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John Ashe,the UN and the media

I wasn’t going to blog on this issue, because it seems to be all over the media. However, when reading the media stories I'm very unimpressed by how they are reporting this.

Prosecutor Preet Bharara, in his  diagram led with the headline, “Alleged United Nations Bribery Scheme”. This gives the impression that the UN is somehow involved in the bribery. From my reading of the situation and the evidences he is presenting, it isn’t UN or UN staff or even those who were members of staff of the office of the former president of the GA, who are, at the moment, being accused of anything. It is a representative and deputy representative of two member states of the UN. This is totally different from the organization being involved in any kind of wrongdoing. This is totally different to the way it has been presented by Mr. Bharara which has then been translated into the way that much of the media has presented the story as organizational corruption at the UN.

Let’s take a step back and look at the facts that have been reported. There is an accusation that former Ambassador John Ashe, while an Ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda to the UN, may have not paid tax on some money for work he completed while he was President of the UN General Assembly - but not as UNPGA.

Now lets look at the issue of who the President of the UN General Assembly (UNPGA) is. The President of the UN General Assembly is elected by member states.

For those readers who do not know – this includes the media – the President of the UN General Assembly is NOT a UN staff person.And the composition of the UNPGA office is also mostly composed of Member States representatives not UN staff.

“Compensation of the President of the General Assembly is determined by the home Member State, which pays the President a salary. This salary is in addition to the privileges of all persons acting in service of the UN or its member states.” ( )

He is NOT answerable to the UN Secretary General but as Rule 36 states “the President, in the exercise of his functions remains under the authority of the General Assembly.” (UN rules of procedure)

It is the responsibility of the media to report accurately what the state of affairs is. What would be more accurate to say is that an Ambassador at the UN, appointed by his country and later elected by his peers, and answerable to the 193 member states to the UN, while undertaking his work as President of the UN General Assembly is being compensated by his country for this work is accused of bribery. Of course, this is not as dramatic.

If he and representatives of a number of other member states also signed a letter to the UNGA to try to have a conference centre built at a location in Macau, then this is an issue again for those member states. On its own, it is not the improper act it is being made out to be by the media because member states can and do send letters to the UNGA all the time calling for whatever they want. Neither the UNGA nor the UN has taken up any of the suggestions in the letter. So where is the UN at fault?

The President of the UNGA is operating under his or her own countries rules as far as how they conduct their business. There may be a need for member states consider making it a requirement for the UNPGA to publish any additional funds he or she receives in the course of their Presidency. The present UNPGA may want to consider publishing his countries rules regarding additional income acquired while being one of THEIR civil servants. This would set a very good example.

Finally, there is clearly more to come out of Mr. Bharara. He has indicated that there are other people being investigated and if I see any further indication of the media not doing their job professionally I will come back to this issue. But can we in the meanwhile ask the media to do their job and report accurately after doing the proper research.

Lets get back to focusing on one of the UN's great success the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals - an agenda that will change the way we live on this planet.


  1. The PGA is the highest ranking UN Official, precisely because he represents the Member States. The Secretary-General is a mere administrative officer who has some good offices powers, but very little other substantive power. In this respect the PGA should br held to the highest standards of ethical action, but by the GA as you point out not by the US Justice Department.

    As the US has done with FIFA--where there are several US citizens and even administration officials implicated but not being prosecuted like the dozen of foreign FIFA officials--it is once again interfering in the work of an international organization.

    This is not the first time the US has interfered with the independence and impartiality of the UN or other bodies. I even felt their efforts a few times personally. American authorities once tried to preventive from practicing before international human rights bodies, including UN bodies claiming I had to get their permission to do so or I would be practicing law illegally. Could you imagine a foreign court or even an international body interfering with a US court's decision who appears before it...especially when the lives and well-being of people being represented are involved? The US does it.

    No doubt the UN needs reform. Unfortunately many are focusing their attention on the SG. That is like revising the terms of reference for the secretary of the President or CEO of a company, but doing nothing about the top spot. The Post of PGA needs reform. The President of the General Assembly should be elected for five or more years by the UN Member States, not merely choosen by regional rotation without much vetting by the whole GA; he or she should be paid by all these States from assessed contributions, not merely by one State; and, he or she should be respected as the most senior official representing the UN Member States and the Organisation that he or she is. Such change depends on Member States taking the Organization seriously, but we (the People) can influence it by letting our governments know we want it.

    As a start you can join the movement to discipline the UN's Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for signing away copyright to SDGs icons and allowing abusive use of SDGs by a profit-making UK company by following Tweets with #SDGabuse and by writing to your government and the current PGA asking them to investigate this apparent abuse of authority. "We the People" need to take back the UN!

    1. You know, the SDGs vision provided from the Ban-Ki-Moon who worked under many UNPGA. So I think that 's why he is glad for its adoption on september25 by world Leaders. Discipline Ban-Ki-Moon is too higher expression. Another thing is having vision and another one is its realisation.

    2. The sdgs were not put forward by the UN Secretary General they were put forward by the governments of Colombia, Guatemala, Peru and use in solo Indonesia in July 2011. The push for the sdgs came from member states and the UN supported the process. As far implementation is concerned that is up to governments and all of us

    3. Ok, but it was UN SG who make out the idea.

    4. the un sg did not have the idea it came from governments the UN is run by member states the secretariat is there to support what governments ask for.

  2. By the book he might have been a nominal leader without any real power, but that doesn't change the reality that he held significant responsibilities in the transition from Rio+20 to Post-2015. The UN and wider SD community purposely gave him the authority to oversee and manage the handover of the SDGs to the General Assembly. Unfortunately, we cannot disassociate John Ashe from the UN and the historic process he presided over during its most vulnerable period.

    1. Hmm not sure your point the sdgs were negotiated by member states under the ambassadors of Hungary and kenya and the. As part of a ga full process under the ambassadors of Ireland and kenya the ga negotiations happened under the unpga from Uganda so I am little confused by your point

  3. Excellency John Ashe is an important personality to the SDGs and the HLPF.

  4. the President of the UNGA in this case John Ashe was organized a number of events to look at some of the themes under discussion at the SDGs this helped give more government time to delve into the issues in more depth. The SDGs were agreed by 70 countries by consensus and then forwarded to the UN SG and the UNGA. In the case of the UNGA it was under the Uganda Presidency of the UNGA that they were negotiated.. I with two other authors wrote a good book which you might enjoy called from Rio+20 to the NEw Development Agenda which came out in 2014 before the SDGs were negotiated. My new book on the SDG negotiations with two colleagues will come out next year


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