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UN Refugee Agency Makes Deals with Donors for Jobs and Contracts, Non-Answers including on Safety

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 25 -- The UN's refugee agency has been accused of doling out jobs and contracts under agreements with certain donor countries which violate the UN Charter and applicable rules. The allegation was made publicly in Rome last week at a High Level Committee on Management that "UNHCR has signed with a donor government an agreement which contains a clause that requires UNHCR to increase the percentage of the nationals of that donor country to 13% of all Professional staff [and increase access to procurement opportunities]. Such a clause is clearly contrary to Article 101 of the Charter and simply undermines all the principles of international civil service."

    Four days ago, Inner City Press requested comment from UNHCR's two lead spokespeople, and its representative in New York, without response. The details of UNHCR's arrangements are more damning than the above-quoted, or the underlying Board of Auditors report, A/AC.96/1025, which noted

"the agreement with the United States of America required UNHCR to increase the percentage of its American staff to 13 per cent of all Professional staff and to provide equitable access to procurement opportunities for American suppliers. UNHCR has signed a similar agreement with Denmark. Such clauses are contrary to Article 101 of the Charter of the United Nations, United Nations Financial Regulation 3.11 and article 3.1 of the Financial Rules for Voluntary Funds administered by the High Commissioner for Refugees."

            Given this Board of Auditors finding, one would expect UNHCR's spokespeople to have a response. But no. And so, further detail: after the agreement with the biggest donor, the U.S., had been signed, other donors who knew about it started asking questions. Subsequently the agreement with Denmark was signed. But as the news of these agreements spread, Ambassadors or their envoys  began paying visits to the Former High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who resigned amidst a sexual harassment  scandal, and since then and the current High Commissioner Antonio Guterres to appoint their nationals too.

            In order to do so, the High Commissioner and/or the Deputy High Commissioner Craig Johnstone had to act in the aforementioned breach of the organization's rules on recruitment and posting. Many staff were so appointed including to key positions such as the Head of the Investigation Unit in UNHCR's Inspector General's Office, IGO. Although a qualified internal candidate was identified through an elaborate selection procedure established by the IGO, including an interview panel, written tests and the like, and a formal review by the Appointment, Postings and Promotions Board (APPB), the former Deputy High Commissioner  Wendy Chamberlin, an American who was at that time acting High Commissioner following Lubbers resignation, decided to externally recruit a male external candidate, American Michael Dudley, who reportedly did not meet the published minimum requirements for the P-5 post, citing the higher interests of the organization -- seemingly, a reference to the 13% agreement with the U.S..

Guterres signs on the dotted line, side deals not shown

            More recently, current DHC Craig Johnstone reportedly violated the established procedures for the selection of the UNHCR Mediator and appointed in September 2007 a staff member of his choice, Eddie Gedalof, after which the Inspector General (IG) Kofi Asomani then tried to oppose the recruitment of an under-qualified Head of Investigation Unit but to no avail. The Head of the Investigation Unit Michael Dudley was reportedly then transferred in or about December 2007 to a position in OIOS and that important post in UNHCR is currently vacant.

            Looking forward, a similar scenario is expected by insiders to happen with regard to the filling of the newly created D-1 post of Director of Ethics at UNHCR. Currently, a junior P-4 is appointed to the post of Ethics Officer, Jane Rasmussen, and is reporting to the Head of Policy Unit within the Division of Human Resources Management.  UNHCR may belatedly purport to comply with the Secretary-General's already weak bulletin on whistleblower protection - in the above-mentioned way.

            Inner City Press submitted questions about the above, and also about safety and security and other matters, to three separate spokespeople within UNHCR, without response even days later on March 27-28. Watch this site.

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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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