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At UN, Ban Is Entangled in Scandals of UN Development Program, As Staff Union Complains

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 20 -- The scandals surrounding the UN Development Program drew ever-closer to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday. As Inner City Press was first to report, the UN's Ethics Office issued a memo finding that UNDP retaliated against Tony Shkurtaj, previously the head of UN security in North Korea. The memo urges UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis, as well as Mr. Ban, to allow the inquiry to continue, under the UN's "protection against retaliation" rule (click here to view the rule).

            UNDP's Dervis has said no. Ban, at least Monday through his spokesperson, claims there is nothing he can do. Meanwhile, UNDP now refuses to provide even to its funders copies of audits of its operations in Myanmar, and other complaints against UNDP have been filed with the Secretariat.

    The UNDP Staff Union, having no confidence in UNDP's internal audit function, filed external complaint about the outsourcing of key UNDP finance functions to "temporary" workers from a firm called Professional Financial Temporaries, Inc.. Click here for Inner City Press' report on this PRO-FIT, after which Ban's Spokesperson's Office provided the following opaque explanation:

Subject: Your questions on OIOS

From: Spokesperson's Office at

To: matthew.lee [at]

Date: 7/16/2007 2:49:12 PM Eastern Standard Time

I have the following information for you, concerning your questions about OIOS and UNDP--

"The Office for Internal Oversight Services does not have a specific mandate to investigate UNDP, but it has the ability, under a memorandum of agreement with UNDP, to undertake services for UNDP at its request.

"In this particular case, OIOS is trying to obtain information from a complainant to see whether the complainant's reasons for not reporting information to UNDP are justified. Until OIOS receives that information and can determine whether the complainant's reasons are valid, it is not proceeding to deal with the particulars of the case."

            At the time, it seemed that the "complainant" was the whistleblower, Tony Shkurtaj. But it has emerged that the complainants are collective -- the full UNDP Staff Union. When an agency's staff union so loses confidence in the agency's leadership, it's time for a change. And the fact that most of the UN Secretariat, and now Secretary-General, respond to pleas for investigation and for protection against retaliation by looking for ways to disclaim jurisdiction over UNDP is troubling.

Ban Ki-moon with Korean Red Cross Youth, "Global Leader" Project

   Monday, after publishing the memo, Inner City Press asked Ban's Spokesperson about it:

Inner City Press: There is a memo from the Ethics Office Director Robert Benson to Kemal Dervis at UNDP, saying that the whistle-blower at UNDP has been made a case of retaliation, and saying that UNDP has not accepted jurisdiction.  It is cc-ed to Ban Ki-moon and asks Dervis to accept jurisdiction for the good of the UN.  Number one:  has he received his copy of the memo, and what does he intend to do about having the whistle-blower protection of the UN system applied to UNDP in this case?

Spokesperson:  He has received it, received it this weekend.  It was sent on Friday to him.  He has not had time to study the memo yet, and he certainly will take this into consideration.  As you know, he is very much concerned about this whole issue.  I know what you said, it is true that UNDP is not covered by the Ethics Office.

Question: Not covered?  I asked you a question last week about it.  Are you saying now that UNDP is not covered?

Spokesperson:  Is not covered as things stand now.  UNDP is not covered by the Ethics Office.  I got the information for you.  I know that the Executive Board of the UNDP, and I think you can have answers from UNDP, but the Executive Board of the UNDP is considering a complimentary external review to cover some key issues not covered by the UN Board of Auditors.  That is what I got from UNDP.  As far as the memo is concerned, as I said, it has been received and is being studied by the Secretary-General.

Inner City Press: Mr. Benson seems to be saying that he is asking UNDP, and Ban Ki-moon by implication by the cc, in this one case, since UNDP does not have whistle-blower protection, according to Mr. Benson there is no acceptable protection in place at UNDP, to accept jurisdiction so that it can be reviewed in this case.  Benson says it will be for the good of the UN.  I think the question here is, does Ban Ki-moon agree with the Ethics Office, whom he has nominated and put in charge...

Spokesperson:  It's a jurisdiction issue.  UNDP does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Secretariat's Ethics Office.

            But the whistleblower rules, which Inner City Press is today placing online here, begin

"The Secretary-General, for the purpose of ensuring that the Organization functions in an open, transparent and fair manner, with the objective of enhancing protection for individuals who report misconduct or cooperate with duly authorized audits or investigations, and in accordance with paragraph 161 (d) of General Assembly resolution 60/1, promulgates the following" rule.

            The goal of the rule regarding "the Organization" -- is UNDP not a part of the UN Organization?  The rule specifies

5.5 If the Ethics Office finds that there is a credible case of retaliation or threat of retaliation, it will refer the matter in writing to OIOS for investigation and will immediately notify in writing the complainant that the matter has been so referred. OIOS will seek to complete its investigation and submit its report to the Ethics Office within 120 days.

            So, some surmise, it's not only that UNDP wants to keep the whistleblowers against whom it retaliates out of the UN Ethics Office -- it's also that UNDP wants to keep the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services out of UNDP. But by now, UNDP's own staff union has no confidence in UNDP's audit functions.

  She-said, he-says: The above-cited Reuters article, crediting Inner City Press, quotes UNDP's Christina LoNigro that "UNDP believes that having multiple processes reviewing related or identical issues would not be the most effective way to achieve closure of this matter,""UNDP believes that having multiple processes reviewing related or identical issues would not be the most effective way to achieve closure of this matter."

   Asked by Inner City Press for a reply, whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj states:

"I am vindicated from the findings of the Ethics Office. Now this matter is at the hands of the Secretary-General, whether he wants the Ethics Office rulings to apply across the UN. I asked for whistleblower protection, and the only office equipped to do so is the Ethics Office. It wasn't me who brought this matter to Ethics, it was the UNDP Staff Union. UNDP is out of control. They don't want to be monitored, nor allow any oversight. I am a whistleblower and I need protection from UNDP corrupt officials, and I need that now."

    Monday even observers initially skeptical of the UNDP scandals acknowledged, this is a test for Ban Ki-moon. We'll see.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. 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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