Saturday, 20 December 2008
Thursday, 18 December 2008
UNITED NATIONS, December 18 -- For months Inner City Press has heard of an investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services into widespread use of UN equipment and time to view pornography. On December 11, the New York Post broke the story in a short 130-word article, naming a single UN staff member, "Mario Antonio, of the Philippines." He is a relatively lower level staffer, General Service rather than Professional or Director, employed in the Plant Engineering Section of the Office of Central Support Services.
The narrative in the Report of Investigation, marked Strictly Confidential by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services but obtained by Inner City Press and put online here -- says that he sent pornography to at least 72 other UN staff members. And what did they do with the images? One of the recipients was in OIOS itself; 61 were in the Department of Management, 13 in Security and two in the Department of Public Information.
Mario Anthony's defense, included in the Report, was to describe his "understanding of pornography as 'any extreme sexual activity,' for example, sexual activity between same sex individuals."
The Report includes reference to a video clip found on Mario Anthony's computer, sent out by email under the header "GERMAN," portraying a woman engaged in sex with a German Shepherd dog. To fit in with Anthony's defense, it must have been a male dog, one wag quipped.
On December 12, the day after the article, Mario Anthony was suspended without pay. Inner City Press asked the UN's associate spokesperson, "Can you confirm that there is a wider investigation? Is this the only person that was being looked at or is there an ongoing investigation?" The Associate Spokesperson answered, "This is all that I can say about this."
At the UN, many screens - but who is watching whom (and what)?
It seems unfair to throw a low level staffer to the wolves, to suspend him without pay, while the investigation is known to involve much higher UN officials. Who leaked the name of Mario Antonio? Sources say it came from within OIOS itself. Was this done to take the air out of the balloon of the wider investigation, to let off the hook higher level officials? There are others implicated, including within OIOS itself. So where is OIOS on this? Watch this site.
Footnote: as France on Thursday presented a declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, Syria and Egypt presented an alternative, an earlier draft of which denounced bestiality. Inner City Press asked France's Rama Yade to respond to the Syrian text, and to the legal challenge to France's violation of human rights announced this week by Sikhs who say that by France requiring them to remove their turbans, their religious rights are being infringed. Rama Yade did not answer the latter. Video here.
Perhaps, a reporter suggested, Rama Yade is embarrassed by France's position. No more embarrassed than Mario Antonio...
Sunday, 7 December 2008
UNITED NATIONS -- As international financial markets sink ever deeper in red ink, the United Nations continues as if very little has changed.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has complained that he is well aware of the current financial hardships and is trying to set an example of austerity, but "nobody has followed."
Last month, he told reporters he ordered "an immediate 2 percent reduction in the budgets of all departments, across the board."
Problem is, Ban did not have the authority. It belongs to the General Assembly, which ignored him.
But, if you look at Ban directly, austerity is not an adjective that comes to mind.
When Ban first arrived in New York City in October 2006, he was the "secretary-general in waiting" (he took office Jan. 1, 2007). The former South Korean foreign minister opted to shun his wait in a private apartment and instead settled into a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria that cost nearly $30,000 a month. That did not include the hiring of chefs specializing in Korean cuisine.
The initial costs of Ban's Waldorf stay were picked up by the South Korean government. But, on Jan. 1, 2007, the U.N. assumed all the bills.
The new secretary-general remained at the Waldorf for another eight months while his official residence was being "renovated."
The home, a multistory townhouse on the Upper East Side (3 Sutton Place), was to undergo "major upgrades," and the original estimate submitted to the General Assembly was approximately $4.5 million. It was the second renovation project in 10 years.
By mid-August, when the "upgrades" were complete, U.N. records show the costs ballooned to more than $6.7 million -- and that did not include the long-term hiring of Korean chefs to make the "S-G feel at home."
But a new home is not enough. Ban needed a new car, so the U.N. took possession of a new Mercedes-Benz S-550 series limousine estimated to be worth more than $100,000.
