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A Still-Unnamed Senior UN Official in NY Takes Free Housing from His Government, Contrary to UN Staff Regulations

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 12 -- The UN on Tuesday acknowledged that governments giving free or cut-rate housing to UN officials "has been a longstanding practice."

   In response to Inner City Press' questions, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated that, at the level of Assistant Secretary General and up at the UN Headquarters in New York, at least one such official has disclosed receiving governmental free housing. Inner City Press asked both Mr. Dujarric and the UN's head legal official, Nicolas Michel, to identity this senior official, in the name of transparency and in light of the possible conflict of interest. Mr. Dujarric said no, and Mr. Michel did not answer the question. Video here, at Minutes 13 and 45.

            Mr. Dujarric disclosed that there are additional cases of UN officials outside of Headquarters receiving free or cut-rate housing from governments. The reference has since been explained to Inner City Press as involving Special Representatives of the Secretary General, SRSGs, and heads of UN peacekeeping missions, a half-dozen or so all told.

    Tuesday afternoon, Inner City Press sought clarification from the Spokesman's Office on how many governmental housing subsidies have been approved by Kofi Annan during his nine-and-a-half years as Secretary-General. That information, Inner City Press was told at deadline, is still being collected.  Inner City Press has covered and inquired into this practices since August 24, including Aug. 30, Aug. 31, and earlier this month.

            UN Staff Regulation 1.2(j) states that "no staff member shall accept any honor, decoration, favor, gift or remuneration from any government." At a media briefing on Tuesday, Inner City Press asked Nicolas Michel, himself a senior UN official, whether there was any credible legal argument that free housing is not a "gift or remuneration."  Video here, beginning at Minute 44:17. Mr. Michel responded by reading from a prepared statement:

"I can simply confirm that, constantly if I am well informed, applicable rules and regulations have been interpreted and implemented in a way that reflects the view that in specific situations and for particular reasons, the Secretary-General can give a special authorization for a government to give housing subsidies. Now this has to be in line with rules and practice. That is to say, I repeat, there is a need for a special authorization from the Secretary General, the housing subsidy has to be disclosed in the Financial Disclosure Form, and of course the staff member has to behave in such a way that is in accordance with Article 100 of the Charter."

            The UN Charter's Article 100 requires all UN staff -- not only the senior officials to which Tuesday's disclosures were limited -- to "refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization."

ICC - Ah, Justice (see supplemental ICC item below)

            Tuesday the UN Spokesman's Office told Inner City Press that housing subsidies by governments to UN officials have taken place for three decades. To assess whether UN officials, that in New York and those beyond, have conflicts of interest, the value and provenance of their non-UN housing subsidies would be disclosed, if the UN follows even the average practices of other governmental or judicial institutions.

            Tuesday it was indicated to Inner City Press that the now-central New York-based senior official may soon identify if not expose himself. Inner City Press was told, by the Spokesman's Office, that the name is not in their response to U.S. Ambassador John Bolton, see below. Amb. Bolton's office indicated to Inner City Press that the response may be provided to Inner City Press and then otherwise released, but this did not take place by 7 p.m. press time. Inner City Press asked the UN Spokesman's Office, if they say housing subsidies by governments to UN officials are okay, why salaries or additional payments to such officials by governments are not permitted, by the logic that free housing is not a gift or remuneration under Staff Regulation 1.2(j).  "You have to draw the line somewhere," Inner City Press was told. Indeed...

* * * *

    Separately, Inner City Press asked UN counsel Nicolas Michel to explain the UN's position on International Criminal Court indictments, as relates to the example of UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland having met face to face in the past week with Vincent Otti, second in command of the the Lord's Resistance Army and indicted war criminal and child kidnapper. Mr. Michel responded, "What you're referring to is one of the most difficult issues that the international community today faces, that is to say, the relationship between peace and justice." Video here, from Minute 42. Mr. Michel went on to say that he hopes that the last ten to fifteen years have made clear that impunity cannot be allowed. There is, however, a sequence, he said. Concretely, he said the UN employees will avoid dealing with indictees unless "really necessary for the performance of their mandate," in which such contact can be approved. Again, how this relates to the Egeland - Otti meeting remains to be seen, or disclosed as least as regards the process of approval and the LRA negotiations. Mr. Michel was not asked, and it seems would not have answered, about impunity and the Ituri warlord Peter Karim, offered a colonel's post in the Congolese army, or about UN Peacekeeping and its charging story on the destruction of the village of Kazana in Congo's eastern Ituri district. Developing.

