2 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


And the spokeswoman for the General Assembly president

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


**Secretary-General in Montevideo


Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General has now arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is to attend the Ibero-American Summit.


The Secretary-General is scheduled to speak, as the summit opens tomorrow, and he is also expected to meet with Uruguayan President, Tabaré Vázquez, among other leaders, on the margins of the summit.  We will, of course, keep you updated on that and hopefully make the speech available to you a little later on today.


**Procurement Statement


Late yesterday evening, following the indictment of Sanjaya Bahel by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, we released the following statement, which I will read into the record:


“Mr. Sanjaya Bahel, a UN staff member, has been the subject of an internal fact-finding investigation into allegations of misconduct related to his procurement functions, conducted by the Procurement Task Force, which reports to the Organization's Office of Internal Oversight Services.  He was formally charged with misconduct by the Organization on 31 August 2006 and has been suspended, without pay, since that time.  The UN provided its final report to the competent authorities of the United States and India.  The United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York commenced its own investigation into the activities of Mr. Bahel.  The United Nations has been cooperating fully with the Office of the United States Attorney during the course of its investigation.  Today, the Secretary-General received a request from the US authorities to waive Mr. Bahel's immunity from legal process.  The Secretary-General granted that waiver of Mr. Bahel's immunity.” 


**Security Council


Meanwhile back here, the Security Council held consultations this morning, in which it approved its programme of work for November.


During its consultations, the Council also received an update from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, about the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The President of the Security Council for this month, Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, said he will brief you in this room, right after this briefing, and after Gail has also briefed.


Yesterday afternoon, after consultations, the Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing the decisions by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to renew the mandates of the President and Prime Minister of Cote d’Ivoire for a new and final transition period not exceeding 12 months.  The resolution also details the Prime Minister’s mandate in implementing the road map drawn up by the International Working Group for Cote d’Ivoire.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo reports that polling stations were reopened today in the town of Bumba in Equator Province and in the Ituri district town of Fataki, where voting was suspended last Sunday after a Congolese soldier had shot to death two electoral workers.  The security situation all across the vast country remains calm, according to the Mission.


Meanwhile, vote counting continues without any major incidents.  The Mission says that reports from various parts of the country suggest that, compared to the July general elections, there is a significant improvement in the organization of the ballot-counting operation.


The Mission adds that the Independent Electoral Commission had dismissed as a fraud a document posted on the Internet purporting to present the results of the run-off presidential election.  The Commission warns against further efforts to disrupt the process and stresses that provisional results will be made public on 12 November and the final results on 19 November.


** Somalia


The UN Political Office for Somalia tells us that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for that country, Francois Lonseny Fall, will be in New York next week to brief the Security Council.  Mr. Fall will also speak to you after he briefs the Council.


Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s latest report on Somalia is out on the racks today.  In it, he says that the expansion of the influence of the Islamic Courts poses a serious threat to the transitional federal institutions and raises security concerns for the self-declared autonomous Somaliland and Puntland regions.  You could read that report out on the racks.


** Lebanon – Oil Spill


Some of you have been asking for updates regarding the Lebanon oil spill.


Currently, the UN Environment Programme, together with the International Maritime Organization, continues to coordinate the international response.  Clean-up operations of beaches and underwater areas are ongoing, with the shoreline being the next target area.  The majority of floating oil has now been recovered.


Recommendations for the long-term treatment of the oily waste will be included in UNEP's broader environmental impact assessment report, which is due out in a few weeks.  As winter approaches, a continuing need exists for personal protective equipment and shoreline clean-up equipment.


** Burundi


Also available on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict in Burundi.  The Secretary-General says that, despite the substantial progress achieved in addressing the grave abuses of children’s rights, violations are still occurring with a considerable level of impunity.


**Internet Governance Forum


The Internet Governance Forum concluded its inaugural session this morning in Athens.


Attended by representatives from more than 90 countries, information technology firms, NGOs and the Internet community, the Forum allowed interested parties that do not normally sit around the same table to discuss topics ranging from cyber-crime and freedom of expression to the digital exclusion of the developing world.  We have more on that it available upstairs.


**Guest Tomorrow


Tomorrow Adolf Ogi the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace will be here to talk about a new book on the achievements of the International Year of Sport and Physical Education, which was 2005, as well as the action plan on Sport for Development and Peace.


Now, I will take some of your questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Regarding the clean-up of the oil spill.  How much is it costing? And who is paying for it? Does Israel have responsibility in this area?


Spokesman:  The clean-up is obviously being coordinated under the authority of the Lebanese Government.  The United Nations Environment Programme and the IMO are working closely with them.  I don’t think yet there is an exact amount of costing of that.  If I have any further information I will let you know.


Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to four more deaths in Israel as the IDF has pushed yet again into Gaza?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General continues to be very concerned at the increasing level of violence and he repeatedly called for cessation of that violence and for everyone to ensure the protection of civilians and the respect for international human rights law and humanitarian law.  Though that is a preliminary reaction, I do expect a formal statement a bit later on today.


Question:  This is on Mr. Bahel.  I know he was arrested last night, yesterday.  When did he come back and when was he arrested?


Spokesman:  My understanding from the US authorities is that he was arrested yesterday and I understand he returned to New York a few days ago.


Question:  I also wanted to find out about this Capital Master Plan.  A lot of my colleagues are asking questions if, when and if, we move, what will happen to our space.  The reason why I’m asking, earlier Mr. Burnham was giving us the briefings.  Now that Mr. Burnham isn’t here anymore is someone going to do his briefing as well?


Spokesman:  First thing, Mr. Burnham is still here and we are trying to arrange some sort of briefing for you on the Capital Master Plan, whether it’s him or someone else.  On the specific issues, those are more in house matters that you need to raise with DPI and Gary, but I can assure you that part of the Capital Master Plan is to make this room and all your offices to be better working facilities.


Question:  I have a question about the European Force and Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Has there been a communication about extending that force beyond, I think the mandate expires November 30th?


Spokesman:  I am not aware of any formal communications.  The Europeans had indicated that they would want to leave and obviously it is up to them to decide and we have been working extremely well with the Force, which has been a great addition to our own mission during the electoral process.


Question:  On Somalia, I know Mr. Fall is coming but there is a report that UNDP’s head of security in Puntland has been thrown out of the country.  Is the United Nations aware of it?  Does it have any response?  What’s behind that?


Spokesman:  You would have to ask UNDP.  On why a United Nations official is thrown out, you would have to ask, usually, those people who do the throwing out.


Question:  On the housing subsidy question of United Nations officials getting free, or cut-throat, housing by their Governments or other parties, it was said today at the stakeout by the US Mission that there are eight such individuals receiving housing subsidies.  But you had previously said to me there was one.


Spokesman:  We had a pretty explicit statement on that on September 12 and that’s where we are today.


Question:  Do you know what is the basis of their statement that it’s eight subsidies?


Spokesman:  They are not misinformed in that they are basing themselves on a letter that was sent earlier in the year to them.  We did some more preliminary checking and, after that letter was sent, looking at our records, it was only one.


Question:  A couple of questions related to Sanjaya Bahel and again I want to reiterate our request, and I know other journalists have called for this, for someone from OIOS to talk to us…


Spokesman:  I in fact have some news for you on that, if I could take that question first.  OIOS has told us they would be happy to brief you.  What they would like to do, though, is to wait until the yearly report has gone to the General Assembly, which then results in a resolution being passed by the General Assembly on their annual report.  After that is passed, they have promised me that they will come down and brief you.  That may not be until December, but there is commitment from them to come down and brief you, once their process in the General Assembly is concluded.  What I would like to add is that OIOS, for which I do not speak, but maybe on this one instance I will, they are an investigative arm and they are often limited on the amount of public briefings they can conduct.  But I will take your question on Mr. Bahel.


Question:  Since we have some questions that are related to a story going on right now, December is just not going to be good enough for getting some of these answers.  Let me just give you a couple of questions.  Why is it that OIOS investigated Mr. Bahel earlier and then cleared him of any wrongdoing and now suddenly they are tooting their horn that they’ve helped out so much and that they’ve accomplished something when it really took pressure from the media and pressure from the other authorities to get them to get their act together?


Spokesman:  No one would dispute the fact, and not even the US attorney, if you read his indictment, and his press release, that the indictment is based on the exhaustive work down by the Special Procurement Task Force that reports to OIOS.  They concluded that work in August of this year, and they forwarded that information to the US attorney, which acted on that and conducted its own investigation.  But the UN has been working very closely on this issue and it is fair to say that the indictment of Mr. Bahel happened in large part because of the work done by the Special Procurement Task Force.  There may have been issues with previous audits done in the past that… Benny please let me finish.  I’ll answer everyone’s question.  I just ask that you let me finish.


There may have been issues with previous audits that were not followed through, on that were not acted upon.  One of the great lessons learned from the Volcker report is the fact that we do need to tighten up our procedures on audits that have taken place, on audits that need to be followed up on.  I think in this particular case, if you look back at the time-line, in January we had announced that following an OIOS audit of procurement, which involved a number of field missions in Department of Peacekeeping Operations, people were put on special leave and, as a result of that, the special task force was put together and they went on about their work.  And in August we took the added measure of suspending Mr. Bahel without pay and forwarding the information to the Southern District.  You can see that there is a clear line of leads being followed and a general tightening-up of procedures as a result of the lessons learned by Mr. Volcker.


