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At the UN, Whistleblower Loopholes Defended, Ban's Fragmentation Called Ludicrous

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 21 -- Ban Ki-moon said he was for "One UN," for so-called system-wide coherence. But on the fourth day after the head of the UN's Ethics Office told Kemal Dervis of the UN Development Program and Ban Ki-moon to allow the Ethics Office to act on the case of UNDP whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj, both Ban and UNDP appear to be playing for time.

            On Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban's spokesperson answered Inner City Press' first question with an argument: "legally, the Ethics Office has no jurisdiction over UNDP.  As you know, UNDP has its own intergovernmental body, and its own Executive Board."

            There are at least two problems with this argument. First, the Secretary-General nominates the Administrator of UNDP, in this case Kemal Dervis, and thus could easily direct him to accept the Ethics Office's jurisdiction in this case.

            Second, even UNDP's Executive Board is, if one follows it back, dependent on the UN General Assembly. The Assembly elects ECOSOC, whose members elect UNDP's Executive Board. And so UNDP is not as independent as it claims.

            UNDP has not come to address these issues, leaving Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas to field a second day of questions. "I have spoken with UNDP this morning," she said, adding that UNDP will be announcing its own plan to purport to deal with the Ethics Office's finding that UNDP engaged in retaliation. See video below. But there was no movement at all on Ban's consideration of how to apply the UN's own Ethics and anti-retaliation standards and procedures to UNDP. The Government Accountability Project has said, "It doesn't look too good... The simplest good faith thing to do is to apply the policy across the board."

UN Ethics Office's Robert Benson

            Tuesday outside the UN Security Council, Inner City Press asked U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff  --

Inner City Press: UNDP is saying that they don't accept the jurisdiction of the Ethics Office and they claim that they are going to do their own review of the whistleblower's case through the Executive Board, which the US is on. As an executive board member, would the US participate or agree to that or do you feel that the Ethics Office should review the whistle blowers case and that Mr. Ban should tell Kemal Dervis to do just that?

Ambassador Wolff: Our view of the Ethics Office is that it should have jurisdiction over the entire organization including funds and programs. It is ludicrous, ludicrous to think that you can establish an Ethics Office and it is limited only to certain offices, certain employees, certain individuals not the organization as a whole. So our view on that is pretty clear.

Inner City Press: What's the next step?

Ambassador Wolff: We understand that the jurisdictional issue, and I got a little bit into the details on that, the jurisdictional issue is something Secretary-General is looking into, our understanding is that the Secretary-General's view is the same, that the Ethics Office should have jurisdiction over all funds and programs, and I am sure they will work something out to ensure that that is the outcome.


            Inner City Press then ran to the UN's noon briefing and asked Ban's spokesperson

Inner City Press:  Just now, at the stakeout, the UN Ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, called 'ludicrous' UNDP's argument that the Ethics Office does not apply to it, and said that he or the US mission thinks that Mr. Ban wants the Ethics Office to have jurisdiction over the whistle-blower's case.  Inevitably, it is a follow-up to you to say that, is the impression that he just stated, is that Mr. Ban's position?

Spokesperson:  At this point, it is a fact that, legally, the Ethics Office has no jurisdiction over UNDP.  As you know, UNDP has its own intergovernmental body, and its own Executive Board.  What I can only say is what I said yesterday, that the Secretary-General encourages a thorough and independent investigation into all matters related to the case, including its whistle-blower aspects.  However, whether it is done by the Ethics Office or by another body is not being raised here.

As you probably know, the UN Board of Auditors is preparing to begin the second phase of an external audit into the operations of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UNDP in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as requested by the UN Secretary-General.

UNDP has said that it is proceeding to arrange an additional and complementary external review to take place under the auspices of its Executive Board.  A formal announcement on this review will be made in a few days.  This review would look into issues relating to UNDP's operations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea not covered in the second phase of the external audit.  And this could include Mr. [Artjon] Skhurtaj's allegations.

 Inner City Press: Just one thing.  Having spoken to him, he says he sought protection as a whistle-blower from the Secretariat's Ethics Office.  And that Office has found him to be retaliated against.  That was an initial, prima facie finding.  The Board of Auditors and whatever UNDP is proposing have no mandate to protect whistle-blowers.  He was not asking for just an investigation, but actually for the protection under the UN's protection against retaliations statute.  How does that relate to that?

Spokesperson:  Okay, as far as I know, the UNDP has a protection against retaliation policy.  I spoke to them this morning, and it is under the Harassment and Abuse of Authority policy.  It has both informal and formal mechanisms available to both staff and individuals on short-term contracts to address allegations of retaliation. You know, legally -- and that is recognized by the Ethics Office -- legally, the Ethics Office of the Secretariat has no jurisdiction over UNDP.

 Inner City Press: He said for the good of the UN it should be done in this case. 

      And so what will Ban do, for the "good of the UN"? We'll see. Watch this site.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without DPA having respond.)  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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