Powered by WebAds

Thursday, April 12, 2012

UNESCO isn't very funny

Comedy Central did a two-part report on the deprivation of the people of Gabon as a result of the United States cutting off funding to UNESCO. I want to show you the report, and then we'll talk about it a bit.

Here's Part 1. Let's go to the videotape.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

Here's Part 2. Let's go to the videotape.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,The Daily Show on Facebook

Now here's why you shouldn't get your news from Comedy Central. Claudia Rosett explains:
The Atlantic hailed the piece as a paragon of do-good satire, and indeed it is funny—if you know nothing about UNESCO, or Gabon.

UNESCO lost U.S. financial support through its own actions. Last fall, when the Palestinian Authority made its unsuccessful bid for statehood at the U.N. Security Council, it also applied to the U.N.’s Paris-based cultural organization. Over U.S. objections, UNESCO’s member states voted 107 to 14, with 52 abstentions, to grant the PA full membership. This decision set in motion a U.S. law that forbids the government from funding any part of the U.N. that tries to confer statehood on the Palestinians before they honor their promises to negotiate peace with Israel. The Obama administration had no choice but to stop the funding, which represented 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget.

UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, wants America’s money back. But rather than try to persuade UNESCO’s members to undo their admission of “Palestine,” Bokova has been pouring extravagant effort into persuading America to undo its law. Twice in the past six months, Bokova has traveled to the United States, most recently last month, with four UNESCO staffers in tow, for a 12-day road show with stops in Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Self-promotion seems to be the name of the game at UNESCO these days, and winning airtime on Comedy Central represents a major PR coup. And there are other initiatives underway as well.


Far from helping the world’s neediest, UNESCO’s top priority is helping itself. The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer calculates that 87 percent of UNESCO’s $326 million budget last year was allocated for its own staff, travel, and operating costs. More than half of UNESCO’s staffers are based in Paris, many pulling in tax-exempt six-figure salaries, with plush benefits and 30 days of vacation per year. UNESCO’s auditors reported that on travel costs alone, the organization was squandering more than $3 million annually via bad management and a taste for business-class airline tickets. A program of financial disclosure by senior UNESCO officials has been mysteriously delayed.


Then there’s the case of UNESCO’s model donor as featured on Comedy Central, poor little Gabon. The UNESCO official shown on camera touting Gabon’s largesse is Bokova’s new Washington flack, Papagiannis. Apparently he neglected to mention to Comedy Central’s intrepid reporter that little Gabon is the ninth-largest oil producer in Africa. Gabon’s 1.5 million citizens are poor not because the United States has been snatching their books or defunding UNESCO, but because Gabon has been plundered for more than 40 years by the family of President Ali Bongo Ondimba—the same fellow who showed his support for UNESCO after its Palestinian vote by pledging $2 million from Gabon. At that UNESCO gathering last fall, Bongo shared the Gabon model of development at a UNESCO Leaders’ Forum and won a four-year seat for his government on UNESCO’s 58-member executive board.

A 2010 report from the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, “Keeping Foreign Corruption Out of the United States,” offers useful background on Gabon’s ruling dynasty. The report cites Freedom House’s accounts of torture in Gabonese jails, restrictions on free speech, and “decades of autocratic and corrupt rule.” Gabon’s current President Bongo is the son of Omar Bongo, who was president of Gabon for more than 40 years, until his death in 2009. Senator Carl Levin, presiding over the release of the Senate report, said that both Bongos were “notorious for accumulating massive wealth while in office in a country known for poverty.” One Gabonese civic group wrote UNESCO’s Bokova, asking her to refuse the $2 million pledge, because the pauperized people of Gabon need the money more.


Unfortunately, the Gabon account is characteristic of UNESCO mismanagement. But rather than get her house in order, Bokova sweeps the organization’s pathetic track record under the rug and warns what kind of programs and projects might suffer if the United States doesn’t start paying again.

One she’s particularly vocal about is the Holocaust education program, which she suggests might vanish without American money. In fact, the lone full-time staff member on this project is paid out of a donation from Israel, which also kicked in a large chunk of the $536,000 collected in recent years for projects related to this program. UNESCO’s annual contribution comes to a niggardly $215,000, which Bokova could scrape together simply by abandoning her plans for a Washington liaison.
Unfortunately, it is likely that a lot more people will see the Comedy Central skit than will read Claudia's article. Don't be one of them. Read the whole thing.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home