DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
22 March 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
We have as our guest today Juan Gabriel Valdes, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti. You’ll be coming up in just a minute, Sir. And he’ll be talking to you about the latest developments there.
I have to add that he must get out of here for a 12:30 appointment, so we’ll want to move to him quickly.
**United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
You’ve been asking about the short lists. The first one is out. So under the new senior recruitment procedures, the Secretary-General has today decided on the shortlist for the incoming Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.
The following candidates will be called for interview in the next few weeks: Mr. Fawzi Hamad Al Sultan of Kuwait, Former President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); Baroness Valerie Amos of the United Kingdom, Leader, House of Lords and Former Secretary of State for the Department for International Development; Mr. Kemal Dervis -- Turkey, Member, Turkish Parliament, Former Minister for Economic Affairs and the Treasury, and former World Bank Vice-President; Mr. Kaoru Ishikawa -- Japan, Director-General, Economic Affairs Bureau [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and G-8 Summit Foreign Affairs Sous Sherpa; Ms. Hilde F. Johnson -- Norway, Minister for International Development; and finally, Mr. Ad Melkert -- The Netherlands, Former Minister of Social Affairs and current Dutch Executive Director at the World Bank.
The criteria that these candidates will be evaluated against at interview will include: first, strong diplomatic, political and resource mobilization skills; second, vision and proven interpersonal skills to lead overall United Nations development efforts; third, thorough knowledge of development issues; fourth, proven skills in the management of complex organizations and good knowledge of United Nations reform issues; fifth, and finally, a leader who can continue to champion the Millennium Development Goals and galvanize the world towards their achievement.
The views of the development community on the candidates will be sought informally. The candidates will then be interviewed by a panel of senior management officials, who will refer the finalists to the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General for final interview. The Secretary-General will then consult on his final choice with the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) before forwarding his nominee to the General Assembly.
The Secretary-General feels that this is a very strong shortlist of candidates and looks forward to selecting the right person for the position.
**Secretary-General in Algiers
The Secretary-General arrived today in the Algerian capital, Algiers, where he is attending the summit of the League of Arab States. He will address the summit tomorrow and ask the Arab leaders to support the reforms of the international system that he proposed in his report, “In Larger Freedom”. He will also discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan and reforms in the Arab world.
This evening, the Secretary-General is expected to hold two bilateral meetings, with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He will also attend the dinner being held for all the visiting Heads of State.
**Security Council - Afghanistan
Jean Arnault, the head of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, today told the Security Council that the timelines for Afghan elections “do not provide any breathing space”, with much work to be done before the parliamentary and provincial elections take place on 18 September.
He said that, by holding the elections four months later than initially planned, the voting can take place after this year’s poppy eradication campaign, and after more in-depth civics education has been provided.
Arnault presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the work done by the United Nations Mission, which recommends that the Council extend the Mission’s mandate, with its current structure, for another 12 months.
That report, which is out on the racks today, says that there is still a need for an extended presence of international forces. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General says, it will be important to take into account the ability of the United Nations to tap multilateral resources and the trust that the United Nations enjoys from the Government and the population at large.
The Council followed its open briefing this morning with consultations, to continue the discussion on Afghanistan.
The Security Council will hold further consultations at 4 this afternoon, to discuss the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other matters. Those consultations are scheduled to follow a meeting between the Security Council and the troop-contributing countries for the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of two United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti on Sunday. One soldier from Sri Lanka and the other from Nepal were killed while executing their duties in two separate incidents, while three other Sri Lankan soldiers were wounded.
The Sri Lankan peacekeeper was killed in Petit Goâve – south-west of Port-au-Prince –- during a joint operation with Haitian National Police aimed at dislodging armed elements who had illegally occupied the local police station since last August. In a separate incident that same day, the Nepalese soldier was killed by gunfire while manning a checkpoint on the road between Mirebalais and Terre Rouge, in the centre of Haiti.
The armed groups firing were using women and children as shields. The Secretary-General is outraged that armed groups are using civilians as human shields and by the cowardly attacks on international peacekeeping personnel. We have copies of the Secretary-General’s full statement, which was released late yesterday, as well as further details on these incidents, available in my office.
