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At WFP, Ethics Missing Amid Waste and Garage Scandals as Josette Travels the World, Food Program Whistleblowers Say

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 15 -- In the wake of the World Food Program's controversial shut down of its Rome headquarters for a "simulated food distribution" display for the spouses of G-8 leaders, reported on by Inner City Press and skipped by both Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni, more and more whistleblowers from within WFP have approached Inner City Press with their complaints.

   Most center around what they call the excessive travel and waste of Executive Director Josette Sheeran, the cover-up of scandals by weak ethical controls and discipline by promotion out to the field, and use of WFP for political purposes, fancy junkets and receptions and a make-up post for UN insider Staffan de Mistura. Inner City Press has asked WFP about these, and has received some answers.

  Here is a sample complaint received from within WFP, anonymous due to fear of retaliation, then some WFP responses:

Matthew, Your reporting on the "Disneyland" school feeding show for the G-8 spouses was excellent. And many, many people in WFP agreed with you and had real doubts about it. The tents have come down but there's been no word on whether the contributions have increased to pay for it, and to feed more hungry poor. You should however, be aware that many WFP workers did attend work that day, even though parking was very difficult and WFP is not well connected by public transport to the areas in Rome where most staffers live. There are WFP staff who do have principles.

At 8:20, those not involved with the event were told through the PA system to remain at their workstations until the event was over and coffee, tea and water was placed on tables by the elevators on each floor. In other words, the staff were not welcome. Maybe that's why they were "encouraged" to "work from home".

Many dedicated long-term WFP staff see the current regime as a joke. Around the time of the G-8 event, Josette was also slated to attend the Non-Aligned Movement First Ladies Group in exotic Sharm El Sheikh. Clearly she's into Wives Clubs, which is not where she should be. However, perhaps because of the embarrassment of the G-8 wives event, she canceled.

   We interrupt this whistleblowing for WFP's response:

"Greg Barrow is on leave. Please find the following responses to your questions. Ms. Sheeran was invited to the event but due other commitments, did not attend. She was represented by Ms. Sheila Sisulu, WFP's Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions, who delivered a keynote speech and met with the host of the NAM First Ladies conference, Mrs. Mubarak to discuss school feeding and nutrition."

   The whistleblower continued:

Word is that in the second half of 2009, she will spend perhaps no more than three weeks in Rome. A lot of her time is in Washington and elsewhere in the US (are we feeding Americans now, or is she doing something else there?). And there is a trip to places like Australia (over a weekend, of course). So who is actually running the organization? How can she justify, even with annual leave, spending less than one eighth of her time at her desk? Money which could and should be spent on feeding people or on properly staffing key departments or systems is being blown on business class airfares for her and her accompanying delegations and on school-feeding conferences near the north Italian lakes when somewhere within driving distance from Rome would have done, to name a few.

 There are stories of parties being held costing more than 100 Euro per head at fancy Roman villas, paid for by WFP and/or FAO for people who never even worked for either organization. 100 Euro can buy about 300kg of wheat. Instead of feeding/entertaining one fat cat for a night, that's a lot of children who could be served.

UN's Ban and WFP's Sheeran, similar travel, similar
Again, WFP had a different spin:

Ms. Sheeran's schedule for the rest of this year is still being finalized and will be adjusted as the year progresses depending on the most pressing needs and priorities. As the schedule stands today, she will be in Rome for a number of weeks. The role of a WFP Executive Director involves travel demands, which can often be sudden, such as a trip to Myanmar after the cyclone when WFP has an emergency response, or to donor countries to meet high level representatives. This fall, Ms. Sheeran's will make her first donor trip to Australia as part of a wider travel plan which includes WFP field operation visits. We believe you are referring to an official event co-hosted by WFP and FAO in honor of the departing President of IFAD, our sister UN agency in Rome.

