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Inner City Press Podcast --

UN's Ms. Ahlenius Silent on Investigation of DESA as GA President Kerim Worked There, Pension Fund Buck Pass

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 7 -- "The secrecy upheld by this Organization serves us poorly." So said Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the head of the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services, at a hastily-arranged press conference following the conviction of Sanjaya Bahel in the UN procurement case in the Southern District of New York. She said there are 140 other cases, that "show it's difficult to place any reliance on the [UN's] system of internal controls when it comes to procurement."

            While saying she would like to be more open with the press and public, Ms. Ahlenius during her rare briefing declined to comment on, among other things, the audit and investigation of UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, of its  Thessaloniki Center and other units. She ascribed her silence to the desires of the General Assembly.

            It has been confirmed to Inner City Press, in response to a question posed and pursued, that the incoming President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has in the past worked for or with DESA. Obtaining this confirmation was not easy. Inner City Press asked a DESA staffer and a development-focused staffer of the UN Department of Public Information, and followed-up in writing. Finally this response came:

Subj: Re: Hi- Q if Srgjan Kerim was for DESA a consultant or on Committee of Experts on Public Administration, thanks 

From: [DESA at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 6/5/2007 4:39:01 PM Eastern Standard Time

We have sent our response to the Office of the Spokesperson.  Kindly note that since DESA does not have its own 'Spokesperson', any and all questions from the press are handled through these channels.

   Then, this:

Subj: DESA fwd, thanks 

From: Marie Okabe [at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 6/5/2007 5:06:28 PM Eastern Standard Time

DESA response:

(1)   Regarding Srgjan Kerim: He traveled twice to participate in meetings of the UNTC (Thessaloniki Center), as an expert from the region.  The meetings are:

   Meeting of Experts on Public Service Reform in the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (14 and 15 April 2005)

   Meeting of Experts, top Civil Servants and civil society Organizations on Public Service Reform in Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States ( 20-22 June 2005)

      He was not recruited as a consultant. The UN covered his travel costs related to his participation in the above meetings.

            The above is provided in the spirit of the transparency that Ms. Ahlenius repeatedly called for (but, some feel, did not display) on June 7, and on which Mr. Kerim spoke on May 24. With all due respect, it raises the issue of possible conflicts of interest: OIOS answers to the General Assembly, but what if the President of the Assembly has a connection with one of OIOS' investigative targets? This conflict question should be answered.

Mr. Karim arrives; OIOS not shown

     A leaked analysis by OIOS before Mr. Kerim's selection as GA president said of the UN Thessaloniki Center that "No substantive activity was implemented in 2004. In 2005, only three events were held... DESA was not committed to a single work plan against which it would monitor the performance" of the UNTC. Apparently, Mr. Kerim attended on the UNTC's dime two of the three meetings in 2005. How now will OIOS follow-up on its DESA investigations?

            Ms. Ahlenius on June 7 refused to respond for OIOS to the claim of UN Pension Fund CEO Bernard Cocheme that there had been no need to take action on the recommendations made in OIOS investigative report 0543/05, that the information technology business of the Pension Fund had been awarded in a corrupt manner, involving current staffers Dulcie Bull and Paul Dooley, and... Sanjaya Bahel.  Video here, at Minute 31:24. Ms. Ahlenius advised Inner City Press to contact her staffer Florin Postica (one said, passing the buck); another of her staffers said that OIOS had been angry at Cocheme's word play ("no need for action" rather than "no need for disciplinary action"). But what did OIOS do about it? Mr. Postica did not return Inner City Press' call.

            Using another Pension Fund example, of the difficulty of gaining access to opening of bids to outsource $9 billion of the Fund -- a literal buck-passing -- and the prohibition on recording the bid opening, Inner City Press asked if OIOS is providing any guidance within the UN on how procurement functions should be carried out. "I can't answer that," Ms. Ahlenius said, adding that she has called for a review of procurement, that would be by OIOS. Then why not comment on basic transparency that should apply?

            Ms. Ahlenius did say that at the UN's agencies, fund and programs, including by name the UN Development Program, UNICEF and the World Meteorological Organization, the audit functions are not independent enough.  Some liken Ms. Ahlenius -- pronouncing it, Miscellaneous -- to a genie in a bottle, a major asset of the UN who is kept under wraps on the UN's 35th floor, unavailable to the press except, by chance, during lunchtime at the UN cafeteria.

            Ms. Ahlenius also refused to comment on reports that, during the interminable investigation of allegations that UN peacekeepers in Eastern Congo engaged in gold and gun trading, OIOS personnel were detained and not allowed free movement by the very battalion charged with wrongdoing.  "I will not like to comment at all," Ms. Ahlenius said, adding that the investigative reported is now being edited, and that she has not seen it. She also said, of OIOS' web site on which cases are sometimes listed, but the text not provided, "I never look at it myself."

            One wonders why, even when completed, the investigative reports are not released.  Ms. Ahlenius said that OIOS to follow the General Assembly's rules. In the coming General Assembly, beginning in September, the president has worked with one of OIOS' investigative targets. Developing.

    Again, 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