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On Sudan Staff Strikes, Ban's UN Blames UNDP For Error, No Answers

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive series

UNITED NATIONS, August 3 – Amid continuing human rights abuses in Darfur, where the UN's Herve Ladsous mis-manages the UNAMID mission, and in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, on July 29 Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about a strike among UNAMID's national staff. From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about the strike in UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] of national staff.  They have gone on strike.  They've said that this issue of payment not in dollars but in Sudanese pounds, which are highly, you know, decreased in value, has continued and some other issues.  What does OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management] or whoever is in charge here, DFS [Department of Field Support], intend to do about the strike of the national staff of UNAMID?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the mission is in touch with the staff association and is dealing with them on this and is also in touch with Headquarters in an effort to resolve this.

  Since then, Inner City Press has obtained UN Headquarters' memo to UNAMID national staff, essentially saying that UNDP made a mistake and the UN Secretariat will NOT be following through on what UNDP promised. We've put the memo online here. What kind of organization is this?

On August 3, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's now returned lead spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN Transcript here:

Inner City Press: it was while you were away, but the strike is ongoing in UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  The national staff have gone on strike.  And then I've seen now they published a memo where they say… basically, they were written to by Headquarters saying that, although UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], which handles their payroll, had decided that funds and payroll staff will be paid in dollars during a certain period of time, that this will not apply to UNAMID national staff, and they regret that UNDP told them that it would.  And so is the UN not living up to its commitment?  Why would some part of the UN staff be treated differently than the others?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the detail of the ongoing negotiations.  I know we're… our colleagues in UNAMID are continuing to engage constructively with the national staff association, I think, in order to promote a rapid solution to this and put whatever mitigating measures in place to ensure the continuity of the operations.  We very much value the work that the national staff do.  Obviously, that mission or any other mission can't operate without the work of dedicated national staff.  And, again, we appreciate their work, and I know our mission leadership is trying to resolve the issue.  I think they have grievances.  Management is trying to address them in as positive way as possible.

ICP Question:  Sure.  Maybe you can get their comment on this because the memo says, in this regard, the funds and programmes acted unilaterally without consultation of UN Secretariat.  So, is there some… I've heard a lot about this “One UN”.  How can it be that in a mission that large…?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  Again, you're in possession of a memo that I am not.

ICP Question:  I know.  But, can you get an answer from them…?

Spokesman:  We can see what we can do.

The UN back on February 5, 2016 moved to give more U.S. dollars to the Bank of Khartoum, from its own staff members' salaries.

  Inner City Press previously exclusively exposed this outrage, and a UN "reconsideration" ensured. On February 6, Inner City Press reported this one, and on February 9 asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric -- who didn't answer then, or since. Video here.

Instead, on February 19 for seeking to cover UN corruption Inner City Press was ousted from the UN, and has since been confined to minders.

On February 10, Dujarric told Inner City Press he was "harvesting information" on the issue.

 On February 12, Inner City Press asked Dujarric again:

Inner City Press: do you have anything on the strike?

Spokesman:  No.

Inner City Press:  I ask because, on 14 February, there's the threat that 7,000 workers…

Spokesman:  No, my understanding is that discussions are being had.  Obviously, this also involves, from what I understand, a review of the banking system in Sudan, and we do hope that the issue gets resolved.

  Then Inner City Press exclusively reported a UN memo that salaries may be paid in local currency or dollars. See here.

  The UN Staff Federation in Sudan issued a strike threat; Inner City Press is putting their letter online here. 

Sudan UN Staff Federation Strike Threat for Salaries Paid to Bank of Khartoum in Dollars by Matthew Russell Lee

From an Inner City Press source:

"All UN Operations in Sudan including Peacekeeping Support will stop on
Sunday February 14th. A decision on sit-in protest was taken by UN staff in Sudan starting Sunday 14th. They will report to office but No work will be undertaken. This arrangment includes 2 days on sit-in protest without work and a normal day of work following. This will continue until the Salaries
issue permenantley resolved... we're talking about the second biggest UN operation in the world with almost 7,000 staff members, and including support to a very sensitive peacekeeping operation in Darfur which more than 20,000 soldiers and high scale Air movement operation."

