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At UNDP, Melkert Is a Diversion, U.S. Rep. Says, As Walls Close In On Dervis

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 23 -- When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon went to Washington last week, he was asked about his call, made six months ago, for a detailed external audit of the operations of the UN Development Program, to be conducted first in North Korea than elsewhere. The UN Board of Auditors still has not been allowed in to North, and it appears that no action has been taken on the Secretariat's second call, in late June, to begin a second phase of audit.

            Monday, 48 days after UNDP whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj filed a complaint with the UN Ethics Office seeking protection against retaliation, Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: This idea that the UNDP complainant for whistle-blower status, I think itís been said that they would rule in 45 days.  So I think he turned in his complaint on 5 June.  Is there now a ruling by the Ethics Office on whether the individual is a whistle-blower or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Iím not aware there's been a ruling yet, but I can look into that for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that, as has been indicated previously, the Protection against Retaliation Bulletin (ST/SGB/2005/21) provides that the Ethics Office will seek to complete its preliminary review within 45 days. The Ethics Office has indicated that they require additional time and have also advised the complainant.]

            So at the UN, a 90 day audit cannot be carried out in substance in over six months. And a 45-day review to determine if a complainant is a whistleblower, a determination that must be made before any protection can be offered, cannot for some unexplained reason be reached even in 45 days.

            Close observers of the UNDP North Korea saga, the first scandal to erupt on Ban Ki-moon's watch, just 19 days into his term, offer a range of interpretations of the slow-down or gridlock. UNDP is dead-set against Mr. Shkurtaj being acknowledged as a whistleblower, because it would make a number of UNDP actions since January constitute retaliation, which itself is misconduct under UNDP rules.

            On Monday afternoon, Inner City Press asked U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen what she thought of recent calls for UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert to resign or be fired. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen replied that

"I want to make sure that the problems in the system are addressed rather than just boot one individual and then there'll be a feeling that, 'oh we've gotten rid of X, and so then the problem has been solved.' It's such a systemic problem, it has to be done in a more comprehensive way. That doesn't mean that that guy should keep his job, but sometimes when you start to roll heads, it gives you the feeling that you've dealt with the problem and let's move on, and it's far deeper than that."

            While agreeing that the problems at UNDP run much "deeper," including lower, than Mr. Melkert, they also extend technically above him, to Mr. Kemal Dervis.

From the House (of Representatives) to The House, UNHQ: "CO-DEL" 7/23/07, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen at right

            Those who thought Kemal Dervis would leave UNDP for a high post back in Turkey have started backing away from that prediction, given the electoral victory over the weekend of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with whom Dervis tangled while still Turkish finance minister.

            Needing more than even to keep his UN post, within Dervis' and Melkert's UNDP, a renewed push has begun to stop all potential leaks. The agency has reportedly gone so far as to take offline the policy for handling counterfeit currency to which Shkurtaj alluded in his interview Friday with Inner City Press (and which Inner City Press put online, here.)  It is said that another UNDP counter-attack is in the works. Word to the wise: retaliation against a whistleblower is itself misconduct...

   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.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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