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US Embassy New Zealand’s Chancery Rehab Project: Safety and Health Concerns With Ongoing Construction

Posted: 12:53 am ET

 

In November 2013, the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced the construction award, through “best value” determination of the major rehabilitation project of the chancery of the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.  This project, according to the announcement would include seismic strengthening, security improvements, and general building upgrades.

Below is a brief description of the project estimated to cost between $36-50 million:

SAQMMA-13-R0094, Wellington, New Zealand, Chancery Major Rehabilitation.

The 3,000 gross square meters Chancery building, originally constructed by the USG in 1977, sits on a 1.4 acre compound, located in the Thorndon section of Wellington, in close proximity to a number of other embassies and just north of the New Zealand government offices.  The compound is situated at the edge of a residential scale neighborhood of mostly two- to four-story buildings and is across the street from a neighborhood of much taller (up to approximately 16 stories), more densely sited commercial and mixed use buildings.

Anticipated renovation work includes:  retrofitting the exterior of the Chancery building façade to meet DOS standards for seismic and blast protection, systems upgrades throughout the building (electrical, telecommunication, mechanical, plumbing, fire and life-safety, and technical security), seismically bracing all building equipment and infrastructure, handicapped accessibility upgrade, constructing a 110 gsm addition to enlarge the work area, and space utilization improvements.  Site work includes: a physical security upgrade at the two vehicular entrances; new parking configuration; and new landscaped areas.

The project will require extensive use of swing space and construction phasing, as the Chancery office functions must be fully operational for the entirety of the project.

Via US Embassy Wellington, NZ

Photo by US Embassy Wellington, NZ

This week, we’ve received several concerns about the ongoing construction project:

Safety issues: “Work is going on while this building is still occupied by dozens of employees, creating a largely unsafe working environment. Repeated inquiries to Worksafe NZ have gone unanswered, despite the fact that there have been serious injuries on this project. At this point it’s just a matter of time until someone is killed on this site.  The building has been evacuated repeatedly due to fire alarms, and building-wide power outages are a routine occurrence.”

Structural concerns: “The building suffered damage from the Kaikoura earthquake in November, and staff were required to return to work before a structural assessment was completed.”

Health concerns:  “Employees in all sections are routinely subjected to excessively high levels of noise, dust and smoke. Dozens of employees have complained of respiratory and vision problems since the project began in 2014.” 

Communication issues:  “A dozen employees were recently evacuated to the British High Commission due to this project, and their workplaces were subsequently consumed by the work. After the High Commission’s closure these staff had to return to the Embassy, except now they effectively have no workspaces. There is no timeline for completion of the project, or for when the rest of the staff might expect any improvement in the work environment.”

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We’ve asked State/OBO about these concerns and allegations. We also wanted to know what the bureau has done to mitigate the disruption, and the health and security concerns regarding the ongoing construction. Below is the full response from the State/OBO spox:

In September 2013 the Department awarded a contract to rehabilitate the existing chancery in Wellington to meet seismic and security requirements, as well as address needed improvements to building systems.  The extensive construction work underway is required to retrofit and seismically strengthen the building.  The project was carefully planned in phases in order to maintain business operations of the embassy during the construction period and phasing plans and impacts were discussed and briefed to stakeholders prior to executing the project.  The project is scheduled for completion in early 2018.

Construction of an occupied building is always a difficult under taking and is inconvenient, but measures have been in place since the inception of the project to ensure the safety of both construction workers and embassy staff working in the building.  The project is being managed in accordance with the procedures and policies of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) and the Department.

OBO is aware of complaints such as those raised and has reviewed the matter.  Though the project has encountered challenges — as is expected with a project of this complexity – the review confirmed that there is an appropriate safety program administered by the construction contractor and enforced by OBO project management, and that there have not been violations of required policies and procedures.

The original note sent to us says that “There is no timeline for completion of the project” but the OBO spox readily told us that project is scheduled for completion in early 2018. That indicates to us that there may be a hiccup in the communication line between employees and the project folks.  Somebody please fix that.  Whatever discussions or briefs were done to “stakeholders” were not heard or understood.

A separate source told us that US Embassy Wellington and OBO were “looking into having some staff work at home”, or “occupy an office in the British High Commission”, to avoid disruptions while the chancery is renovated.  A check with the BHC, however,  indicates that the British High Commission in Wellington announced on November 24, 2016 that its building will be closed until further notice.  Damage from the recent earthquakes has apparently been discovered in their offices following an inspection so the building was temporarily closed for safety reasons.  Now folks still have work but no workspaces?  What’s the secret to making that work?