Earlier today in Sudan’s Darfur region, a convoy of vehicles, including those from the United States Agency for International Development and from the DART non-governmental organization, was attacked by armed men, on the road leading from Nyala to Kass. A female international staff member of DART was shot in the face in the attack. The United Nations Mission in Sudan helped to transport the victims of the attack by air to Khartoum, where the woman received medical care and is reported to be in stable condition.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also informs us that two international staff members of the group Solidarité were detained two days ago in Nyala, when they were called in to the police station there. They have been released today. OCHA says that there has been a marked increase in the level of harassment against non-governmental organizations in Darfur in recent days.
We issued a statement yesterday in which we said the Secretary-General is very concerned at the recent escalation of serious incidents in southern Kyrgyzstan, where protestors have clashed with police and seized government offices in the towns of Osh and Jalal-Abad, according to a statement issued on Monday.
The Secretary-General is opposed to the use of violence and intimidation to resolve electoral and political disputes, and calls on all parties to apply restraint. Dialogue is the only viable means for addressing the current tensions, he said. In this context he welcomes the recent offer by President Akayev to begin dialogue, and the positive response by the opposition.
David Crane, the prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, today welcomed the arrest last week by Dutch national police of an associate of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Crane said his investigators provided extensive assistance to Dutch investigators in this case, which involves violations of the United Nations arms embargo on Liberia, and also war crimes committed against the Liberian people. He added that the Netherlands has struck “a major blow against Western profiteers who enrich themselves on the suffering of Africans”. We have a press release with more details upstairs.
**World Water Day
Today is World Water Day and the first day of the “Water for Life” Decade. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General said that providing clean drinking water and adequate sanitation is central to human development and dignity. He also said that water resources need not be a source of conflict, and called for a renewed commitment to manage those resources in a more efficient and inclusive manner. We have the full text of his remarks upstairs.
Meanwhile, UNICEF’s Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, today said that 400 million children lack the minimum amount of safe water they need to live. The Agency is continuing to lead the global effort to bring water and sanitation to emergency zones throughout the world.
For her part, Wendy Chamberlin, Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, today said that water is a basic right for refugees, and called on her staff to redouble their efforts to improve water services. We have more information on these items in my office.
Finally, tomorrow, the World Committee on Disability and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute will present an award to King Abdullah II of Jordan in appreciation of his country’s efforts to improve the lives of its disabled citizens and residents. Speakers at the event will include Jean Ping, the President of the General Assembly, as well as Nane Annan. The ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. And we have more information on that in the office.
Now, with your permission, I will call up Juan Gabriel Valdes to make his presentation and take your questions. And then, I will take your questions on what I just presented to you.
[Briefing by Mr. Valdes issued separately.]
Any questions relating to my briefing? We’ll start with Mark.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just quickly, how many applications were there for the UNDP job?
Spokesman: I know we aren’t going to go public with the long list, but I’ll have to ask the separate question, whether we’ll give you the number of total applicants. I don’t know. Maybe that’s something we could give you. [He later announced that there were 13 names on the long list.]
Question: The other question was a follow-up to a story in the New York Sun today. The United Nations has been paying Benon Sevan’s legal fees. Is this appropriate? Is this normal practice? And why did the United Nations not announce this?
Spokesman: Indeed -- well, first of all, we haven’t paid for anything yet. But it is true that the Secretary-General decided, in principle, to reimburse Mr. Sevan for what we called “reasonable legal fees” as determined by the United Nations for services in connection with his appearance before the Volcker Commission.
The payment of these fees was to be made on a strictly exceptional basis, for the purposes of facilitating the work of the Commission. Mr. Sevan has submitted some bills to us. We are reviewing them now. And as I said, nothing yet has been paid.
Exceptional -– it is exceptional. The oil-for-food programme was an exceptional programme. The Volcker Commission is an exceptional commission. And Benon Sevan was in a unique position as the head of that programme.
I’m not aware that in the past we’ve ever reimbursed staff for legal fees. I don’t believe that any other –- well there’s only one other Secretariat member charged by the Volcker Commission, Joseph Stephanides, and we have not agreed to reimburse him. So it’s Benon Sevan as the head of the Programme on an exceptional basis.
Question: And is this definitely going to go ahead? You sort of mentioned in theory. Will this decision be reviewed, or is it an agreement? I’m sorry, and whose advice was this on?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General took this advice, this decision on the advice of his legal department, the Office of Legal Affairs. And it was taken before the Volcker report came out that laid specific charges against Mr. Sevan. So I can’t say at this time whether the decision is being reviewed for the period prior to that Volcker report, but it is not our intention to reimburse Mr. Sevan for any fees since the Volcker report laid charges against him.
