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At UN, Ban's Chief of Staff Told Congress to Rely on Ethics Office, Jurisdiction Dodged A Month Later

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 6 -- The UN's whistle-blowing and retaliation scandal, which Ban Ki-moon has tried to confine to the UN Development Program and its Executive Board, now shifts to the Secretary General's own chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, in light of his July 16 Congressional letter, obtained today in an Inner City Press exclusive. Click here for the letter.

            Nambiar wrote, "on behalf of the Secretary-General," that "for the whistleblower policy to work as it was intended, the Ethics Office must be able to conduct its work free from any interference." A month later, the Ethics Office issued a memo finding that UNDP had retaliated against Artjon Shkurtaj for having blown the whistle on UNDP's payments of hard currency in North Korea to the government of Kim Jong-il. After Inner City Press exclusively reported on the memo, Ban Ki-moon said that the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction over UNDP. But Vijay Nambiar's July 16 letter, making no mention of any jurisdictional problem, responded to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's inquiry by saying, wait for the Ethics Office's findings. As with UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, only when the Ethics Office finding were unsatisfactory -- that is, upholding Shkurtaj's claims -- did the jurisdictional argument emerge.

            A Washington diplomat contacted by Inner City Press but requesting anonymity because not authorized to speak -- "yet," the diplomat added -- called 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."

Vijay Nambiar and Michele Montas, Feb. 9, 2007

            At Thursday's noon briefing by Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas, another weakness of Ban's proposed substitute for the Ethics Office was asked about. The UNDP Executive Board, slated to pick a purportedly independent investigator from a list of three nominated by Kemal Dervis, is conflicted in that its Presidency, Carsten Staur the Ambassador of Denmark, would presumptively be influenced by UNDP's transfer of jobs and spending to Denmark. Ms. Montas said that this and other issues, including regarding the UN's internal justice system and the jurisdiction of the Ethics Office, will be the subject of a press briefing at some undefined time in the future. Inner City Press asked that the issues be addressed before the UNDP Executive Board finalized its selection, from Dervis' three nominations, of the purportedly independent investigator. We'll see.

            At Wednesday's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: I have a couple questions, but I want to start with this one.  On the Ethics Office, Inner City Press has seen a copy of a separate complaint now, having to do with whistle-blowing at UNDP that was filed with Mr. Benson, Kim Won-soo, Alicia Barcena.  So I'm wondering, first it seems maybe from your nod it's been received, what the thinking is if -- I understand itís an initial complaint, but given that the Secretary-General previously said that UNDP is doing its own or is independent -- would a separate commission be set up for each of these complainants, or what is the next step?  What's your response to this complaint from Dakar, Senegal that has been filed?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don't have a copy of the complaint yet.  I haven't seen it, so as soon as I get it I will let you know what steps are going to be taken.  At this point, if it has been addressed to Mr. Bensonsí office, Mr. Benson is the one who is going to have to react to it.

Inner City Press: But it's also -- the complainant went out of his way to send it to, obviously, the senior adviser of the Secretary-General, as well as to Ms. BŠrcena, and I guess the -- if maybe we can get Mr. Benson here, but I think itís an ethnical issue thatís been raised to Mr. Ban in terms of how -- even in the interim, I understand that heís said heís going to ask the GA to make some fixes.  In the interim, when you read it, the response that I would request is -- does each complainant get their own panel or what happens?

Spokesperson:  Well, definitely not.  It's not going to be the way itís going to work.  Right now, you know, what is being discussed is a larger jurisdiction for the Ethics Office, which is not the case yet.  Okay?  So at this point I cannot comment on every single submission of every single complainant to Mr. Benson's office.  Obviously, Mr. Benson receives -- whenever he receives them, we'll keep you informed that they have been received.  But thatís all we can do at this point.  [Talk-over] 

Question:  [inaudible] follow-up this [inaudible] --

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Correspondent:  And that is not to speak about each whistle-blower case separately, but what happens if, now we have a second case, there could be other cases, in which separately funded agencies of the UN have similar complaints addressed to the UN's Ethics Office.  I mean, we have a situation here because of the exposure that we might have [inaudible] and how do we handle -- again, to Matthew's point -- how do we handle each case?  Are we going to in each case have a special representative nominated by the Board of Directors of whatever agency the whistle-blower works for?

Spokesperson:  As I said, if it was sent to Mr. Benson it is to Mr. Benson to answer [talk-over].  And he will definitely not come up [talk-over].  You mean a policy [talk-over].

Question:  A policy -- the question of the policy for the Secretary-General is does each one of these cases -- how do you handle all these cases?

Spokesperson:  This has been discussed for the last few weeks, and it will continue to be discussed.  When there is a decision taken about how this is going to be handled and whether the General Assembly is going to be involved in actually making a decision on jurisdiction, I will let you know as the discussion evolves on the issue.

            At the next day's noon briefing, Ms. Montas did not provide follow-up on any of these issues. Then, the Vijay Nambiar letter emerged. 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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