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At the UN, Job Favors Asked and Given between Management and Chief Investigator, E-mails Show

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, on UN Reform: Exclusive Flash Report

UNITED NATIONS, October 4 -- Only months after the UN's investigative body drafted a report critical the UN's Department of Management (DM), lead investigator Inga-Britt Ahlenius contacted DM chief Alicia Barcena in an apparent attempt to influence the awarding of a senior Management post. In a September 17 e-mail obtained by Inner City Press, Ms. Ahlenius urged Ms. Barcena that Ms. Danielle Coolen "be interviewed and seriously considered," adding pointedly that, "I guess you would probably be yourself on an interview panel."

   Two hours later, Barcena wrote to her chief of staff Simona Petrova, in capital letters, "I want to make sure that I am in all panels of my Department to select D-2s," the senior rank Ahlenius sought for Ms. Coolen. Barcena also asked Ms. Petrova to forward to UN Controller Warren Sach the Coolen information, including the message from investigator Alhenius. Click here for the e-mails. Ms. Barcena's response late October 4, that she would be "happy to come to a press briefing anytime next week," is set forth below in context. On October 5, while still no comment had been provided, interrogation of staff began, about how the whistle-blowing took place. Inner City Press still waited until noon. Then this article went to press.

            Rather than questioning if it was appropriate for an investigator, particularly one with a contested inquiry into an agency, to appear to seek to influence the awarding of a high position in that agency, the problem raised by Mr. Sach was that "this is a Belgian D-2 applicant in an office currently headed by a D-1 Belgian; steps may need to be taken to ensure the applicant is retained on the long list." Click here for the e-mail.

            The "D-1 Belgian" would be Paul Buades, the Chief of the UN's Procurement Services (PS). A well-place source to whom Inner City Press showed the emails for comment quipped that the only problem seen with the pushing of this candidate was that of having two Belgian in one office, and that if that country splits in two, this obstacle would be removed.

            The Office of Internal Oversight Services review of the DM was mentioned in report A/61/264 (part 1), page 19, referring to a "comprehensive audit of the Department of Management, in particularly to examine how responsibility is assigned within the Department and how accountability for actions is realized. The audit will also examine whether the Department's structure and internal processes allow it to operation transparently, efficiently and effectively."

     Inner City Press, having been told by well-placed sources both that DM's Barcena has fought back against the OIOS audit, and the OIOS' Ahlenius asked Barcana for job favors, at Thursday's noon briefing posed this question:

Inner City Press: And I just wanted to ask one other thing, something I'm working on today.  We've heard that there was an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report on the Department of Management that was being prepared and that has been scuttled ...  I feel it's my duty to ask you -- can you check that out?

Spokesperson:  I'm not aware of this, Matthew.  I can find out, but I'm not aware of it.

Inner City Press: Please do.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

  [After holding this story for 24 hours until noon on October 5, when Inner City Press asked if there were any answers to its October 4 questions, the spokesperson's response was that "no one seemed to know, no one that we asked." ]

   Inner City Press has obtained a copy of a memo headed "Internal Audit Division, OIOS - Exit Conference Briefing," in which some of the criticisms by Ms. Ahlenius' OIOS are set forth, including about the hiring and promotion of Ms. Petrova herself.  Of what has become Ms. Petrova's post, the memo says that

"the two previous Under-Secretaries-General had each selected an individual during their tenures to assume the D-2 functions temporarily and had given them special post allowance (SPA). In both cases, the Under-Secretaries-General did not issue a temporary vacancy announcement for the post contrary to the provisions stated in paragraph 5.1(e) of ST/AI/1999/17...

"The next Under-Secretary-General had selected a P-5 to perform the D-2 functions starting in March 2006 to date. This individual received an SPA at a D-1 level from March 2006 to November 2006. In December 2006, she was promoted to D-1. In February 2007, the current Under-Secretary-General applied the SPA of a D-2 level retroactively to the first day of her promotion to D-1... The lack of transparency in the selection of the candidate for assuming the D-2 functions in OUSG had created a negative perception among staff."

            The UN Staff Union earlier this month issued a memo criticizing Secretariat management for adopting an "ends justifies the means" approach, which appears to have spread to putative independent investigator Ahlenius as well. Inner City Press has previously favorably reviewed some of Ms. Ahlenius' auditing work; the picture painted by her e-mail is, frankly, surprising as well as troubling.

Alicia Barcena - OIOS audit, job favors and Freedom of Information policy not shown

   The same might be said of Ms. Barcena, who among other things has said she would be shepherding through a much-need Freedom of Information policy for the UN. But several Department of Management sources also indicate that the bending of rules under and by Ms. Barcena has become pervasive.

