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At UNDP, Hunting Down Leakers and Whisteblowers' Photos, Hiding Disclosure Behind a Bored Board

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 28 -- In the past week, as the UN Development Program has plotted its next response about North Korea, the agency hired without the normal bidding process a forensic computer contractor, UNDP sources say. The goal has been to find out who has been leaking the agency's data.

            The saga goes back at least to December 8, 2005, when the operations chiefs of five UN funds and programs in Pyongyang decided to simultaneously tell their agencies of irregularities in North Korea programs, including the payment of government-provided staffers in hard currency. Eighteen months later, all five whistleblowers are gone, and several face continuing retaliation.

            On June 6, Inner City Press wrote to the new director of the UN's Ethics Office, Robert Benson, asking about UNDP's financial disclosures and "what would be your office's jurisdiction to assist a whistleblower at UNDP?"

            On June 28, as yet more Ad Melkert letters circulated, the following arrived from the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:

Subj: your questions on ethics 

From: [Office of the Spokesperson at]

To: matthew.lee [at]

Date: 6/28/2007 4:56:14 PM Eastern Standard Time

I've been informed by the Ethics Office that you'd passed on some questions to Robert Benson, and they're transmitting through me the relevant answers. First of all, you'd asked about the Ethics Office's jurisdiction to assist a whistle-blower at UNDP. They have conveyed that, in relation to any case involving an individual seeking protection against retaliation, the Ethics Office will neither confirm nor deny that it is reviewing a case, unless the particular individual has provided his or her informed consent to do so.

        Question: give consent to whom? Here is a portion of the underlying complaint:

June 5, 2007 09:22 AM

To: Bensonr [at]
Subject: North Korea: request for protection and review under ST/SGB/2005/21

Dear Mr. Benson,

I am a former United Nations Staff Member who while still employed by the UN reported misconduct through my chain of command. When no action was taken to cease such misconduct, using the protections of ST/SGB/2005/21, I reported such misconduct to an entity outside of the established internal mechanisms. Subsequent to my reporting such misconduct to the outside entity, my employment was terminated. I believe such action was retaliatory in nature.

The misconduct I reported was the violation of multiple rules and regulations as well as criminal conduct by the United Nations Development Program with respect to UNDP's operations in the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK). In July 2005, I informed UNDP in writing that its practices were contrary to the rules and regulations of the Organization. These practices include receipt and non-disclosure of counterfeit currencies, the payment to the Government of DPRK in hard currency, as well as the management of UNDP programs by Government officials of the DPRK, and other related violations.

Section 1 of ST/SGB/2005/21 states that it is the duty of staff members to report any breach of the Organization's regulations and rules to the officials whose responsibility it is to take appropriate action, and that an individual who makes such a report in good faith has the right to be protected against retaliation.

On 19 January 2007 -- the same day as the Secretary-General ordered an inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing by UNDP in North Korea, UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert informed a colleague that he suspected that I may have shared information... He ordered that my access to ATLAS be terminated, and that my contract be allowed to expire as of the end of March 2007. These actions are retaliatory in nature. I hereby charge that Mr. Ad Melkert has engaged in both retaliation and threatened retaliation, and that such acts are themselves misconduct...

  An aside on Mr. Melkert: sources tell Inner City Press that at Melkert's request, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands asked the U.S. State Department to drop the inquiry. Since the message above, a UNDP whistleblower's photograph has been added to the computer photo array of UN Headquarters security's computer system, as a person to be on the look-out for, to bar entry to the UN. Sources say that such an addition is extremely rare for former employees, and in all probability required the request of an official of the Secretariat, and not only of UNDP.

       But even barring some whistleblowers does not block others. Developing.

UNDP with far-away look

            Meanwhile, transparency became a taboo word at last week's meeting of the Executive Board of the UN Development Program, literally. Despite public statements by UNDP's senior management since December 2006 that audits would be made available outside the agency, all that was agreed to last week was for a study of the issue to be prepared for next year. As one wag joked in the wan meeting's waning hours, maybe even this report will be withheld as confidential.

            In the meeting's first week, Associate Administrator Ad Melkert had given a speech which changed his previous "commitment" to make audits available to a mere "considering," click here for that. The second week was opened by Administrator Kemal Dervis, distancing himself as always from this issue, and then pointedly telling the Press, "I'm not going to answer any of your questions."

            Those staffing the meeting from various Board member states' missions blamed the United States. We were getting toward a regime of transparency, one said, until the United States brought North Korea up. Now the G-77 refuses to pass anything with even the word transparency in it, he added.

            Counter-intuitively, the occupant of the U.S. seat during most of the meeting, Joel Malkin, offered many positive, some say Pollyanna, comments. He said, for example, that the UN Office of Project Services, which has missed audit deadlines and suffers from scandals in both its move to Northern Europe and now its Dubai office, is well run, a success story. The chair of the UNOPS portion of the meeting called this a surprising comment, and it was.

            The public sessions droned on and on, the reading out of country plans that could easily have been e-mailed around. A representative from Senegal spoke eruditely in French, pointing at a slide presentation that was in such a small font that no one would read it. This happened throughout the meeting. Ad Melkert sat in the front looking bored, and then angry. Next to him sat a succession of regional directors, including Hafiz Pasha, who presided and presides over UNDP's North Korea fiasco.

            A representative of a Northern European member state, who speaks only on condition of anonymity, said that in his opinion the problem with UNDP and its lack of accountability is not only the absence of transparency, but the "quality of the people" that Member States send to the meetings. "Look at them," he said. "They are entirely unprepared."  Another participant opines that UNDP keeps what little substantive discussion there is out of the public view, in "informals" that no one else can attend.

   Inner City Press asked the representative of a Northern European member state what, if anything, the Board did about the sudden demotion in late 2006 of the head of UNDP's Office of Human Resources. "It would be up to the union to raise that," was the answer. And now we can report that a replacement has been named, Manuel Santiago, former Deputy of RBLA(Latin America bureau), who according to an insider was "not even short-listed for the job, which was advertised for so long and many times cancelled and re-advertised. Now the new guy, who should play the Chief Personnel Officer has to enforce the same rules that were broken in selecting him in first place."

            Finally, for now, this was the second part of UN Ethics chief Benson's response:

Second, regarding your questions about financial disclosures by Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert, among others, they say that, in order to ensure the privacy and the independence of the review, the financial disclosure program is administered confidentially by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. As a consequence, the confidential information regarding the individuals' personal filings is maintained by that firm.


    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540