UNITED NATIONS. PAYING FOR STAFF WITHOUT OFFICES AND PAYING FOR OFFICES WITHOUT STAFF. LONDON RENTAL PENDING THREE YEARS AFTER OFFICE CLOSED.

 

PAYING FOR STAFF WITHOUT OFFICES AND PAYING FOR OFFICES WITHOUT STAFF. LONDON RENTAL PENDING THREE YEARS AFTER OFFICE CLOSED.

15 September 2006

When the U.N.Centres in Europe where summarily closed over three years ago, it was claimed that one main purpose was to save money. That was not true, of course, because most European countries were sharing operational expenses, sometimes giving the U.N. more funds than actually incurred. More to the point today is the fact that the erosion of professional U.N. media relations in key capitals like London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Athens, Lisbon and Copenhagen during a crucial period was not the only loss. An equally damaging result of dismissive mismanagement was that the U.N. kept incurring more logistical expenses. Not only did we have to pay special rates to terminate loyal staff with long term contracts, but there were binding rental and other agreements which were simply, unwisely, overlooked. That meant more unallocated expenses which had to be drawn from elsewhere in the Department. While Brussels dysfunctional "regional hub" was still in the shaping and other offices abruptly dismantled, the U.N. was paying for staff without offices and paying for offices without staff.

It is clear by now that the exceptional appointment by Shashi Tharoor of one of his long time journalist friends in a newly elevated post in Brussels (which entailed a re-issue of the post requirements) was mainly to have her mobilized in his campaign for the post of Secretary General. In his visit to Paris mid-September while supposedly on "annual leave", he was assisted by his (French) appointee under U.N. cover. That was around the time that the Security Council was preparing to conduct another straw poll. She disappeared from her Brussels office Monday afternoon 11 September, taking the train to the French capital. SO MUCH FOR U.N. RULES AND REGULATIONS.

Now back to London. One vulnerable point in the European Centres was the excessive rental in London. It was the only one not financially assisted by the host government. Space in London was at a premium, we were told, and the government, with the best of intentions could not intervene. Whenever an effort was made to sub-regionalize or reshape centres in Asia, Africa or Latin America, members of the Committee of Information, particularly the group of 77, raised the excessive amount paid in the U.K. capital. While poor counties like the Congo was granting free premise, why shouldn't a rich one like the U.K? An address like 11 Buckingham Gate, near the Queen's Palace, with a $250,000 annual tag, gave effective ammunition to its detractors. Taking the point, yet recognizing the importance of London (which, incidentally was the first and oldest U.N. office abroad), the then head of the Department Samir Sanbar arranged with the Director of the centre Graeme Warner to get out of the lease. The staff moved to much more modest offices saving about $180,000 annually at a location closer to public transport. However, a few years later, that arrangement was overturned .The centre with a new director was again moved to expensive premises, this time to Millbank Tower, a high security building on the Thames Embankment that houses the offices of the ruling Labour Party. The decision in that case was taken by then Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Boutros Ghali on a political level, despite written opposition by Mr. Sanbar and Chief of Staff Jean-Claude Aime.

At any rate, the main expense in London was not the skeleton staff, but the exuberant RENT. When contemplating closure, therefore, particularly when claiming savings as a main purpose, the most immediate consideration to tackle should have been the most substantive one: the premises. That, obviously, was not done.

When it was decided in a hurry and without viable alternatives to close London, along with the others in Europe, its long serving national staff sent out a very touching message of farewell. They also struggled for appropriate payment in time, particularly their pension fund arrears. Little did they know that while they were rightfully arguing for small-scale compensation, London-born Tharoor was overseeing the payment of at least $125,000.00 in rental settlement THREE YEARS after they had emptied the premises.