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Related items:

FedBiz listing: https://www.fbo.gov/spg/State/A-LM-AQM/A-LM-AQM/SAQMMA-13-R0094/listing.html

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces the Construction Award for Major Rehabilitation of U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC -11/12/13

 

Related posts:

 

 

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POTUS and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe Visit Pearl Harbor

Posted: 2:54 pm PT

 

“As the prime minister of Japan, I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place, and also to the souls of the countless innocent people who became victims of the war.  We must never repeat the horrors of war again.  This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken. And since the war, we have created a free and democratic country that values the rule of law and has resolutely upheld our vow never again to wage war.”

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Political Violence Against Americans in 2015: Highest in Near East Asia, Lowest in the Western Hemisphere

Posted: 1:55 am ET

 

The Political Violence Against Americans publication is produced annually by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Directorate of Threat Investigations and Analysis (DS/TIA) to provide a comprehensive picture of the spectrum of politically motivated threats and violence that American citizens and interests encounter worldwide. This report includes incidents of violence involving U.S. citizens and facilities with the exception of incidents against American military personnel serving in combat positions.

Of the 61 incidents that involved U.S. citizens and interests, 19 are believed to have resulted from intentionally targeting Americans while 42 are incidents where Americans or American interests were not targeted due to nationality.

The highest targets occurred in Near East Asia (NEA), followed by Africa (AF), and South Central Asia (SCA). In NEA, the most number of attacks were directed at private U.S. entities; in AF, the most number of attacks were directed at U.S. Government (USG) entities while in SCA, they were directed at the U.S. military.  The top three most common types of attack are 1) “armed attacks” followed by 2) “stray round,” and 3) “bomb” tied with “attack with vehicle.”

The region with the lowest number of attacks is the Western Hemisphere (WHA) with one incident of vandalism directed at the USG. The second region with the lowest number of attacks is East Asia Pacific (EAP) with three incidents (attempted murder, bomb, violent demonstration) all directed at the USG.

Via state.gov/ds

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More on Trump’s Taiwan Call Plus Video Clips From Secretary of State Candidates #suspense

Posted: 2:07 am ET

 

A view from Taiwan, a Trump-Tsai Ing-wen tag team, watch:

Now for the auditions, with some exciting clips below:

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US Embassy Manila: Ambassador Sung Kim Presents His Credentials to President Duterte

Posted: 10:07 am PT

 

On November 4, Ambassador Sung Kim was sworn-in by Secretary Kerry as the new ambassador to the Philippines (see Secretary @JohnKerry Swears-In Sung Kim as U.S. Ambassador to the #Philippines. He arrived in the Philippines last week; had burgers and fries with his residence and security staff and has already been to a basketball game.   On December 6, he presented his credentials to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the two spoke for around an hour without other officials in the room.  Ambassador Kim made a statement to the press at the Malacanang Palace after his meeting with the Philippine president.

 

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“Trump of the East” Gets an Invite to Visit the White House in 2017 #ikilledabout3people

Posted: 12:30 am  ET

 

We blogged previously about the Philippines’ most unstatesmanlike president, Rodrigo Duterte. On December 3, Mr. Duterte said that he spoke with President-elect Donald J. Trump. According to the Philippine president, President-elect Trump told him that the Philippines was conducting its drug campaign “the right way.”  Local media reported that Duterte said of Trump: “He understood the way we are handling it and I said that there’s nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that, ‘we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country.'”

President-elect Trump reportedly invited Mr. Duterte to visit him in the White House in 2017. According to rappler.com, the Philippine President also invited Mr. Trump to attend the 2017 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which will be hosted by the Philippines next year.

Here’s a clip of the Philippine president telling a reporter that he killed about three people … (see the 2:16 mark).

