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UN Won't Tell Press Who's on 38th Floor, How Paid, As ICP Digs Into Murky UN Trust Funds

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive Series

UNITED NATIONS, March 21 – How transparent, or opaque, is today's UN? Inner City Press had asked UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' top two spokesmen simple factual questions: who works on the 38th floor? Who pays them? But the two, both holdovers from the Ban Ki-moon administration, refused to answer, so on March 20 Inner City Press published its scoop about the murky use of trust funds to pay people on the UN's 38th floor. Even on March 21 when Inner City Press asked Guterres' deputy spokesman Farhan Haq who pays whom, he refused to answer. Video here; from the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I'd asked in writing but, having gotten no answer, I want to ask you in person, which is, on the 38th Floor, is it possible to get a list of who is now… now that it's 80-some… 80 days, I guess, into this Administration, who's working up there?  And I wanted to know in particular a breakdown of who's paid by the UN, who's paid by countries, and if — just a yes-or-no question.  If there is a… any type of fund — some have called it a Lusophone fund; some have called it… said it's run out of UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] — that, is in fact, paying individuals that work on the 38th Floor.  And, if so, are they UN staffers?  Is it something else?  Can you… I mean, I asked you on Friday in… like, is there a list, and is it possible to get this breakdown simply to understand how it's being run up there?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't believe that there's a list by payment.  Obviously, we don't go into the contract details of individual staff members.  We could try to get you a list of the people who are part of the Executive Office.

Inner City Press:  But it's not… I guess… I want to put it in this context.  It's not a matter of the personal details of the individual.  It's a matter of saying it is… it would be important for the public to know if somebody working on the 38th Floor is, in fact, paid by a country as opposed from the regular budget.

Deputy Spokesman:  The financial details of how the Executive Office works, all that is shared with the relevant budgetary committees of the General Assembly, and so they have that information.

Inner City Press:  So has… has the… has the Executive Office of the Secretary-General shared information about a Lusophone fund or any fund run by UNOPS that pays individuals on the 38th Floor?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any such thing as you're terming it.  As you know, at different times, if people are seconded by Governments or otherwise governments defray arrangements, that information, whether for this Secretary-General or for previous Secretaries-General, is shared with the relevant budgetary committees.

Inner City Press:   Right, but would it be… this is my final thing.  Would it be paid directly from a country to its own national or through a fund run by some UN system fund?  And, if so, I'm asking for details about that because…

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, that is information that gets shared with the budgetary committees.  They will have that. 

  Haq and his boss Stephane Dujarric refused for four days to answer this: "This is a Press request for a list of who is working in the Executive Office of the Secretary General; within that, who is paid by the UN general budget, who is paid by or through any other UN-affiliated fund including but not limited to UNOPS and who funds that, and who is paid by / seconded from a country." The question about UNOPS grows from a number of sources having exclusively told Inner City Press that Secretary General Antonio Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, has been using a "Lusophone fund" in the UN Office of Project Services, UNOPS, to pay several of those working for him on the 38th floor. Why not just answer?

  On March 20, as Inner City Press pointed out the seeming hypocrisy not only of the UN preaching media freedom while having evicted and still restricting Inner City Press but also of an all-male UN team meeting with the DR Congo, it was told Yes, UNOPS is involved, citing to General Assembly documents saying that some working in the UN do not have to be categories, or disclosed, as staff. But isn't this opacity simply inviting budget cuts? We'll have more on this.


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