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Economic Crisis? Not at the U.N.

Saturday, 06 Dec 2008 12:59 PM

By Stewart Stogel

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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.

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