From the UN transcript:

Inner City Press: Question:  I have two more, but I guess I’ll do one first and then see.  I wanted to ask you about… there’s a situation in the UN system in Sudan where the headquarters here has decided to pay the UN staff’s salary to the bank of Khartoum in dollars, and they, in turn, get paid in local currency.  So they’ve raised a lot of stink saying that what they get is about half what the UN pays in dollars to the Bank of Khartoum.  They’ve alleged corruption.  They’ve also threatened to strike.

I wanted to know, what… by what logic is the UN giving… if they have dollars to pay, why don’t they pay their staff in dollars?  And why do they let the Bank of Khartoum take half of the money that’s meant for staff…?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of the situation.  I can…

Inner City Press:  Are you going to check that out?  Because…

Spokesman Dujarric:  Maggie.

 That would be, Voice of America, which has written to Dujarric in the past. This is a #FAIL with, it seems, a strike coming.

 A source exclusively told (and showed) Inner City Press,

"UN published the long awaited  salary scale in as a result of the local staff salary survey. The very big surprise that the Salary scale was issued in US Dollar with a note written  at the end of the sheet that 'Salaries are payable in local currency converted at the prevailing United Nations rate of exchange during the month of payment.'

"This means that Bank of Khartoum will get the staff Salaries in US dollars at 'Current rate' which is usually 50% of the actual market rate. Currently UN rate is 6.446.while market rate is SDG 12.00...

Now, Staff Federation is meeting and the UN may face the biggest staff strike in its history."

  So the UN under Ban Ki-moon (and Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous) stand ready to subsidize the Bank of Khartoum.

  Ban Ki-moon, as Inner City Press has reported in detail, essentially broke the Staff Union or federation at UN Headquarters in New York.

 Ladsous refuses to answer Press questions (having more recently linked rapes to "R&R") and Ban's Spokesman threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room in conjunction with the UN Corruption Association which took money from indicted Ng Lap Seng and gave him a photo op with Ban, seats with whom UNCA sells for $6,000.

 This is today's UN. The Next SG process, and the transparency being sought by the Free UN Coalition for Access and others, is all the more important so that the UN doesn't further decline.

   Previously on this Sudan issue, Inner City Press exclusively published a letter from the UN Federal Credit Union claiming the transfer was related to UN sanctions, and an opinion from the US Office of Financial Assets Control which says that is not the case. Inner City Press questions to the UN and its agencies were by then pending for days.

  On December 30, the day it was belatedly received, Inner City Press published a response from the UN and the UN Development Program, below.

  Since then, Inner City Press has obtained a series of e-mails from UN whistleblowers to UNDP about the transfer to the Bank of Khartoum, as well as UNDP's responses.

  On November 28, Sudan whistleblowers wrote to UNDP's hotline that under an arrangement with Bank of Khartoum (BoK) would become the recipient of all UN local staff salaries in US dollars while it would be paying their salaries in local currency using the UN exchange rate around 5.99 SDG.

 The bank of Khartoum will be benefiting from the difference between the UN exchange rate and The Central Bank of Sudan rate for commercial importers of 8.47 SDG (BoK USD selling rate  for businessmen). The net profit per each US dollar channeled to Bank of Khartoum is approximately 2.47 SDG.

  There were additional charges in the whistleblowers' communications to UNDP, including about how Bank of Khartoum was chosen (this is not addressed in the UN's and UNDP's response to Inner City Press, below.)

  UNDP's response to the whistleblowers was to ask for identifying information about the whistleblowers, and then to blandly state that it is not uncommon in areas such as Sudan, to make similar arrangements with Banks to pay the salary of local staff." 

  But what about the obvious exchange rate loss? It is reminiscent of another UN scam Inner City Press exclusively uncovered, the overpayment of Myanmar by inflated foreign exchange rate in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

  And what about the losses to UN system staff set forth in their complaint to Al Za'tari, which Inner City Press exclusively published here?

