Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dutch government concedes housing subsidy for UN diplomat broke rules

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - The Dutch government broke U.N. rules by paying a US$7,000 (Euro 4,400) monthly housing subsidy to a top diplomat at the UN Development Program, the foreign minister said Tuesday.

Maxime Verhagen said an investigation by the UNDP found that the money was improperly given and received because U.N. employees cannot accept financial
gifts from governments.

Eveline Herfkens got the subsidy from November 2002 to January 2006 while she was serving as the executive coordinator of the UNDP's Millennium Campaign to eliminate poverty and assist developing nations. Her annual salary was US$225,000 (Euro140,000).

Verhagen said he had received a report from UNDP Director Kemal Dervis saying that Herfkens broke the rules but there was no evidence «she didn't act in good faith.
«In addition, the report confirms that mistakes were also made by the Netherlands and by the UNDP,» he wrote in a letter to parliament.

He said his ministry would now try to get some or all of the money back, but prospects are uncertain. Herfkens has previously rejected calls by legislators to repay the subsidy, totaling about US$280,000 (Euro 180,000).

The UNDP report said the prohibition against receiving gifts was part of the contract Herfkens signed when she was appointed, Verhagen said. «That she apparently didn't read the rules she received and therefore presumably violated them unknowingly is something that she's still accountable for,» he said. «That the ministry made mistakes as well doesn't detract from that.

Herfkens said in a newspaper interview in January she had asked for the subsidy after learning it was available to high-ranking diplomats. Without it, she would have had to rent a «claustrophobic» apartment, she said. «I would have been crazy not to take it _ otherwise I would have had a wall for a view,» she said.

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