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UN and Microsoft, Conflicts of Interest and Increased Non-Reporting, Tech Help

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 2 -- During the UN's General Debate last week, Inner City Press stopped the UN's Special Advisor on Africa Cheick Sidi Diarra on his way past the entrance sign to the event that seemed incongruous: the Microsoft African Heads of State Reception. That same day, Microsoft's Bill Gates was allowed to speak from the podium in the General Assembly Hall. How could a particular private company, even one the size of Microsoft, be treated as if it were a country, and be given a venue like this at the UN? 

  On October 2, Cheick Sidi Diarra gave a press conference on his other role, regarding land-locked less developed countries, and Inner City Press asked him about the Microsoft event, if he was there in his official capacity or as a sibling. Video here, from Minute 30:39.

  Cheick Sidi Diarra said that the event was co-sponsored by his Office and Microsoft, "to bring Bill Gates to the UN" and as part of Microsoft's strategy for the Continent. Inner City Press asked if Cheick Modibo Diarra, listed as Microsoft's Ambassador for Africa, was Cheick Sidi Diarra's brother.

  "It's become very personal," Cheick Sidi Diarra complained.

  "But he has the same name," Inner City Press said.  Not said, but relevant, is that Inner City Press on September 29 asked a senior UN representative about the Microsoft event and was told an answer was forthcoming. None was received.

  Cheick Sidi Diarra said that his brother is a UNESCO Ambassador, and Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson moved the questioning on. Video here, from Minute 33:48.

  While Cheick Sidi Diarra seems to be a nice person and has often stopped in the hall to answer Africa questions from Inner City Press, it seems like a possible conflict of interest to allow him to co-sponsor in the UN an event for a corporation that his brother works for. What safeguards are in place at the UN? Apparently none.

   In a mark of backsliding ethics at the UN, the number of UN staff who have refused to file required financial disclosures grew by 500% before 2006 and 2007, from 34 staff members in 2006 to 172 in 2007, according to a just-released internal report which Inner City Press has obtained and puts online here.

  The report, by PriceWaterhouse Coopers the "despite considerable follow-up by the Ethics Office and by the heads of departments, there was a high rate of non-compliance by staff members than for the previous year."  This may explain Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon state to his senior staff in a recent speech in Turin, that he tried to lead by example "but no one followed."

Ban administers oath to Cheick Sidi Diarra, brother and Microsoft not shown

  This same report states that PwC "identified 21 cases... as having a potential conflict of interest. In relation to these 21 cases, nineteen staff members accepted PwC's advice regarding the appropriate compliance arrangement."

  Did these include the Cheick Diarra brothers? Did it include Jane Holl Lute, serving  in UN Peacekeeping and now Peacebuilding while her husband is President Bush's war czar for Afghanistan and Iraq? In both cases, when Inner City Press asked the question, the response was that the question was inappropriate or too personal. But these are structural conflicts of interest. The UN must be reformed.

   Footnotes: Also on info technology, and on Microsoft, if you are a Lebanese minister in New York and you need to send confidential documents to your President in Beirut, where do you go? Next to the bar, of course, in the UN Delegates Lounge. There you'll find a help window leading to a room which until recently had been vacant for more than a decade. There are three desktop computers inside, one a wide-screen Macintosh, and two Chinese Lenovos running Microsoft operating systems. There are ten laptop which are lent out to Ambassadors. One of the desk top computers is secure, not run on UN wireless. The diplomats are promised secrecy, right inside the UN. Meanwhile, the conflux between the UN's computer operations and intelligence has never been closed.

 To come full circle to the land-locked less developed states, Inner City Press asked Cheick Sidi Diarra if his office would help the undeniably land-locked South Ossetia, or South Sudan. Apparently the Office helps only UN member states. What is its position on pipelines, like BTC or Chad-Cameroon? This question wasn't answered.  The Office coordinates with other UN agencies. How about Peacekeeping on shipping to the quite landlocked Darfur? How about coordinating with Jane Holl Lute's Peacebuilding Commission, on Burundi and Central African Republic? We hope to have more on this.

Watch this site, and this Sept. 18 (UN) debate.

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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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