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"Horror Struck" is How UN Officials Getting Free Housing from Governments Would Leave U.S., Referral on Burma But Not Uzbekistan

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 1 -- Describing housing subsidies by governments to UN employees as a "longstanding practice" that is contrary to the UN Charter, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton on Friday called the issue "fundamental" to efforts to reform the UN. Kofi Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric informed Inner City Press just before his Friday press briefing that a meeting has been arranged Tuesday to answer the outstanding questions, including the incongruity between his statement that such housing subsidies are paid and are acceptable versus UN regulations and financial disclosure forms which prohibit them.

            Ambassador Bolton, in a response to questions from Inner City Press, expanded the scope of inquiry of the sources of housing subsidies to UN employees from governments to private entities as well. "The notion that if I took, let's say, fifty percent of my salary from an American corporation that somehow that's okay, if the U.S. government were to reduce my salary by fifty percent, I think people in Washington would be horror-struck." Video here, from Minute 6:25.

To DCR, with US flag, per UNHCR

            The current UN position, as articulated by spokesman Stephane Dujarric in response to Inner City Press' questions for more than a week, is that it is permissible for governments to provide free or cut-rate housing to UN employees, as long as those employees report it to the UN and have their UN compensation reduced.  A UN Staff Regulation, 1.2(j), provides that "No staff member may accept any honor, decoration, favor, gift, or remuneration from any Government." 

   The UN's position, according to its spokesman, is that free or cut-rate housing is somehow not a gift or remuneration.  Thursday the president of the Security Council Nana Effah-Apenteng responded to this logic, "Oh come on, give me a break... You're supposed to be an international civil servant, you're supposed to have neutrality and loyalty to the organization. I don't think it's good."

            Thursday afternoon Inner City Press asked Mr. Dujarric to address footnote six of the UN's Financial Disclosure form, which prohibits housing subsidies from governments unless "expressly authorized by the Secretary-General." Since Mr. Dujarric has conceded that such housing subsidies are taking place, Inner City Press asked if the Secretary-General has expressly authorized any housing subsidies. Faced with the inconsistency between stated practice, and written rules, Inner City Press said we don't understand.

            "Neither do I," said the spokesman. Eighteen hours later he informed Inner City Press of the meeting the next business day to address the questions. Amb. Bolton Friday said "we hope we'll get an answer" to the long-pending question, including asking the Secretary-General what the policy is.

            "The fact that the practices may be longstanding, the fact that governments or even private entities may be providing the housing subsidy, doesn’t mean that it's justifiable going forward."

            Inner City Press asked if the U.S. will be making public the UN's list of names of high UN officials receiving free or cut-rate housing from their governments. "Probably," Ambassador Bolton responded, without yet explaining why such information would be withheld.

            The fundamental question here is of conflict of interest. As Ambassador Bolton put it on Friday, "If you have a situation where a government is providing a housing subsidy, or some other form of subsidy, you have to ask how independent that person is," referring to the UN official receiving the outside subsidy.

   While some observers now predict that such subsidies may finally be prohibited going forward, despite the UN spokesman's admission that they take place today, that would not clear the taint of past and recent conflict of interest. What senior UN officials may have received housing subsidies from governments while acting on their issues? Inquiring minds want to know, and will continue to pursue.

            Friday evening at the UN a senior Western diplomat, asking to be described as such due to administrative rules, boldly offered a defense of housing subsidies. "To get the top people as Under Secretary Generals, they can't live in Manhattan in the style they're accustomed to. So if their governments help them, and it's against the rules, isn't that just a creative way around red tape?" While not agreeing, Inner City Press asked the shy or constrained diplomat what possible objection there could be to the disclosure of the names and specifics of senior UN officials who have been receiving free or cut-rate housing from governments. It was agreed that no reason exists, and that the names should be disclosed. And so questions will continue.

Linked Items on Burma / Myanmar, Uzbekistan and the Congo

            Other pursuits on a relatively slow Friday at UN headquarters included the announcement that the incoming Security Council president has received an American request that Myanmar f/k/a Burma be put on the Council's agenda, as a threat to international peace and security. Asked by Inner City Press to summarize the threat, Amb. Bolton listed drug trafficking, military policies, outgoing refugee flows and violations of human rights whose consequences have international implications. Video here, from Minute 5:35.

