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UNDP's Dervis Disregards Ethics Office, Threatens to Tarnish Reputation of Accusers

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 24 -- One week after the UN Ethics Office wrote to Kemal Dervis stating that within the UN Development Program there is "an absence of an applicable protection against retaliation policy," Dervis on Friday wrote to UNDP staff to, among other things, threaten them with retaliation. See Dervis' letter below.

            First, Dervis writes that it is only the press that is claiming that UNDP does "not have such systems in place."  But that finding was made by the Ethics Office's Robert Benson, in his August 17 memo to Dervis, copied to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

            Then Dervis shifts to his concern for, or about, those who raise complaints. Dervis writes that "allegations of misconduct have the potential to severely and unfairly tarnish the reputation of both the accused and accuser."

    How do allegations tarnish the reputation of the accuser?  Well, within UNDP the practice is that a complainant is subject to close investigation, to find any scintilla of discrepancies with which to try to target the accuser. This is done, at UNDP, through gossip and leaks to the press.  And then a hiding from the press -- Dervis has not held a press conference in UN headquarters in all of 2007, and only two in all his time at UNDP.

Dervis and Turkish reporter Dogan Ulucun (Melkert and Dutch press not shown because off-the-record)

            Dervis' #2 Ad Melkert has adopted the same evade-the-UN-press approach. From the transcript of Friday' noon briefing:

Inner City Press: We are told that today, the Associate Administrator Ad Melkert is meeting with the press, but not here, and only in Dutch.  So I guess I want to emphasize that there have been a lot of requests here to ask about this, and I think it would be easier for you if someone came.  But since we can't speak with them -- I get no answers from them -- we are told that in the terms of reference, the Administrator, Kemal Dervis, is the one that will nominate whoever the reviewer is.  So I am wondering -- I'll ask them as well -- if you can get a confirmation or denial on that?

Spokesperson:  I think this is wrong.  I think what was said to us, what was said in the letter that you received -- that was distributed yesterday -- signed by the President of the Board, was that they would themselves name someone.

Inner City Press: From what I heard about the terms of the reference they prepared, the Administrator nominates three individuals, and then the Executive Board chooses the one.  Is there a way to find out if, in fact, UNDP is the one nominating, you know, creating the shortlist?  It is just a factual question, I am not saying if it is right or wrong, I am just wondering [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I donít know, this is a matter for the Board to tell us.  Whenever they are ready to tell us, they will tell us.

Question:  A Ban Ki-moon question on this.  Yesterday, apparently, the whistle-blower wrote Ban Ki-moon and asked him to refer his case to the UN Administrative Tribunal for a legal ruling on whether the Ethics Office applies to UNDP or not.  So I want to know, did Mr. Ban get the letter, and is he going to turn that over to the Administrative Tribunal?

Spokesperson:  I donít think he has gotten that letter.

            This is strange, since the letter was e-mailed to, among others, Ban advisor Kim Won-soo, Vijay Nambiar, Alicia Barcena, and others.

            Dervis encourages staff to raise their complaints to their staff representatives. But the above-referenced whistleblower who did was referred to the UN Ethics Office, and the UNDP Staff Union itself has so little confidence in UNDP's internal reviews that it also took its complaints across First Avenue to the Secretariat. 

            Who then is the audience for Dervis' letter of August 24? Apparently the goal is to allow Ban Ki-moon to say, despite the findings of Ban's own Ethics Office after a 72 day investigation that UNDP has no protection against retaliation, that Dervis is propounding the right "norms." Many of those receiving Dervis' letter simply don't believe it. And he won't publicly stand behind it. Television, print and Internet journalists have all this week called for an opportunity to question Mr. Dervis, only to be told that once again he is "traveling." Then again, even when he was in UN Headquarters, Dervis said "I am not going to answer any of your questions."

            Dervis' message to staff? Don't ask any questions, or we'll work to tarnish your reputation. Close observers of and in UNDP note that this most recent Dervis missive is a follow-up to his December 27, 2006 letter to all staff, which under the heading "Some Thoughts on How We Should All Work Together," blathered that

" if you think the emperor is wearing no clothes, you really have an obligation to let me know. I'll welcome the criticism as long as it is intended to be constructive. At the same time, we do need to make decisions and, once those decisions are made, even when they're controversial, I'm counting on you to support them."

