31 August 2005


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Today’s Guest

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) will be joining us in a few minutes to launch the third edition of the series “Progress of the World’s Women”.

**SG Speaks to General Assembly Core Group

The Secretary-General, as we announced yesterday, has interrupted his vacation.  He spoke by invitation of General Assembly President Ping in a session of the core negotiating group devoted to development and Secretariat and management reform this morning.

In his remarks, which are available upstairs, he reminded delegates how important it is for the world that the Summit have a successful outcome.  “The stakes are high.  Very high.”

He stressed the value of the Millennium Development Goals as “the basis of the great pact of mutual accountability between developed and developing countries, which was sealed at Monterey” and as “an unprecedented catalyst for global action”.

Thereafter, his speech was devoted to management reform, “an area where, by virtue of my office, I have a special interest”.  He reminded delegates that he has been striving to reform UN management, with their help, ever since he became Secretary-General.  Much has been achieved but recent revelations on the “oil-for-food” programme and misconduct in peacekeeping operations show that more is needed.

He first referred to reforms he is already carrying out in areas where he has discretion, including creation of an ethics office to oversee compliance with new financial disclosure requirements for senior staff, ensure whistleblower protection, develop mandatory ethics training for all staff and advise staff on ethical issues such as receiving gifts.

Then he dealt with four issues which require decisions by Member States.  The need for a review of rules on budgetary and human resources, in light of the “transformation” of the Secretariat over the last 15 years, during which Member States have required it “to undertake a far wider range of operations than in the past”.

The need for an overview of all mandates older than five years.  The Secretariat cannot undertake new tasks within the existing budget “without clearly prioritizing the Organization’s mandates, and deciding which old ones should be discontinued to make room for new ones that are considered more urgent”.

The need for change in the UN’s oversight structure, and in particular to make it independent of the Secretary-General by creating a new expert body -- the “independent oversight advisory committee” appointed by the General Assembly -- to make professional recommendations for the OIOS budget each year without being dependent on input from the Secretariat.  The Secretary-General said this would be modelled on arrangements already used in Member States such as South Africa, Philippines, Indonesia and the United Kingdom.

And finally, the need for the Secretary-General to be given the authority and flexibility to redeploy posts and resources.  He stressed he was not asking for or expecting “any kind of carte blanche to run the Organization on my own”, but similar powers to those of heads of specialized agencies.  “I want the leeway to do my job properly, but the obligation always to come back to you when strategic decisions are needed.”

He concluded by saying he hoped for a balanced outcome from the Summit which would justify heads of State and government coming to New York -- “an outcome of which they can be proud”.

The Secretary-General then answered, or is answering, questions from the delegates.  He was still in there as I came down.

The Secretary-General is planning to speak to you, to the press, around 2:30 in the Secretariat Lobby stakeout microphone area, and we’ll let you know when that time becomes more precise.

**SG Statement on Baghdad Bridge Tragedy

I have a couple of statements, one on Iraq.

“The Secretary-General has learned with great sadness of the human tragedy that took place today in Baghdad when a large number of pilgrims, many of them women and children, died in the crush of a crowd crossing a bridge over the Tigris River.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the Government of Iraq and to the families of the bereaved.”

We also have a statement from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, and that’s available for you upstairs.

**SG Statement on Hurricane Katrina

In a statement on Hurricane Katrina:

“The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and large-scale destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina along the United States Gulf Coast.  He extends his sincere condolences to all the victims and their families.”

**Security Council

The Security Council held a closed meeting on Côte d’Ivoire this morning, at which the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Pierre Schori, briefed.  The meeting is still under way and will be followed by an open meeting on Sierra Leone.

And a reminder that Mr. Schori will be here in Room 226 to take your questions around 1 o’clock.

**Human Rights Chief , China Sign Agreement

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, today signed an agreement with the Chinese Foreign Ministry aimed at helping China implement recommendations on economic, social and cultural rights.

According to the agreement, the United Nations will assist China in finding alternative penalty measures to imprisonment and help the country revise its criminal procedure law.  It will also foster the incorporation of human rights education into the curricula of Chinese schools and help in the establishment of a national human rights institution.

Ms. Arbour will remain in China through Friday and a press release is upstairs with more details on her visit.


And we have a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization today, which reports that it is concerned that migratory birds could bring avian flu to the Middle East, Europe, South Asia and Africa.

You can read more about that upstairs.


And the World Food Programme says it is working to provide food for at least 8.5 million people in southern Africa by the start of the lean season in December.

We have more on that.

**UNESCO Condemns Killing of Media Worker in Iraq

And UNESCO has issued a press release deploring the killing of the Reuters engineer in Baghdad on 28 August and the wounding of his colleague.

**Payment of UN Dues

Finally, the arrival of a cheque from Mongolia today brings to 109 the number of Member States who are paid up in full.

**General Assembly Discussions Continue

And as I mentioned to you at the beginning of the briefing, discussions are continuing in the General Assembly Core Group and sub-groups on the draft outcome document on UN reform for the Summit.  The Core Group today heard from the sub-groups on development and management reform, as well as from the Secretary-General, as you just heard.

And during the course of the day, there will also be separate meetings of the sub-groups on terrorism, the Human Rights Council, the Peacebuilding Commission, and responsibility to protect civilians from genocide and other crimes against humanity.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

And to flag for you a briefing tomorrow, at 12:30 here, or immediately after the Briefing, Inspector Phyllis Moore of Headquarters Security and Safety Service, together with Gary Fowlie, Chief of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, will be in this room to brief you on logistical and security arrangements during the World Summit, which runs from 14 to 16 September, and the general debate, which begins on the 17th and ends on the 27th.

And that’s what I have for you.  I see that Ms. Heyzer has just joined us.  She is here to launch a new report.  Before I turn to her, do you have questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  One of the criticisms of the United Nations has been that it is a bloated bureaucracy.  With the speech you just announced... the Secretary-General creating one office after... there’s an ethics office, there’s an accountability office, there’s an oversight office and then there’s this protection of whistleblower’s office and on and on... don’t you think bureaucracy, instead of being consolidated, is being expanded, and it will be more bloated than ever before?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think you need to look at the incentives behind the creation of these offices, if indeed there are additional offices.  But I think I’d like you to read the entirety of the SG’s remarks upstairs that I think explains very well the reasons behind the need for these new initiatives.

Question:  (inaudible)... the functions of bodies overlapping and so forth.  Will there be an exercise to consolidate them at one point or another?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is something he has just outlined in a closed session today.  I simply was flagging to you some of the main points, the main areas in UN management, which the Secretary-General wanted to flag as priority areas.  As for the details of how it’s going to be staffed, function, etc., I think that’s a subject for later discussion.

If there are no further questions for me, I’d like to turn the floor over to Ms. Heyzer.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.