   But how much did it cost? At least on the Simulated Food Distribution Display for G-8 Spouses, WFP has finally given its own figure as to cost: 219,000 Euros. Click here for Inner City Press' counter calculations.

   Inner City Press has asked, twice, about the new but we're told absent held of ethics, Joe Scalice, and whether notice was given of the vacancy externally or even internally. The post because open when Shuresh Sharma was moved to WFP's oversight office. From there, Inner City Press is told, an official was caught in a scandal in WFP's garage, then quickly exiled to the Sri Lanka IDP crisis. Inner City Press has asked:

What notice was given to internal candidates that they could apply? How many applied? Also, please comment on fraud case in Johannesburg starting next month and a whistleblower's statement that the individual "who headed it previously was very quickly sent out to the field when he was caught by the security guards in the underground executive car park in his car with a young lady, and they weren't discussing audit matters. So they may have had to fill it very quickly. I think it was done internally. Also, there has been an exodus from audit in the past year." Steffan de Mistura's post, did anyone previously hold it? or was it a new / made up post? Was the Executive Board consulted?

   When the requested answers are received, they will be published on this site.

* * *

At G-8, Mrs. Obama and Bruni Skip WFP's "Simulated Feeding" of African Children in Rome

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 11 -- On the sidelines of the G-8 meeting on July 10, the World Food Program shut down its headquarters for a "simulated food distribution" for the spouses of the G-8 leaders, flying in school children from Ghana to put them on display. Many WFP staff members found the display disgusting, a waste of money and a disrespect to UN recipients. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama may have shared some of the concerns: she did not attend. Nor did French First Lady Carla Bruni.

  WFP director Josette Sheeran, rumored to be under review by the the U.S. which nominated her under George Bush, conducted a "seminar" which some attendees found awkward and stilted, "a quest for personal publicity." WFP has yet to provide basic financial information on how much the "simulated food distribution display" cost, while Ms. Sheeran complains about not receiving requested donations. One wonders what new WFP deputy de Mistura, fresh in from the UN in Iraq, thinks of all this.

  The event got very little international press coverage, for which Ms. Sheeran may paradoxically be grateful. WFP's own write up said that "in most developing countries women produce between 60 and 80% of food." But WFP insiders point out that while women make up 60 to 80 of farmers, commercial plots play a larger role that WFP says, depending on the country.

  The First Ladies of Japan, Canada and the UK did attend, among others. WFP played up -- helped write? -- the blog entry of Britain's Sarah Brown, who said that one person in six does not know if they will have food today An insider counts that is an exaggeration:there are roughly 1 billion hungry people but a large percentage of them are only without food during the lean season before the harvest when stored food has run out.

 The main question is whether the money spent, on telling WFP staff not to work on July 10, and flying in children for Ghana as a "Disneyland Africa feeding station," was worth it. Watch this site.

Sarah Brown went to WFP, Michelle Obama didn't -- cost not shown

Since WFP refused to answer on the record, Inner City Press asked twice for response from the UN in New York. On July 8:

Inner City Press: In connection with the G-8, the UN World Food Programme is flying Ghanaian schoolchildren to Rome for a simulated feeding programme for the spouses of G-8 leaders at a reported cost of $500,000. Does Mr. Ban think…Some, including WFP staff, think it’s insensitivity to the beneficiaries of aid and a waste of money. What does the Secretary-General think about it and is he or members of his family participating in it?

Spokesperson Michele Montas: Not that I know, but I can find out for you, of course, whether he has any reaction to that.

  Having heard nothing back, 24 hours later on July 9, also about North Korea:

Inner City Press: North Korea has said to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) that it should scale back its international staff, including not having international staff that speak Korean. They apparently “PNG’ed” a South Korean staffer of the World Food Programme. What does the UN system think of a country saying that they can’t have staff in it that speak the language of the country? Is the Secretary-General following, is he concerned about it?

Spokesperson Montas: I think the Secretary-General is always following what is happening to the different agencies, but I think you should address your question to WFP itself.