            The last two, rights violations leads to refugee issues, apply at least as much to Uzbekistan. Regional news is full of controversies about the return or non-return to Uzbekistan of political dissidents and anyone accused of involvement in the events at Andijan in May 2005. The Uzbekistan government of Islam Karimov and his daughter Gulnora Karimova, active in telecommunications, have managed to block Internet access from within Uzbekistan to outside news sources which raise these issues.

            Friday Inner City Press asked the UN spokesman why the United Nations Development Agency is bragging about providing free / open source software information to Uzbek government officials, and whether UNDP will use its increasingly closeness with the Karimov regime, which UNDP helps to collect taxes, to urge reforms and an end, for example, to torture of dissidents. "I am not aware of the program," Mr. Dujarric said. Video here, from Minute 14:35. No response has yet been provided to Monday's question about UNDP accepting funds from Shell Petroleum to compile and release a study about human development in the Niger Delta.

            In the eastern Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, aid workers have fled a refugee camp of 40,000 internally displaced person in Gedi and have been quoted that the UN's MONUC is nowhere to be found. Friday Inner City Press asked the UN spokesman about this. Stephane Dujarric said, "Obviously MONUC is continuing to patrol... there is no question." But the militias listed as surrounding and attacking the IDP camp are among those MONUC previously bragged about disarming. Inner City Press asked, "Does MONUC give you all news, or only good news?" Mr. Dujarric noted that he has also made announcements about the kidnapping and death of peacekeepers, and about UN sexual abuse.

[Sept. 11 update: See also this Inner City Press articles,  UN Admits To Errors in its Report on Destruction of Congolese Village of Kazana, Safeguards Not In Place

Security Council President Condemns UN Officials Getting Free Housing from Governments, While UK "Doesn't Do It Any More"

BYLINE: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, August 31 -- "Give me a break." That was the response of the permanent representative of Ghana Nana Effah-Apenteng to the UN Secretariat's argument that free housing provided by a government to a UN employee is not remuneration or a gift and is therefore allowed.

   "That's problematic," Ambassador Effah-Apenteng told Inner City Press on the last day of his month as president of the Security Council. "You're supposed to be an international civil servant, you're supposed to have neutrality and loyalty to the organization. I don't think it's good."

    The Security Council president's statement came less than a day after Kofi Annan's spokesman conceded, "I'm not saying there are not people that do get some benefits and have declared them, because there are... These are issues that are being discussed."

    Thursday Inner City Press asked officials at the United Kingdom mission to disclose as quickly as possible whether the UK pays or has paid housing subsidies, including but not limited to the just-previous Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, about whom Inner City Press specifically inquired by name.

            At 4:58 p.m. Thursday, two minutes before 5 p.m. deadline, Inner City Press received a phone message from the UK Mission's Second Secretary Michael Hoare:

"Getting back to you on the housing question. You asked two questions. First, does the UK do it? The answer is, not anymore. The second was what do we think of it.  On that, Stephane [Dujarric]'s views will be crucial. It's a question for the Secretariat, really."

   Inner City Press immediately telephoned the number left by Mr. Hoare, but got only a voice mail box. Inner City Press left a message requesting clarification and amplification and response to the questions asked, as quickly as possible.

Amb. Nana Effah-Apenteng on August 31, 2006

            Thursday Inner City Press was told by a U.S. diplomat, who for now asked to be identified as such, that in response to his mission's June 27 letter, "someone in the Secretariat created a draft response and sent it around. Some didn't like it didn't like it, this is not acceptable. So it's gone through another draft and we're still waiting for that response. There is a debate within the secretariat right now as to how forceful do they need to be. There are now a lot of people watching this story."

            Kofi Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric was asked, at his noon briefing on Thursday, whether and when the Secretariat will publicly disclose the names of UN officials accepting free or cut-rate housing from their governments. Mr. Dujarric did not answer the question directly, saying rather that

"This issue is being looked at through the financial disclosure form and those are being reviewed by the Ethics Office. I'll see if I can get you anything more."

Follow-up: Since the financial disclosure form is only for employees at level D1 and above, and since yesterday you told me that housing subsidies from governments to UN employees are fine as long as they are disclosed, where to employees below the D1 level disclose to?

Mr. Dujarric: They are meant to disclose to the office of human resources.

