DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
10 January 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Independent Inquiry Committee
Some comments on the internal audits that were released yesterday by the Volcker panel:
“We welcome the release of the internal audits and the Independent Inquiry Committee’s initial analysis. This is just one step in the progress of an inquiry which the Secretary-General initiated, and which continues to enjoy his full support and cooperation.
We are going to study the IIC’s briefing paper carefully, and we look forward to the broader findings that will be contained in the interim report due out in the next few weeks. What this initial briefing from the Committee does show is that there was a dynamic auditing process generated by the UN itself, as well as the reports of external auditors which have already been made public. All the audits, both internal and external, were conducted in accordance with internationally recognized standards.
At the same time, it is already clear from the briefing paper that there were deficiencies in the management of this unique and highly complex programme, which had to be implemented in an acutely difficult political environment.
The IIC has said that its interim report later this month will examine how far the UN’s management safeguards and responses were sufficient or deficient. We ourselves are already focused on issues of management and accountability, and engaged in a critical review of the way we work, which will lead to a broad overhaul of the UN’s management structure and systems, in order to improve performance and accountability.
The lessons of the Committee's interim report, when it is available, will be fully taken into account in that process. Some lessons are already being applied. For example, on the financial side of the Tsunami relief effort, the UN is already implementing procedures for greater accountability and transparency. The tsunami effort, like oil-for-food, is a humanitarian programme on an unusually large scale, although they differ from each other in nearly all other respects. And, we’ll have Kevin Kennedy from OCHA to talk to you about that a little later on.
And finally, let's not forget that the oil-for-food programme did fulfil its main objective by providing humanitarian relief to 27 million Iraqis, thereby helping to maintain political support for the sanctions which, in turn, prevented Saddam Hussein's regime from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.”
I will now have an official statement on the Palestinian elections:
The Secretary-General welcomes the Palestinian Presidential election as a significant step in what is a historic democratic transition in the occupied Palestinian territory. He is especially pleased with reports indicating that the election was conducted in a politically competitive yet peaceful atmosphere.
The Secretary-General congratulates President Mahmoud Abbas as the representative of the Palestinian people. He also congratulates the Palestinian Central Elections Commission for the organization of credible and genuine elections under challenging circumstances.
The commitment to democracy of the Palestinian people and their institutions is a strong foundation for President Abbas to build on. The Secretary-General is looking forward to working with the new President of the Palestinian Authority on the implementation of the Road Map and the achievement of an independent and viable PalestinianState.
On speaking to reporters in Sir Lanka earlier today on this issue, the Secretary-General added that he was “very impressed” with the Palestinian elections. He said, “This election has been very well prepared, perhaps one of the best prepared that we [the UN] have ever been involved in.”
The Secretary-General said the new Palestinian leader will need, not only the cooperation of his people, but also the support of the international community, which has to ensure the economic viability of a PalestinianState and help the Palestinians with reform.
Turning to the Sudan, the Secretary-General has welcomed the historic signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by the Government of the Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement as an important milestone.
In a statement read at the signing ceremony in Nairobi Sunday by his Special Representative, Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General said the Agreement heralds the possible definitive end of a prolonged period of brutal conflict that has killed at least 2 million people, uprooted 4 million more, and forced some 600,000 to take refuge in neighbouring countries.
It also provides a unique opportunity to apply the principles enshrined in the Naivasha Protocols as a blueprint for addressing conflicts in other strife-torn areas such as Darfur, where the situation remains horrific and where the vital African Union Mission deserves greater support.
The Secretary-General hopes the parties in Darfur will be inspired by what has been achieved today, and pursue a wide-ranging political solution to their conflict without further delay. It is hard to imagine that the full promise of the Agreement being signed today will be fulfilled without an end to the enormous suffering in Darfur, he said.
Jan Pronk is on his way to New York, where he will brief the Security Council tomorrow.
