15 January 2004

Scrambling for last minute arrangements, those in the U.N Department of Public Information mishandling the closure of the European offices could find no better place to assemble their scotch-taped "hub" than the former headquarters of the Gestapo in World War II occupied Brussels.

The first office to announce its closure was London, which was the first office to open. The first UN General Assembly was held in London and the first interim Secretary General, Sir Gladwyn Jebb was British. All different Secretary-Generals drew heavily on the services of UNIC London. The one to depend on it most in his travels abroad was Kofi Annan who tried to balance it with Paris, but truly felt at home in the British capital. The lost money sent by his staff started with the call from RMS Titania: "Sinking by the head"!

Added to the symbolic Gestapo move, "the last call" may depict the state of affairs and reflect the morale of the staff, not only in London but also in general. Following is their outcry: "Farewell" a famous message once said "Sinking by the head. Come quick!" It was of course from the RMS Titanic.

We at the UNIC London adopted the Titanic name after we were told to continue with long-term projects. We thought it was like ordering breakfast after the ship has hit the iceberg. Well, of course, the Directors across Europe have all left in the last lifeboats long ago just like the Chairman of the White Star Line. Unlike the Titanic, which had help speeding from all directions, we at the Western European UNICs had no one.

At the beginning of negotiations the Staff Union was suspended. One whole year after the first decision to close the UNICs, and one week before closure, many staff issues (such as Pensions) remain unresolved and a last minute scramble has ensued to post staff in Brussels. In vain we wrote twice to the Secretary-General without receiving any response. We hope that logistics in the field for life and death matters are handled better than the closure of these UNICs. And when we sought to help on Staff Assessment on our Redundancy Payments, the only people who came to our help were our Missions to the UN. However the Management stood firm behind the regulations and would not even budge an inch on the matter, even against the Irish, British and French and dear knows how many other Missions who were asked to intervene to allow redundancy up to the limit in the "State". Our final mission now is to ask the Exchequer in the Individual States to reimburse the money.

To the Staff Union we say that you should fight to change this rule to at least give back the amount of money that would be given were we paying taxes in the State. In fact we, as locally empowered staff, would be better off paying tax to the State and not the UN.

As this downsizing will over the years involve many more such closures, we believe it is imperative that you fight for something along these lines. To our colleagues in Western Europe who will also depart at the end of the year we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in 2004. To our colleagues taking up assignment in a little city called Brussels in the former HQ of the "Gestapo" in WW2-occupied Belgium, we wish you well. Our leaders were correct, Brussels is obviously the media hub of the English, French, Spanish, and Arabic Media.

To the one senior official who from the heart wished us "God speed" (You are right he wasn't from DPI) we wish him the same.

We must go now, the water is over the bridge and the end is coming soon. On Monday the power will fail and all e-mail communications with UNIC London will cease. As the lights flicker we are thinking of all our friends in HQ and across the world. Farewell from UNIC London.

From George Armstrong and the crew of the Titanic