Stewart Stogel is a veteran print/broadcast journalist whose work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, the Miami Herald, Washington Times, ABC News and NBC News. Major stories broken include the death of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (Operation Desert Storm, 1991), and the failure of the U.S./UK military to find WMD in Iraq (March 2003).More ↓Less ↑
NEW YORK – For U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Christmas 2012 came early.
The “S-G” did not receive simple, conventional gifts – no scarf, gloves, comforter or pajamas. No, the leader of the world body received a brand new suite of offices and a new “bullet-proof, armor-plated” limousine.
This, on top of a newly renovated official residence and a new Mercedes 500 Series limo just five years ago, when Ban replaced Kofi Annan as U.N. chief in 2007.
The past week showed an unusual display of privilege and wealth at a time when the world economy remains stalled. The U.S. in particular, continues to worry about falling off a
fiscal cliff,” while the European Union struggles with its own economic dilemmas in Greece and Spain.
Those woes, however, did not seem evident at United Nations headquarters.
While some of the gifts, such as the limo, may have been donated, others, such as the new offices, were financed by the U.N.’s Capital Master Plan.
The five-year CMP headquarters renovation project is now only halfway through its timetable, and U.N. sources confirm it is already more than $400 million over budget. That budget was originally reported to be almost $2 billion, with the U.S. taxpayer footing 25 percent of the bill.
Last Monday, the press toured the new suite of Ban’s executive offices, which reportedly cost more than $2 million.
Later that day, a smiling secretary-general proudly stood before the media to show off his new Hyundai Equus, specially modified to his personal tastes.
“This looks like a very big holiday gift for me,” Ban deadpanned.
Hyundai, a new arrival in the luxury car market, decided to display its engineering prowess with the new gift. The customized sedan came topped with a red bow and was the centerpiece of a champagne party.
Several U.N. staffers pointed out that while Ban prohibits them from accepting small gifts, such as a bottle of table wine, he showed off a new car valued at more than $200,000. Both the car and the secretary-general hail from South Korea.
The gifts come at a time when the U.N. struggles to cut both its budget and staff. In the last 18 months, the world body has trimmed over 5 percent of its worldwide staff, which once had exceeded 100,000.
Ban has also been dueling with the U.N’s Staff Union in his efforts to outsource some headquarters jobs to locations such as China, India and the Philippines.
The U.S. mission to the U.N., which has customarily been a watchdog on the organization’s excesses, has been silent.