Video here at, from Minute 12:25.

   Another question that needs to be asked and answered: You said yesterday that the UN does not consider a housing subsidy is a "gift, favor or remuneration."  By that logic, would it be OK for a staff member to receive subsidized housing from a vendor?  Staff Regulation 1.2(L) prohibits acceptance of any "favour, gift or remuneration from any non-governmental source."  It would appear that the Secretariat is saying that since a housing subsidy is not a "favor, gift or remuneration," it would not be covered by Staff Regulation 1.2(L).  Please clarify, and square with statement on procurement reform.

            More fundamentally, while Kofi Annan's spokesman said Thursday that the issue of governmental housing subsidies to UN employee, which he acknowledges is taking place is being looked at through the financial disclosure form," the UN's Financial Disclosure Form states that

"Acceptance of residential housing provided directly to a staff member by any Government or related institution, either free of charge or at rates substantially lower than the market rents used in calculating the post-adjustment index for the duty station, is prohibited except as may be expressly authorized by the Secretary-General."

   Given the Secretary-General's spokesman's admission to Inner City Press that "I'm not saying there are not people that do get some benefits and have declared them, because there are," it would appear that the Secretary-General has "expressly authorized" housing subsidies by governmental to UN employees, a practice that is not only counter to the UN Charter's Article 100.1 but which the president of the UN's Security Council has denounced as a conflict of interest, "problematic" and plain "bad."

            A U.S. official told Inner City Press Thursday, about Wednesday's report on the Secretariat's position on the issue, "They just don't get it. If governments are allowed to buy loyalty, is that individual loyal to the government or the United Nations? It's not just a matter of deducting or disclosing." And the so-called disclosures, whether to Human Resources or the financial disclosure and declaration of interest forms, are to date not made public. When the U.S. mission receives the re-drafted response, will it move to release the information?  Developing. 

* * *

            At the Security Council stakeout on Thursday, the Darfur resolution votes were discussed and spun by the  U.S. and UK. While China abstained, along with Russia and Qatar, Ambassador Wang did not come to the mike. His spokesman Yan Jarong was back from vacation, and took the time to praise Inner City Press. Asked if her mission has a list serv, she said no, they have only two people. These are the big leagues, she was reminding, and China's a big country.

    Inner City Press asked UK Deputy Ambassador Karen Pierce about the UK's position on amnesty for the Lord's Resistance Army's officials including Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti. "We are strong supports of the ICC," she said. Asked about Amb. Jones Parry's statement Tuesday that the UK is working on a resolution concerning developments in Somalia, the Dep Amb said very little. Video here. Subsequently a staffer of her mission provided somewhat more information, while using the word "background." Given previous lack of clarity from this mission concerning how the information it provides can be used, reporting will have to wait. As will analysis of the short IAEA report and another Secretariat statement at Thursday's noon briefing, including in light of a UN Headquarters evacuation at or expediting deadline.

  After deadline an end-of-month reception was held on the fourth floor. Canapes floated through, among Ambassadors from Churkin to Bolton to Mayoral and more. There was discussion of Don King, there was salmon on potato cakes. The prediction for Friday was primarily silence, with no Council meeting. Across the world wars simmer, and in New York it grows colder by the day. Outside the East River flows, or rather moves back and forth. And so it is within.

At the UN, Incomplete Reforms Allow for Gifts of Free Housing to UN Officials by Member States

BYLINE: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

  UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- When UN officials receive free or cut-rate housing from their countries of nationality, the UN does not consider it a gift or favor, or even remuneration. Wednesday as Inner City Press' inquiry continued, it emerged that the issue is far from abstract.

   In response to follow-up questions, Kofi Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, "I'm not saying there are not people that do get some benefits and have declared them, because there are, and that's being looked at." When asked if the list of recipient will be made public, Mr. Dujarric said, "These are issues that are being discussed... we may very well move to some form of public disclosure."

            At the spokesman's noon media briefing on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked about whether such housing subsidies violate UN Staff Regulation 1.2(j), which states plainly that "No staff member may accept any honour, decoration, favour, gift, or remuneration from any Government."

   As transcribed, Inner City Press requested that the spokesman "at tomorrow’s briefing publicly say if those subsidies are illegal under the rules or not." Mr. Dujarric responded, "They need to be declared and then they are deducted from the allowances received.  But I will take a look at the staff rules in details and try to square that circle."

