Envoy Robert Serry Moving Now to Reimburse Free Housing from Dutch
Government, in Herfkens Scandal Fall-Out
Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Exclusive
UNITED NATIONS, March 6,
updated March 7 -- The
UN's new envoy to the Middle East, Robert H. Serry, has run afoul of UN
rules barring the receipt of housing subsidies from government. The
Dutch government's continued provision of housing to Serry only came to
light after UN Development Program official
Eveline Herfkens was exposed
as accepting $7000 a month from the Netherlands while drawing a salary
to head the UN's Millennium Campaign. In the aftermath, it was revealed
that at least one other Dutch staffer of an international organization
had their housing subsidy suspended, while another was being reviewed as
to the legality of the benefit received.
On February 26, Inner City Press
asked the office of the UN spokesperson if this official being reviewed
was Robert Serry, and if so what was being done about it. After
Inner City Press made several follow-up inquiries, about Serry and
another Dutch UN official, late on March 5 the Deputy Spokesperson of
the UN Marie Okabe replied that
Mr. Serry joined UNSCO on 1 January 2008 as Special Coordinator to the
Middle East Peace Process, at the invitation of the Dutch government,
Mr. Serry's family members have been residing in the Dutch Ambassador's
residence in Ireland at no cost, since the building is being sold and is
no longer earmarked for the incoming successor. However, an arrangement
is being made to enable Mr. Serry to reimburse the Dutch government of
the fair and reasonable monthly rent value for the period between 1
January through 30 June 2008."
It's notable that the
arrangements for reimbursement are still being made more than two months
into the situation, and only after scrutiny of Eveline Herfkens'
improper receipt of free housing and the Dutch government's statement
that it offered the benefit to Ms. Herfkens without her asking for it.
Robert Serry welcomed into
UN by Ban Ki-moon, Dec. 7, 2007, housing subsidy not shown
While this may be a case of better
late than never, it raises questions whether other governments are
improperly providing similar benefits, and are either hoping not to be
found out, or are now scrabbling to "make arrangements" for
reimbursement. On that, despite the fact that a low-income woman in
Brooklyn was prosecuted and jailed for erroneous receipt and spending of
UN money, Ms. Herfkens is not reimbursing any of the housing subsidy
that she received. Click
for that story.
Footnote: on February 26, Inner
City Press asked Mr. Serry if as UN Middle East envoy he thought it
might be a conflict of interest for Quartet envoy Tony Blair to be
receiving $1 million a year from
JPMorgan Chase. "I will
not comment on that," Serry said. If there is a comment on this, going
forward, we will report it Watch this site.
Update of March 7:
beyond Tony Blair taking on yet another gig, we have received a
follow-up on Mr. Serry, from the UN's Spokesperson's Office, which we'll
run in full:
From: Deputy Spokesperson [at] un.org
To: Inner City Press
CC: Spokesperson [at] un.org
Date: 3/7/2008 12:20:05 PM Eastern Standard Time
With the respect to the previous response provided to Inner City Press
regarding a question about the UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East
Peace Process, we would like to provide the following additional
information that puts the situation in its proper perspective and
clarifies that it was Mr. Serry himself who took the initiative to
request guidance from the United Nations and to move to address the
situation in a way that is consistent with UN regulations:
1) At the request of the Secretary-General, Mr. Serry agreed to take
up his duties as the Special Coordinator shortly after his selection.
Given the rapidity of his deployment, Mr. Serry agreed with his family
that it was best for them to remain in Dublin while his son finished the
school year and to transfer their household in an orderly fashion which
they are now in the process of doing.
ii) Mr. Serry informed UNHQ of the decision to allow his son to
finish the school year in Dublin and sought guidance vis a vis any
requirements regarding his family's living arrangements in Dublin.
iii) Upon receiving guidance to pay rent for the Dublin
accommodation, Mr. Serry informed the Dutch Government and has agreed to
pay a reasonable and fair rent.
We'll have more on all this.
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