|TWO YEARS TALK, ONE MONTH LEFT FOR CLOSURE OF EUROPEAN
OFFICES BUT BRUSSELS "HUB" NOT READY AND STAFF FATE UNCLEAR.
1 November 2003
The concept of a regional hub for field information offices may be right, but the implementation imposed
on the European centres is wrong, unfair and counter-productive. The original idea, proposed in
conjunction with a task force headed by current UNDP Administrator Marc Malloch-Brown, was to maintain
national professionals in key countries while placing a senior international official at an appropriate
regional location with enough resources to supervise and co-ordinate the geographically spread team.
Economies of scale were also an important factor. For example, centres in Paris, Rome, Athens, Madrid
and Lisbon all had free premises offered by the host country plus operational expenses. London was the
major exception. The first U.N. "branch office" established by General Assembly resolution, the rental
alone of the office in the British capital cost around $300,000 dollars annually. Negotiations over the
years yielded no results and a successful attempt to get into a less expensive -- and more convenient --
location were undercut by an unfortunate ruling to move into the highly visible yet overly expensive
Millbank Tower. Why should other centres in Europe (and the U.N.) suffer remains to be answered. If the
issue is financial, it could be pointed out that one trip by a senior official costs more than
the U.N. share of the budget of UNIC Lisbon, Athens, Rome, Paris, Madrid or Brussels. Again if the
guideline is merely financial, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte has reportedly suggested closing UNIC
Washington, thus saving about one million dollars. Would the Secretary General agree to do so?
Practically and logistically, the U.S. capital is much closer and more manageable from New York
than European cities.
Now that the decision -- however wrong -- has been pushed despite general
advice against it, what about proper implementation? How about some considerate planning? Despite
two years of talk, there is only one month to go but hardly anything concrete on the
ground. The proposed "hub" in Brussels is not yet ready; a temporary location will reportedly be
made available until something more regular is found, depending on clearer indications on who and
how many will occupy it. The status of current staff is not yet finalized in disregard of basic
consideration to those who devoted their careers to the United Nations. There may also be a disregard
for basic human values that the Secretary General repeatedly addresses in statements to the press.
The grapevine has it that the national officer from Madrid -- and possibly Athens -- have
volunteered or agreed to go to Brussels. But, again with one month to go, there seems to be no
apparent plan of practical action to deal with one of the major communications decisions by the
United Nations. That is what happens when institutional concerns are overtaken by personal agendas.