 On December 30, Inner City Press wrote to UN spokespeople again:

"This is a request that Deputy SG Eliasson or someone else from the Secretariat hold a press availability on Sudan's decision to expel Yvonne Helle (which I asked about at the December 24 noon briefing) and Ali Al-Za'tari.. A media availability by the Secretariat, ideally the DSG but another if necessary, later this afternoon is being requested, including on behalf of the Free UN Coalition for Access. Either way, am awaiting Secretariat response on why UN national staff members' US dollar accounts in UNFCU were transferred to the Bank of Khartoum, and why the UN Secretariat said nothing publicly when the Country Director of UNFPA was expelled from Sudan in April."

  This last question, about the UN's silence on the UNFPA ouster in April, has yet to be answered. But on UNFCU, the UN Office of the Spokesperson sent this, which we publish in full:

"There has been a restriction on the cashing of foreign checks by Sudanese national staff.  At the same time, the Bank of Khartoum has put on hold all foreign check cashing by all staff in  Sudan.
Since this decision was taken in November 2014, UNDP has  been working with UNFCU to find an acceptable solution.

"UNDP would like to further clarify that the issue is unrelated to  the requested departure by the Sudan government of the United  Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Progamme (UNDP) and the  UNDP  Country Director. UNDP is coordinating with the UN and with the Government of Sudan to address the situation.  UNDP remains strongly committed to the human development, peace and  security of all the citizens of Sudan."

  Again, see UNFCU's letter, here, and OFAC's reply to UN staff, here. We'll have more on this.

    In the first document Inner City Press exclusively published, here, UNFCU's President and CEO William Predmore told national staff in Sudan that

"We understand the concerns of our members after necessary account restrictions were implosed, and we regret there was not an opportunity to deliver communications more swiftly to the individuals impacted... As you may be aware, UNFCU is subject to U.S. Regulations (including those promulgated by the Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC)). In order to ensure compliance with those regulations, checking account services and debit card services were terminated for local staff.”

   (Many were stranded with AMT cards that didn't work, while their dollars were transferred to the Bank of Khartoum.)

  But contrary to what UNFCU's Predmore told staff in writing, the US OFAC in the second document Inner City Press is exclusively publishing today, here, told UN staff that sanctions law and regulation does NOT require what the UN has done, citing 31 CFR 538.531. Click here to view in PDF.

   Last week Inner City Press exclusively reported on the UN Federal Credit Union abruptly telling UN national staff in Sudan that their accounts were being frozen and the dollars in them transferred to the Bank of Khartoum. Inner City Press has asked the UN, including UNDP, OCHA and UNFPA, to explain this.

   On December 27 Inner City Press exclusively published a complaint filed with Ali Al-Za'tari about the change, here. Inner City Press notes that the decision to give the UN national staff's dollars to the Bank of Khartoum flies in the face, in fact, of the sanctions.  The complaint to Al-Za'tari states that

“UNFCU closed checking and savings accounts of national staff without prior notification and consultation and unilaterally transferred all funds of staff members' accounts to local saving accounts to be paid in SDG by Bank of Khartoum... Based on the long years of established provision of the UNFCU service, majority of national staff have made long term financial arrangements taking into account UNFCU deposits facilities which provided solutions to many of their problems such as medical treatments and education to them and their families.”

  Tellingly, Predmore's letter to staff also says that the switch was made pursuant to UNDP's rules. What rules?

  Now the UN Security Council is set to meet on December 30 about Sudan's order to Ali Al-Za'tari and Yvonne Helle to leave; the Council will say they are in support of UN staff. What will they do about UN staff members' dollars having been given to the Sudanese authorities?

  In essence, UNDP and its Resident Coordinator Ali Al-Za'tari gave Khartoum the U.S. dollars of UN national staff, without notice. Even that wasn't enough to keep him in the country. But it is reminiscent of another UN scam Inner City Press exclusively uncovered, the overpayment of Myanmar by inflated foreign exchange rate in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

  That was covered and credited – will this be? Or does the scam here extend to covering up the complicity of UN officials like not only Herve Ladsous but even, yes, Ali Al-Za'tari, who remained silent when UNFPA's country director was thrown out of Sudan in April, and as Inner City Press asked the UN on December 24, gave in quickly to the ouster of Yvonne Helle? Watch this site.


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