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At UNFPA, Ruling to Investigate Obaid is Called Off by Alicia Barcena, Justice on the Rocks

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 30 -- This is the story of a justice system that's broken, a story of form over substance, of a plague on both their houses.

            Some months ago, Inner City Press was alerted to the case of a senior official at the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, who was threatened with termination by that agency's chief, Thoraya Obaid. There had been a car, a non-payment of taxes, a dispute crystallized in documents. Inner City Press was told that Alaadin Morsy had been fired. Before writing the story, an email was sent to Mr. Morsy.

  One of the matters discussed was a document obtained by Inner City Press, in which Mr. Morsy was confronted with a threat of prosecution concerning

"the vehicle that you imported when you were first place on the ATR Project in Egypt... the vehicle was imported for your personal use without paying customs duties to the Government of Egypt.  If you were employed for less than three years on the project, you were obligated to either re-export the vehicle or pay the customs duty that would have been owed when you imported the car in 2002. Your employment with the project was terminated after one year and you should have taken one of these two action. To the best of our knowledge and that of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry and the Egyptian Customs Authority, you have not done so. Mr. Tim S. Buehrer of the Secretary-General's office has stated that he has contacted you on numerous occasions concerning this matter but that you have not responded."

    Mr. Morsy contested all this, but stated that Ms. Obaid was trying to use the document against him, telling him to quit or face an investigation which would result in his dismissal.

            Months later, this part of the story can be told: Mr. Morsy challenged the action, and whatever the merits of the above, the UN Joint Appeals Board ruled in his favor. In fact, the JAB ordered a "suspension of action" until the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services conducted an investigation.

Ms. Obaid, of whom the JAB asked for an OIOS investigation, laughing - at the recommendation's dismissal?

  While OIOS is known for sometimes not following through -- for example, on its own findings of contracting corruption at the UN Pension Fund, click here for that story -- an investigation into a sitting Under Secretary General like Ms. Obaid would to some be an indication of an end or limitation on impunity.

            It was, however, not to be. Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena, in a May 1, 2007, letter to Mr. Morsy, recites the JAB's findings, agrees that he should continue to be paid -- "Special Leave with Full Pay," it's called, like what the UN Development Program's North Korea representative Timo Pakkala is on, click here for that story, and note UNFPA's role in North Korea. But Ms. Barcena without explanation calls the JAB's call for an investigation too "vague" to act on. In essence, Ms. Barcena called off the investigation before it even began. That at least is cutting out the middle man. Still it is another indicator of a UN system of internal justice that is broken, but remains in place.

            The Staff Union is calling for an interim system of binding arbitration, so that rulings like the JAB's in this case cannot be simply ignored, in full or part, by the Secretariat. Whether those hearing this call, including the General Assembly president, will take heed remains to be seen...

    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

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