UN in New York did not send so much as an e-mail to its member states.

  On November 5 in the UN's Budget committee, diplomats strongly criticized two Under Secretaries General: Yukio Takasu of the Department of Management, and Gregory Starr of the Department of Safety and Security.

  Inner City Press, which covered the UN even on the day that Sandy hit, and its first Security Council meeting two days later, has been told by well placed sources that UN Departments disagreed for up to three hours as water rose on whether to turn off the electricity to save UN equipment. Inner City Press asked just this question at the UN's November 8 noon briefing, but the answer was deferred.

  On November 9, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to address the member states. The Press was allowed in, but only for Ban's speech, not for the question and answer. During Ban's speech, he said that the UN's list of emails for member states had been out of date.

  But as Denmark's Permanent Representative said in the November 5 session, all member states have current lists, to lobby in UN elections. The UN couldn't just ask for the list, or keep its own list up to date?

  The November 9 UN Journal suddenly lists a new website for weather emergencies, and Ban said that the media covering the UN can use it as well. Fine. But what about the other questions, just those raised on Monday -- what happened with the $50 million allocated for the "backup data center" in New Jersey?

  While the UN's communications were down, its Security Council Affairs unit for example put "into blue" a resolution to extend the mandate of the Somalia peacekeeping mission, as exclusively reported by Inner City Press.

  As simply one more example, UN staff from the publishing unit have been lobbying and trying to fix the printing equipment down in their basement workshop, in the face of what they call threats to privatize. They have enlisted Group of 77 members in the Budget Committee, who at a minimum have questions to ask.

  Also complained of on Monday and since, but not directly addressed in Ban's public remarks, was damage to and destruction of cars which the UN had just directed be moved even lower in the UN's underground garage.

  As the first question, by the European Union, began on Friday morning, Inner City Press was told to leave the conference room. Across the hall of the North Lawn Building, the Budget Committee was electing by acclaimation, from "clean slates" with no competition, representatives to oversee the UN's investments.

 Another election went past the first round; during the break there were complaints that UNTV showed the European Union's response to Ban, but not the more critical interventions by Algeria and then others. Some also questioned by the EU, not a member state, spoke first.

 We'll have more on these and other elections. Watch this site.

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