Thursday, July 9, 2009

For G-8 Spouses, WFP Flies in Ghanaian Children for "Simulated Feeding," $500,000 Cost and Ms. Sheeran Disputed, re N. Korea

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 7 -- During the upcoming G-8 meeting in Italy, the UN World Food Program is flying school children from Ghana to Rome for a "simulated food distribution" display for the spouses of G-8 representatives. WFP has ordered staff not involved in the display to not come to work that day. They will, however, received "special leave with full pay."

Inner City Press wrote about this last week, quoting an internal WFP e-mail. On July 7, Inner City Press called in to what was described as a WFP press briefing about the G-8 and asked for response to criticism of the event as insensitive to beneficiaries of UN aid and for the cost, as well as about limitations WFP accepts from the government of North Korea.

The WFP officials on the conference call -- who will remain unnamed at their request -- at first did not answer the question, and then stated that the event would cost only a fraction of the figure Inner City Press used its its July 2 story, $500,000.

Inner City Press asked to be given on the record WFP's figure, including staff time, accommodation and air fare -- and carbon offsetting of the jet travel, if any. Four hours later, after close of business in Rome, a WFP spokesman said that an answer might be forthcoming. In the interim, WFP had scrubbed up and approved a quote from the "background" briefing for a less critical wire service piece.

And so, beyond the WFP e-mail below describing the event, here is the basis for Inner City Press' estimate of cost:

According to the WFP website, 'WFP employed 10,200 people in 2008 (91 percent of staff serve in the field.)' That means about 1000 work at WFP Headquarters in Rome. Even accounting for a satellite building that will stay in operation -- though who knows how many staff will show up or be able to get near it -- we estimate that 800 staff go home and that the average grade is the mid range of a P4 (grades are higher at WFP headquarters than in the field). The direct cost for such a post is about $100,000 but one must add to that pension, staff assessment and a large "post adjustment" because the dollar is weak against the Euro. Therefore a more realistic annual cost for a mid range P4 is perhaps $150,000-160,000.

The work year has 260 days, so a single day of labor lost costs the organization $576. Multiplied by 800, one gets about $467,000 -- plus related security costs, the cost of flying in the Ghanaian children to eat corn-soy blend in view of the G-8 spouses, the construction of a fake schoolhouse by WFP's pool, etc. In addition there is the Italian government paying rent on a building that is not being used to manage food aid but as a set for this theater. The last public figure on the website for the building costs was about $45 million per annum with a daily cost of roughly $123,000. So $467,000 plus $123,000 yields about $590,000.

Immediately after a senior WFP official on Tuesday's conference call said that costs were only "a fraction" of $500,000, Inner City Press formally asked for WFP's estimate of costs, and for confirmation that a WFP staffer was expelled from North Korea.

At deadline nine hours later, the following arrived:

Hi Matthew, On the question regarding the planned event at WFP headquarters on Friday 10 July, I refer you to the response given during the teleconference earlier today. On the question of DPRK, I have the following response:

A senior WFP official said one WFP staff member in DPRK has had to leave the country because his visa was not renewed by the authorities. A number of other WFP staff members have been reassigned, or rotated to new duty stations because WFP's operations have contracted and the number of people required to support WFP's activities have gone down.

"While WFP continues to operate under the new conditions imposed by the DPRK authorities, it has not formally accepted them, and WFP is continuing to push for a return to the original terms of agreement negotiated with the government at the launch of the current emergency operation," the official added.

We continue to wait for WFP's cost estimate. Inner City Press immediately followed up on the above, asking for the costs, if the WFP staff member who had to leave DPRK was from South Korea, and another question.

The initial questions were sent to WFP chief Josette Sheeran's e-mail address. Ms. Sheeran, on whom Inner City Press has previously reported, including where possible praising her work, has taken to hiring yet more former colleagues from the Washington Times, most recently Elizabeth "Lisa" Bryant.

Within the UN system community in Rome, many believe that Ms. Sheeran engaged in a quid pro quo with FAO chief Jacques Diouf, hiring a relative of his for an information technology post in exchange for FAO hiring the husband of her personal assistant, Tanujah Rastogi. They snark that since Ms. Sheeran Shiner bragged that while editing the Washington Times she ran story after story about the Clintons and Whitewater, the Obama Administration with Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State might want to see a change at the top of WFP. Through in the snafu of the $500,000 simulated feeding program and.... well, watch this site.

Rome colleagues:

As you know, Italy will be hosting the G8 Summit next week and leaders from more than two dozen countries will be in L’Aquila. We are honored that the Italian government has asked WFP to host an official program at our headquarters on Friday, 10 July, as part of the spouse program.
This visit is a profound testament to the increasing visibility of WFP's work -- and an opportunity to help the world better understand the important work we do. On our premises, we are arranging a simulated food distribution and a symbolic African schoolhouse, where a small group of Ghanaian schoolchildren will help celebrate our work. (You may have noticed the large exhibit being erected this morning behind the pool.)

Due to the security precautions mandated by the Italian government and the visiting delegations, only those employees involved in the event or deemed necessary for critical operations by their managers will be permitted on the main building premises during the morning of July 10. Among other things, parking will be severely limited at our main building and automobile access limited in Parco de Medici in general.
But we encourage you to take advantage of this special exhibit and bring your families, including your children, on the afternoon of 10 July – anytime after 2:00 – so they can get a taste of our field work and meet the schoolchildren. If you cannot bring your family on 10 July, note that the tent and displays will remain up on Monday, 13 July, so we invite you to bring family members to see the display then.

Though this is a special event, we realize it might cause some inconvenience. We hope you can appreciate what an historic opportunity this is for some of the world’s most influential people to understand what we do and to see the impact of their donations.

Here are some guidelines for the day: If you work in the main building, please do not come to the office Friday morning, 10 July. The St. Martin’s building will remain open. As much as possible, please work from home... We expect the main building to re-open for business as usual at 2:00, so if it's feasible for you to return, please do so. If returning to the office in the afternoon is not feasible for you -- we recognize that some of the Parco de Medici transit options do not run in the afternoon, for instance – you are authorized special leave with full pay. Thank you,
Steve Taravella
Chief of Internal Communications, World Food Programme
Via C.G. Viola 68,Rome, Italy 00148

Footnote: one WFP staffer, anonymous from fear of retaliation, asked if Josette Sheeran would similarly "parade around Food Stamp recipient in the United States," and went on to suggest that if the G-8 spouses wanted to see "needy Africans" while in Italy, they could check out the camps on Lampedusa...

And see,