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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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At the UN, Errors in Promises of Whistleblower Protection Go Uncorrected, Shooting Messengers

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 7 -- Questions grew Friday about Ban Ki-moon's and his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar's shifted positions on the ability of the UN Ethics Office to address retaliation against whistleblowers at UN funds and programs.  A day after the publication of Mr. Nambiar's July 16 letter stating that such a case would be addressed by the Ethics Office, the spokespeople of both Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly respectively characterized Mr. Nambiar's now-superseded statement as "unintentional" and an "honest oversight." But if, as Ban's spokesperson stated, the Ethics Office's August 17 memo for the first time made Ban and Nambiar think that the Ethics Office had no jurisdiction, did Nambiar provide any update or correction to this July 16 letter? Reference is made to the affirmative duty to update statements, made to courts or Congress, shown to be or which become inaccurate or superseded.

            In fact, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's September 6 letter to Ban Ki-moon states that the assurances about the Ethics Office were given not only by Mr. Nambiar in his July 16 letter "on behalf of the Secretary-General," but by Ban Ki-moon himself on July 17, in Washington. Click here for the September 6 letter to Ban, which Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas on September 7 declined to comment on.

            Ms. Montas' initial focus on Friday was to publicly take issue with a quote in Inner City Press' September 6 exclusive report on Mr. Nambiar's letter, "call[ing] the difference between Nambiar's July 16 written statement, and Ban Ki-moon's actions and statements a month later 'troubling... Somebody has to go,' the diplomat said. 'You can't just lie to Congress.'"

Ban Ki-moon speaks with members of Congress, July 17, 2007

            When Inner City Press at Friday's noon briefing asked why "Vijay Nambiar didn't write to her and say there's no jurisdiction... what happened between the two" positions by the Secretariat, spokesperson Michele Montas answered that

"a month later, the Ethics Office came out with that letter where the Ethics Office recognized that it did not have formal jurisdiction over UNDP.  So you're talking about a month apart between two letters.  I think for you to infer that there was a lie, as I read in your column, I think is going a bit far.

Inner City Press: That's a quote from somebody there, because Congress asked about this..."  Transcript here, video here, from Minute 16:00.

            The Ethics Office letter was first obtained and reported on by Inner City Press, an exclusive given credit in, for example, Switzerland, click here for that. Later on Friday afternoon, following a briefing about the UN in Liberia (click here for that coverage), Ms. Montas wrote to Inner City Press that "I would appreciate meeting with you at your earliest convenience." After concluding some related interviews, Inner City Press called back at 4:30 and offered to meet right then, but was told that Ms. Montas was in meetings and would call later. At 7 p.m. Ms. Montas said she had to leave, but would meet Monday.

News analysis: Inner City Press is informed by UN sources that the purpose of the meeting may be to "deliver a warning." But if so, for what? For obtaining and publishing a letter by the Secretary-General's chief of staff, which was or became inaccurate but was apparently never updated or corrected -- and, in reporting on the letter, running a quote that "you can't just lie to Congress?" This quote, which does not name Mr. Nambiar, is in fact a statement of the law: a person shall not lie to Congress. And while the claim is that the UN Ethics Office does not apply to the UN Development Program, the affirmative duty to update and correct statements that were or become inaccurate applies here. As the old saw has it, don't (try to) shoot the messenger. Developing.

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without Ban's DPA having responded.)  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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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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