They cite the case of secretary who, in order to study Spanish -- courses for which are offered in the UN Headquarters basement -- was sent for two weeks to Salamanca, Spain.  Over $2000 for this purpose was authorized by Ms. Petrova.

The sources also cite and have provided documents concerning the case of Carmen Artigas, who Barcena brought from her previous place of employ, Santiago, to New York to perform a string of temporary jobs while receiving extensive Daily Sustenance Allowance payments, including after her work ostensibly ended. In an October 2 email, Venketachalam Krishnan informed Ms. Petrova that

"I am a little lost here. Since Ms. Artigas returned to ECLAC, effective 14 September 2007 we do not have anything recorded in terms of 'assignment' to POC. As you know, while she was here, she was on a non-reimbursable loan and of course we provided the DSA for New York. Now, the proposed request, which has been approved talks about extending the assignment through 5 October 2007. I thought I will ask you for clarifications."

            The whistleblowers who provided Inner City Press with these documents paint a picture of a UN out of control, in which Management bends rules to give jobs and perks to friends or the friends of those who are supposed to provide oversight.

            Ms. Ahlenius has told journalists that she would like to be more transparent, and release copies of the audits her office performs, but that she is being "careful," because she came to clean up the UN and will not give her enemies any technical ground to undermine her work. Why did this carefully not extend to not asking for special consideration for a friend, by a senior UN official whom Ms. Ahelnius was in the process of auditing?

            Once the draft OIOS audit was given to senior DM officials including Ms. Barcena, what one source called "push-back" ensued, as negative finding were contested "ad infinitum." Then OIOS chief Ahlenius wrote to DM's Alicia Barcena asking her to be sure to be on the interview panel for a preferred candidate for a job:

"Dear Alicia, I mentioned the other day, en passant, got a message from a person I came to know in Kosovo and who has applied for the D2 in the PS in DM. Her name is Danielle Coolen and she is a Belgian citizen as far as I know. See her e-mail to me as well as her CV below. I have deleted some personal comments.

   I came to know her while she was the Head of Finance in Kosovo Trust Agency (KTA) which was and is the body in charge of governing the publicly and socially owned enterprises in Kosovo -- such as Telecommunications, Energy, Railways, Airport, etc. She was a permanent thorn in the flesh of those in KTA and UNMIK who tried to make shortcuts to arrange for their own benefit or for their friends, etc."

            Several sources to whom Inner City Press showed the emails for comment noted the irony of Ms. Ahlenius' reference to "shortcuts to arrange for their own benefit or for their friends" -- in a message in which Ahlenius was trying to do just that. These UN insiders expressed surprise that Ms. Ahlenius would be "so sloppy... this kind of thing is usually done by phone," said one source, who liked others requested anonymity from well-founded fear of retaliation. Another mused that if Ms. Coolen got the DM job in this way, she would be viewed as being under the protection of investigator Ahlenius -- but also that Ahlenius would be in no position to revive or restart inquiry into the Department of Management, given this paper trail. Several sources suggested that in the name of UN reform, the stalled or buried draft OIOS report on the Department of Management should be publicly released, and other steps taken.

     Responding to written questions, Ms. Barcena late on October 4 told Inner City Press that she would be "happy to come to a press briefing anytime next week." We'll be there; this story will be updated. Inner City Press also faxed a print-out of the emails to Ms. Barcena's office, holding the story to try to include her comments. But on the morning of October 5, interrogations of staff began to determine how this whistle-blowing took place. One source, reporting to Inner City Press on these "threats," analogized them to less violent version of Myanmar, the topic discussed Friday in the Security Council (click here for a previous Inner City Press story; to today's Council proceeding we now turn). After final telephone inquiry and message to Ms. Barcena, who was said to be in a meeting, and inquiry with Mr. Sach, also said to be in a meeting, and after still waiting until noon, this article went to press, but will be updated, including when Ms. Barcena provides her comments on the "Coolen emails" and, separately, responses to these six sample questions:

1.  Is it true that OIOS conducted a review of executive decision-making in the Department of Management earlier this year, resulting in a draft report which was provided to your office for comment?

2.  Is it true that you (or UN staff working for you) objected to the conclusions found in that draft report?

3. Has your office provided written comments on the draft report?

4.  Do you believe there are any factual inaccuracies in the draft report?

5.  Do you have any knowledge of the assignment to New York in recent weeks/months of an ECLAC staff member named Carmen Artigas?

6.  Do you believe it an appropriate use of UN resources to provide training monies for a member of your staff to study your own native language, by flying to Salamanca, Spain, rather than using the language classes offered in UN Headquarters?

  This will be updated.

  * * *

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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