Thursday, May 22, 2008

GAP: -UN Secretary-General Proposes More Coordinated Investigations and Ethics Offices

In a statement circulated internally, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced his support for a common “investigative capacity” across the UN system. At a meeting on April 28, 2008, the Secretary-General told the Executive Heads of the UN Funds and Programs:

“[W]e lack a common investigative capacity in the UN to address wrong-doing, misconduct and even fraud and corruption. Member States are requesting the Secretary-General to prepare a comprehensive report on investigations which should be common between the Secretariat and Funds and Programmes… I believe the UN System as a whole needs a consistent set of policies on transparency.”

Click here to read the entire "talking points" statement from Ban Ki-moon

By creating a single, accountable and impartial investigative body to address wrongdoing, the UN could maximize efficiency, encourage integrity and promote the notion of “One UN”. GAP, which represents three whistleblowers in the United Nations system, believes the Secretary General and the Executive Heads should act quickly to realize this important reform and address increasing dissatisfaction with internal controls.

The UN’s anti-corruption unit – the investigations division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) – has recently come under heavy fire for its record of ineffectiveness and retaliatory investigative practices. But such problems are not confined to OIOS. GAP whistleblowers report similar experiences with the investigative bodies throughout the UN system, including the intimidation of witnesses, conflicts of interest and failure to investigate retaliation. In perhaps the most widely publicized whistleblower case, a UNDP staff member who disclosed fraudulent practices in the office in Pyongyang has been denied due process. He has been subjected to protracted punitive treatment while an ad hoc investigation, now in its eighth month, continues. Despite an initial finding that the whistleblower had suffered retaliation and that his disclosures were substantive, he remains without due process remedies, employment or interim relief, while other staff members from the now-closed North Korea office have been retained with full pay and benefits.

While holding out hope for more accountability among UN investigators, Ban’s recent comments are also cause for concern. He stipulated that UN system-wide audits would only be available to Member-States upon request and that they must remain confidential. This practice directly contradicts Ban’s statement that the UN must “be totally transparent in the way the Organization is run.” Ban also suggests that investigation results may remain confidential if the “due process rights of individuals are involved.” While it is often important to maintain the confidentiality of witnesses, secrecy should never be used to shield the guilty from accountability.

In June, Ban will present a report on investigation procedures to the General Assembly. GAP urges the Secretary-General to include a proposal for one, system-wide investigative body in that proposal, as well as a system-wide Ethics Office and whistleblower protection policy.

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