Paul Volcker and Stephane Dujarric's predecessor Fred Eckhard in May 2004 per UN: Two years later, public disclosure is still "tricky"

            UN insiders interviewed by Inner City Press have characterized member-states' provision of free or cut-rate housing to their national who serve as UN officials as both an open secret and as a scandal. In most legal systems a judge would be prohibited from presiding or ruling in a case in which he or she was receiving free housing from one of the litigants. By contrast at the UN as disclosed Wednesday senior officials in such departments as peacekeeping and political affairs can make decisions impacting their countries while at the same time receiving free housing from these countries.

            What of this apparent conflict of interest? Asked about this Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Dujarric said among other things, "You have to have an honor system." He used as an example that the head of the UN Department of Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, formerly foreign minister of Nigeria, might recuse himself from sensitive matters concerning Nigeria -- but not because of any housing subsidy. Mr. Dujarric added that he was neither saying nor not saying if Mr. Gambari receives any housing subsidy. (UN insiders note that the housing subsidy question should be addressed by Mr. Gambari's predecessor at DPA.) Mr. Dujarric also pointedly denied that any housing subsidies were provided to Jean-Marie Guehenno or Louise Frechette. The Canadian mission's press officer Michael Kovrig, in response to a follow-up question from Inner City Press, wrote: "I can now confirm that Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada did not provide any housing subsidy to Deputy Secretary-General Frechette."

            So it is a practice without practitioners? Wednesday Mr. Dujarric acknowledged that there are senior UN officials who "get some benefits and have declared them." But will that be disclosed?

            Kofi Annan's office and others provide various explanations or contexts for the practice. They note that unless the organization recruits only from within, many of the top jobs at the UN are filled by former diplomats who may already have been receiving housing subsidies from their governments.  (Notably, the interpretation proffered Wednesday is not limited to such circumstances.)

            Mr. Dujarric offered, using Belgium only as a example presumably hypothetical, that "Belgium has an Under-Secretary General, that's important to them, so they say, fine, we'll provide you with the apartment. But that's not remuneration... Remuneration is a salary, rather than a housing subsidy, which is usually more in-kind."  Asked about UN Charter Article 100.1, which requires UN personnel to "refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization" of the UN, Mr. Dujarric added, "We're saying you're not to accept orders or instruction from member states, nor are member states to give orders or instructions. There are two sides to this, obviously."

            Another explanation offered for the lack of public disclosure of UN officials' receipt of free or cut-rate housing from member-states is that some UN officials are no longer on good terms with those in power in their counties of nationality. Public disclosure, it was argued Wednesday, might put these UN officials at risk. The other side, whether the one referred to by Kofi Annan's spokesman or not, is the need at least for disclosure of what nearly any legal or administrative system would deem a possible conflict of interest: the provision and acceptance of free housing from a nation or party the recipient may impact.

            To the argument that if senior UN officials claim they cannot live on their UN compensation packages and need benefits from their nations, the UN should increase their compensation rather than accept conflicting payments from member states, a defender of the current policy quipped that while a certain U.S. Senator from Minnesota might want transparency at the UN, will he also not complain about the cost?

            Wednesday Inner City Press asked that Kofi Annan's spokesman at Thursday's "briefing publicly say if those subsidies are illegal under the rules or not." Mr. Dujarric answered, "They need to be declared and then they are deducted from the allowances received.  But I will take a look at the staff rules in details and try to square that circle."

            This still-rolling circle began, as much as anywhere, when high-placed sources within UN Headquarters showed Inner City Press a copy of a letter from U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, dated June 27, 2006, to Secretary-General. Kofi Annan. The letter asked Mr. Annan for information about UN officials who receive housing subsidies from their countries of nationality in contravention of their duties, under Article 100.1 of the UN Charter, to "refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization" of the UN.  Why the U.S. Mission, which is so often quick to comment, made no public statement about the June 27 letter is not known.

            Two weeks ago, Inner City Press asked the deputy spokesman of the U.S. Mission, Benjamin Chang, if any response to the letter, whose existence had yet to be publicly disclosed, had been received. A week later, the lead spokesman of the U.S. Mission Richard A. Grenell called Inner City Press offering to fax a copy of John Bolton's letter.  In response to Inner City Press' questions to Kofi Annan's office about the letter, it emerged that despite the passage of two months, the letter had not been responded to.