**Sudan Immunization Programme
Turning to the humanitarian situation in the Sudan, the UN mission in that country reports that a planned polio immunization campaign got off to a flying start today with apparently no security incidents, as teams of vaccinators fanned out across the north of the country, including the conflict-ridden Darfur States, where it is hoped that more than 1 million children will be reached. A similar campaign in southern Sudan is due to start later this month.
UN envoy Jan Pronk had called for "Days of Tranquillity" across Sudan to allow the immunization to proceed unhindered by military activity. Today, his deputy, Manuel Aranda da Silva, who travelled to Darfur, said the days of tranquillity for the polio immunization will build a momentum towards peace, which is important. Otherwise, he said, the international community may run out of patience.
Turning to the Secretary-General, who, as you know is touring the tsunami-devastated areas -- this morning he travelled by seaplane south from the Maldives capital of Male to visit two villages that were especially hard hit by the tsunami of 26 December. Returning to the capital, the Secretary-General said at a press conference that he was leaving the Maldives “with a very clear understanding of what your problems are”.
After the press conference, the Secretary-General flew to Mauritius to attend the UN conference on small island developing States. Yesterday, he met with the President of the Maldives, saying afterward that the Government should think of “recovery plus” -- not just rebuilding what was there, but improving on it.
Over the weekend, as you know, he was in Sri Lanka, where he met on Sunday with the President of Sri Lanka, as well as with opposition leaders and representatives of NGOs involved in the aid effort. On Saturday, he toured some of the areas that were hardest hit by the tsunami.
In a press conference before leaving Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General said “this is a tragedy that has affected all Sri Lankans. It is a disaster that transcends the divisions that have long wracked your country”. He added that ordinary Sri Lankans had come together on an extraordinary scale to deal with the crisis. He added, “I fervently hope their political leaders will do the same, and join hands.” We have a press transcript of that upstairs.
Kevin Kennedy, who can join me now because I’d rather not be alone today, will brief you on the tsunami efforts as well as, I think, on Jan Egeland’s ministerial meeting tomorrow in Geneva.
**Statement on Lebanon
I now have another official statement on the situation in south Lebanon:
“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of a French United Nations military observer and the injury of his Swedish colleague while on patrol along the Blue Line yesterday.
The Secretary-General’s heartfelt condolences go to the family of the deceased. The observers were hit by a barrage of Israel Defence Force (IDF) tank and machine gun fire that followed a Hizbollah roadside bomb attack on an IDF patrol on the Israeli side of the line in the Shab’a farms. The Hizbollah action killed one IDF soldier and injured three others.
The Secretary-General condemns the military escalation along the Blue Line. The Secretary-General also wishes to underscore both parties’ responsibility to ensure the safety of UN personnel deployed in the region. He urges Israel and Lebanon to exercise maximum restraint and not further jeopardize the relative quiet that has characterized the Blue Line for the past six months.
Under other matters, a briefing was expected on the weekend incident on the Blue Line in Lebanon.
This morning, the Council began an open briefing on Afghanistan -- its first public meeting for this year -- by offering a minute of silence to mourn for the lives lost from the earthquake and tsunami that affected countries from Indonesia to Somalia.
Afterwards, in an open meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, said that the Afghan people are expected to play an enhanced role when parliamentary elections take place in the country this spring. Arnault also added that he expects an Independent Electoral Commission will be appointed for Afghanistan in the very near future.
And the Council president is expected to read a press statement on Afghanistan and the Blue Line incident later today. And, of course, Mr. Arnault’s comments are available upstairs.
An appointment to announce -- the Secretary-General has appointed Steinar Bjornsson of Iceland as his Deputy Special Representative for Operations in Liberia. Mr. Bjornsson most recently served as Director of Administration in the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, and he’s expected to arrive in Liberia later this month. And, his biography is available upstairs.
The small islands conference, which I mentioned earlier, began in Mauritius today with a call for development partners to increase their official development assistance to these vulnerable countries. The meeting’s Secretary-General, Anwarul Chowdhury, made the call at the opening ceremony.
More than 20 Heads of State and government, heads of several UN agencies and the Secretary-General will take part in the high-level segment of the meeting which gets under way this Thursday and Friday.
