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At UN, Ban's Hands-Off Approach to UNDP, on Ethics Office and Audits, Draws Criticism

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 3 -- While the UN Development Program has failed to provide any update on what it claimed would be its moves to accept the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has now received a detailed letter from the Washington-based Government Accountability Project, which in 2005 gave technical assistance to the UN to improve its "internal oversight and transparency." Inner City Press has here put online the letter, in which GAP tells Ban that

"We would appreciate your written clarification of the basis upon which a troubled programme, such as UNDP, can be allowed to avoid independent scrutiny of the propriety of its conduct. Mr. Secretary General, we wish to second the appeal of the Redesign Panel; we ask that you respond positively and urgently apply the rulings of the Ethics Office to the UN Funds and Programmes."

            Ban's failure so far to apply the UN Ethics Office to UNDP is one of the counts against him cited by the president of the UN Staff Union in a October 1 communique which accuses Ban of adopting an "ends justifies the means" approach which has "undermined... moral and ethical processes" at the UN.

            During the now-concluded UN General Debate, Ban is said to have conducted over 129 bilateral meetings; his team say that he showed to Member States his energy and earnestness. But the Staff Union letter, which Inner City Press is putting online here, portends badly. Ban's failure, at least until now, to apply the Ethics Office to UNDP, like his apparently failure to follow-up on his call for UN auditors to have access to North Korea, threaten to become dual albatrosses. It doesn't have to go this way, but for now, it does.

Mr. Ban and UN Staff Council: can this relationship be saved? Letter

The North Korea issues arose again at Wednesday's noon briefing:

Question:  I think Matthew followed up with the question yesterday on the meeting that Secretary-General Ban had with the North Korean representative and, out of that meeting, it became evident that Secretary-General Ban did not address the issue of auditors being allowed into Pyongyang.  Why is it that the Secretary-General has called for a thorough investigation and audits of various activities at the United Nations, yet hes not pushing for something that he espouses to be something that he believes in?

Spokesperson:  I didn't say he was not pushing for it.  What I said is that that simply did not come up during that conversation with the Foreign Minister.  This is all I said.

Question:  Is there a reason why it didn't?  It seems like an issue of...

Spokesperson:  No, because there were other issues, like the summit, the Korean summit, which, as you know, the Secretary-General welcomed yesterday.  I mean there were other issues on the table that they felt were to be discussed as a priority.

Question:  I think the question, then, is why wouldn't he...  I mean you've got the man's attention; you're sitting in the room with him.  This is one of the outstanding issues that has existed between the United Nations and his country.  The United Nations has deep involvement in his country of various programs.  Why not?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has been engaging them on that on other occasions, not on that one, specifically.  That's all...

Inner City Press: Yesterday, the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of North Korea, Mr. Choe Su Hon, said in an interview that he did with three of our colleagues that there was no need for the UN to send any auditors to North Korea and that they're not accepting them.  And weve also heard that a letter to that effect has gone to the Board of Auditors, so I guess, since Mr. Ban himself had called for this and now the Vice-Minister of the country is saying we dont want it, what is the next step?  First, can you confirm that the Board of Auditors got a letter and, two, what would the Secretariat say, now that a country has sort of pretty much openly rebuffed what he'd urged?

Spokesperson:  I have to say that efforts are continuing on that process.  That's all I can say.

Question:  Is it on the letter thing, is it a legitimate question, to know if the Board of Auditors got a letter from North Korea...?

Spokesperson:  That, I cannot find out for you.  The Board of Auditors, as you know, is an independent body.  I don't know whether they got a letter.  I will try to find out, but I don't know whether I can.

Question:  And remember the old request of having them actually come at some point?  Either the Board of Auditors or the... can we get them in here now that everything's cooling down?

Spokesperson:  Well, they keep on saying the same thing.  While an investigation is under way they will not comment.  This is all I am getting at this point.

            But wasn't this a priority? Wasn't UN reform? The GAP letter in part states:

October 3, 2007

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General

The United Nations, New York, New York

Dear Mr. Secretary General:

...When the Secretary-General issued the bulletin entitled "Protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations" (SGB/2005/21) on December 19, 2005, GAP publicly praised the United Nations for applying best practices in whistleblower protection.  However, since that time, serious concerns have arisen regarding the effective implementation of the policy.

We were deeply dismayed to learn of the treatment of Artjon Shkurtaj, a whistleblower who was retaliated against by UNDP management after disclosing misconduct in the UN office in North Korea. The Washington Post ("Reprisal Indicated in a U.N. Program, August 21, 2007)" reported that the UN Development Programme refused a request from the UN Ethics Office to submit to an investigation of Mr. Shkurtaj's disclosures. 

Instead, Kemal Dervis, Administrator of UNDP, announced that he would name candidates for an ad hoc panel to investigate the matter, effectively asserting that UNDP will define its own separate ethical standard. At GAP, we are surprised and troubled to learn that UN Programmes apparently can opt out of the whistleblower protection policy and reject Ethics Office findings. 

This ad hoc decision-making comes, unfortunately, as no surprise to those who have watched the reform process at the United Nations closely.  In their wisdom, the members of the Redesign Panel on the United Nations System of Administration of Justice anticipated the "confusion" that would surround the scope of the rulings of the Ethics Office and, calling its functions "[A]n essential component of the reform of the Organization," urged the Secretary General to clarify its jurisdiction more than a year ago.... The "UN Delivering as One" initiative cannot be achieved with each unit applying a different set of ethical standards, nor can "One UN" be implemented at the country level if led by a UNDP that insists on its own institutional autonomy in the face of General Assembly resolutions.

To remove all controversy and place the United Nations firmly on the road to reform, we appeal to you, Mr. Secretary General, to invoke your authority to oblige the United Nations system to abide by a single code of ethics and to address immediately the plight of those staff members who sought to protect the mission of the United Nations and instead exposed themselves to injustice and retaliation at the hands of unscrupulous actors.

  * * *

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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