View on YouTube. Check out the official channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/LastWeek…

 

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Trump Chats With Taiwan’s President, a First? Since Diplomatic Relations Cut in 1979. Uh-oh! #OneChina

Posted: 4:21  pm PT

 

Via history.state.gov:

During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the most dramatic moment in Sino-American relations occurred on December 15, 1978, when, following months of secret negotiations, the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced that they would recognize one another and establish official diplomatic relations. As part of the agreement, the United States recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, and declared it would withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China [ROC]).
[…]
A new era began with a rapprochement during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon and his aide, Henry Kissinger, found ready partners in Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, and Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, who also wanted to improve Sino-U.S. relations. Their efforts resulted in the Shanghai Communiqué, which laid the basis for future cooperation between the two countries even while acknowledging continuing disagreements on the subject of Taiwan. As part of this rapprochement, the two countries opened liaison offices in one another’s capitals in 1973, a time when Taiwan still had an Embassy in Washington. The liaison offices, which in many ways operated as de facto embassies, represented a significant concession by the People’s Republic of China, which opposed the acceptance of “two Chinas” because that implied both were legitimate governments.
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PRC leaders repeatedly expressed displeasure with the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which became law on April 10, 1979. The TRA was influenced by Congressional supporters of Taiwan and stated that it is the policy of the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” In his signing statement, Carter declared that he would use the discretion granted to him by Congress to interpret the TRA “in a manner consistent with our interest in the well-being of the people on Taiwan and with the understandings we reached on the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China.”
[…]
On January 1, 1979, the United States recognized the PRC and established diplomatic relations with it as the sole legitimate government of China. On the same day, the United States withdrew its recognition of, and terminated diplomatic relations with, the Republic of China as the government of China.  The U.S. embassy in Taipei was closed on February 28, 1979. The U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing was converted to an Embassy on March 1, 1979, and Leonard F. Woodcock, who had been head of the Liaison Office, was appointed Ambassador.

 

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US Mission New Zealand: USS Sampson Supports Kaikoura Earthquake Relief Efforts

Posted: 1:55  am ET

On November 13 we blogged that the US Embassy in Wellington issued an emergency message for New Zealand following a 7.8 earthquake and tsunami warning.  Citing New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, the USG said that there were 1,200 tourists in Kaikoura — a town of about 3,800 — when the earthquake struck. The tourist town has reportedly been completely cut off from the rest of the island due to landslides and flooding.

On November 15, the US Embassy’s updated message says to direct anyone with friends or family in Kaikoura to make their way to the Takahanga Marae Welfare Centre to register with the Red Cross to be on the evacuation list. On November 16, the amphibious sealift vessel HMNZS Canterbury evacuated around 450 people out of Kaikoura to Christchurch. The NZ Defence Force said that the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 3 Squadron evacuated another 60 people and delivered two tonnes of aid to Kaikoura, bringing to about 660 the total number of people evacuated from the quake-damaged town.  Surveillance aircraft from the United States Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force also conducted surveys of quake-damaged areas, focusing particular attention on inland and railway routes.

Ships from Australia, Japan, Canada, Singapore including the the United States’ USS Sampson were already traveling to New Zealand to take part in the International Naval Review to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy. When the earthquake struck, the ships were diverted from the planned celebration to assist in humanitarian efforts.

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Secretary @JohnKerry Swears-In Sung Kim as U.S. Ambassador to the #Philippines

Posted: 1:29 am ET

 

Meanwhile, in the Philippines ….

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Duterte Announces Break-Up With America Before Applauding Chinese Audience

Posted: 3:23 pm ET

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited China recently, and the Chinese rolled out the red carpet. See the video here of the grand arrival ceremony complete with children waving the Philippine and Chinese flags. This video cites Chinese respect for the Philippines by displaying the Philippine flag above the Chinese flag.  Also below is an interesting take from a Filipino writer describing a prior presidential visit to China as he watched the Duterte visit and what he calls China’s  “dragon dance of celebration.”

While in China, Duterte was famously quoted for saying he is “separating” from the United States. Below is the video where the president of America’s longest ally in Asia is lambasting all Americans and their character during his October 20, 2016 speech in China. He calls Americans — and not just Americans he dealt with — but basically all Americans and westerners as discourteous, and loud, “their voice in their larynx not well adjusted to civility.” He said, he did not really like Americans because long ago  he had an experience with American idiotic arrogance. He proceeds to retell a story about being stopped at LAX by an African-American immigration official who he describes in detail and then says no racial slur intended. It sounds like he was taken to a secondary interview which he recalls as an interrogation.  (By the way, according to WaPo’s David Nakamura, Duterte has reportedly told aides to be sure he doesn’t go thru US airport en route to Peru for APEC next month). So at some point during this China talk, he complains about Filipinos going to the U.S. who are berated and humiliated when applying for visas while Americans are allowed to visit the Philippines without visas.  Would not be surprised if he would soon want Americans visiting the Philippines to get visas.

