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UNDP Orchestrates Danish-Led Ethics Evasion, Dangles Melkert Off the Record, As Legal Ruling Is Sought

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

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 23, updated Aug. 24, 10 a.m. -- Six days after the UN Ethics Office urged the UN Development Program to stop blocking it 73-day old inquiry into retaliation against whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj, UNDP finally responded, if only indirectly. UNDP procured from the president of its Executive Board a statement "suggest[ing]," as a replacement of the Ethics Office proceeding, "a review, led by one or more individuals who are highly respected internationally, neutral, and external to UN system."

     However, a statement not publicized by UNDP or the Danish mission is said to provide that this "respected" and purported "external" expert will be chosen from three names nominated by UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. Tony Shkurtaj told Inner City Press on Thursday that this represents a retaliator choosing the person who will investigate him -- the fox investigating the hen house.

            Shkurtaj's response Thursday came in the form of two letters, one to Dervis, the other to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Shkurtaj is asking that the legal dispute concerning the Ethics Office's jurisdiction over UNDP be put to the UN's Administrative Tribunal on an expedited basis.

            Thursday at the UN's noon briefing, Ban's spokesperson refused to comment on the six-page letter from the U.S. Mission to Dervis, copied to Ban's chief advisor Kim Won-soo and Kim's chief of staff, Chris Coleman. "We do not comment on leaked letters," the spokesperson said. She later clarified that there would be no comment because "the letter was not addressed to the Secretary-General." It is unclear if by this logic she, on behalf of Ban, will provide a comment on Shkurtaj's August 23 letter to the Secretary-General, click here for a copy. The letter was also copied, among others, to OIOS chief Inga-Britt Ahlenius.

            UNDP also ramped up its spin machine, gossiping darkly to journalists about the whistleblower, and quietly scheduling an "off the record" briefing by Associate Administrator Ad Melkert, not inviting those journalists who report the most on UNDP. Melkert is said to be slated to spin Friday at 10 a.m. -- at exactly the same time as Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom, whom Melkert knows, is to brief about the UN's response to natural disasters. This is the coordination of messages for which the UN is so widely known, thanks to the UN Communications  Group.

Update of August 24, 9:51 a.m. -- The Melkert briefing this morning is off-the-record; Inner City Press is informed that it will be in Dutch, for Dutch journalists. Push-back at negative press Melkert's gotten in the Dutch press in the whistleblower retaliation case? We'll see. A Sunny story this morning about U.S. Amb. Khalilzad's surprising stance on the UN Ethics Office's jurisdiction over UNDP says it conflicts with Amb. Wallace. For now we note that it conflicts also with what Amb. Alejandro Wolff said earlier in the week at the Security Council stakeout, video here...

Ban and Denmark's Carsten Staur, UN Ethics Office not shown (see below)

            On Thursday, expecting that the Ethics Office stand-off would be discussed, Inner City Press attended an hour-long informal meeting of UNDP's Executive Board in the basement of UN Headquarters. (The meeting, with 117 closely-packed attendees, was in Conference Room 7, which dubiously says it has a capacity of 155.) The Board's chairman afterwards told Inner City Press that the Ethics Office was not discussed because "you'll see a statement by the [Board] president this afternoon."

     Surprisingly, in the hour of the meeting, only four questions were asked, by representatives of Cuba, the UK, US and Colombia. U.S. representative Joel Malkin jokes with other participants, and asked only if the country reports shown from the first time in September will be voted on in June. (Yes, if you're wondering.) The UK's representative was keen to know if Kemal Dervis would make one or two presentations in the opening session of the UNDP Executive Board meeting.

            UNFPA also spoke, but not about the buzz in the building that Thoraya Obaid has been asked to leave in October, or wait to December but receive fewer benefits. "Another post has been given to Saudi Arabia," an insider told Inner City Press, "and now Obaid is expendable."

            Another UN program which has been mismanaged, having tarried in getting audited financial statements done and been opaque in relocation, is the UN Office of Project Services, UNOPS. Trying to avoid, it seems, the confrontation UNDP is in, UNOPS' chief counsel has highlighted to all staff information about the UN Ethics Office -- not that they are "100% applicable," of course:

From: David MITCHELS

Sent: Mon 8/20/2007 4:17 PM

To: UNOPS - ALL STAFF

Subject: Ethics: new documents from UNHQ  Dear Colleagues,

 New documents from the UN Ethics Office have been posted on the UNOPS Ethics Information intranet site.  The above-listed documents each provide quick, excellent summaries of specific UN ethics policies and issues.   They are not 100% applicable to UNOPS, because they are aimed at a Secretariat readership, but they are very useful, simple guides to these sometimes difficult subjects.     The Intro to Ethics Office Brochure answers common questions about the UN Ethics Office and its policies.  It also explains what exactly the Ethics Office does, and where the UN Ethics rules come from.  The Conflict of Interest Brochure explains how to manage, avoid, and be aware of conflicts of interest.  The Financial Disclosure Program Brochure explains which staff members the program applies to, and summarizes how the program works.  Lastly, the Protection Against Retaliation Policy Brochure explains when you are/are not protected by the policy, and what/what not to do if you suffer retaliation as a result of reporting misconduct. I recommend that you take some time to review these materials.  