All of which comes on top of a compensation package that exceeds $400,000 after taxes. Ban's final take-home pay is nearly equal to that of President George W. Bush before taxes.
But, a new home and a new car do not complete the package. What about travel?
U.N. documents obtained by Newsmax show the secretary-general has spent more than a third of the year on the road.
In 2007, Ban and his minions were away for more than 130 days. In 2008, he so far has spent 126 days out of town, but the year is not over.
Ban's predecessor, Kofi Annan, who used his last year making worldwide "farewells," spent slightly over 135 days globetrotting. But at the time, financial markets around the world were not collapsing.
And of course, all travel is first class.
Despite the worsening financial crisis, U.N. records show the Executive Office of the Secretary-General continues carrying on "business as usual."
All of which comes as U.N. sources warn the renovation of the New York headquarters -- a six-year $2 billion project only begun last May -- is already almost $300 million over budget.
One African oil state ambassador, who sits on a U.N. budget committee, told Newsmax that "of course" he's concerned about "escalating" costs. The diplomat added: "We need to have confidence in the secretary-general, we cannot micromanage."
His nation also does not pay 25 percent of the U.N.'s general budget, as does the United States.
© 2008 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Mr. Sundaram noted that with an estimated 1 billion people on course to gain access to the Internet in the coming years, it is essential to ensure that people with disabilities are taken into account.
“The access needs to take into account the diversity of the world’s population, the diversity of languages but also the diversity of people with different abilities,” said Mr. Sundaram.
Nitin Desai, added that multilingualism is key as most of the expansion of Internet use is taking place in developing countries, where the English language and Latin script are not used.
While there are millions of young indian experts that could contribute within DESA and provide best-practices around the world - DESA has to continue to keep in payroll Desai so he can retain his G4 visa as well receive DSA for his "valuable" services.
Is this the contribute DESA is bringing around the world? What a shame!
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
A high level UN conference which closes in Doha yesterday has turned into a lost opportunity for instituting reforms to the global financial system to help poor countries, say leading development agencies Christian Aid and ActionAid.
The two organisations are particularly critical that the conference, held to examine funding for development, failed to recommend the upgrading into an intergovernmental body of a UN committee dealing with co-operation between states on tax matters.
Such a move would have helped undermine the secrecy offered by tax havens which is exploited by unscrupulous businesses trading internationally to evade tax in developing countries.
The conference did agree that the UN’s economic and social council should be asked to examine the ‘strengthening of institutional arrangements,’ including the tax committee.
But, according to Christian Aid policy manager Alex Cobham: "The proposal made is not as strong as it should have been. Doha was a chance for rich countries to demonstrate their commitment to helping poorer countries during the present financial crisis. It was a lost opportunity."
Christian Aid has calculated that tax revenue lost to poorer countries annually through evasion amounts to US$160bn. If used according to current spending patterns, the money could save the lives of 350,000 children under the age of five each year.
Anna Thomas, ActionAid’s head of economic and social development, warned: "Commitments made in the conference outcome document to address detrimental tax evasion are weak and the essential upgrading of the UN Committee of Experts on International Co-Operation in Tax matters into an intergovernmental body was fudged."
The failure to take strong action was in marked contrast to the importance attached to combating tax evasion to help the developing world by speakers including Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Angel Gurría, head of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, and Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s Finance Minister.
Mr Gurría said taxes were "the lifeblood of government services." He added: "To succeed, developing countries must create effective tax systems and, with the developed countries’ help, tackle the curse of corruption, tax havens and tax evasion."
Norway, France, Germany and South Africa all pushed hard for a strong resolution on tax but opposition to the move was led by the United States.
One positive outcome from the conference, however, was the agreement that a ‘UN meeting at the highest level’ will now be held in 2009 to discuss the causes and impact of the economic and financial crisis on developing countries. This was opposed by a number of richer countries, led once again by the US, but the views of the developing world prevailed.