He offers to collect whatever debts the U.S. owe China  as long as he can keep some of it and says  “Duterte of the Philippines is very towards China because China has a character of an oriental.” He gives the reason why he decided to “shift-gears.” There is also a portion here where he talks about US aid to the Philippines and how it has not really changed the lives of the people in his country.  The speech is delivered mostly in English. We have not been able to find a transcript of this speech, but if there is one, it would read exactly like a convoluted Trump speech. He complimented China for its “sincerity” and complains that Americans and President Obama never apologized to him. At the end of this speech, he says, “In this venue, I announced my separation from the United States” to great applause.

Here is a quick recap if you were not following this break-up:

On October 24, China announced that it has donated millions to the Philippines after Super Typhoon Lawin (Haima).  According to rappler.com, the Chinese embassy said it donated P50 million to the Philippine government on Monday “for the disaster relief of farmers and fishermen in the affected regions.” China also committed around P35 million to Philippine anti-disaster efforts. The Red Cross Society of China “will also provide humanitarian aid of $100,000 to the Philippines.”

Here is President Duterte with his new best friend in Manila, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua while the former calculates all that money donated by China “with no strings attached.”

Earlier, the State Department announced that EAP Assistant Secretary Russel will travel to the Philippines on October 22–25, to meet with government officials and have lunch with Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) participants.  While in Manila A/S Russel said he had candidly told Philippine Foreign Minister Yasay that Manila’s friends were concerned about the high loss of life in Duterte’s campaign against drugs and reiterated the importance of due process, according to Reuters.  Russel said “a real climate of uncertainty about the Philippines’ intentions had created consternation in many countries,” including the United States. He said that worry extended beyond governments to corporate boardrooms and warned that it was “bad for business” in “a very competitive region.”

Here are some clips with A/S Russel, whatever he says, we expect it would not go down well in Manila. Note that A/S Russel says: “It’s a mistake to think that improved relations between Manila and Beijing somehow come at the expense of the United States, that’s not the way we think about it…”  It looks like the Duterte comments spliced in the clip below were made on October 19, so before the Russel visit to Manila. But we’re posting this clip here because the Duterte comments are relevant, nonetheless.

Of course, as can be expected, President Duterte delivered another rant.  Below is President Duterte with comments mostly in Tagalog and a sprinkling of English. From what we could tell he is talking about chop-suey and “historical hurts that will not go away” when Manila was bombed in World War II.  This is undated but he is citing comments from A/S Russel and Ambassador Goldberg.  You want to know his intention in terms of military cooperation? Here  he is talking about not/not wanting “any military man of any other nation, except the Philippine soldier” in the country. And when America talks about defending the Philippines, he asks, who from — citing the bogeyman of wars.  The AFP quotes him separately as saying “I want them out and if I have to revise or abrogate agreements, executive agreements, I will,” he added. (If tweeps want to help translate the Tagalog part of the video below, email us here).

As a background to Duterte’s anti-American stance, read the clips below about the Philippines, starting with James Fallows ‘A Damaged Culture’ following Corazon Aquino’s People Power Revolution in 1986. Also a useful list of grievances below via WSJ that goes back years for Mr. Duterte — from America’s  invasion of the Philippines in 1898 to the visa denial for Duterte and the cancellation of a work visa for his partner in 2002, and that’s just for starters.

We think A/S Russel’s message will not get though the noise. We also doubt that the next ambassador to Manila if confirmed, will find a friendly face at the presidential palace. Duterte’s beef is not with specific individuals, or even a specific American administration, it is with Americans as a whole. It sounds like he perceived all his encounters with Americans as bad.  We kept waiting for him to scream “Yanquis go home!” Meanwhile, the State Department continues to be deluded with what is now a one-sided love affair.

The official spox says that  they’re taking the “long view.” “The long view, in our mind, is a sustained, healthy, vibrant bilateral relationship with the people and the government of the Philippines.”  Mr. Duterte’s term doesn’t end until 2022, can we actually expect the United States to simply go around the country’s head of state? How would that work? Maybe before things totally go off the rails, the administration ought to consider deploying Ambassador Michele Sison, Foggy Bottom’s highest ranking Filipino-American diplomat to give an assist at APEC in November and even in Manila?

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