            There are many who ought to review before propounding on the policy. From the transcript of Thursday's noon briefing, with annotations --

Question:  There is a letter from the US Mission to Mr. Benson of the Ethics Office, copied to the 38th floor [names inaudible] -- [Inner City Press note: it was clear, it was Kim Won -soo and] Chris Coleman and others, saying... urging once again that the Ethics Office asserts its jurisdiction, complete its... and citing actually the General Assembly resolution that took note of the Ethics Office that said that the Ethics Office should be system-wide.  So clearly, however you characterize it, the stakes have been raised...  Another argument has been made for Mr. Benson, but also the 38th floor, to reconsider whether the Ethics Office should complete this work.  Has that been received by the 38th floor, and what is the status of the UNDP doing its own inquiry, given that I was just at the Executive Board meeting downstairs and the issue was not even raised, did not come up?  What happens next?

Spokesperson:  About that leaked letter to the Ethics Office:  I will not comment on that letter addressed to Mr. Benson by an Ambassador from a Member State.  I can only say that the US Mission has been in touch with the Secretary-General's office, that we have explained to them our position on the matter, and that the US Mission has expressed its understanding of the Secretary-Generalís response.  As I said yesterday, the Secretary-General is determined to have ethical norms applied throughout the system.  However, at the moment, the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction over UNDP.  We are now waiting for the announcement by UNDPís Executive Board of the complementary external review they have announced.  I have nothing more to say on this.   What I will say is that, if you have further questions please go to UNDP.

            Not only has UNDP not answered questions since July 30, and kept silent about Melkert's August 24 "off the record" press availability -- Kemal Dervis has held only two press conferences in over two years.

Question:  Is there going to be a briefing any time soon?

Spokesperson:  Please talk to them.

Question:  One last thing.  I want to understand this idea of leaked letters.  Often here we will ask you, saying a Government has called on the UN to do something.  And you respond to it.  Youíll say, yes, we have noticed that... and a call for action, and we say this.

Spokesperson:  Well, this was not addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

            Neither are the pleas of internally displaced people in Somalia (Ms. Montas said, let them write to Nairobi.).

Question:  But it was cc-edd to his...

Spokesperson:  It was not addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

  One reporter -- not this one -- muttered, but it was sent to the functional Secretary-General.

            And then, the promised Danish statement, also annotated:

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT OF UNDP / UNFPAs EXECUTIVE BOARD

23 August 2007

"The UN Board of Auditors (UNBOA) is preparing to begin the second phase of an external audit of the operations of UNOPS, UNICEF, UNFPA, and UNDP in DPRK, as requested by the UN Secretary-General.

However, as noted by the UNBOA, the second phase of the audit will not cover the full range of issues and allegations that have been put forward regarding UNDP's operations in DPRK. As President of the Executive Board, I have, therefore, suggested the undertaken of a complimentary review, led by one or more individuals who are highly respected internationally, neutral, and external to UN system. The review would look into all of the issues that are not covered by the UNBOA, including allegations of retaliation against individuals who have raised concerns and other complaints. UNDP Senior Management fully supports the external review and has assured that it will cooperate fully and make sure that all relevant documentation and information are made available to the independent review team.

  Note: This line makes it clear to some that "the fix is in;" moreover, UNDP admits to not having information is needed, information that Inner City Press is told will only be provided to the Ethics Office.

In addition to the allegations related to UNDP's operations in DPRK, the review might also examine UNDP's broader accountability and oversight policies, including protection of whistleblowers. The policies on these matters will also be discussed when the Executive Board meets in September.

The Secretary General has welcomed the plan to appoint such a team and proceed with an independent review.

      This also says to some that the fix is in. Ban's spokesman continued to claim that he would have wanted coherence on this, but can't "overrule" Dervis -- while Denmark since he has already "welcomed" an end run against his own Ethics Office.

Preliminary discussions have been held in the Bureau of the Executive Board where support in principle for such a review has so far been indicated.

Together with members of UNDP/UNFPA Executive Board, I will continue to work on the details, including ensuring endorsement of the Terms of Reference for the review and the selections of the individual(s) to head the independent review team.

Carsten Staur, Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the UN [of Denmark] and President of the UNDP/UNFRP Executive Board

            The Terms of Reference circulated reportedly mention the Pyongyang counterfeit, call the whistleblower a mere "contractor," and say that Dervis would nominate the three final contestants for the (thankless) post. Make it a TV show: Who Wants to Participate in a Cover-up? Developing

* * *

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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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