**Women’s Discrimination Committee
And a reminder that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, also known as CEDAW, will convene its thirty-second session here today, at UN Headquarters. Over the next three weeks, it’ll examine the reports of the following eight States parties: Algeria, Croatia, Gabon, Italy, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Paraguay, Samoa and Turkey.
More information is available upstairs. And I think that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Concerning the oil-for-food briefing paper, there seems to be some question as to what the UN feels was its contract responsibility for verifying the quality of goods going into Iraq, not just the quantity and whether the manifest on the delivery matched the contract or not. Can you explain what the UN’s view, what its responsibility, where they started and ended on that score?
Associate Spokesman: As I said, we’ve noted that specific reference in Mr. Volcker’s report, and that is something we will be taking a look at. Liz?
Question: Also on the audits -- one report, I think a Reuters report out of Geneva, quoted an official as saying as much as $500 million may have been overpaid from the UN Compensation Commission. A look at what Volcker released shows at least $2.2 billion. Do you have any comment on those numbers, on Compensation Commission overpayments? Do you have any such numbers, and can you make separately somebody available to talk about it?
Associate Spokesman: I think that all the audits that were released today are just one snapshot of the programme. They should not be seen as the conclusion, or full conclusions should not be reached from them. They are part of a whole process. Mr. Volcker has said in the past that he would release these documents, as he no longer needed them, and we welcome the fact that he’s done that, but you have to remember he has access, not only to these internal audits, but every UN staff member, every UN document that related to oil-for-food, so I think we have to wait for his final conclusion to make any judgments on the programme as a whole, including the Compensation Commission.
Question: But, that slice of it that has already been laid bare by Volcker, is that something that the UN would already begin to take a look at or are you waiting until..?
Associate Spokesman: We’re waiting for Mr. Volcker to come out with his full findings, and obviously he will have, you will have access to the UN Compensation Commission. So, what I’m really saying is this is a snapshot that was released today; it’s a sliver of information, just part of a much larger mass of information, both in terms of people and documents, and one must wait for Volcker to release his findings.
Question: One of the companies mentioned in the Volcker report is a Dutch company, Saybolt. Is the UN still working with that company? They overbilled the UN. What is the consequence of that? Are you going to try to get the money back from companies that overbilled the UN? How does that work?
Associate Spokesman: I’m not aware that they’re no longer working for the United Nations because we’re no longer obviously operating in Iraq in the oil sector. As for the recuperation of money, I think, again, you’ll have to look at the full scope once it comes out, and you’ll be able to see that a number of remedial actions were taken by UN Agencies to get money back when it was possible. But, I don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty of the audits, at this point, when we just have really just one sliver of the information. Yes, Bill?
Question: An April 2003 audit said that Cotecna had “not fully performed its contractual duties in relation to goods procured for Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq”. The audit said Cotecna wasn’t doing “value certification of goods”, meaning inspection of the quality of the imports. Why in April 2003 is Cotecna still not doing the job, five years after they were first contracted?
Associate Spokesman: Well, again, these internal audits by nature are very dynamic, and the relationship between the auditees and the auditors can be adversarial. So, you’re really seeing one side of it at this point. Obviously, whether or not UN management took into account the auditors’ conclusions, whether they were valid, how it reacted to them, is exactly the stuff of Volcker’s conclusions and his report. So, that’s why we’re not going to start commenting on these initial audits or how Cotecna operated in what were extremely difficult circumstances or how the UN operated in difficult circumstances in northern Iraq.
Question: Do you think that the UN Office in Geneva will have a list of people who had been paid certain amounts of money..?
Associate Spokesman: The Compensation Commission’s web site, I know, is very comprehensive in terms of what they’ve done.
Question: Do you have anything to say about the appointments at the UN since Mr. Malloch Brown was appointed?
Associate Spokesman: At this point, no.
