Thursday, March 12, 2009

With UN's Ban in DC, Procurement Scandals Unanswered, No Protection by UN Security

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

UNITED NATIONS - DC, March 10 -- With UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon slated to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, a report criticizing UN procurement was raised at the UN's noon briefing in New York on Tuesday. Ban's Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe read a statement denouncing a media summary of the report, by the UN's own Joint Inspection Unit, but she refused to answer any questions, even as to which of the five recommendations the UN Department of Management is claiming it will act on.

  Only last week, Ms. Okabe's colleague Farhan Haq erroneously stated that the UN was not receiving computer services from Satyam, the so-called Indian Enron, through the UN-affiliated International Computing Center, and that the UN's now scandal-plagued Procurement Division covered the ICC. Haq's subsequent statement reversing what he'd told Inner City Press explains, some say, Ms. Okabe's refusal to answer any questions at all about the UN's procurement problems.

  Inner City Press asked for the UN's response to the report, particularly its criticism of the UN's waiving of competition such as in its $250 million sole-source contract for camps in Darfur, which even the UN's Headquarters Committee on Contracts then its General Assembly criticized. Ms. Okabe said, please don't ask any more questions about this, what I've just read out is all I have. What she'd read out was an attack on a media summary, not the JIU report Inner City Press has asked about.

  Ms. Okabe told other reporters, "Few of you have read the report," as an explanation for not answering any questions about it.

UN's Ban and Barack Obama, transparency not shown

 Inner City Press also asked for an explanation of the statement by Ban's envoy in Madagascar that the former mayor and opposition leader is "under [UN] protection in a diplomatic residence." Who in the UN system, which has in recent months allowed its envoy to Niger Robert Fowler to travel without security until he was kidnapped on the way back from a Canadian-owned mining company, is providing this protection?  The UN is not actually providing any security, Ms. Okabe aid. At least it's an answer.

   Afterwards, Inner City Press asked how Ms. Okabe's office, which is the media's interface with Ban Ki-moon, is assisting UN correspondents who wish to cover Ban's trip to DC, his meetings with President Obama and leaders of the House and Senate. "I don't have any information on that," Ms. Okabe said. Ah, transparency...  Watch this site.

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