Sunday, 27 July 2008

As Ban Heads to Asia, UN Labor Strife Heats Up, Safety in Shambles, UNDP Runs Wild

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 26, updated June 27 -- As Ban Ki-moon gave a speech to the Korean and Japan Societies on 47th Street, on the eve of setting off on a trip to both countries, his human resources staff worked overtime on the 25th floor of UN Headquarters, trying desperately to finalize a deal with a grouping of unions that represents neither UN staff in New York nor Geneva. While Ban came in promising to focus on improving the UN's own operations, things have grown more discordant under his distracted watch, close observers say.

While Ban read out his speech, back in the General Assembly lobby the talks was of security. Who will replace resigning chief David Veness? Most mused that he'd never really wanted the job, declining to come to be interviewed, then not moving his family to New York. He'd thought he be head of Scotland Yard, but then got was named "Sir" as a consolation. His role in not solving the theft of millions from the UN in Somalia is a story for another day. But his resignation now is not accountability but convenience, these sources say.

In Algiers at the time of December's deadly bombing, for safety the UN's Designated Officer was Marc de Bernis from the UN Development Program. One would have expected, then, for safety improvements to be a major topic at this month's annual meeting of UNDP's Executive Board, held in Geneva. One might be wrong however.

Likewise, when on June 3 the Nemeth Panel's report on UNDP in North Korea was released, the press was told that the report would be presented to UNDP's executive board later in the month. Other after that, it was said, could the Nemeth panel answer questions. But the report was hardly presented to the Executive Board, despite requests from a number of countries. It appeared as a lunchtime item on June 24, leaving some member states on the Board grumbling. Thereafter, some additional time was added. We anticipate receiving an audio recording of the discussion, and will have more at that time.

There is a method to UNDP's seeming madness, and that method is to try to make problems go away. In Myanmar, for example, in the wake of Nargis UNDP undertook getting cash into the hands of the needy. Inner City Press' sources say UNDP paid dollars to Myanmar's government, and got local currency back at an artificially low official exchange rate.

Inner City Press asked UNDP spokesman "could you confirm or deny that a meeting was called at UNDP HQ today about Myanmar, and separately if it had anything to do with currency, exchange rates." For now he has replied, "On Myanmar, I am following up... there are meetings about specific countries every day. On Myanmar, there have "crisis board" meetings held on regular basis since the cyclone two months ago. There is nothing peculiar about this. In fact, it's part of the regular mechanism to deal with on-going emergencies."

The new resident representative in Myanmar, these sources say, is now trying to disappear this problem as well.

Among the disappeared, we're told, is Marc de Bernis himself. He's said to be on paid home leave, with Daily Sustenance Allowance, just don't talk to the press. But if the Brahimi and DSS reports are truly, he should face accountability. We'll see -- we'll have more on this.

On another labor front, the contract with UN TV personnel which expires on June 30 has still not been extended. The UN's contractor National Mobile Television has financial problems; its subsidiary Venue Services is not itself registered as a vendor. The UN staffer ostensible riding herd over the process left the building on June 23 until September, to cover the Beijing Olympics for NBC. While not technically permissible, one Andrew Nye gave the green light. But might the lights go off, on UN TV productions? Only time -- and July -- will tell. Watch this site.

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