Question: Fred, I don’t quite understand where the justification to pay for Mr. Sevan’s legal fees comes from exactly. Maybe you could explain that again so that I can understand that. Where does this money come from? What budget within the United Nations is paying for this, and also, I was just wondering, the Secretary-General also is being looked at by the Volcker Commission. Does this mean that he also has legal fees being paid by the United Nations?
Spokesman: I don’t know the answers to those questions. I’d have to go back to the Office of Legal Affairs and ask what the basis for this is. I understand in the private sector, it’s commonly done. But I don’t know whether that was a factor in the Office of Legal Affairs’ advice to the Secretary-General; so, let me look into that for you.
Question: Can you tell us how much the total legal fees that Sevan is being asked to be reimbursed?
Spokesman: I cannot; as I said, the bills he gave us are now being reviewed by us, and I don’t think we have a total.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any statement on Israel’s announced expansion in Jerusalem that would undermine the so-called peace process?
Spokesman: I have nothing on that today.
Question: Did Mr. Sevan call the Secretary-General about the fees? Who initiated the conversation about paying the legal fees?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I have to assume it was Mr. Sevan who asked for the reimbursement.
Question: Fred, I’m sure that the Iraqi Government will be concerned that more of the Iraqi oil-for-food money will be used in this case. Can you assure us that Iraqi oil-for-food money will not be used to pay Mr. Sevan’s legal fees?
Spokesman: As I just said, I don’t know where this money was to come from, if it were to be paid. So, let me try to find out and get back to you.
Question: I still don’t understand why you would pay Mr. Sevan’s legal fees and not Mr. Stephanides’ legal fees. The fact that he was the head of the programme, what difference would that make? And, for example, are you also planning to pay Ruud Lubbers’ legal fees for his defence against sexual molestation charges. Are you planning to pay for that French guy’s legal fees [inaudible]?
Spokesman: Excuse me, Mark. I said it was on an exceptional basis -- excuse me –- I said the decision was taken before the Volcker Commission laid specific charges against Mr. Sevan. So, let me find out the answers to the rest of your questions as best I can.
Question: Fred, given that the United Nations is pushing United Nations reform, is it timely for the Secretary-General to be wasting United Nations money on defending United Nations officials that are charged with ethical lapses and conflicts of interest? Is that not a waste of United Nations money at a time when the United Nations is pushing reform?
Spokesman: You’ve asked me about the rationale for the decision and I said I would try to find out what the legal advice of the Office of Legal Affairs to the Secretary-General was, why they advised him to do this. Yes?
Question: Can we specifically request that Kofi Annan, because it’s an exceptional decision with no precedent, publish the legal advice so that we can all see what the basis of this exceptional decision is? That’s one part of my question. The second part of my question is, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former United Nations Secretary-General, has been involved and interviewed in the investigation. Is there any similar consideration of paying any legal costs that Boutros Boutros-Ghali might incur?
Spokesman: No, I think when I said it’s exceptional, it’s exactly that. So, it starts and stops with Benon Sevan, and I will relay your first request to the people I answer to.
Question: Is there a [inaudible] reviewing those fees? Is the Secretariat considering not paying any of the fees that Mr. Sevan submitted paperwork for, prior to the Volcker report?
Spokesman: I can’t say that -– I cannot say that at this time.
Question: Might there be a decision to review -– is the Secretary-General considering whether to revoke that exceptional...?
Spokesman: I cannot answer that question. I don’t have a basis to answer that question.
Question: Well, the Sun article, it seems like there was the impression at least given, or maybe the straight answer given, that the United Nations wasn’t considering paying for Mr. Sevan’s fees, and now we’ve learned that they are considering. Can you explain why there is that difference? Where did the decision come from to drop paying the fees once Benon Sevan was cited in the Volcker report?
Spokesman: All of these decisions, or these two decisions, first to, in principle, to reimburse Mr. Sevan for his legal fees, using the language that I used initially, and the decision to no longer do so once charges were raised against him were both taken by the Secretary-General. And your other question was what?
Question: The other question was just trying to understand -- initially you denied, at least that’s the sense we got from the Sun article, that you denied that there was some sort of arrangement being made, but now we’re learning that there is some kind...
Spokesman: I don’t think we ever dealt with this question. I don’t think it ever came up in a briefing.
Question: Fred, seems [inaudible] this sum of $300,000 [inaudible]...correct?