   UNDP staffers who provided copies of Dervis' greeting to Inner City Press opine that the reference to "you really have an obligation to let me know" refers specifically to those UNDP sources who had identified to Inner City Press projects that are abuses of UNDP's mandate (for example, only in Russia and only from this week, the water purification / tax avoidance scheme in our article of Dec. 26 as well as the rehabilitation of the Moscow planetarium), waste (see our Dec. 27 story on UNDP's Global Environmental Facilities' junket to Goa), and outright fraud (which UNDP admits took place in the Russia office, while still refusing to release the follow-up audit of the office.

  Following Dervis' Dec. 27, 2006 letter, further UNDP scandals broke. And after this one?

Click here for more on Dervis' December 27, 2006 letter.

Dervis' August 24, 2007 Letter, Inner City Press exclusive --

24 August 2007  
Dear Colleagues,
The United Nations was founded not in the belief that all conflicts can be avoided, but rather with the determination to resolve disputes peacefully and constructively, supporting progress in human development and with fairness and justice for all.   Our own internal justice systems aspire to those ideals, and I want to make sure all of you are aware of its key features, including in regard to reporting grievances or alleged misconduct and protection against retaliation. As you may have seen, there have been some recent claims, in the press, which have implied that we do not have such systems in place, and I therefore wanted to remind you of the resources that are available to all individuals, staff and non-staff alike, in these respects. 

Grievances or issues regarding ethical standards can be raised informally through the Office of the UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/UNOPS Ombudsperson as well as through staff representatives.  These channels offer an independent means for discussing concerns without triggering formal proceedings, and are appropriate for helping to address many staff-management issues.   If you are not already familiar with thesechannels, please consult the Ombudsperson's website(  /) or members of your local staff association.

Formal complaints or allegations should be raised through the Office of Audit and Performance Review which maintains an e-mail address ( ) and phone hotline (+1-212-906-5050) where they receive allegations of fraud or misconduct, including harassment, retaliation or other abuse of authority, and determine the appropriate action to be taken, including a possible investigation.  In addition, the Office of Information Systems and Technology receives and investigates allegations (through ) of the fraudulent use of our IT resources.   You can also find the answers to many frequently asked questions regarding accountability and incidents of wrongdoing, as well as related resources, on the corporate intranet.
I emphasize that you are not only entitled to raise grievances and report allegations of misconduct through these channels, you are encouraged (and in some cases obligated) to do so when the situation calls for it.   At the same time, as a colleague, I ask for your assistance in ensuring that UNDP retains its professionalism and protection of individuals by exercising discretion with regard to matters of official business. I trust you all agree that false allegations, by those who wish us ill, should not be allowed to hinder the women and men of UNDP from pursuing our collective mission.  Allegations of misconduct have the potential to severely and unfairly tarnish the reputation of both the accused and accuser as well as the United Nations system. For that reason, they must be handled (and where necessary investigated and documented) in a thorough, confidential and professional manner, using the internal mechanisms established for these purposes.
I want to emphasize that UNDP will protect all staff and non-staff personnel who, in good faith, report allegations of misconduct, and will do so vigorously.   Retaliation for reporting grievances, or alleged misconduct is, itself, misconduct and abuse of authority, and will not be tolerated.  I expect managers and supervisors to ensure that no staff member or non-staff personnel is retaliated against.  Damaging action, whether taken or merely threatened, against an individual because he or she reported a grievance, alleged misconduct, or cooperated with an investigation is retaliation. Procedures for raising allegations of retaliation can be found in the policy for Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Authority, approved in 2005.
UNDP has already investigated several allegations of retaliation and where those allegations have been confirmed, disciplinary actions have been taken. This is an integral part of the larger ongoing effort, actively supported by Ad Melkert and myself, to provide a framework for and support accountability and ethical standards within our organization.   You'll hear more from us on other aspects of that ongoing effort in the weeks and months to come.

* * *

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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