Inner City Press: And just one follow-up on WFP. This event that they’re having, now it’s tomorrow, at the headquarters of WFP, will be closed down for the simulated feeding programme with Ghanaian children flown in. Yesterday, you said you’d ask. I know he is busy. Is the Secretary-General’s wife there? Is she going to attend?

Spokesperson: No, she is not.

Question: She is not there?

Spokesperson: No.

Question: And does he think this is an appropriate use, I guess, of UN system facilities and funding to fly in children--

Spokesperson: Usually, the Secretary-General does not have express specific opinions on the way agencies deal with their own affairs. As you know, WFP is an agency. It is independent from the Secretariat, autonomous from the Secretariat, and they have their own policies. So I think you should ask them what their justification is for that event and get more details from them.

Question: Okay. I guess, since it may affect sort of confidence, you know, people are always asked to give funds to these agencies. So I just wanted to know whether he thinks it’s an appropriate use, but…

Spokesperson: We don’t usually comment on what the different agencies do.

But is that wise? Watch this site.

* * *

For G-8 Spouses, WFP Flies in Ghanaian Children for "Simulated Feeding," $500,000 Cost and Ms. Sheeran Disputed, re N. Korea

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 7 -- During the upcoming G-8 meeting in Italy, the UN World Food Program is flying school children from Ghana to Rome for a "simulated food distribution" display for the spouses of G-8 representatives. WFP has ordered staff not involved in the display to not come to work that day. They will, however, received "special leave with full pay."

   Inner City Press wrote about this last week, quoting an internal WFP e-mail. On July 7, Inner City Press called in to what was described as a WFP press briefing about the G-8 and asked for response to criticism of the event as insensitive to beneficiaries of UN aid and for the cost, as well as about limitations WFP accepts from the government of North Korea.

   The WFP officials on the conference call -- who will remain unnamed at their request -- at first did not answer the question, and then stated that the event would cost only a fraction of the figure Inner City Press used its its July 2 story, $500,000.

  Inner City Press asked to be given on the record WFP's figure, including staff time, accommodation and air fare -- and carbon offsetting of the jet travel, if any. Four hours later, after close of business in Rome, a WFP spokesman said that an answer might be forthcoming. In the interim, WFP had scrubbed up and approved a quote from the "background" briefing for a less critical wire service piece.

   And so, beyond the WFP e-mail below describing the event, here is the basis for Inner City Press' estimate of cost:

According to the WFP website, 'WFP employed 10,200 people in 2008 (91 percent of staff serve in the field.)' That means about 1000 work at WFP Headquarters in Rome. Even accounting for a satellite building that will stay in operation -- though who knows how many staff will show up or be able to get near it -- we estimate that 800 staff go home and that the average grade is the mid range of a P4 (grades are higher at WFP headquarters than in the field). The direct cost for such a post is about $100,000 but one must add to that pension, staff assessment and a large "post adjustment" because the dollar is weak against the Euro. Therefore a more realistic annual cost for a mid range P4 is perhaps $150,000-160,000.

   The work year has 260 days, so a single day of labor lost costs the organization $576. Multiplied by 800, one gets about $467,000 -- plus related security costs, the cost of flying in the Ghanaian children to eat corn-soy blend in view of the G-8 spouses, the construction of a fake schoolhouse by WFP's pool, etc. In addition there is the Italian government paying rent on a building that is not being used to manage food aid but as a set for this theater. The last public figure on the website for the building costs was about $45 million per annum with a daily cost of roughly $123,000. So $467,000 plus $123,000 yields about $590,000.

   Immediately after a senior WFP official on Tuesday's conference call said that costs were only "a fraction" of $500,000, Inner City Press formally asked for WFP's estimate of costs, and for confirmation that a WFP staffer was expelled from North Korea.

