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At the UN, Job Favors Cloud Management Audit, Issues Rise to 38th Floor

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee on UN Management Reform: 2d in series, 1st

UNITED NATIONS, October 11 -- One week after whistleblowers released and Inner City Press published evidence of job favor requests between the UN's chief investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius and Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena, Ms. Ahlenius on Thursday morning told Inner City Press, "I have no comment on that." At issue is Ahlenius' September 17 e-mail to Barcena pressing a candidate to head Procurement Services, urging that one Danielle Coolen "be interviewed and seriously considered... I guess you would probably be yourself on an interview panel."

            In the week since the first report, a range of diplomats and UN insiders have marveled at Ahlenius' brazenness or lack of judgment in asking for a favor from a department she is the midst of auditing. Click here for a memo page concerning the audit. Hypocrisy has also been mentioned, as it is understood that when Ahlenius was previous asked to provide shelter in her Office for whistleblowers from elsewhere in the UN system, she said that it would be improper to do this for anyone she audited. Friday what stood out was the lack of accountability, to neither comment nor take press questions on such a conflict.

            Two hours after Ahlenius' request, Barcena wrote to her chief of staff Simona Petrova, "I want to make sure that I am in all panels of my Department to select D-2s, the senior rank Ahlenius sought for Ms. Coolen. Asked about this, Ms. Barcena a week ago declined comment while telling Inner City Press she would "come to a press briefing next week. But when first asked, the UN Secretariat's spokesperson said that Barcena will only come once the General Assembly's Fifth Committee has finished with an unrelated part of Barcena's wide mandate, the Capital Master Plan, which will reportedly not take place until next month.  At Thursday's UN noon briefing it was specified that the formal presentation to the Fifth Committee will not be until November 9. Inner City Press formally asked that Ms. Barcena before then come and take questions, as she'd said she would this week.

            Meanwhile reports grow that Barcena will leave by the end of October. Some of these reports come from Barcena herself. Numerous sources have recently told Inner City Press that, when the chairman of the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions said factually that he is leaving his post, Barcena said "me too." She ultimately signed a contract which waived her right to revert to her previous UN staff job in Chile (another UN reform and transparency issue on which she declined to answer written questions from Inner City Press). The speculation about her possible replacement focuses on Japan, while others say that even considering Japan paying 19% of the UN's budget, one USG position is enough. Others still say that the United States has its eye on this second USG post, or second-and-a-half, considering Jane Holl Lute at the Department of Field Support.  Barcena's "compact" with the Secretary-General promised yet-to-be achieved results concerning the UN's Administration of Justice; she is also ultimately responsible for the delayed improvements of the UN's computer systems, coordinated by Lena Dissin on her staff, regarding which a less-than-inspiring presentation was made this week to the Fifth Committee.

            In the Fifth Committee on October 10, one of the Member State questions for Ahlenius

"note[d] that in last year's report A/61/264 on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the General Assembly was informed that OIOS had started to plan a comprehensive management audit of the Department of Management... When will the report be issued? What is the reason for the delay? We are particularly concerned because we heard rumblings during a noon briefing last week that the report on the DM audit had been 'scuttled.' Is this the case?"

OIOS' Ms. Ahlenius: miscellaneous?

    On October 8, OIOS had provided the following response:

Subj: Your question from last week on OIOS/DM
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Date: 10/8/2007 11:09:31 AM Eastern Standard Time

OIOS has informed us that there is absolutely no truth to any impression given that a report is being "scuttled" by OIOS.

The Department of Management is the subject of OIOS audits, as would be the case for any department in the Secretariat. There are audits of various aspects of the Department of Management's operations that are currently in progress and they will be completed, reported and dealt with in the usual manner, OIOS says.

            As noted in the Fifth Committee on October 10, it has been more than a year. Informed sources say that the goal of delaying the issuance of the management report is to wait until, among other things, the controversial D-2 placement of Simona Petrova is finalized. As Inner City Press reported last week, in a memo headed "Internal Audit Division, OIOS - Exit Conference Briefing," some of the criticisms by Ms. Ahlenius' OIOS are set forth, including about the hiring and promotion of Ms. Petrova herself.  Of what has become Ms. Petrova's post, the memo says that

"the two previous Under-Secretaries-General had each selected an individual during their tenures to assume the D-2 functions temporarily and had given them special post allowance (SPA). In both cases, the Under-Secretaries-General did not issue a temporary vacancy announcement for the post contrary to the provisions stated in paragraph 5.1(e) of ST/AI/1999/17...

The next Under-Secretary-General had selected a P-5 to perform the D-2 functions starting in March 2006 to date. This individual received an SPA at a D-1 level from March 2006 to November 2006. In December 2006, she was promoted to D-1. In February 2007, the current Under-Secretary-General applied the SPA of a D-2 level retroactively to the first day of her promotion to D-1... The lack of transparency in the selection of the candidate for assuming the D-2 functions in OUSG had created a negative perception among staff."

            Many staff have expressed amazement at the rapid-fire promotions given to Ms. Petrova, which, it has been pointed out, only became arguably permissible due to "time-in-post" changes implemented to the head of the Office of Human Resources Management, Jan Beagle (who, some are saying, may be bound for Geneva, to keep New Zealand with an Assistant Secretary General post -- in this case, one "borrowed" from UNCTAD, which reported "does not want" Ms. Beagle, but will lend the ASG post.) Now the decision to finalize Petrova in this high D-2 position sits in the UN Executive Office on the 38th floor, as does the decision of how to respond to the Ahlenius - Barcena - Petrova - Sach email chain and the issues it raises.

            Warren Sach responded that "this is a Belgian D-2 applicant in an office currently headed by a D-1 Belgian; steps may need to be taken to ensure the applicant is retained on the long list."

            [Another example of the predictable failure at the UN of oversight, particularly of the overseers, is that in the Fifth Committee, the coordinator for the resolution on the Office of Internal Oversight Services, whose director proposed "a Belgian D-2 applicant [for] an office currently headed by a D-1 Belgian," is also a Belgian, Karl Van Den Bossche. Close observers suggest that another coordinator be appointed.]

            On October 10, Inner City Press interviewed the "D-1 Belgian," Mr. Paul Buades. He explained that the procurement unit he currently heads "used to be a service, now we are a division and so a D-2 post is being filled." He was aware of the Ahlenius and Barcena emails regarding Ms. Coolen; he raised his eyebrows. He indicated that he is an applicant too, for the job that would supervise his current post. "I work everyday," he said.

            "They are now screening c.v.'s," he added. Unrelatedly, Inner City Press has obtained a copy of Ms. Coolen's c.v., which is relevant given Ms. Ahlenius' still-unexplained support for her. A copy of the c.v. is here, the Ahlenius email it came attached to is here. While it reflects experience in banks, including Bank of New York Mellon, CIBC, Sumitomo and Union Bank of Switzerland, a number of experts consulted by Inner City Press noted its relative lack of procurement experience. So why did Ahlenius push Coolen's name and c.v. unto Barcena, with the heavy-handed suggestion that she be on the interview panel?

            Why has the response to date to this question, rather than to answer it, been to interrogate UN staff seeking the whistleblowers who sought to correct what they see as wrongdoing? How far up in the building does this knee-jerk instinct to cover-up and retaliate extend? The Ahlenius - Barcena - Petrova - Sach chain did not begin on the UN's 38th floor, but the issues are there now. Developing.

  * * *

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