Tags: UN | stumbles | gaffes

2008 a Year to Forget for the United Nations

Tuesday, 23 Dec 2008 02:47 PM

By Stewart Stogel

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2008 cannot wind down fast enough for the United Nations, as stumbles and gaffes were the norm for the World Body and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a U.N. veteran, surprised reporters when he called a meeting with Ban in New York City last September "incomprehensible." Moscow diplomats tell Newsmax the Kremlin has lost confidence in the secretary-general and is looking for a new face to run the the world body in 2012. The invasion of Georgia and Ban's reaction to it, is just one of many issues the Russians have with the U.N. chief.

The Chinese aren't much happier. In contrast to more than 50 world leaders, Ban snubbed an invitation by Chinese President Hu Jintao to attend the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The U.N. then could not even provide a plausible explanation for Ban's cold shoulder.

At first the U.N. press department talked of scheduling conflicts with the Olympic games, yet the office schedule showed Ban was to be in New York, with no major appointments, at the time of the Olympics' opening ceremony. Then, China's ambassador to the U.N. Wang Guangya said Ban told him that he "did not have the money in his budget for a third trip to China this year."

U.N. spokesperson Michelle Montas later told Newsmax that Ban "could not have enough time to see Chinese leaders during the Olympics." In other words, Ban did not want to be overshadowed by President George Bush or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Foreign Relations

It took the S.G. almost a week to send President-elect Barak Obama a congratulatory letter. Kofi Annan congratulated George W. Bush within 24 hrs. of his election victory in 2000.

It took Obama more than two weeks to return Ban's first phone call. It is also unclear whether Ban is on Obama's invite list to the upcoming inauguration in Washington next month.

The UK also seems none to happy with the former South Korean foreign minister. It is not clear what issues London may have, but they want change. High-ranking UN sources tell Newsmax that UK ambassador to the U.N. Sir John Sawers is actively seeking to replace Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar (India).

"He (Sawers) actually went to Nambiar and told him to leave," confessed a senior UN official.

In Africa, Ban's handling of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur has rankled almost all the key players.

The Sudanese government is upset over the way Ban awarded a "no-bid" contract to the Lockheed-Martin Corporation.

Lockheed won a contract valued at more than $250 mil. to provide logistical and residential facilitates to U.N. personnel manning and protecting the relief operations in the embattled region.

Ban could not offer an explanation as to why he blocked bidding on the contract, except to say that it was "an emergency" and that time "was critical."

It was later learned that a senior official in the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Affairs, Jane Hall Lute, is the wife of a senior Pentagon official, Lt. Gen Douglas Lute. Lockheed is also the US Defense Department's largest contractor.

The Sudanese government has become so upset with Ban that it has threatened to block any future dealings with Lockheed and might expel its personnel once the current U.N. contract expires.

As he prepares to enter the third year of a five-year term, his chances of re-election seem more remote than ever, say diplomatic veterans.

More Problems

Just last week, the U.N. lost track of one of its senior African diplomats, Robert Fowler (Canada). Assigned as a U.N. special envoy to Niger, Fowler mysteriously disappeared near the nation's capital Niamey. The U.N. and the Niger government cannot even agree on what Fowler was doing in the country, let alone identify who may have abducted him.

On the issue of contracts, the U.N. has created what some have labeled "quicksand" with its Capital Master Plan (CMP), a five-year $2 billion project designed to renovate the U.N.'s Manhattan campus.

Built in the early 1950's, U.N. headquarters has been described by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, as a "health and safety hazard."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sought to restrict visits to the site by schoolchildren.

Since the groundbreaking ceremony last May, U.N. sources tell Newsmax the project is already more than "$250 million over budget."

Added to the problems is that recent discovery of a landfill under the U.N.'s foundation. Just how the muck will be removed is a question that remains unanswered.

And if that is not enough, there is the continuing controversy over the administration of the U.N. children's fund, UNICEF.

Run by former Bush Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, the children's aid organization has been beset by financial questions. Still reeling from a $10 million dollar skimming operation in 1995, UNICEF found itself at loggerheads with Ban over a fundraiser by pop star Madonna last February.

Madonna, together with Italian fashion powerhouse Gucci and the PR firm KCD International, offered UNICEF a "guarantee" of almost $1 mil. if the group could host a star-studded gala on the U.N.'s North Lawn. The event would raise money for UNICEF and the aid group Raising Malawi. It would cost the U.N. nothing other than donating the space to host the party.

Veneman signed off on the project without consulting Ban Ki-moon.

Once the deal was inked, Madonna and her group took over the U.N. property, restricting access by the organization's personnel and issuing their own grounds credentials" The group also tied the U.N. and UNICEF into a Gucci marketing campaign connected with New York's annual "Fashion Week."

Ban, who frowns on corporate marketing tie-ins, was said to be livid over the UNICEF incident. He eventually decided to boycott the party and blocked any senior officials (other than UNICEF) from officially attending.

The day after, New York State Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo announced he was investigating the Madonna-UNICEF PR firm, KCD International, on bribery allegations in connection with another fashion house, Marc Jacobs.

And just weeks ago, an internal U.N. audit raised yet more questions on the financial dealings between UNICEF and greeting card giant Hallmark, the contractor that produces the highly successful UNICEF greeting cards.

The auditors questioned just how much of each card purchase actually makes it to relief and educational field operations.

Hallmark would not say. UNICEF sources say it is approximately 39%. Other aid organizations claim they funnel more than 85% of all money collected to field operations.

In their report, the U.N. auditors claimed that some UNICEF chapters actually retained all revenue generated by greeting cards, in contravention of the organization's rules which cap such retentions at 25%.

Diplomats at the U.S. mission to the U.N. had no comment, and Ban's spokeswoman Michelle Montas also refused comment.

UNICEF boss Veneman gets paid more than $175,000 for her efforts. UNICEF-USA (an independent fundraising arm) paid its former president Charles J. Lyons a whopping $429,135 in 2006 according to the website Charity Navigator.

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