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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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General Assembly President Dodges Questions about Ethics Office, While Talking One UN

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 18 -- Two hours before he formally opened the 62nd Session of the UN General Assembly, incoming president Srgjan Kerim took 11 questions from reporters about his agenda. Several of the questions he explicitly dodged, saying that he did not want to speak before his meeting on September 19 with the Secretary-General. But Mr. Kerim also appeared to prevaricate on a straight-forward question regarding the General Assembly ensuring implementation of its 2005 statement that the UN Ethics Office should have System-wide jurisdiction.

    Since the spokesman for the previous GA president has twice said that GA approval would be needed to bring the UN Development Program and other funds and programs directly under the UN Ethics Office, Inner City Press asked Mr. Kerim how he will proceed to accomplish this. Mr. Kerim's began by distinguishing the "concept" from the "organizational aspects," and went on to state that the funds and programs have "their own Ethics Offices." Video here, from Minute 16:46.

       But Robert Benson of the UN Ethics Office, in his August 17 memo to UNDP's Kemal Dervis, stated that there is "an absence of an applicable protection from retaliation policy within UNDP." Click here for Mr. Benson's memo. So Mr. Kerim's vague words about merely "coordinating" the funds' and programs' existing protections with the Ethics Office is a false assurance.

Messrs. Ban, Kerim and Shaaban kick off the 62nd session, Ethics Office not shown

            Mr. Kerim to his credit spoke of personal duty to be truthful, just as in May he answer Inner City Press' questions by referring to transparency, click here for that. And in an August 24 speech in Toyko, Kerim spoke of "the UN family" needing to be "accountable and transparent." But by the day, the straight-forward question of ensuring that those are UN funds and programs can avail themselves of the UN Ethics Office's protection against retaliation becomes more and more unclear, despite the talk of "system-wide coherence" a/k/a "One UN."

            Inner City Press followed up by asking when the GA will vote on applying the Ethics Office system-wide, as the GA in 2005 said should happen, and which Ban Ki-moon said he will bring about, by urging the GA. While Mr. Kerim's answer mentioned the Fifth Committee, which deals with funding, he again used the buzzwords "harmonize and coordinate," rather than simply apply the UN Ethics Office to the UN's fund and programs. Why this resistance?

            A direct follow-up was posed by IPS' Nergui Manalsuren: will the Ethics Office apply to UNDP? Even to this yes or no question, the answer was unclear, with a reference to the "construction" of the Ethics Office. But the Office already exists -- it's that UNDP's Kemal Dervis, faced with a prima facie finding of UNDP retaliation against a whistleblower, decided to declare autonomy from the rest of the UN System, at least as regards ethics. And now what with the General Assembly, under president Kerim, do? We'll see.

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  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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