Panel gets Trumped
Senior U.N. management official Christopher Burnham and acting U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson traveled to Washington last week for a Senate subcommittee hearing on the ambitious plan to renovate the aging U.N. headquarters, but it was real estate developer Donald Trump who stole the show.
Mr. Trump, accompanied by model-turned-missus Melania, had the senators laughing and clapping as he gave a crash course in the hidden perils of Manhattan real estate.
“We have major slime in New York, and much of that is in the form of contractors,” Mr. Trump told the delighted overflow crowd. “And every one of them, I guarantee you, will find their way to the United Nations.”
He said the proposal to renovate the 39-story headquarters and build a separate tower to consolidate outlying U.N. offices is vastly overpriced, with initial estimates in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion. In theory, U.S. taxpayers could pay 23 percent of the cost.
The Government Accountability Office has twice examined the U.N. plans and found them to conform to best practices. But Mr. Trump — a man whose name is on residential towers and casinos and who is the star of his own hit reality-TV show, “The Apprentice” — said the world body doesn’t know what it’s doing and could pay nearly three times more in the end.
“They don’t know what they want, they don’t know what they have, they don’t know what they’re doing,” the developer said.
Christopher Burnham, U.N. undersecretary for management who left a senior State Department post three months ago to become, in effect, the U.N. budget czar, tried hard to put at ease members of the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management, government information and international security.
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Burnham said, had sent him to the United Nations to oversee the renovation plan and other management issues, and push through reforms so taxpayer dollars would not be squandered.
The ex-Marine pledged to oversee a “lean and mean” program on behalf of U.S. taxpayers. He also told Congress that it’s in American interests for the work to go ahead quickly rather than delay.
The nearly 50-year-old U.N. complex fails to meet minimum fire, building and safety codes, and lacks sufficient security, Mr. Burnham told the panel. He said the 39-story building has dangerous levels of asbestos, and the ancient heating and air conditioning system is so delicate that an accident could blow contaminated material all over Manhattan’s East Side.
Although Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, jokingly offered the job to real estate developer Donald Trump, the United Nations has, in fact, just named a new official to oversee the Capital Master Plan, Louis Frederick Reuter IV.
Blue helmets, AIDS
The head of U.N. peacekeeping acknowledged last week that five years ago, when the Security Council demanded that his department do more to prevent the transmission of AIDS by and among blue helmets, “some of us initially wondered whether it belonged on the agenda of the Security Council.”
In retrospect, Jean-Marie Guehenno told council members, the resolution demanding steps to halt the spread of HIV by peacekeepers “turns out to have provided the jolt that we desperately needed.”
Since then, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has assigned AIDS advisers to most of its missions, developed voluntary counseling and testing programs, ensured condoms are readily available to peacekeepers, and developed education programs for communities where they are sent.
But that’s still not enough, according to Dr. Peter Piot, the head of UN-AIDS.
“Despite all that has been achieved since 2000, it is clear there is a still a long way to go, a fact made very evident by the recent reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers,” Dr. Piot told the council.
Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.