15 MAY 2014


We should actually start by asking what is happening at all U.N. Information Centres, which were once a formidable communications network on behalf of the U.N. around the world.

By now, the strategic policy of cutting them down and eroding their role has been implemented over the last 15 years. Out of 78 full-time UNICs, a limited few remain, and they don't have the professional nor administrative capacity as before.

We may have to come back to that issue on a different occasion. For now, we would raise one sample case: Tunis.

For decades, the Centre in Tunis was a solid pillar of the public information effort in North Africa, in the Arab world, and indeed in Francophone countries. Tunisians, generally supportive of the organization, welcomed and encouraged a variety of ventures in every field, particularly as Tunisians took senior posts at U.N. Headquarters, as well as in running key Centres in other capitals. Its importance was highlighted when an Arab global meeting of Information Centres was called by then Under-Secretary General Therese Paquet-Sevigny in the Tunisian capital.

The Tunisian government, regardless of policies, always extended practical support, including offering centrally-located premises. Even when a decision was taken to have joint premises with UNDP, the National Officer, Librarian and other staff were given adequate flexibility to maintain a functional operation.

Apparently, there are now attempts to undercut that Centre further. The UNDP Resident Coordinator seems insistent on making life difficult for the staff -- dismissively threatening them with deleting their posts. The local staff, who try their best to perform their functions and appropriately defer to UNDP Representatives on policy matters, are continuously harassed by him. He sometimes threatens the Librarian by stating that there is no more need for reference papers because everything is on Google (where did we hear that before?!!), and criticizes everyone with inconsiderate arrogance.

In a recent case, when the Centre staff received an editorial by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to place in Tunisian media, the National Officer did so successfully as usual and sent appropriate feedback to Headquarters. The UNDP Rep -- a Lebanese citizen -- was vividly upset. Why was the editorial placed without his knowledge? And why was the feedback not sent under his own signature? He again threatened to punish and cut posts. Whether he is doing so with support, knowledge, or encouragement by someone at DPI in New York is not yet clear. Nothing remains uncovered in Public Information and whatever is going on will eventually become known; particularly in a "U.N. country" like Tunis.

Meanwhile, it would be advisable for certain DPI staff accountable for services to Information Centres to offer a helping hand to their dedicated colleagues.