Question: In your statement -- I’m sorry I didn’t write it down -- I’m not sure I remember everything you said, it seemed there was a lot in there about how you helped prevent Saddam get weapons of mass destruction, which we’re all happy about, but what about the actual central charge that the internal auditors failed to investigate allegations -- as I’m reading here from the Washington Post -- failed to investigate allegations that they siphoned billions of dollars? Did you address that actual question? Did you?
Associate Spokesman: That again will be a part of Volcker’s conclusion, is how the UN managed, not only the programme, but also the auditing process, whether the right decisions were made on the auditing process. And now it’s really not…
Question: Did the briefing paper address that already?
Associate Spokesman: Well, the briefing paper is an interim, interim report, and he states pretty clearly that he’s going to go into details. He’s really giving you a little taste of what he will address. And it really wouldn’t be proper for me to react to these interim, interim findings when he, himself, Volcker says, that there will be more coming down the line.
Question: When we hear about internal auditors at the UN we’re talking about the Office of Internal Oversight..?
Associate Spokesman: Yes, the UN’s own internal auditors. Yes, David?
Question: It seems from the briefing paper that the problem wasn’t so much that audits weren’t conducted, but rather there was a reluctance, a lack of willingness or an inability to follow up on some of the recommendations. I wonder, it’s more procedural, but are you able to sketch out what would have happened after an audit was conducted, recommendations were made, what levels, beyond just the OIP and OIOS, an audit would have been taken? Who would have seen that, and who would have had overall oversight over how an audit was implemented or not implemented?
Associate Spokesman: The internal audits are a management tool for the programme managers. They’re done at the request sometimes of OIOS, sometimes at the request of the programme manager, him or herself. There’s often disagreement, as in all audits. After a back-and-forth, outstanding issues are reported numerically up the chain of command. Now, I’ll go back to what I said earlier -- Mr. Volcker, one of the many issues he’s examining, is how management reacted to the information it received. So, again, I can just tell you where that procedure was, but I’m not going to comment while the investigation is still going on and we still have no conclusions. The briefing paper is not a paper of conclusions.
Question: Stéphane, I’ve been told about three years ago about internal auditors looking into several billion dollars that might be missing from the oil-for-food programme. They wanted to go into Iraq to investigate this. Unlike the weapons inspectors who can just march in there, they needed visas, and Saddam Hussein refused to give them. Have you heard this at all?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know that specific case, but one of the things that made it complicated to operate in Iraq was the dependency -- that we were dependent on Saddam Hussein to grant us visas for central, and south and for the north, for the Kurdish areas as well. Yes, David?
Question: How fair is it to say that senior management outside of the leadership of the Office of the Iraq programme, and outside of the leadership of Office of Internal Oversight, would have been aware of the problems that are dealt with in the Volcker briefing paper released last night, which is to say that folks, that senior management outside of those two units, would have been aware of the same problems that Volcker’s pointing out?
Associate Spokesman: Procedurally, they were given a breakdown of the number of outstanding issues that were resolved or unresolved. The other thing you have to remember with the internal audits -- the programme was twice a year audited by external auditors -- the UN Board of External Auditors -- they had the input of the internal audits, and the external audits were all made public.
Question: Can you say by person or title who, outside of those two programmes, might have been among management who would have been aware of the deficiencies?
Associate Spokesman: It went up to the Department of Management. It went up to the Office of the Secretary-General. And, again, the reaction from those departments is what Volcker is going to be looking at.
Question: Beyond the Secretariat, and the Internal Oversight, wasn’t the Security Council observing each, certainly the large amounts of money being flown, wasn’t this being okayed and written off by some sort of Committee in the Security Council, so that there was really approval upon the dollars flowing back and forth. Back then, none of that should be shocking or maybe it’s being revealed now, but wasn’t this all noted then?
Associate Spokesman: Well, the contracts, the humanitarian contracts, were all approved by the Council’s “661 Committee” and the Committee did receive the twice-yearly external audits, which included the input from the OIOS audits.
Question: So, the Security Council was aware of all these payments, these transactions, as they were occurring?
