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At the UN, Team Ban Emphasizes Split in US Mission, UNDP Shielded from Ethics Office, Brussels Links

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 24 -- After a week of being put on the spot by the UN Ethics Office and by the U.S.'s Ambassador specializing in UN Reform, Ban Ki-moon has found what some view as a strange defender: Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Permanent Representative. On Thursday Khalilzad issued a statement that "we recognize that there are different jurisdictional interpretations" about the Ethics Office's mandate and that

"We are committed to working with the Secretary-General to fix this problem. In the meantime, we support the idea of an independent outside investigation."

            In context, this is a backing away from the arguments advanced in U.S. Amb. Mark Wallace's August 21 letter to the Ethics Office, which said that the Ethics Office must have jurisdiction over UNDP. It is also contrary to what U.S. Amb. Alejandro Wolff said in response to Inner City Press' questions on August 21, video here:

Inner City Press: UNDP is saying that they don't accept the jurisdiction of the Ethics Office and they claim that they are going to do their own review of the whistleblower's case through the Executive Board, which the US is on. As an executive board member, would the US participate or agree to that or do you feel that the Ethics Office should review the whistle blowers case and that Mr. Ban should tell Kemal Dervis to do just that?

Ambassador Wolff: Our view of the Ethics Office is that it should have jurisdiction over the entire organization including funds and programs. It is ludicrous, ludicrous to think that you can establish an Ethics Office and it is limited only to certain offices, certain employees, certain individuals not the organization as a whole. So our view on that is pretty clear.

Inner City Press: What's the next step?

Ambassador Wolff: We understand that the jurisdictional issue, and I got a little bit into the details on that, the jurisdictional issue is something Secretary-General is looking into, our understanding is that the Secretary-General's view is the same, that the Ethics Office should have jurisdiction over all funds and programs, and I am sure they will work something out to ensure that that is the outcome.

            What a difference three days make. Ban and his spokesperson have said flatly that the Ethics Office has no jurisdiction over UNDP, and have endorsed a replacement process in which  UNDP's own Administrator will nominate the person to investigate allegations that he retaliated against a whistleblower. Some say -- and have said -- that is ludicrous.

            On Friday, Inner City Press asked Amb. Wolff about the change, video here:

Inner City Press: On UNDP, earlier in the week you said that the UN Ethics Office should have jurisdiction over UNDP and the whistleblower's case, now there is a report that Ambassador Khalilzad has-it seems that he has implied that no UN Ethics Office involvement is okay and that UNDP's own expert can do it, is that-what is the position of the U.S. Mission?

Ambassador Wolff: No, I think you've misinterpreted that.  The statement that we issued yesterday from the Mission is very clear.  We do believe that the UN Ethics Office should have jurisdiction over the entire organization, all members and all employees of the organization.  There are differences right now of interpretation over jurisdiction within the UN.  We are continuing to work with the Secretary-General on this point.  In the meantime we don't oppose an independent investigation into the UNDP program.  But our view on the ethics office, and the view we believe of most member states, and I believe the view that the Secretary-General shares is that we should have one single ethics standard that applies to everyone across the board in the UN system.  This was certainly the intent as we understand it in the 2005 outcome document in the negotiations within the General Assembly that supported establishment of this ethics office and we're confident that will be the outcome.

            When? How? After Amb. Wolff's answer, a U.S. Mission staff came over and handed Inner City Press a sheet of paper, available here in as a JPG file, sans letterhead but "for immediate release," dated August 23, "Statement by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad," which contains almost verbatim the first half of Amb. Wolff's last answer, but nothing about any confidence in UNDP being covered by the UN Ethics Office at any known or even definable date in the future.


Amb. Khalilzad -- "showing UN Reform the back of his hand," some say.

            But Team Ban was very happy with Khalilzad's statement; some even remarked that Khalilzad hadn't been shown Amb. Wallace's August 21 letter until after it was sent. Thursday Ban's spokesperson said she wouldn't comment on a "leaked letter." And now Team Ban is saying, in essence, that it was an unauthorized letter. They point, with apparent satisfaction, at what they call a split within the U.S. mission and State Department.

            Order -- in this case, fragmented disorder which allows for corruption -- has been restored, appeared to be the mood among Team Ban on this issue on Friday.

            But another week is coming... For now we highlight Ban's spokesperson's statement on Thursday that Ban

"spoke to people at the American Mission about this, and he has been discussing this issue with Mr. Benson, with different people who are involved in this specific situation.  I donít think there is a lack of resolve there.  Maybe you expect him to stand up and say, 'I champion this.'  I can tell you one thing:  he is extremely engaged...."

   Yes, it now appears -- engaged in procuring a supportive statement from Amb. Khalilzad. The real UN cynics -- not this one -- go so far as to speculate about how this all might be related to Ban's drive to increase UN staff presence in Iraq.

     Back at the backwater frontline, in Room 226, where the UN tells its stories, on Friday Ban's spokesperson said that the whistleblower's letter to Ban, e-mailed on Thursday to advisor Kim Won-soo, Vijay Nambiar, Alicia Barcena and OIOS' Inga-Britt Alenius, had still not been received. Have the UN's Internet servers, hacked two weeks ago, really become that slow?

            On the topic of the cc to OIOS' Inga-Britt Alenius, the following has arrived (yes, by e-mail) from Belgium --

Subj: Inga-Britt Ahlenius 
From: [ ] @europarl.europa.eu
To: Inner City Press
Date: 8/24/2007 1:50:13 PM Eastern Standard Time 

 Dear Mr Lee, Your articles on the UNDP are highly respected here in Brussels. As a 'transparency campaigner' I am very interested in learning who the three external experts are who may write that report.  The CC to Inga-Britt Ahlenius of OIOS brings me to ask for your attention of the following:

She was indeed, as a UN website says, "a member of the Committee of Independent Experts that was called for by the European Parliament with a mandate to examine the way in which the European Commission detects and deals with fraud, mismanagement and nepotism.  [Their report led to the resignation of the Commission.] "

 Let me give you a bit of additional information, info which I cannot assume you to be aware of. In 1999, when the European Commission resigned, it was managing a sum of around 100 billion euros a year. The resignation was an unprecedented event, and what led to the resignation were several things but the heaviest blow was really one sentence only, at the end of the report, in paragraph 9.4.25, "It is becoming difficult to find anyone who has even the slightest sense of responsibility". What led the European Parliament to set up that Committee of Independent Experts were several issues, one being the discharge over 1996, one the political situation in Germany and one, important, factor was how the European Commission treated a whistleblower called Paul van Buitenen..... I guess what I'm trying to say is, it would be nice if the whole whistle-blower issue that now receives attention could somehow learn from the experiences in another supranational body.

Over here, as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Mr Van Buitenen presented one such external study on how whistle-blowing was dealt with after the European Commission had single-handedly created whistle-blower rules, "UNDP style", in 2000-2003. You are invited to give it a read, although the real situation for whistleblowers is far worse than this study reveals. Additional information is available, don't hesitate to ask for names, addresses or documents.

Meanwhile, I can only thank you and tell you how much I'm looking forward to your reports on the UNDP in the near future.

  We'll have more on all this. Watch this site.

* * *

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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