UN's Ban and WFP's Sheeran, luncheon June 2, 2009, 'simulated feeding' not shown

  At deadline nine hours later, the following arrived:

Hi Matthew, On the question regarding the planned event at WFP headquarters on Friday 10 July, I refer you to the response given during the teleconference earlier today. On the question of DPRK, I have the following response:

A senior WFP official said one WFP staff member in DPRK has had to leave the country because his visa was not renewed by the authorities. A number of other WFP staff members have been reassigned, or rotated to new duty stations because WFP's operations have contracted and the number of people required to support WFP's activities have gone down.

"While WFP continues to operate under the new conditions imposed by the DPRK authorities, it has not formally accepted them, and WFP is continuing to push for a return to the original terms of agreement negotiated with the government at the launch of the current emergency operation," the official added.

    We continue to wait for WFP's cost estimate. Inner City Press immediately followed up on the above, asking for the costs, if the WFP staff member who had to leave DPRK was from South Korea, and another question.

    The initial questions were sent to WFP chief Josette Sheeran's e-mail address. Ms. Sheeran, on whom Inner City Press has previously reported, including where possible praising her work, has taken to hiring yet more former colleagues from the Washington Times, most recently Elizabeth "Lisa" Bryant.

   Within the UN system community in Rome, many believe that Ms. Sheeran engaged in a quid pro quo with FAO chief Jacques Diouf, hiring a relative of his for an information technology post in exchange for FAO hiring the husband of her personal assistant, Tanujah Rastogi. They snark that since Ms. Sheeran Shiner bragged that while editing the Washington Times she ran story after story about the Clintons and Whitewater, the Obama Administration with Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State might want to see a change at the top of WFP. Through in the snafu of the $500,000 simulated feeding program and.... well, watch this site.

Rome colleagues:

As you know, Italy will be hosting the G8 Summit next week and leaders from more than two dozen countries will be in L’Aquila. We are honored that the Italian government has asked WFP to host an official program at our headquarters on Friday, 10 July, as part of the spouse program.
This visit is a profound testament to the increasing visibility of WFP's work -- and an opportunity to help the world better understand the important work we do. On our premises, we are arranging a simulated food distribution and a symbolic African schoolhouse, where a small group of Ghanaian schoolchildren will help celebrate our work. (You may have noticed the large exhibit being erected this morning behind the pool.)

Due to the security precautions mandated by the Italian government and the visiting delegations, only those employees involved in the event or deemed necessary for critical operations by their managers will be permitted on the main building premises during the morning of July 10. Among other things, parking will be severely limited at our main building and automobile access limited in Parco de Medici in general.
But we encourage you to take advantage of this special exhibit and bring your families, including your children, on the afternoon of 10 July – anytime after 2:00 – so they can get a taste of our field work and meet the schoolchildren. If you cannot bring your family on 10 July, note that the tent and displays will remain up on Monday, 13 July, so we invite you to bring family members to see the display then.

Though this is a special event, we realize it might cause some inconvenience. We hope you can appreciate what an historic opportunity this is for some of the world’s most influential people to understand what we do and to see the impact of their donations.

Here are some guidelines for the day: If you work in the main building, please do not come to the office Friday morning, 10 July. The St. Martin’s building will remain open. As much as possible, please work from home... We expect the main building to re-open for business as usual at 2:00, so if it's feasible for you to return, please do so. If returning to the office in the afternoon is not feasible for you -- we recognize that some of the Parco de Medici transit options do not run in the afternoon, for instance – you are authorized special leave with full pay. Thank you,
Steve Taravella
Chief of Internal Communications, World Food Programme
Via C.G. Viola 68,Rome, Italy 00148

Footnote: one WFP staffer, anonymous from fear of retaliation, asked if Josette Sheeran would similarly "parade around Food Stamp recipient in the United States," and went on to suggest that if the G-8 spouses wanted to see "needy Africans" while in Italy, they could check out the camps on Lampedusa...

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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