Spokesman: That’s not a figure that I can confirm. They haven’t told me.
Question: Can you tell us how many United Nations staff employees that figure of $300,000 would pay for in a year as employment?
Spokesman: Well, first of all, I can’t confirm the $300,000 figure is correct.
Question: I’m just saying how many United Nations employees?
Spokesman: It’s still a hypothetical question.
Question: $300,000 –- how many United Nations staff members does that pay for in a year? One, two, three?
Spokesman: The pay scale at the United Nations goes from the lowest General Service member to the most senior Professional...
Question: It could be several, couldn’t it?
Spokesman: I’m not going to speculate, James. Richard?
Question: The decision was taken by the Secretary-General. Do you believe it would be fair criticism that it raises still questions about the Secretary-General’s judgement regarding conflict of interest, the perception of the image of the place, this story coming out one day after his big reform effort, can totally undercut the efforts made in that direction? He wanted an internal probe first on oil-for-food. The same legal office said on Ruud Lubbers that there wasn’t enough to go against him. Can you address the perception issue?
Spokesman: I think until we get from upstairs the rationale of the Office of Legal Affairs for advising the Secretary-General to do this, there’s no sense discussing perceptions.
Question: Fred, why do we not have that rationale today? I mean, this is the day the piece appeared in the newspaper. Why is it that you, as the United Nations Spokesman, haven’t brought us that rationale, are not able to explain the exceptional basis today?
Spokesman: Well, it appeared in the paper a few hours ago. That’s when we became aware of it. The Secretary-General himself is in Algiers, and I just didn’t get full guidance by 12.
Question: Can we also request –- if you are unable to publish the legal advice -- that we get the Under-Secretary-General down here to explain to us in his words why that decision was taken.
Spokesman: I will relay that request.
Question: Can you describe the phone call between President Bush and Secretary-General Annan yesterday?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General in the last 24 hours or so had been calling a number of heads of State. I don’t have the list with me, but he did speak to President Bush yesterday afternoon; passing through Paris on his way to Algiers, he spoke to President Chirac, and he spoke to a number of others -- I can see if I can get the list for you -– for support for his reform agenda that he unveiled before the General Assembly yesterday.
Question: Regarding Benon Sevan, we were talking of perception. It could be a perception that Kofi Annan is paying his legal fees as hush money to Benon Sevan, who was in an exceptional position as head of the programme. Can you explain to us why that perception might be incorrect?
Spokesman: I think you would have to explain why you would have that perception yourself.
Question: I am glad to explain it. Benon Sevan was in charge of the programme, and he knows where the bodies are buried, and the United Nations may not want him to speak about where the bodies are buried and, therefore, you would want to persuade him not to speak where the bodies are buried? It might lead to the payment of his legal costs so that he does not incur any further personal hardship and, therefore, he would stay quiet. That’s my perception. Now, why is that perception wrong?
Spokesman: From the very beginning, the Secretary-General took action to make sure that Benon Sevan cooperated fully with Mr. Volcker and his panel.
Question: [inaudible] as outlined in the Volcker report.
Spokesman: Well, the Volcker report has not yet issued its final determination on Mr. Sevan’s activities, and so we have to wait for the final report. But you will recall that the Secretary-General first issued an instruction to all members of the Secretariat to cooperate with Mr. Volcker. He then placed Mr. Sevan on a dollar-a-year contract to keep him in the status of a staff member, so that he would be obligated to follow the instructions of the Secretary-General directly as far as cooperating with Volcker. Whether he has fully cooperated with Volcker or not has to be Mr. Volcker’s assessment.
Question: When you say this is done on an exceptional basis, the United Nations is guaranteeing that no other person -– no other United Nations employee -- anywhere is having their legal fees paid for by the United Nations with regard to investigations into misconduct, whatever.
Spokesman: As far as I know. Again, making a system-wide sweep like this and a deep history search if this has ever been done before can’t be done in a couple of hours. But it is my understanding that this is exceptional.
Question: Has the Secretary-General retained a personal lawyer to advise him on the investigation? If so, does he categorically exclude seeking reversal [inaudible]?
Spokesman: I would have to ask the Secretary-General that question and get back to you.
Question: [inaudible] [regarding the salary of the Secretary-General]
Spokesman: That’s in the books. I don’t have the figure in my head. I mean, it’s a matter of record and... Richard?
Question: Did you say it’s all legal fees or were there other things Benon Sevan was looking to be reimbursed for –- copying of documents, cab trips, the trip to Cyprus?
