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UN Evades Satyam Questions, Leaves ICC Loopholes, Uses and Defends the Past

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 3 -- Faced with the direct question of whether the UN continues to receive computer services from the scandal-plagued firm Satyam, through the UN-affiliated International Computing Center, UN Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq on Tuesday told Inner City Press to "ask Satyam."

   Since the UN, and Mr. Haq, are funded by taxpayers, and had just purported to issue a blanket denial of continuing services from Satyam, Inner City Press asked if that belated denial included any services through the ICC, which has employees who work in the UN Headquarters building. Of one ICC employee who went out a high-floor window of the UN to her death a year ago, Mr. Haq said, "It was a grim morning for me. Her family was disturbed [about Press coverage], I heard from Security." At that time, the UN Spokesperson's Office told Inner City Press that the ICC was affiliated with the UN, but not a part of the UN Secretariat.

   Does your denial cover services received from Satyam through the ICC, Inner City Press asked.  "That is meant to be a systemwide answer," Haq said. But did you ask the ICC? No, he answered.  He went on to defend the UN system's belated and halting disbarment of Satyam, disagreeing that the UN-affiliated World Bank didn't tell the rest of the system, saying rather that the World Bank delayed due to "due process." It should be noted that the UN continued contracting from ostensibly disbarred aviation and construction firms, like Corimec.

  Previously, Inner City Press had posed the question in writing to Angela Kane, the head of the UN's Department of Management, which oversees procurement. Ms. Kane wrote back, on this, to ask the "at the noon briefing... I just cannot respond to individual queries in view of the heavy demands on my time." Inner City Press then posed the question, about Satyam services to the UN through the International Computing Center, to the acting head of the Spokesperson's Office, Marie Okabe.

  At the noon briefing on March 3, Inner City Press asked Ms. Okabe, does the UN receive computer services through the International Computing Center from Satyam, the so-called Indian Enron? Ms. Okabe said that while she didn't "have the guidance" with her, an answer had been sent to Inner City Press earlier in the day. Video here, from Minute 12:59.

UN's evasions on Satyam: gamble or strategy?

   That claim was repeated in a subsequently email:

Subj: your questions at noon
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 3/3/2009 12:44:43 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

You asked several questions at noon, one of which (concerning Satyam) was answered in an email sent to you earlier today

Regarding allegations on corruption in Cambodia, this continues to be a topic we are pursuing with the Cambodian Government. We continued our high-level discussions with the Cambodian Government on 23 February on all issues related to the ECCC; Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen represented the United Nations. The discussions also focused on the work of the Joint Sessions, which are working to establish a mechanism to address the allegations of corruption.

Regarding the reported request from Bangladesh -- The United Nations has received a request, conveyed to our Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, for assistance regarding investigations into the mutiny last week. That request is being studied.

  But check as Inner City Press could, there was no e-mail response on the Satyam question received earlier in the day. Inner City Press went and asked Ms. Okabe, who referred the question to Farhan Haq. Haq said he sent it at ten in the morning, then acknowledged it had been sent to a different -- incorrect -- email address. He resent the following, which makes no mention of the International Computing Center, the UN-affiliated entity in Inner City Press' question:

To: Inner City Press Sent: 3/3/2009 1:28:33 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: Fw: Questions on Satyam

-----Forwarded by UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply/NY/UNO on 03/03/2009 01:28PM -----

We were informed by our Procurement Division that Satyam was suspended in January.  As per Procurement Division practice, a communication has been sent to the UN procurement system (including peacekeeping missions) and the procurement extranet site is now updated.

We also have the following information from UNDP about Satyam, received at the end of January:

UNDP's most recent contract with Satyam was signed in December 2007 for consulting work on its information systems. The contract went through the normal competitive process. This contract was set to expire after one year (November 30 2008).  In October of 2008, media articles appeared on irregularities in Satyam's work with the World Bank.   UNDP approached the World Bank and Satyam proactively to find out the details of the alleged irregularities.  As a result of these conversations, UNDP took a decision not to renew Satyam's contract and began to evaluate the phase out while minimizing the risks to our information systems.  UNDP currently has 11 Satyam technical consultants working on its information systems.

UNDP does not manage the UN Global Marketplace (UNGM), it is managed by UNOPS.  We are in the process of having the misleading or erroneous information contained on IAPWG's site removed as it unfortunately creates this perception.  UNDP can flag vendors in the UNGM should it experience problems and is currently in the process of doing so.  It is worth noting that UNDP's review of the published World Bank list of barred vendors did not turn up Satyam's name, in spite of such references in the media to Satyam having been debarred.  

In light of the most recent information regarding Satyam, UNDP, like many other companies and organizations, will not be continuing its business with them and is currently looking for a replacement.

  But the question to the UN was and is, "Does the International Computing Centre, for any of its work for the UN Secretariat, use services from Satyam?" Inner City Press, in forwarding the question to Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe after Angela Kane declined to answer it, added, "Marie, please consider the question whether Satyam does business with or for the UN system through the International Computing Center a question for the Secretariat's Spokesperson's Office, even for ICT/Mr. Choi."

  There followed a response from Farhan Haq that did not even mention the International Computing Center, before which he did not ask or even seek to ask the ICC for any response. The goal seems to be to make the question go away by answering other questions, and to dredge up an incident in which the UN tried to dictate how the press covers death -- the New York Times, it should be noted, has displayed freshly killed people face-up on its front page, with nary a peep from the UN, which went into a frenzy when a New York Times columnist said the UN pulled security from its sometime-envoy George Clooney -- in an attempt to discourage or evade basic factual question about the UN doing what it say. We will have more on this.

Footnote: in fairness, Haq is said to be among the more articulate of the UN spokespeople. We note, however, that he has previously refused even on camera to answer basic questions about the UN's currency exchange losses to Myanmar's Than Shwe regime, and about the admitted irregularities with the UN-affiliated tribunal in Cambodia. Click here for a story byeond today's about the Cambodia Tribunal and about the UN Information Center in Tokyo. On that, we're told by a Tokyo source that last week in the Japanese legislature (Diet)

in reply to the question of Mr. Nobuto Hosaka of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, the Minister of Foreign Affaiirs, Mr. Nakasone, made the following remarks in connection to the Japanese government's decision to decrease 10 million yen from its contribution to UNIC Tokyo:

1) He regrets the advance payments made by UNIC Tokyo in violation of UN financial rules.

2) The Japanese government proposed to the UN to quickly take appropriate action against those staff members who took part  in the advance payments. (It was the first time the Foreign Minister referred to appropriate action against staff members.)

3) He  also expressed regret concerning the 5 million yen time deposit kept at UNIC Tokyo, and said this was conveyed to the UN.

   We'll have more on this, as well.

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

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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