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UN Grants Chief in Manila Gives to NGO She Founded, No Action Taken, UN-Reformed

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 29 -- The head of the UN Global Environment Facility's small grants program in the Philippines gave over $300,000 to a non-profit she founded, and that was run by her two sons. These sordid facts were confirmed by an audit by the UN Development Program, a copy of which Inner City Press has obtained and is putting online here.  Despite talk of accountability and of zero tolerance for corruption at the UN and UNDP, at the end of this process, no disciplinary action was taken. The general counsel of the UN Office of Project Services, David Mitchels, in a July 23, 2007 email obtained by Inner City Press acknowledges "a serious potential conflict of interest position.. I am thinking here of the employment of your sons" in the non-profit that was given $300,000.

            But Mitchels writes that "Headquarters does not proposal to take any further action." The GEF is run by UNDP, the UN Environment Program, UNOPS and the World Bank. The head of UNDP in the Philippines, Nileema Noble, is the subject of complaints by UNDP staff as well as legislators in the Philippines. The GEF National Coordinator of grants is Angelita Cunanan; her sons are Dexter and Jonathan Cunanan and both were connected with the Communities for Global Environment Foundation. UNDP's own audit states that both "were employed by CGEF in an administrative capacity on projects that were funded by GEF." $329,000 in GEF funds went to CGEF... There is evidence that Ms. Cunanan signed their salary checks on behalf of CGEF."  And yet no action has been taken.

            In fact, the GEF and of UNDP knew as early as 1999, according to a still-online document, of Ms. Cunanan and the formation of the CGEF. So how could these $329,000 in grants have been given out in the first place?  Developing.

UNDP's Olav Kjorven and UNEP's Achim Steiner, GEF grants and audit not shown

     The availability of internal audits, which until now UNDP has withheld even from the member states which give it money (of the type paid-to-self by Ms. Cunanan), was discussed on October 26 and 27 by the UN's Chief Executives Board -- which includes the World Bank -- as well as whether the UN Ethics Office could, as the General Assembly said it intended, provide protection to whistleblowers in cases like this. The UN spokesperson's read-out of the meeting did not make the results of the CEB meeting clear:

The Board discussed the disclosure of information contained in Internal Audit Reports following intensive consultations among the UN systemís internal auditors.  It agreed to move toward the development of a common policy for the disclosure of information that would also take into account the particularities among the various organizations.   Individual organizations would approach their respective governing bodies in this regard.

            So will audits be made available? Regarding the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office, Inner City Press asked

Inner City Press: the way you read out about the Chief Executive Board for Coordination on the ethics office...  Does this mean that the UN Ethics Office will have jurisdiction over the funds and programs or not?  I thought that was a question...

Spokesperson:  What they said is what you heard.  They have discussed the system in which there will be one system.  However, there are steps and there are internal mechanisms that exist within each of the funds and programs, that will continue to exist, and that will, of course, be the first recourse of any staff member.  There will be that board that will be headed by the head of the Ethics Office, which we mentioned earlier.

Question:  But if a staff member of UNDP or WFP approaches the UN Ethics Office and said "I feel like I've been retaliated against." Would they be rebuffed, as took place earlier this year?

Spokesperson:  It would have to go first through the process in its own agency and then that would be referred to...

            And there the transcript breaks off. Inner City Press asked the spokesman for the General Assembly president:

Inner City Press: This meeting of the Chief Executive Boards held Friday and Saturday where they discussed things like whether the Ethics Office would have jurisdiction over the funds of programs... Given that that office was created by a GA Resolution... did the GA have any input, report back from or was able to participate in the Chief Executive Board?

Spokesperson:  ...the President, at the moment, has no readout, no clear report on what was suggested.  But, we do know that the Secretary General and the President have met on a number of occasions in the past -- and they had at least three meetings that I know of -- and the ethics issue was discussed in all of these meetings. It's an important issue for both of them.  So Iím very sure that the next time the two of them will meet, this is going to be on their agenda and the President is going to get a full brief as to what has exactly been decided.  But, at the moment, I cannot comment on the CEB decision because we just donít have the readout -- at least not in a formal manner.

  Developing -- watch this site.

* * *

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.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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

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