The Doha conference was called to assess the progress made towards realising the 2002 Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, which signposted how public and private funds could be used to help poor countries.
The consensus was reached in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico between more than 50 heads of state and 200 ministers of finance, foreign affairs development and trade, as well as heads of UN organisations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and World Trade Organisation.
|Written by Ann Ninan|
December 4, 2008: Good but not enough!” “Missed opportunity!” “Talks fail to deliver!” These were some of the reactions from civil society as the UN Financing for Development (FfD) talks drew to a close in Doha, Qatar, this week.
Deep divisions over the question of how to overhaul the international financial architecture, which nearly derailed the negotiations, were papered over with the governments agreeing to convene another UN conference to deal with the ongoing financial crisis and its impact on development.
As Sylvia Borren of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) put it, “the world urgently needs effective decisions and follow-up which are inclusive and decisive. What is disappointing is there is no bailout plan for the vulnerable peoples of the world, but huge bailouts for banks and financial institutions.”
The review conference, however, reaffirmed the Monterrey goals. It also moved forward in some important areas, chiefly with regard to gender equality. The document commits to the promotion of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment as essential to achieving equitable and effective development.
The Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development, a network of nine coalitions including the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN) said this was not enough.
“The commitments to gender equality in the document will only truly be meaningful if the systemic issues that underpin poverty are decisively addressed,” said the activists representing the 250 civil society groups and networks that participated in a two-day forum in Doha, ahead of the official meeting.
The Doha conference was called by the UN not as a pledging conference but to review progress made in Monterrey, Mexico, in 2002, on commitments for new development aid from rich countries as well as agreements on debt relief, the fight against corruption, public-private partnerships and official development assistance (ODA).
While the German Development minister, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, tells the press in Doha that they had reaffirmed the commitments on ODA made at Monterrey, the civil society was vocal in their disappointment.
The meeting “barely moves on previous international commitments on tackling global poverty. Even before the food, climate and financial crises hit, existing commitments were in need of an urgent upgrade,” said Ariane Arpa of Oxfam International.
“The conference has largely sidelined other related international agreements of this year in Accra and New York rather than building upon them,” said Action for Global Health.
“Responding to the financial, food, energy and climate crisis should not have obscured the huge efforts that were already needed to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals).”
A concerted move by civil society to strengthen international cooperation on tax issues by upgrading the UN Committee on Tax to an inter-governmental body fell through the cracks.
“The conference did not go so far,” admits the executive secretary of FfD, Oscar de Rojas. “What the conference did was to agree (that) cooperation on tax matters has to be strengthened,” he explains.
“This conference was an opportunity to address the rules of a system which has led us to the worst crash in decades, and rich governments have failed to take it,” says Nuria Molina of EURODAD in a press statement.
“The yearly 100 billion dollars of aid to poor countries is dwarfed by the 500 to 800 billion dollars of illicit flows from the South to the North, most of which is tax evasion by multinational companies.”
But some other issues on which Doha moved beyond Monterrey were ‘decent work’ and innovative financing mechanisms which include remittances. The inclusion of the globally endorsed goal of ‘full employment and decent work for all’ was welcomed by civil society as “clear recognition of its centrality to development strategies and invisible work done mainly by women”, according to their statement.
For the first time, there is a separate paragraph on remittances, the private transfer of billions of dollars annually, from individuals to their families.
“That much more needed to be done to facilitate transfers, make it cheaper and far more accessible to people, has been added as a separate paragraph,” says de Rojas.
Goals Are ImpossibleCivil society now wants to see the implementation of the recommendations. “We remind delegates and officials that those most seriously affected in every country are expecting material action, which reverses the slide into poverty...” their statement says.
Certainly the challenges are huge. “We have just emerged from five good years, but there was little progress on the MDGs,” points out Borren. “Now we’re going into the lean years (because of the global crisis). According to Social Watch (an international watchdog network) meeting the MDG goals is virtually impossible!”
Ninan is an IPS correspondent.
