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UN Ethics Office Becomes "Rigged for Retaliators," New Memo Reflects

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 17 -- The UN Ethics Office, which was created to protect those in the UN system from retaliation for whistle-blowing, is said to be moving toward towards the opposite, providing a venue in which only one side, the retaliators, can prevail. Mathieu Koumoin from Cote d'Ivoire, who on September 4 wrote to the Ethics Office with evidence he had been let go by the UN Development Program after complaining about diversion of funds away from Africa, is the addressee of a distinctly strange letter from the Ethics Office, click here for a copy.

   Ethics Office director Robert Benson, who has yet to answer press questions about his enigmatic rulings, recites a timeline of Mr. Koumoin's case which is decidedly slanted for UNDP, then uses the facts that Koumoin complained within UNDP, and to the UN Joint Appeals Board, as an excuse to not even address if a prima facie case of retaliation exists. This is an abdication of the Ethics Office mandate. It is also inconsistent with what Mr. Benson did, only a month ago, in the case of UNDP's North Korea whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj. In that case, Benson stated that a prima facie case of retaliation had been made out, and urged UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (via copy) to allow the investigation to proceed, "for the good of the UN."

   What a difference a month makes -- now Benson issues a letter than UNDP can use, without Mr. Koumoin ever having had a chance to be offered any protection from retaliation by the Ethics Office. If it is Mr. Benson's position that his Office has no jurisdiction over UNDP, then why recite facts that UNDP can use? It appears to some to be a system rigged for retaliators. If the Ethics Office finds that the complainant was retaliated against, it does nothing. If it does not make that find, it issues a letter that the respondent agency can use. Tails you lose, head I win, from UNDP's perspective.

UN Ethics Office, shooting itself in the foot, UNDP in background

   Benson writes, as supporting his non-action, that Koumoin has availed himself "of all the relevant recourse mechanisms in relation to the issues that you now raise to the Ethics Office." But Kemal Dervis has said that he is only considering "allowing" the UN Ethics Office to address any UNDP retaliation after all UNDP mechanisms have been used. Now Benson says if a complainant uses UNDP, the Ethics Office does not have to do anything. A new low, it seems, for the UN Ethics Office. Mr. Koumoin, to his credit, has carried the fight to the World Bank, which is also involved in the UNDP-Global Environmental Facility project on which Mr. Koumoin worked. Click here for that story.

  Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540