            On the August 29 noon briefing, Inner City Press again asked Kofi Annan's spokesman about housing subsidies:

Inner City Press Question:  Yesterday, you promised an answer right after the briefing on the staff rules and housing subsidies.

Spokesman:  I do have an answer, which is, first of all, we are in the process of replying to Ambassador Bolton’s letter.  The rules pertaining to rental subsidies and deductions are regulated through administrative instructions issued by the Secretary-General, which we can give you copies of since they are public documents.  They provide that staff members who receive housing assistance, including housing provided by the Organization, a Government or a related institution, either free of charge or substantially lower rates, shall subsequently be subjected to payroll deductions from their salaries.  We are in the process of checking data to determine if those staff members who are in receipt of that assistance are subject to payroll deductions.  These are things that are asked in the financial disclosure forms.  Those forms are currently being examined by the Ethics Office.  Obviously, anything that needs to be flagged will be flagged.

Inner City Press Question:  On the second manner that arose yesterday, on the Compass Group…

Spokesman:  I have nothing new to add to that.

[Ed.'s note: The Times of London of Aug 30 has added to that, click here to view.]

            Just as there appears to be no legal mechanism to require those at the very top of the UN to comply with stated ruled, such as filing the financial disclosure forms, so too there appears to be no outside non-Secretariat body to apply the rules, as written, to the fact of housing subsidies from governments. While it has now been admitted that such subsidies are paid, UN Staff Regulation 1.2(j) states that "No staff member may accept any honour, decoration, favour, gift, or remuneration from any Government." Staff Regulation 1.2(l) says that "no staff member shall accept any honour, decoration, favour, gift or remuneration from any non-governmental source without first obtaining the approval of the Secretary-General." This Regulation allows the Secretary-General to make exception only for NON-governmental sources: the prohibit on government sources is absolute, unless the regulation is read to exclude everything except salary payments.

            Wednesday Kofi Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Inner City Press that the UN "in the last three years partly as a result of Oil-for Food and [the] Volcker [Committee], is really trying to bring itself up to standards it was never made to meet by the public or by the member states. I think we've done a tremendous amount in that regard. The issue of public disclosure is more tricky."

            Mr. Dujarric himself disclosed, "I get a base salary, I hardly get any housing subsidy since I own my apartment, but I get school subsidies. If I had been a member of the French civil service, which I'm not, and they provided me with some help for my kids, then I would have to declare it and it would be deducted from what the UN gives me." Ah, sunshine. If only those above will follow suit.

            On the lighter side, Wednesday Don King strutted out of the Security Council with a freakingly tall Russian boxer promoting a fight. How these connections are made is not known. Across the hall from the spokesman's office, a journalist reported seeing a mouse.

            Thursday at the UN, the IAEA report on Iran is slated to be released at midday. The U.S. and UK resolution on Sudan has been "put in blue," portending a vote on Thursday, the last day of Ghana's interesting Council presidency. China, it is said, may abstain but not veto. We'll see.

Inquiry Into Housing Subsidies Contrary to UN Charter Goes Ignored for 8 Weeks, As Head UN Peacekeeper Does Not Respond

Click here for August 28 follow-up story by Inner City Press.

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 24 (updated Aug. 28, 1 pm) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has let eight weeks pass without responding to a request for information about senior UN officials receiving housing subsidies from their country of nationality, it emerged on Thursday.  Former Deputy Secretary Louise Frechette was asked if she received such subsidies and said no, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. Despite a specific request from Inner City Press at 5 p.m. Thursday for a similar response from Jean-Marie Guehenno, the head of UN peacekeeping, five hours later by 10 p.m. deadline no response was received. Deputy UN peacekeeping spokesman Hernan Vales said that since Mr. Guehenno is out of the country, no response will be possible until next week.

            High-placed sources within UN Headquarters showed Inner City Press a copy of a letter from U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton, dated June 27, 2006, to Secretary-General. Kofi Annan. The letter asked Mr. Annan for information about UN officials who receive housing subsidies from their countries of nationality in contravention of their duties, under Article 100.1 of the UN Charter, to "refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization" of the UN.

            One week ago, Inner City Press asked the deputy spokesman of the U.S. Mission, Benjamin Chang, if any response to the letter, whose existence had yet to be publicly disclosed, had been received. Inner City Press also asked if the U.S. Mission was aware if the Secretary-General has filed his required financial disclosure.  While the latter question has yet to be answered, Mr. Chang stated that while he was unaware of Ambassador Bolton's letter he would check.