Spokesman: I did not say. I did say he submitted a number of bills to us and that we are reviewing them.
Question: Does the United Nations have any power to make Benon Sevan make a reimbursement to the Organization himself on any funds that may have gone missing due to his fault?
Spokesman: The United Nations does and has in the past sought to recover funds that had been embezzled, and there are a number of ways that can be done. I don’t want to say that applies to Mr. Sevan because, until now, Mr. Volcker has not accused Mr. Sevan of anything criminal. So we are still waiting for the final report.
Question: [inaudible] if there are ... criminal [inaudible] of funds? [inaudible] Does the United Nations have any power to do that?
Spokesman: That’s a technical question. I would have to assume it’s a combination of United Nations sources and national authorities’ cooperation. Bank accounts and so on.
Question: Can you explain if there is any relationship between Benon Sevan and his lawyer, Mr. Lewis, and United Nations Legal Department?
Spokesman: First of all, I had no idea that Mr. Sevan’s lawyer’s name is Mr. Lewis. I don’t know who his lawyer is and, therefore, I cannot answer any question about any relationship between his lawyer and the Legal Department, but I would have to assume that there is none.
Question: Could you find out if there is a relationship?
Spokesman: Why would you speculate that there is?
Question: Well, perhaps there is. I am just wondering where Mr. Sevan is getting his legal advice from. If the United Nations is considering aid for it, maybe it is on the advice of the Legal Department for him to have this advice coming from this individual, or another one.
Spokesman: I doubt that very much, but I will ask the question for you.
Question: Would it be cheaper for the United Nations to provide Mr. Sevan with one the United Nations lawyers?
Spokesman: There is probably a legal reason for that. I will ask what it is.
Question: Is there some kind of procedure as to how much the United Nations is willing to pay per hour to this lawyer? Is there some system here, or is it basically “lawyer asks for any fee he wants in the United Nations pay” structure? How is it determined whether it’s a fair price or not?
Spokesman: I said reasonable legal fees as determined by the United Nations.
Question: And I’m just wondering how that is determined.
Spokesman: I can’t give you a dollar amount.
Question: Can you pledge to us that you’ll keep us updated in this room about any payments actually authorized to Mr. Sevan’s legal team?
Spokesman: I can ask my –-
Question: I mean this is taxpayer, money after all, we’re talking about.
Spokesman: Yes, I can ask the Secretary-General’s office if they would give me that information to give to you promptly and regularly.
Question: One, did Mr. Stephanides request payment? Two, just to reclarify. You’re saying nothing has been paid yet. There’s still a decision to be made on that, or this is a definite that certain fees before the Volcker report came out earlier will be paid, or would everything be hinging on what Volcker says about the Secretary-General next week?
Spokesman: I said that Mr. Sevan submitted bills. We have not paid anything yet. We are reviewing what he submitted to us. When we agreed to reimburse him, we did so before the first Volcker report. When that report came out and made specific charges against Mr. Sevan, we informed him at that point that we would not reimburse him for any legal fees that he incurred subsequent to the levelling of chargers against him.
I also said in response to a question by Nick, that I do not know whether we are reviewing our initial decision to reimburse him for the period leading up to the levelling of charges.
Question: And Mr. Stephanides -– has he asked?
Spokesman: To my knowledge, he has not asked. But again I believe that our policy decision was on an exceptional basis for Mr. Sevan as the head of the oil-for-food programme.
Question: You’re saying that it’s under review now, whether you’re going to reimburse him, but the decision was taken to reimburse certain fees.
Spokesman: Don’t twist –- does everyone understand what I said? That the agreement was to reimburse him. That once charges had been levelled, we said from that point forward we would no longer agree to reimburse you, and I do not know whether we are reconsidering the initial offer to reimburse him up to the time when the charges were levelled. I just don’t know that. That’s one of the things I’ll have to get back to you on.
Question: My question was, is there a legal basis, within the United Nations, to revoke that earlier decision to reimburse him for the earlier services that he was receiving?
Spokesman: We’ll have to ask the lawyers that. I don’t know.
Question: Was Mark Malloch Brown already on board when the decision was made? Do you know what day or week the decision was made to make this one-time exception?
Spokesman: I don’t think he was, but I’d have to review the dates.
Thank you very much.
[The Spokesman later announced that he would provide by the end of the day a written statement answering most of the questions put to him at the briefing.]
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