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On UN's Congo Scandal, Ban Defers to OIOS, Which Itself Stands Accused

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 5 -- A scandal stretching from the Eastern Congo to UN Headquarters in New York gathered force last Friday, while UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon was in London at a meeting about Gaza.

Internal reports by and about the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services were released by whistleblowers, showing among other things that complicated allegations about Indian peacekeepers trading gold, guns and ivory with rebels were abruptly dismissed in less than two weeks by OIOS in February of this year. More systemically, two reports about OIOS, which the unit's director Inga-Britt Ahlenius had previously refuse to release, were put online by Inner City Press here and here, which describe a "lack of trust in investigative outputs," politicization, nepotism and a need for a "break from the past" at OIOS.

Inner City Press on Monday asked Mr. Ban what he intends to do about the Congo, OIOS and the lack of transparency and any freedom of information law at the UN. In a two-minute on-camera response, Ban said that it will be up to OIOS, which he hopes "will look at this issue carefully." But since the allegations are against OIOS itself, Ban was asked "how does one hold OIOS accountable?" Ban said that he cannot, that it is up to the UN General Assembly, which created the Office. Video here, from Minute 18:55; transcript here.

BAN on May 5, OIOS' Ahlenius and accountability not shown

In interviews Monday with Inner City Press, sources from both the UN General Assembly's budget committee and its Advisory Committee of Administrative and Budgetary Questions said that OIOS' most recent proposals have not been kindly viewed, that OIOS "doesn't have an idea so far." Proposals to withdraw investigators from peacekeeping missions such as the one in the Congo to so-called regional hubs are described as "unclear" and not well-argued. "I would not give a good rating on management," a well-place source responded when asked about Ahlenius' tenure.

The problems with the Ahlenius era at OIOS are not limited to the Congo. Despite telling the Washington Post of Feb. 17, 2008 -- just as the Eastern Congo allegations about the Indian Battalion were being summarily dismissed -- that "it seems to me that the ones who argue for secret reports have something to hide," Ms. Ahlenius refused repeatedly to release the two reports about her agency. In her May 2 statement to Inner City Press, she explains

"The report was commissioned by me solely for my own managerial information to provide an independent opinion on issues in the Investigation Division. This review was only part of many inputs in the process of considering a reform. I am the owner of the report."

But one of her colleagues, who is to retire in three months time, last week told the press that regular UN budget funds were used to commission the reports. So does Ms. Ahlenius own them?

BAN did not answer whether he favors, as part of UN reform, a freedom of information law which would make clear to UN officials like Ms. Ahlenius that they do no "own" records paid for by the public.

 Inga-Britt Ahlenius, who has declined requests that she appear at a press conference, on Friday provided Inner City Press with a written response that

"Mr. Vladislav Guerassev, OIC and Director of the Investigation Division made himself available in the background briefing of the issues later that same day and explained why he - and OIOS - takes exception to qualifying the BBC report as an investigative one and encouraged BBC to provide OIOS with any details (who, when, where and how and who else witnessed, etc.) that BBC might have obtained. I also explained this in the BBC interview - however not quoted - and I confirm again that we may reopen the case based on an assessment of any new information provided to us. So far, BBC made no attempt to contact OIOS with the evidence that they might have."

           On Monday afternoon, after again having requests for question-and-answer with Ms. Ahlenius rejected, Inner City Press submitted written follow up questions to her:

--can you explain how the extensive questions of facts outlined on Feb. 7, 2008 were, except for one, dismissed 13 days later by Mr. Guerassev. Please describe the steps taken in those 13 days.

Please comment on and response to the the two reports on OIOS made public on May 2.

Additionally -

1.  You (Ms. Ahlenius) say that you may reopen the Congo case, if presented with evidence by BBC.  But you say that BBC has made no attempt to contact  you to provide you with this evidence.  Here are followups.

A.  Did you read the letter to S-G BAN from Human Rights Watch, that was critical of OIOS' behavior?  Do you have any comment or response?

B.  Did you actually watch the BBC Panorama documentary?

C.  In addition to the HRW letter and the BBC documentary, what more evidence do you think you need to consider reopening this investigation?

D.  Are you saying that if no one from BBC calls you, then you will not reopen the case?

2.  Was Mark Gough, and the Vienna office of OIOS/ID, responsible for conducting the Congo investigation?  Here are some followups.

A.  Did Mark Gough resign, or was his contract not renewed?

B.  Did Mark Gough's departure have anything to do with the handling of the Congo report?

C.  If Mark Gough was responsible for the Congo cover-up, was his removal from office your way of assessing accountability?

D.  Have you ever been made aware of any other cases where Mark Gough been accused by whistleblowers of failing to follow-up on leads, with the objective of reaching pre-determined conclusions?  If you were made aware of  a pattern of such cases, would you seek to investigate Mr. Gough?

            Neither Ms. Ahlenius nor Mr. Guerassev responded by deadline. When they do, their responses will be published on this site.

* * *

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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