            Late on the afternoon of August 24, the lead spokesman of the U.S. Mission Richard A. Grenell called Inner City Press offering to fax a copy of John Bolton's letter. His office told Inner City Press that no response has been received, eight weeks after the letter was sent to Kofi Annan.

            Inner City Press then immediately provided a copy of the letter to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, and asked if and why not response had been provided, and for responses specifically on Louise Frechette and Jean-Marie Guehenno. These two individuals were named to Inner City Press by the sources who first showed glimpses of the letter.

            Mr. Dujarric responded, as to Canadian Ms. Frechette, that "I asked her and she said no."  As to Jean-Marie Guehenno, Annan's spokesman's office did not provide a denial, nor any other response for the following five hours.

Guehenno, back in Haiti

            On August 22, at the UN's formal noon press conference, Inner City Press had inquired into the location and activities of Mr. Guehenno, whose deputy Hedi Annabi had been conducting the UN peacekeeping work of meeting with potential troop contributors to the UN's Lebanon force. The spokesman said that Mr. "Guehenno is in France on personal business." Video here, from Minute 42:23.

            In the spirit of disclosure, Inner City Press has previously interviewed Jean-Marie Guehenno concerning this year's loss of focus, at least in Africa,on peacekeeping and concerning the offer of a colonel's position in the Congolese Army to Peter Karim, whose militia took hostage seven UN peacekeepers earlier until early last month. Mr. Guehenno, who had previously told Inner City Press that Peter Karim "is on drugs," more recently explained the negotiations as solved because the hostage takers "just wanted jobs." Mr. Guehenno also responded to questions about the UN's Congo Mission's self-exoneration regarding reported abuse at Kazana in Eastern Congo by saying the report was still being considered, a statement yet to be followed up. Video here, Minutes 23:50 to 30:30.

            Thursday afternoon, less than an hour after the U.S. Mission provided a copy of John Bolton's letter, Inner City Press sought out lead UN Peacekeeping spokesman Nick Birnback but was told that he is out until August 29. Deputy spokesman for peacekeeping Hernan Vales said that "all of these issues are personal and confidential" and are "not really work related."

            As Inner City Press, and the letter, pointed out to Mr. Vales, the UN's bulletin on financial disclosure and declaration of interest statements, Document ST/SGB/2006/6, requires the disclosure of "any form of supplement, direct or indirect, to the United Nations emoluments, including provisions of housing or subsidized housing or any... benefit, remuneration or in kind contribution from any government, governmental agency or other non United Nations source aggregating $250 or more...".  Article 100.1 of the UN Charter requires that Secretariat staff "refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization" of the UN.

            Asked to respond to this logic, that senior UN official need to have their allegiance be, and to seen to be, only to the UN, and not their country of nationality, Mr. Vales asked Inner City Press to hold off publishing this story. When Mr. Vales then said that no response would be possible until next week, Inner City Press decided to wait four more hours for any written responses, and then publish.

Update of August 25, 5 p.m. -- Just prior to the UN noon press briefing on Friday, Kofi Annan's spokesman called Inner City Press aside and said, "I have answers for you, if you'll wait until after the briefing."

 "What are the answers?"

  "We're aware of the letter and we're responding to it. These are obviously issues we are looking at through the financial disclosures."

  The spokesman issued an off-the-record, then subsequently on-the-record, denial as to Jean-Marie Guehenno. On other issues he has promised to respond.

Update of August 28, 1 p.m. -- At Monday's noon briefing, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric answered questions about the housing subsidies by saying it is still being looked into.

  Also Monday Inner City Press asked Ambassador Bolton three questions: his view on the Secretariat's non-response for two months, what the letter was getting at, and whether he is aware if the Secretary-General has filed in required financial disclosure form. Video here, from Minute 8:20.

  Amb. Bolton answered that the housing subsidies to which the letter referred appear to violate UN regulations, that he wanted an answer, and that he is not aware if Mr. Annan has filed his financial disclosure form. This last, Inner City Press asked in connection with its inquiry into the purchase of part of Compass / ESS, embroiled in a United Nations scandal, by Sweden's Wallenberg family, of which the UN's Secretary General's wife is a member, click here for that August 28 story by Inner City Press.

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