Question:  But they did clear Mr. Bahel.  So why did they clear him in the first place?  And where can we as the public have faith in OIOS to accomplish what their mandate is, which is to root out any sort of criminal activity?  And secondly, if you could answer, you mentioned that Mr. Bahel and others were suspended without pay back a few months ago.  What is the situation with the other people who are under investigation?  Can you give us an update?


Spokesman:  You can show faith by looking at what happened yesterday.  The point is that procedures have been tightened up, more investigation is done, more follow-through is done on audits and, as a result, people who commit misconduct within the Organization have to face the charges.  The Procurement Task Force worked extremely diligently on these cases and you can see the end result in terms of what happened yesterday with what the US authorities did.  What I can tell you is that in terms of the other cases, the Procurement Task Force completed six fact-finding investigations into allegations of procurement irregularities.  Most of these cases are rather complex and difficult and we are obviously making every effort that due process is followed.  As I said, on January 16, we placed eight staff members on special leave with full pay.  Of the six cases now completed two members have been fully exonerated of any alleged irregularities and are now back at work, another two are also back at work but have been asked to respond to allegations of mismanagement, and a final decision on action to take on one last staff member is still pending.


Question:  Is there going to be any accountability for whoever was involved in clearing Mr. Bahel in the first place when the initial investigation happened?


Spokesman:  At this point, there have been quite a few changes at OIOS and in the Department of Management and especially in the procurement department and we are moving on with the investigations and these cases.


Question:  First of all, is it true that the Procurement Task Force was established because some people on the 38th floor were dissatisfied with the result of the investigation by the investigating arm of OIOS?


Spokesman:  The Procurement Task Force was established again as a result of an effort to learn from a number of issues raised by Volcker and that is following up on leads done by regular audits to make sure things don’t get just filed away, to make sure that every red flag is checked up on.  I think the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and Mr. Burnham have explained to you from here a great deal of effort has gone into reorganizing the procurement service.  We have a new head of the procurement service, which I announced a few weeks ago, to make sure that everything is managed in the best possible way. 


Question:  Has Barbara Dixon, who was part of the reorganization of that particular OIOS department, been hired recently by another UN agency?


Spokesman:  I have no information on that.


Question:  And a third question, what is the status of Andrew Toh?


Spokesman:  I will have to check for you what exactly the status of Andrew Toh is. 


Question:  You said of the eight, you accounted for five, two was exonerated, two asked to respond but back at work, and final action pending on one.


Spokesman:  Plus Mr. Bahel, and they’ve completed six fact-finding investigations.


Correspondent:  Oh I see


Spokesman:  Yes


Question:  Stéphane, if you could find out about Barbara Dixon as well


Spokesman:  The UN, as you well know, is a large agency.  If you have particular information on which agency may or may not have hired her…


Question:  Are there any meetings scheduled or that have been scheduled yesterday between the Secretary-General and Walid Jumblatt?


Spokesman:  No, I checked just before coming down.  The Secretary General’s office, as of a few hours ago, had not received a request from Mr. Jumblatt to meet with the Secretary-General.


Question:  Do you know if he, did he ask to meet with the P5 members?


Spokesman:  I think that’s a question you have to ask Mr. Jumblatt or the five ambassadors.


Question:  I just had a question about Barbara Dixon.  She left her position.  What were the arrangements made with her leaving?  If you can’t answer that now, can you…


Spokesman:  I don’t think I can answer that and I may not be able to as, these sort of arrangements are confidential to the staff, between the staff member and the Organization, but I’m happy to see what I can tell you.


Question:  Jim Morris, the World Food Programme guy, yesterday you said he is now leaving at the end of the year, although his term runs through April.  When did he make that change?


Spokesman:  Let me check on that and give you an answer this afternoon.  Thank you.


Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly


Good afternoon everyone.  First I think I will give you the latest on the Security Council election between Guatemala and Venezuela.  The Foreign Ministers of Guatemala and Venezuela have just met with the Acting President of the General Assembly, Ambassador Abdullah Ahmed Mohammed Al Murad of Kuwait, to inform him of the agreement reached by the two countries on two main points:  (i) their decision to both withdraw from the elections in the Security Council and (ii) the decision to hold a meeting of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States [GRULAC] which is currently taking place in the ECOSOC Chamber, during which the two countries will propose Panama as a compromise candidate.   Both Ministers stressed that Panama was chosen as it is a country with which both nations have close ties.  Therefore, their expectation is that the Group will endorse Panama.  With this agreement, the General Assembly will now be able to proceed with a formal vote on the consensus candidate as scheduled on Tuesday November 7 at 10.00 a.m.


