Press Conference by Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for Management

22 July 2009

Press Conference by Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for Management

22 July 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Angela Kane, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Management, today appealed to both diplomats and staff at United Nations Headquarters in New York to help implement the General Assembly decision of a smoke-free United Nations premises by observing the smoking ban at United Nations Headquarters. 

In a wide-ranging briefing to update correspondents on matters as diverse as internal management reforms, to procurement contracts, the Capital Master Plan, and smoking, she said that following an intense preparation period, the new contractual arrangements for United Nations staff had started on 1 July, and instead of a dozen different types of contracts, there were now only three types, under one set of staff rules. 

She described that as a very important step towards becoming a global secretariat that would allow for a more mobile staff between duty stations and posts.  That move would also open up possibilities for all peacekeeping staff that were out in the field serving under often very difficult circumstances, as they would now be joining the Secretariat as internal candidates.  Being external candidates had hindered them from being fully part of the Secretariat. 

The transition had gone very smoothly with “no hiccups”, and had been completed on time, she said, adding that 1 July had also marked the start of the new administration of justice system.  Its main principles were that it be independent, transparent, fair and efficient.  The judges that had been appointed by the General Assembly to serve on the so-called United Nations Dispute Tribunal and also the United Nations Appeals Tribunal had come to New York where they had adopted provisional rules of procedure, which would be submitted to the Assembly for final approval.

Ms. Kane detailed the judges’ selection process, which she described as a “very competitive process” resulting in “very qualified judges” having been picked.  In her own office was now a new “Management Evaluation Unit” -– set up as the first step in the process of dealing with issues or complaints.  The Unit had inherited 10 cases “from the old system”, and already, it had resolved favourably one of the three cases received concerning a complaint by a staff member.  “This is a very positive start to this whole endeavour.”

The Unit was mandated to come up with decisions within the “fairly limited timeframe” of 30 days for requests it received from the same duty stations at Headquarters and 45 days for petitions it received from stations away from New York, she explained.  The Unit emphasized thoroughness and objectivity in reviewing all requests it received.  The General Assembly itself had stressed the importance of that “informal” dispute resolution as a mechanism for resolving disputes which arose from administrative decisions that were contested.

Also, very tight deadlines meant that “justice earlier rendered is earlier solved”, and that was more fair and transparent to the staff member, she said.

Management felt that that would solve the long-standing complaint that some cases lingered for months and even years simply because they were reviewed by a peer system of volunteers. Additionally, a case could also be referred to the mediation division of the Ombudsman’s office, if both sides agreed.  If any of those efforts were unsuccessful, the matter would be referred to the more formal professionally-staffed system of administration of justice.

Turning to the Capital Master Plan, she said that more than a thousand staff had already relocated, and the move was picking up speed.  The temporary North Lawn building was on schedule to be completed for occupancy in a couple of months, and was off to a good start.  “But of course, the disruption is going to be major, and we’re all starting to experience it”, as more and more people move out to their respective new locations, she said.

On the issue of a smoke-free United Nations premises, Ms. Kane reminded correspondents that a resolution adopted last November (document A/RES/63/8) had declared United Nations Headquarters a smoke-free zone.  That resolution was to implement a complete ban on smoking at Headquarters indoor premises and on sales of tobacco products at Headquarters.  The sale of tobacco products was easily and quickly implemented “within days” once the kiosk and the various sales points had been asked to stop selling them.  However, getting people to totally stop smoking had been a “little bit more intractable”.

Her department was greatly stepping its “PR” efforts and appealing to staff, senior managers and the media to help implement the ban because the practice remained unacceptable.  She outlined what steps had been taken and what had been achieved so far, pointing out that partially-sheltered exterior smoking areas had been set up, and signs had been posted to direct people to them, particularly from the Vienna Café and the Delegates Lounge -- the two spots where people still “light up occasionally”.  Together with the Medical Service, her Department had had a six-week monitored smoking cessation programme with individual follow up.  The programme, which had been “quite robust”, had included counselling and evaluation of staff interested in “kicking the habit”. 

In addition, “No Smoking” signs had been posted in a lot of places, but too often, “we put them up, and then two days later they’re gone”, she said.  There had been a reduction in the level of smoking, but it was unacceptable that there were still people lighting up.  In light of the negative impact of smoking on both the smokers and non-smokers exposed to the second hand smoke, she declared:  “We on our side are fully determined to do this; we have launched an information campaign”. Encouraged by the staff response to a recent iSeek article on the anti-smoking campaign, she said every effort would be made to monitor the disappearance of the “No Smoking” signs and to step up the no-smoking campaign. 

Her office was also planning to send a note verbale to Member Sates reminding them of the resolution that they themselves had adopted, she said.  In addition, it was working with the Department of Safety and Security to set up a designated smoking area outside the North Delegate’s Lounge area because of some safety considerations there.

Asked how she expected to influence some of the diplomats and “Foreign Ministers who really like to light up even outside the Security Council”, she admitted that was a big challenge, but reiterated that they had been among those who had adopted the resolution in the first place.  “So, they themselves took the initiative to do this.  I hope that with also having the availability of space that is more conveniently located in terms of outdoor smoking areas, it will be easier to persuade the to go outside,” she added.

To a correspondent who wanted to know if Ms. Kane foresaw imposing penalties on United Nations staff that that did not comply with the ban as opposed to diplomats who had diplomatic immunity, Ms. Kane replied: “We would like to use persuasion first, and then if that doesn’t work, we’ll evaluate and see where we are”.

Asked by another correspondent if the Secretary-General would seek to remove the diplomatic immunity of Member States’ representatives who did not observe the ban, she said to begin with, neither the Secretary-General nor anybody else in the Secretariat had the power to strip any diplomat of their diplomatic immunity, adding that management wanted to see a complete ban on smoking in the building irrespective of who did the smoking.  It was “pretty determined” to stamp out smoking on United Nations premises, but would seek to do so by persuasion on both staff and representatives of Member States before considering any other measures.

On another issue, a correspondent asked Ms. Kane if the United Nations applied different standards from those applied by the World Bank in a case involving the German firm Siemens, which had pled guilty to corruption charges in various places and was barred by the World Bank for two years from doing business with it (according to the correspondent, the United Nations barred it for six months only).  She said it was not a matter of standards, but a matter of procedure, and the United Nations had different procedures from those of the Bank.  “What we have is that we institute a ban on six months with the possibility of extending; meaning that after six months, you look at this issue and then you re-examine it again.

If the World Bank has two years, that’s it.  Those rules are not all standardized,” she said, adding that that did not mean that the ban was automatically lifted after the six months.  It merely meant it was the initial period after which or during which it would be re-evaluated.  She reiterated that the six-month period did not indicate a value judgement on the severity of the punishment, but simply a time limit.

When asked about the whistleblower policy, she said that as that programme was in place under the Ethics Office, all such questions should be put to that office.

On the National Competitive Examinations, she explained that the programme had been put on hold so that it could be streamlined and unclog the backlog of candidates on the so-called “NCE” roster.  She regretted that the suspension of the programme had been misunderstood by some Member States as an attempt to do away with the programme, when in fact the intention was to try and make it a better process.  “So we need to re-think the whole process a little bit and see how we can make it a better process.  And that’s where we are,” she added.

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