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At the UN, Ethics Office Urged to Rule on UNDP Whistleblower Case Despite Ban's Support of Self-Serving Investigation

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

Click here for a copy of the letter

UNITED NATIONS, August 22 -- The UN Development Program's stonewalling of an investigation which has found that it engaged in retaliation, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's apparent acquiescence, have fallen under attack from the State Department of the United States.

            In a closely-argued, six-page letter to UN Ethics Office chief Robert Benson, U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace has called on Benson to push forward with his investigation of UNDP, and to immediately release all of his findings to date. The letter was copied to Ban's top advisor Kim Won-soo and his chief of staff, Chris Coleman, and then to titular chef de cabinet Vijay Nambiar and Management chief Alicia Barcena.  Click here for a copy of the letter, obtained Wednesday by Inner City Press.

            In an interview with Inner City Press late Wednesday, whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj listed four reasons that he went to the UN Ethics Office, and why that Office should pursue and act on its finding of prima facie retaliation. First, it was high level officials at UNDP, including Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert, who engaged in the retaliation, Shkurtaj says -- they cannot credibly investigate themselves.

  Second, UNDP is the "eyes and ears of the Secretary General" in countries all over the world, as Shkurtaj puts it, and therefore UNDP must be covered by the UN's Ethics Office (with which, it is said, Dervis and Melkert filed their financial disclosures, another element in support of Ethics Office jurisdiction over UNDP).

   Third, Shkurtaj describes how it was Chris Coleman, a denizen of Ban Ki-moon's 38th floor, who before June 5 directed him to go through the UN judicial system and file formal complaints of retaliation with the Ethics Office and the Joint Appeals Board.

    Fourth, Shkurtaj's request for protection was endorsed and presented to the Ethics Office by the UNDP Staff Union. "It is the only place I could complain," Shkurtaj says. "If Ban Ki-moon is with UNDP," Shkurtaj says, "the Ethics Office has to close down. Its mandate would be in jeopardy, it would be nothing else but a billboard, only a show."

            UN insiders interviewed by Inner City Press (but who requested anonymity due to what else, fear of retaliation) emphasize the unprecedented show-down created by Benson's August 17 memo to UNDP's Kemal Dervis, which was copied to Ban Ki-moon. Ban's own nominee as head of the Ethics Office formally asks to be allowed to continue to do his work, and protect a whistleblower, "for the good of the UN."

            But Wednesday Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas insisted, in the face of questions from Inner City Press and others (see Fox News' television report), that Ban is accepting that UNDP set up its own investigation, as a replacement for the UN Ethics Office. She argued that there is nothing Ban can do, the Ethics Office simply does not and cannot cover UNDP.

   Repeatedly during the Ethics Office's review of the whistleblower complaint, the Office of the Spokesperson of the Secretary General told reporters to hold off on questions under the review was completed. Shkurtaj asks,"How can the same spokesperson now say that the Ethics Office has no jurisdiction?"

  From the transcript of the August 21 noon briefing:

Inner City Press: Who is currently at UNDP and these other places then...  If there is a whistle-blower that feels that they are facing retaliation, where are they supposed to go?

Spokesperson:  Well, I asked UNDP that question yesterday, and they gave me the answer that I gave you yesterday, which is that they have a whistle-blower protection policy and that it exists.

Inner City Press: [inaudible] it has not been approved yet.  That is why Mr. Benson's letter says, ' absence of an applicable protection from retaliation policy within UNDP.'  So that is Mr. Benson saying there isn't one. So I guess I am still asking that question:  if, according to the UN ethics expert, there is no policy in place there, where should a whistleblower go?  Because not every whistleblower is going to get an independent inquiry or expert appointed.

Spokesperson:  This is the reason why we are having this external review.  The whole whistle-blower issue -- not only this case, but the whole whistle-blower issue -- is going to fall under the review of that one independent group or person.

     The U.S. Mission to the UN's Ambassador Wallace's letter to Benson states:

"UNDP's refusal to cooperate with the UN Ethics Office and your investigation directly and clearly violates the clear terms of these founding documents of the Ethics Office and UNDP to this day is devoid of any such real ethics code within UNDP. When Associate Administrator of UNDP was asked about the status of reforms within UNDP on January 19, 2007, he stated: 'You ain't seen nothing yet.' (Matthew Lee, 'Facing UNDP Scandals, Ad Melkert Says, "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" in Terms of Transparency,' Inner City Press at the UN, January 19, 2007). Unfortunately, he was right then and no Member State could have expected that to this day that UNDP would seek to place itself above UN rules, and above the reach of the UN Ethics Office. Neither you nor the Secretary General should countenance such irresponsible and unaccountable behavior."

At the UN, Whistleblower Loopholes Defended, Ban's Fragmentation Called Ludicrous - Video here

            But as pointed out to Inner City Press by the Washington-based Government Accountability Project on Wednesday, the UN General Assembly's resolution on the Ethics Office said clear that it should have system-wide jurisdiction.

Paragraph 161 (d) of General Assembly resolution 60/1 states:

We recognize that in order to effectively comply with the principles and objectives of the Charter, we need an efficient, effective and accountable Secretariat. Its staff shall act in accordance with Article 100 of the Charter, in a culture of organizational accountability, transparency and integrity. Consequently we…:

(d) Welcome the Secretary-General's efforts to ensure ethical conduct, more extensive financial disclosure for United Nations officials and enhanced protection for those who reveal wrongdoing within the Organization. We urge the Secretary-General to scrupulously apply the existing standards of conduct and develop a system-wide code of ethics for all United Nations personnel. In this regard, we request the Secretary-General to submit details on an ethics office with independent status, which he intends to create, to the General Assembly at its sixtieth session." (The resolution is available here.)

Shelley Walden, the international program associate at the Government Accountability Project, told Inner City Press, "It appears that the intent of the General Assembly was to establish a system-wide ethics office. So why is UNDP arguing that the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction in this case?"

            Shkurtaj on Wednesday told Inner City Press that he "will reject" any expert chosen by UNDP or its Executive Board. "They have no administrative power to give protection," he said, adding that UNDP's Executive Board "has not exercised any oversight of UNDP so far" and that therefore "ECOSOC should review the terms of reference of the Executive Board of UNDP." Reportedly, the Board is to meet Thursday at noon on the question of the expert.

[Update of August 23, 10:30 a.m. - UNDP has put out a press release that it "is proceeding to arrange an additional and complementary external review to take place under the auspices of UNDP's Executive Board. A formal announcement on this review will be made in a few days." There is an informal meeting of UNDP's Executive Board at 11 a.m.. Developing.]

            Shkurtaj calls any process in which UNDP plays a role in the selection of the expert no more than a "self-serving" investigation. In fact, UNDP already reached its conclusion, according to UNDP spokesman David Morrison's statement to reporters that UNDP had looked into Shkurtaj's claimed and founded them "without basis." Subsequently, the UN Ethics Office found more than basis -- Benson found that Shkurtaj is a whistleblower, who was retaliated against.

            That the U.S. Mission to the UN copied its letter to Ban's top advisor and two aides, but not to Ban itself, is viewed by UN insiders as giving Mr. Ban "one last chance," as one of them put it, to join with rather than turn from the tide of UN reform. If the chance is not taken, the next months portend, among other things, chaos and a reversion to UN-exposed corruption.

* * *

  Click here for AP. Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army (which had to be finalized without DPA having respond.)  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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