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As WFP Answers on Cousin's Housing & Chicago Trip, Dubai Palm is Priceless?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 3 -- After World Food Program whistleblowers provided documentation to Inner City Press of what they view as waste and even fraud at the agency, the WFP today answered some but not all of the quetions raised. 

  The WFP whistleblowers complained to Inner City Press that Executive Director Cousin asked for an increase of nearly €24,000 euros for her housing allowance, up to €160,000 per year.

 On this, WFP acting Deputy Director of Communications Steve Taravella today told Inner City Press that "in November, the board approved a nominal increase in the ceiling of the executive director’s allowance for housing and related expenses, bringing the total to 160,000 euro per year."

  That is the figure cited by the whistleblowers, who say whatever the exchange rate, it is high.

    Taravella disagrees, aruging that "the amount is perfectly within standard rates for international non-governmental organizations, and in fact is lower than some comparable organizations."
   The whistleblowers complained to Inner City Press of what they called
use of WFP funds for a recent Thanksgiving trip to Chicago which, they say, was not mostly WFP work.

  Click here for itinary of the November 20-25 trip, of which a WFP staff member complained to Inner City Press that WFP's "Executive Director has also taken it upon herself to fly (business class no less) on the UN’s dime* to spend thanksgiving at home in her hometown of Chicago, stay at a nice hotel,* attend a homecoming reception, and speak at the International Law Committee -- none of which has anything remotely to do with WFP’s work of responding to emergencies and eliminating world hunger."

  As noted, the above is not an "anti-UN" perspective, but that of a long time UN worker anger by perceived waste and abuse.

  Now, from WFP's Steve Taravella, the answer that "the executive director's recent trip to Chicago raised awareness of hunger in general and of WFP in particular. She participated in a high-visibility food distribution, which enabled her to emphasize the importance of safety nets in urban settings (regardless of a country's development status). She was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune for a feature article that promoted humanitarian assistance to the hungry, and delivered a speech to an audience of influencers – the Black Women’s Lawyer’s Association – during a critical period of budget uncertainty in the U.S.  A copy of her remarks has been posted on the internet WFP did not incur hotel costs, as was incorrectly reported."

   The denial whistleblower's highlighted claim, based on the itinerary, that the UN WFP paid for the listed hotel, is noted and accepted. But on the large questions, WFP refuses still to say how much is being spent.

   Inner City Press asked, and asks, WFP to "state the cost to WFP of the global management meeting next week in Dubai -- how many WFP staff will stay in the Hotel Atlantis the Palm at Palm Jumeirah, and elsewhere in Dubai, at what cost and for what?"

  WFP's answer on this, in full, is that "when WFP's leadership convenes for a strategy and planning meeting in Dubai next week for its first global meeting since Ertharin Cousin took office, we will be using WFP resources prudently. As always, we select meeting sites carefully based on criteria such as cost, security, proximity to airport hubs, frequency of international flights, and a WFP presence nearby. This particular meeting, with about 160 senior managers from around the world, is being underwritten largely by Dubai's International Humanitarian City (IHC). IHC is chaired by HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, a UN Messenger of Peace and the wife of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai. WFP is deeply grateful for their generosity. Because of this support, we will spend an estimated 65% less on this meeting than in previous years."
  But how much is being spent?

   Inner City Press also asked WFP to "confirm and comment on the Executive Director giving a six figure ($150,000 we are told) non-competitive contract to Piers Campbell for "consulting" -- what were / are the deliverables and terms of references, and past personal contact?"

WFP's answer on this, in full, is that
"The consultant whose fees you question is a longtime, established and respected professional with a proven track record under several WFP administrations. His work for WFP was first funded by a donor; when that funding ended recently, WFP continued his compensation because his work is essential to implementing our organizational restructuring. He brings experience with FAO, familiarity with the other Rome-based UN agencies (among our closest partners), and extensive work on organizational strengthening and change management."

 So does that mean it is a sole source contract? And what have been his past personal contacts with the Executive Director?

  Finally, on what the whistleblowers called golden parachutes, WFP replies that  "with regard to the $20 million change management fund approved by our Executive Board last month, the money will finance a number of key initiatives outlined in our organizational strengthening strategy. In particular, the funds will be used to support Human Resources programs, including the development of an organization-wide umbrella training program and a broader career path development pilot. Yes, a portion of the funds will be used to support packages that will be made available to staff across the organization who decide to pursue at this time opportunities outside WFP or to retire early. These support packages are awarded in accordance with UN rules and policies."

 But are these, as the whisteblowers complain, "regardless of their performance"?

  WFP has kindly offered a telephone interview, which Inner City Press will pursue. For now, we publish these responses. Watch this site.

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