In 2007, the UN General Assembly committed to establishing a new, independent justice system to ensure the due process rights of staff members and hold managers and other employees accountable. It was originally envisioned that this new system would take effect on January 1, 2008, but the General Assembly extended this deadline to January 1, 2009 at the request of the Secretariat.
Now it appears that the Secretariat will also miss the January 2009 deadline. According to the ACABQ’s report:
Since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 62/228 in December 2007, none of the 30 posts authorized for the Office of Administration of Justice (18 new posts and 12 redeployments) have been filled…As a consequence of the lack of staff in the Office, as well as the fact that the statutes of the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals have not yet been adopted, delays have occurred in such areas as the development of procedures for the transition phase, a code of conduct for legal practitioners, terms of reference for the registries and a training and communications plan for the new system of internal justice…The procedures related to the new mechanisms of the disciplinary process, including the reporting of misconduct, investigations, the due process rights of staff, the evaluation of investigation reports and disciplinary proceedings, have not yet been completed. (paragraph 5 and 16(d))
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Joint Disciplinary Committee – one of two main bodies in the current UN justice system – has reportedly submitted a resignation letter, effective December 31, the sunset date of the current system. According to this letter, “there is no valid reason to continue, even as a transitional measure, to rely on this obsolete system. Justice will be much better served by focusing all efforts on launching the new system as soon as possible, and bringing all pending cases before it.”
This effectively means that unless the Secretary-General takes immediate action to complete the reform process, there will be no functioning justice system at the United Nations on January 1. In other words, whistleblowers and other employees at the United Nations – the organization charged with promoting human rights – may have no venue whatsoever through which to defend their own rights.
This could not come at a worse time, as the number of people seeking relief through the justice system has recently increased, with an “exceptionally large number of new cases filed in the first half of 2008.” (paragraph 8) The number of disciplinary cases at the United Nations, jumped from 72 in 2006 to 277 thus far in 2008. (paragraph 10)
As the legal cliché "justice delayed is justice denied" suggests, a delay in justice tends to be most harmful to the victim in the case and violates a person’s right to a speedy trial. Therefore, it is critical that the international body meet the January deadline. In doing so, however, the Secretary-General must also adhere to the recommendations made by the Redesign Panel in its original report and address the concerns raised by the UN Staff Union and seconded by GAP.
Monday, 1 December 2008
DESA's top managers are running up and down to try to save the "dead" and show some kind of "achievements" in front of Ban Ki-moon and his entourage. Negotiations have begun to recognize the need for urgent action to help finance the battle against global poverty. U.N. officials are running like "mad cow" to try to save in the last minute and introduce a draft document that hopefully could win the backing of EU, otherwise the conference could result in another major failure for DESA and its management.
DESA's reputation seem to have scared away many important players, like G20, G8 and World Bank and IMF leadership. At its last hours, there seem to be still a long way to go, however, and there is every danger that the current version of document will be considerably watered down by non-E.U. members of the G8.
Many believe that the draft document proposed from DESA/U.N. under discussion at the conference remains fundamentally weak, in particular on aid issues where it fails to explicitly reconfirm the commitment made at the Group of Eight leading nations summit in Gleneagles in 2005 to increase annual aid to $130 billion by 2010.
So far, the conference is falling well short of UN and civil society expectations. A failure to address key issues, such as falling aid and the huge problem of tax evasion, will mean that it will not provide the concrete and decisive outcome that poor countries had been promised.
National delegates in Doha are seeking to update the 2002 Monterrey Consensus on aid and to decide how best to shelter developing countries from the global financial crisis. They are scheduled to agree their final conclusions Tuesday (tomorrow) when the conference ends.
In the corridors of the luxury hotels TEAM BAN was reportedly screaming about the "unexpected low attendance" of the conference and demanded explanation from the "organizers" as to who confirmed those attendees and who dealt with the conference administration from its conception. It seem that the blame game will continue in New York. As always those on TOP will be looking for someone to take a fall on DOHA. Will see !!