Associate Spokesman: Well, the Security Council was kept, was briefed regularly, almost daily, by the Office of the Iraq Programme, but I’m not ready at this point to go into details as to whether each of the transactions that are raised in these internal audits were made aware by the Security Council.
Question: Did the “661 Committee” receive the OIOS audits?
Associate Spokesman: No they did not. The internal audits? No. But the General Assembly passed a resolution, as you know, late this December, which stipulates that, upon the request of a MemberState, OIOS is able to transmit those internal audits to that MemberState. And, we’ve received one request from the United States, and they’ve asked I think for 37 oil-for-food audits and they’re getting them.
Question: On the tsunami, if I could ask you -- before the Secretary-General left, he made a statement on New Year’s Eve that there was an opportunity that the two civil wars that were interrupted by this, that there could be a chance of them getting solved. He’s in the region now, both places, the shooting is starting up again in Aceh. I don’t believe he was allowed to meet the Tamil [Tigers], or he didn’t make an effort. I’m not sure. I want to ask you about that. Has he done anything, or is there anything he can do to mediate or get involved in that?
Associate Spokesman: In Sri Lanka, I think it couldn’t be clearer where he said that this tragedy transcends the problems that have long wracked Sri Lanka and he is urging a coming together on the people’s side and urging the political leaders to do the same.
Question: What about his own intervention? Is he just making a statement?
Associate Spokesman: I’m not aware of any specific political intervention that was made during the trip, either to Aceh or to Sri Lanka. I mean the focus was humanitarian.
Question: Is that something he needs Security Council backing to do or can he do that on his own initiative?
Associate Spokesman: His good offices are usually done with Security Council backing. He would obviously keep the Council appraised of whatever efforts he’s doing.
Question: But he did not do that on this trip?
Associate Spokesman: As I said, the trip, the focus of the trip was humanitarian, but obviously, as you said, he referenced the political situation as well.
Question: Did he try to meet the Tamils? Was he unable to go to the region?
Associate Spokesman: I’m not aware of that, but I can check for you after the briefing. Yes sir?
Question: What about the horrendous sexual abuse cases in the Congo, which are going on unabated, and the inability of the UN to take any action because there are no such rules or regulations governing the peacekeepers? Do you think the Security Council could learn about these and ensure that these crimes are properly punished?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know if you were here on Friday, but Mr. Guehénno and William Swing -- they all gave a pretty extensive briefing. We’re working very closely with the Member States who are troop contributors through the good offices of the Permanent Representative of Jordan, Prince Zeid, to try to get the cooperation of the troop contributors to help us prosecute these cases.
Question: Can the Security Council get involved in (inaudible).. a mechanism?
Associate Spokesman: You know, obviously the Security Council has responsibility for peacekeeping operations, which obviously includes troop contributing nations, so I think you’d have to ask them if they’re willing to do it.
Question: The New York Times today writes an op-ed piece that Mr. Lubbers of the UNHCR should step down, or that Kofi Annan should ask him to step down. Since this controversy surrounding him is not going away, also here in your own house, people have been asking for him to step down after the sexual harassment case, is this again a consideration for the Secretary-General to look at his position on the UNHCR?
Associate Spokesman: I think, I have nothing to add specifically on UNHCR but I think going back to what we talked about, about management and accountability, some of the things we’re looking at pertain to those cases. We are drafting new policies to protect whistle-blowers, among other things. So all this is really part of an effort by management for greater responsibility and greater transparency.
Question: Are you saying that his position is again looked at?
Associate Spokesman: No, no, no. I did not say his position is again looked at. I said I have nothing to add about what has been said concerning Mr. Lubbers.
Question: So what exactly is your answer to my question then?
Associate Spokesman: Well, I answered the second part. And, the first part, I said I have nothing to add to what has previously been said.
Question: Well, are you concerned, or is the Secretary-General concerned, about this controversy that is still surrounding Mr. Lubbers?
Associate Spokesman: Well. You know, I think we’re always concerned with cases, accusations of sexual harassment in the house, but as far as the Lubbers case, again I have nothing to add and no new guidance on Mr. Lubbers.
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