Monday, September 1, 2008

At UNDP, Herfkens' Dollar Dodge, Playing with UN Ethics, ACABQ Coup

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

UNITED NATIONS, August 30 -- The year-long UN scandal of Eveline Herfkens taking $280,000 from the Dutch government to pay for a luxury apartment while ostensibly working for the UN Development Program, and then refusing to return in of it when exposed, is now subject to a specious solution veiled on August 29. Herfkens claims she will work for UNDP for a year for... one dollar. Of course, there are numerous concealed benefits of this supposed dollar-a-year status. And what exactly will this now discredited "anti-poverty warrior" accomplish? Even for a dollar, several UNDP insiders say, Herfkens is not worth it.

With the UN Development Program confronted by these ethics problems, where did UNDP turn to hire its new in-house Ethics Officer? To another scandal-plagued part of the UN system, Guido Bertucci's Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Bertucci retired on July 31 amid calls for discipline; the conclusion of the UN's confidential investigation of Bertucci, which Inner City Press has obtained and placed online here, is that Bertucci and at least two others, Mr. Kauzya and Mr. Sucre-Ciffoni, violated the terms of the UNTC Trust Fund Agreement and the integrity provisions of the UN Staff Regulations.

This is where UNDP turned for its in-house Ethics Officer, Elia Yi Armstrong. Sources point at that she was previously a pianist and teacher in Vancouver, certainly admirable but of only arguable relevance to fixing the ethical problems at UNDP. Even now that she has tried to beef up her online resume, it is noteworthy that according to the Terms of Reference, "The Ethics Adviser will be appointed for a period of one year, renewable up to a total term of office not to exceed four years." However, according to the Accountability Framework and oversight policy for the Executive Board of UNDP, "The Head of the UNDP Ethics Office serves a term of four-years, and is subsequently ineligible to hold any other post in UNDP after his/her term expires." This is a significant discrepancy that could impact her independence.

UN's outgoing Veness and an officer, accountability by Herfkens not shown

But who will audit these outrages? At the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Advisory Questions, long-time director Mark Gilpin was first moved out of the job, and now will retire. He never returned calls, but still and all, such intrigue at a key committee raises questions.

People are moved around for the sake of it: Communications Director David Morrison, for example, is reportedly resurfacing in charge of the Capital Development Fund, despite a dearth of experience with micro-finance. For the record, UNDP will still not answering long-standing questions about countries in which it accepts currency exchange losses, has stated that Morrison's position at UNCDF

"was posted on the UNDP website, both internally and externally, as well as in the Economist. We received 155 applications and four candidates were interviewed. As for the Ethics Advisor, the post was also advertised internally and externally, with a special emphasis on reaching out ethics centers such as the ones at Natal University, Cornell, the ILO and Fordham. We received 73 applications and interviewed 5 candidates."

Then again, UNDP has refused to answer questions about how much it insures its top two executives for, an issue which has come up in terms of how families of the victims of the bombing of UNDP's Algiers premises in December are being treated. While the promised "Accountability Report" is now substantially late and has not been released, a conference call was held last week about the Brahimi Report. The call was chaired by UNFPA's Thoraya Obaid and included Department of Field Suppport chief Malcorra and outgoing head of security David Veness, who said if anything the UN is in more danger now that it was last December. And where's the Accountability?

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