In news of other elections, elections for the Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC]:  in the plenary meeting this morning, the General Assembly extended until 31 December 2008 the terms of 18 ad litem judges of the Rwanda International Criminal Tribunal.  I’m sure you know that ad litem judge refers to the fact that these are temporary judges.  These are judges who only participate in a particular case or a limited set of cases and they do not have the same status as the other judges of the Court.


The Assembly next took up the election of members of the Economic and Social Council.  First, in a by-election, Portugal and Greece were elected for unexpired terms relinquished by Spain and Turkey, respectively.  Their term will last from January 2007 through December 2008.


The Assembly then cast ballots for 18 seats on the ECOSOC for three-year terms.  The candidates, as announced yesterday, are as follows:  Algeria, Cape Verde, Malawi, Somalia, Sudan (for five seats designated for African States, endorsed by the regional group); Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, and the Philippines (for four seats designated for Asian States, all endorsed by the regional group); Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania (for two seats designated for Eastern European States); Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, El Salvador (for three seats designated for Latin American and Caribbean States); and Canada, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and the United States (for four seats designated for Western European and other States, all endorsed by their regional group).


The required majority vote for the election is two thirds of those present and voting.  Ballot results are expected to be announced probably in the next 10 minutes.


In the Fourth Committee, debate continues today on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  In yesterday’s debate on the issue, speakers expressed concern about “the constant and marked” socio-economic deterioration in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly the situation in the Gaza Strip where UNRWA provided the only safety net available. 


Speakers noted that curfews and other restrictions on movement had increased the suffering of the Palestinian people and called for the removal of all restrictions on UNWRA’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza refugee camps.  Addressing the questions of reform of UNWRA, one donor country suggested that more effective management and programming would be key elements in maintaining donor support and meeting the humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees.


Meanwhile, the Third Committee yesterday decided to suspend its consideration of the first-ever report of the Human Rights Council amid divisions between delegations on how to proceed.  The Committee will meet again at a time and date to be announced.


In the Fifth Committee discussions on Wednesday were focused on proposals by the UN Secretary-General to improve the management of human resources within the organization.  Among the suggested improvements are initiatives related to shortening the recruitment time, implementing managed mobility, simplifying contractual arrangements and ensuring equitable geographical balance in the Secretariat. 


In the Sixth Committee, discussion continues on subjects addressed in the 2006 report of the International Law Commission.  On Wednesday, the Committee discussed the “fragmentation” of international law which was described as a new development, “where all sensed a certain uneasiness, but where the precise point of concern was hard to pin down.”  The Committee also took up two other topics:  the effects of armed conflicts on treaties and the obligation to extradite or prosecute, a relatively recent addition to the Commission’s agenda.  And now I will take your questions.


Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted to reiterate, one thing you said here yesterday, two days ago, when you cite the country if it’s prominent to be cited, the other name of the country should be prominent enough to mention?


Spokeswoman:  Well, it’s not the usual practice, and that I have checked.


Question:  I mean, it’s very difficult for me to report one country.  I mean, I’m not allowed to do that in my journalistic practice. 


Spokeswoman:  But you have the press release.  All I am doing is really summarizing for you.  You have the press release, which you can read and get the information from.  What I really do is point you in a direction, simply because the work of the General Assembly doesn’t seem to have the same attraction for you, necessarily, as the work of the Security Council and, therefore, in order to point you in that direction, I give you a sense of what is said.  But I think it’s really very easy to just look at the press release for yourself.


Question:  If it’s written in the press release, why can’t you mention it?


Spokeswoman:  Because we’ve never done that; the feeling being that we do not speak on behalf of Member States; we speak on behalf of the General Assembly, and that’s really the rationale as to why it’s done that way.


Question:  Can we move on to another question?  Yesterday, on those flat screens, which are all over the place, one of those topics, I don’t remember which committee it was, was the composition of UNHCR, and it mentioned one country, Cuba, which organized that debate.  Can you tell us what that was all about?  I don’t know what it was, but it was UNCHR reorganization under the suggestion of Cuba, according to those flat screens, which by the way did mention Cuba -- and did not shy away from mentioning what country set this meeting up.


Spokeswoman:  I will have to check on that.  Were you seeing this on the flat screen in the basement?


Question:  [inaudible] You know those flat screens?


Spokeswoman:  I know the flat screens.  But I’m just wondering, sometimes what you are seeing is a rerun of something that has already taken place.  It may not be an event from the same day, so that is why I am asking.


