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As UN's Ms. Ahlenius Withholds "Her" Report, UN Business Seminars Benefit Rich Countries

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 11 -- "It's my document, for my perusal," chief UN investigator Inga-Britt Alenius told Inner City Press on Tuesday, by way of explaining her decision to withhold all copies of a report on her agency, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and its embattled Investigative Division. The UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions noted that "the Committee did not have the benefit of access to the review itself, as OIOS declined to provide it."

   Since Ms. Ahlenius is on record stating that she wishes more of her reports could be public, if only the UN's General Assembly would let her, Inner City Press asked both at Tuesday's UN noon briefing and then to Ms. Ahlenius directly what the basis is for this withholding. The UN Spokesperson said that the question would be passed on to OIOS (video here), but in the UN's basement just before five p.m. Ms. Ahlenius said she'd not yet seen the question. Inner City Press repeated, why is the report being withheld? "I am accountable to the Fifth Committee" of the General Assembly, she said, emphasizing that the consultant who prepared the review does not have to report to the Fifth Committee (Budgetary and Administrative).

   But who paid for the report? On these questions, who watches the watchers? Who will do the auditing?

            Ms. Ahlenius was exiting a meeting about procurement, at which for example the Russian delegate denounced the UN's no-bid $250 million contract with Lockheed Martin for infrastructure for the Darfur peacekeeping mission. Ms. Ahlenius' OIOS was directed by a December 18, 2007 General Assembly vote to investigate this contract and the waiving of competitive bidding and hiring rules in Darfur. Ms. Ahlenius has yet to give any substantive update on this inquiry; Tuesday she again appeared not eager to answer any questions. So much for transparency.

Ms. Ahlenius in another time and place, "It's my document, for my perusal"

            At Tuesday's meeting, the UN's acting chief procurement official Paul Buades listened to member states complaints, not only about the Lockheed Martin no-bid contracts but also about so-called business seminar, for which host nations can pay for the travel and "mission sustenance allowance" of UN staff. The delegate of Brazil noted that this favors rich countries, and raises "ethical issues." On  this and most other topics, Mr. Buades said he would be replying in "informal" session -- that is, out of the public eye.

            And on the most basic of procurement issues, which company has the contract for UN helicopters in Nepal, one of which crashed eight days ago, the UN has still refused to answer, despite Inner City Press asking yet again at Tuesday's noon briefing. While the UN to its credit has set up an online condolence book for the ten people killed when the helicopter went down, to stonewall all requests for information underlying the crash is, so far, a troubling memorial.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece 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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