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UN's Budget Committee Hits No-Bid Lockheed Contract for Darfur, Demands Documents

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

UNITED NATIONS, November 19 -- The UN's $250 million no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin for Darfur infrastructure came under heavy fire from member states on Monday, 35 days after the money was awarded. Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins, speaking for the African Group, said that "qualified bidders from different regions, including developing countries particularly Africa, should have had equal access to an open and fair competitive bidding process."  As Inner City Press first reported, the UN's Jane Holl Lute proposed directly the contract without competition to Lockheed Martin as far back as April 2007, three months before the Security Council resolution which is being presented as having required the no-bid shortcut.  Click here for Jane Holl Lute's April 2007 request.

            India's representative in the General Assembly's Fifth Committee, on budgetary matters, Sudhaker Reddy, testified that "we are concerned by the non-competitive 'single source' contract amounting to 250 million dollars awarded to a vendor under the pretext of exigency even though the probability of a Mission in Darfur had been under discussion in the Secretariat for some time."  He said India will "be taking up a number of the unanswered questions on this issue under the agenda of procurement reforms."

            In fact, the UN's own Headquarters Committee on Contracts harshly criticized the skirting of competition rules, in minutes that Inner City Press obtained and placed online here. In the Fifth Committee on Monday, these minutes were read from, and a call went up for the release of additional information. At the noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the UN spokesperson:

Inner City Press: Some delegations asked for some documents to be released and for their questions to be answered.  What's the Secretariat's response now that these Member States and the African Group as a whole have raised these criticisms.  What's he going to do?

Spokesperson:  I think the answer is the same.  That decision was taken on an emergency basis, but of course, any other procurements are going to go through the regular process of procurements.

Inner City Press: They've asked for things like Headquarters Committee on Contracts' minutes to be released and for the contract to be released.  Is the Secretary-General going to do that?

Spokesperson:  Of course.

Inner City Press: He's going to release those documents.

Spokesperson:  Of course.  To the Fifth Committee, not to the public. (Video here)

            But Monday in the Fifth Committee, there was a call for the contract itself to be made public.

Amb. Gaspar Martins: "The process should have open to competitive bidding"

Inner City Press later in the afternoon asked Ban Ki-moon himself:

Inner City Press: In the Fifth Committee today, the representative of the Africa group, Ambassador [Ismael] Gaspar Martins of Angola, had said that the contract given to PAE should have been done by competition and that another delegate brought up that the decision to go sole-source began all the way back in April, before the resolution.  So it seemed like a lot of doubts -- they’d said they want more documentation, and documents to be released.

Ban Ki-moon:  About the issue of contracts -- this contract has been authorized by me, considering the extraordinary special circumstances where we couldn't find any proper companies able to carry out such projects. That particular company was the only one that was immediately available and that has been doing similar construction there, and there are practical timelines which the United Nations should meet -- the deadlines.  Therefore, for me, it was necessary to take some extraordinary measures by authorizing that.  But I would like to make it again quite clear that I will make it most transparent and accountable in carrying out contract procedures. (Video here)

    But will the documents actually be released? We'll see.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  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