- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

No more frills
U.N. staff are deeply concerned about an official memo circulated last week explaining that new budget cutbacks will probably undermine working conditions in offices that are, in some cases, already feeling the pinch.
In an effort to slice $75 million out of the U.N. budget immediately the number crunchers have decreed emergency economies that are already being felt by staff, diplomats, reporters and visitors.
Heat, computer support and many conference services are to be cut severely during nights and weekends.
Anyone working after 5 p.m. has already noticed the thermal plunge. The air conditioning will be rationed as well in the Secretariat, a building that leaks heat and cool air so badly it could alter air currents.
There are worries among staff and delegates that already scheduled conferences in meeting rooms and the General Assembly will be compromised.
"Can you imagine if we have a conference with delegates sitting in their coats?" cringed one staffer. "It would not look right at all."
Conferences routinely go into overtime, requiring not just heat but document preparation, interpretation and other services.
The memo, which comes from the Office of Management, also warns that water pitchers and coat-check attendants will be discontinued.
U.N. staff have been advised that the day of new telephones, furniture, work stations and nonessential renovation are over.
"Only furniture that is beyond repair will be replaced," warned the circular distributed last week. Cleaning services in the building have been reduced as well.
In an effort to save $10 million, support staff for computers, software and telephones have been cut, and staffers are warned that undelivered e-mail could pile up and Internet service disruptions will take longer to fix.
There is hardship to go around: Diplomats are on notice that water pitchers will no longer be delivered to conference rooms, elevators will be self-service, and the coat-check will be closed.
"While significant in their magnitude, the service reductions set out above approach but do not equal the level of budgetary savings mandated by the General Assembly," said the memo from the desk of Joe Connor, the undersecretary-general for management.
"Accordingly, expense patterns will be carefully monitored to ascertain whatever additional appropriate action may be required."
The memo noted that it will be especially difficult to cut expenses under existing contractual obligations. Nonetheless, the office has ordered a $2 million cutback on staff travel; $7 million savings on furniture and equipment and $19.7 million on general operating expenses.
You have to wonder how it all looks to the Swiss, who last week agreed by a narrow margin to join the United Nations as the 190th member, responsible for a share of all expenses.
The Americans left little doubt, however. U.S. officials acknowledged the need to tighten the U.N. belt but dismissed many of the suggested economies as "brinksmanship" akin to the Interior Department suggesting closing down the Statue of Liberty to save money.

Caviar's comeback
They probably won't be serving caviar at U.N. receptions any longer, but the U.N. body that protects endangered species last week agreed to lift export limits imposed on the Caspian Sea delicacy.
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Iran had agreed to cut back exports of the black fish eggs by some 10 percent, as required by the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The effort was apparently effective in saving the $100 million a year industry.
"For the first time, the Caspian Sea's wild sturgeon populations are being managed through a unified system rather than through competing national systems," CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers announced.
"This has enabled the region's governments to demonstrate that sturgeon numbers are indeed stable or, in some cases, increasing," he added.
The resumption of trade will bring in much-needed funding to finance the expansion of artificial hatcheries, vital to the long-term survival of sturgeon.
The Geneva-based CITES halted trade in June 2001 and gave four of the states, excluding Iran, four years to conduct a scientific study of stocks and develop a common management plan.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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