Monday, 5 January 2009

At UN, Ban's Town Hall Is Stacked with Pre-Screened Questions, on G-to-P Injustice and Permanent Contracts, Few Answers

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 5 -- As Ban Ki-moon kicked off his third year as Secretary General, reviews Monday by UN staff outside Ban's town hall meeting were less than glowing. "It was like a Soviet event," one well-placed staffer quipped to Inner City Press, "complete with pre-selected questions and answers read out of a book." Another marveled how "it's a new day every day in Ban's UN," constant reinvention with no memory of previous new beginnings not followed up on.

Other Headquarters employees grumbled that other duty stations, from Geneva and Vienna to Nairobi, were given questions first. The head of the New York Staff Union, who had been asked to disclose his question in advance, inquired into the elimination last month of the UN's permanent contracts, and whether this violated the UN Charter. Union officials complained that no real answer was given.

Also from New York, a General Service staff member asked Ban why not extend educational benefits to General Services as well as Professional level staff. Ban answered that the limitation comes from the General Assembly, and that American citizens will not get such stipends unless they move and serve in Geneva or elsewhere. At least there was one seemingly unscripted question. The broader unfairness and waste of talent occasioned by the wall between Professional and General Services staff remains unaddressed.

Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesperson at Monday's noon briefing to respond to this Charter-based argument. The Charter doesn't require or provide for permanent contracts, she responded. The new term is "continuing." But what about whistleblower protection? And what about Article 101 of the the Charter's reference to staff being "permanently assigned"?

Inner City Press spoke with a number of senior UN officials on their way in and out of the town hall meeting. One demanded off the record treatment, when discussing Team Ban's crack down on the Press. Others, however, to their credit made no such request.

Peacekeeping chief Alain Leroy, walking in with his colleague Susana Malcorra, replied about the Lord's Resistance Army that the UN Mission in the Congo must focus in the Kivus, and cannot provide protection to the North. Click here for more on that.

The current Special Advisor on Africa may not long retain that title. "I started with Small Islands," he said, adding that he'd prefer not to be too identified with the Continent. So if Ban in fact complies with the stated wish of the General Assembly, expect a new Africa Advisor.

Controller Warren Sach confirmed that for a time he had been officer in charge of the Department of Management, but not on the day for replying to a report of UN retaliation. The resulting letter to the editor was by Catherine Pollard, "that was December 26," Sach said, "she was in charge." And as the Arab League meeting about Gaza droned on the basement, Ms. Pollard held court in the Delegates' Lounge. Every day is a new day.

Footnote: the Town Hall meeting was closed to the press. Even member states were not, at least as of Monday night, able to access the video. Delegates' link to the UN's intra-net had not been undated so far in 2009.

Is this any way to run the so-called World's Body? We may have more on this.

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