Question:  I am curious why Cuba is so interested in human rights.


Spokeswoman:  Maybe you should ask Cuba that question.


Question:  You mentioned in one of the Committees the discussion of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and talked about the need for calls for Israel to ease the pressures in Gaza.  Was there any discussion of the root cause of the problem -- that the Hamas Government refuses to recognize Israel and they have abducted an Israeli soldier?  Is that something that came up?


Spokeswoman:  I think in general they were looking at the situation of UNRWA, which is the United Nations agency there, and that was more the focus, UNWRA’s inability to…


Question:  The focus of your statement was one of calling upon Israel, but there was no mention of any… and that is not about reforming UNRWA.  That was more a request of the Israeli Government.  Is there a similar request that was raised within that forum towards the Hamas Government?


Spokeswoman:  You’d have to look at the statement.  This is a summary and I did not see any mention there.


Question:  You understand where I’m coming from.  It’s not about reforming an agency; it was more about calling upon a State to do something.


Spokeswoman:  The discussion in the Committee is looking at it from the point of view of the work of UNRWA and being able to move freely to carry out its functions.  It wasn’t looking at the political situation, it didn’t mention…


Question:  That’s not a reform?


Spokeswoman:  No, it is not looking only at UNRWA reform.  It was [the annual report] looking at the situation that UNRWA is faced with on the ground.


Question:  Maybe I misheard you.  But I thought it was a discussion of UNRWA reform.


Spokeswoman:  No, I referred to a comment by a donor on the question of reforming UNRWA.


Question:  On the [inaudible] issue, is there a resolution before the Committee?


Spokeswoman:  Again…


Question:  The situation on the Palestinian Territories [inaudible]


Spokeswoman:  No, I would have to check.  Usually there is, but at the moment they were just debating, so they were just exchanging views on the situation as it affects UNRWA in particular.  The question of reform is important within the United Nations right now.  So it is in that context that they were looking at what UNRWA is doing to reform itself.  And apparently it has made some efforts.  One comment was that it could do more, in certain areas, to ensure that it maintains donor support.


Question:  Do you have any reading on what the reform mechanisms are, or specifics on what they are looking to be more effective?


Spokeswoman:  I haven’t seen the UNRWA report in particular, but the press release did mention that they had made some efforts at management reform.


Question:  Speaking of the root causes of poverty in Gaza, has anybody talked about the idea of abolishing -- of the fact that UNRWA is the largest employer in Gaza and maybe it’s time to change that?


Spokeswoman:  I think you would have to be part of the debate, to make sure that that viewpoint is expressed.


Question:  This is about the Quartet -- the United Nations is actually a player in trying to resolve that conflict?


Spokeswoman:  My briefing is just on the Assembly; things about the Quartet you talk to Stéphane about.


Question:  On the Fifth Committee, there is a document upstairs on the Secretary-General nominating to the Assembly people to be on the Investment Committee that I guess invest in the Pension Fund.  It doesn’t say the process to be named to this Committee, but it names individuals.  A couple of them are people who work in high finance and they are going to manage the Pension Fund.  I want to know when this is going to be acted on in the Fifth Committee and what they consider in terms of accepting these nominations?  There was [inaudible] where UNHCR actually did an investment through a fund done by one of the members of the Investment Committee, and UNHCR said we did not know they were part of the Investment Committee, and they didn’t think there was a conflict of interest.  Is there some way that you can ask the Fifth Committee when they are going to meet on these people and what steps they will take to make sure that the individuals on the Investment Committee don’t actually do business with the United Nations, or if it is okay to do business with the United Nations?


Spokeswoman:  I know they have a schedule of work, which they have sent to us.  So I will look to see if it is on the schedule of work.


[The Spokeswoman confirms that this election is scheduled for tomorrow morning in Conference Room 3.  The meeting is an open one.]


Question:  I would find out whether that meeting would be an open one and where and when it would take place?


Spokeswoman:  Yes.


Question:  There was a movement introduced by Burnham, who is resigning on 15 November, to transfer the Pension Fund to a more investing-oriented body.  Is that being discussed?


Spokeswoman:  In the Fifth Committee? You want to know whether Mr. Burnham’s suggestion is being discussed in the Fifth Committee regarding investment in the Pension Fund.  I will check.


Question:  Reaction from the President of the General Assembly [inaudible]


Spokeswoman:  The President is actually not here. 


Question:  Any reaction from the Acting President?


Spokeswoman:  Not that I know of.  I think we’ve been much more involved in the Security Council elections with Guatemala and Venezuela.  Anything else?  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record