Friday, July 30, 2010

UN Against the Media, Bloggers and the New, Story of a Footnote from Ban's No Whistleblower Zone

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 29 -- The UN, which preaches about disseminating information and even hires pro-UN bloggers, has resisted including the word “bloggers” in its Media Accreditation Guidelines, which it has said it will put online on July 30. Check here.

This despite the fact that the head of the UN's Department of Public Information, Kiyotaka Akasaka, who oversees the Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU), has a pro-UN (and ostensibly pro press freedom) blog on the Huffington Post.

The previous and prospective chief of MALU told Inner City Press, “the UN does not accredit bloggers," and reiterated this after a New York Times piece identifying Inner City Press as the first blog at the UN.

At that time, in the NYT piece, the UN “said that guidelines for bloggers are a work in progress. The goal is to balance concerns about openness, security and professional standards with growing interest from online journalists.”

Yet even now, the UN refuses to put even the word “blogger” in its accreditation guidelines. The distinction seems to be between pro-UN blogs or those owned and controlled by large corporations and those with critical independence.

This year, the UN Correspondents Association executive board, to which this reporter was elected, twice after debate and votes submitted language to MALU that they should explicitly include “bloggers” the Accreditation Guidelines, for which the UN wanted UNCA's concurrence.

But following the first submission of UNCA suggestions, the UN accepted every proposal except on bloggers. After a second UNCA submission -- this time addressing concerns by referring to “journalists who are bloggers” -- the UN still demurred.

Mr. Akasaka's outgoing deputy Eric Falt responded with what he called the “final” version, to be put online the next day, which only in a footnote mentions that online media includes blogs and vlogs. The reference is marginalized in a footnote, and there is no reference to bloggers as such. Why not?

At a DPI event about Social Media held earlier this year in the UN's North Lawn building, chaired by Mr. Akasaka, UN staffers praised their own blogging and Tweeting of UN positions. Staff said they were paid to monitor Wikipedia to remove “inaccurate” information about UN officials.

Inner City Press asked, if someone posted for example that Ban's chief of staff Vijay Nambiar was too close with regimes in Myanmar or Sri Lanka, would that be considered opinion or “inaccurate”? There was no answer -- presumably, the UN's social media team is directed to remove such free speech. And now, no reference to “bloggers.”

There is a larger context here. The UN has used the opportunity of its Capital Master Plan rehabilitiation to move the press corps from offices with walls, from which calls could be made and whistleblowers could visit, to a series of cubicles directly under the Department of Management.

As exclusively exposed by Inner City Press, in what the UN dismissively called a "blog post," the cubicles initially came with security cameras above them, making it the whistleblower free zone. Still everything can be heard, and there are no improvements on the horizon.

Because of the previous and prospective MALU chief's statement that “the UN doesn't accredit bloggers,” this reporter pressed that the UNCA proposal(s) be stuck to, and that the word “blogger” be included. Inner City Press asked these questions:

UNCA's Executive Board has twice unanimous proposed that the word “blogger” be included in the Accreditation Guidelines. After UN DPI's initial response to merely refer to bloggers in a side email from the interim supervisor of MALU, the UNCA Board met for more than an hour and counter proposed compromise language, “including those who are bloggers.”

On July 27, the USG of DPI told me the bloggers would be in the guidelines.

But the text provided on July 29, with a less than one day deadline, does not include the word bloggers, but rather a footnote about “blogs or vlogs.”

Given that the previous and perhaps future supervisor of MALU has said “the UN does not accredit bloggers,” if that is not the position, why is the word “blogger” not included in the Guidelines? Please -- an answer.

But rather than an answer, a vote was called for. This reporter voted no. UNCA response reflected that the vote

was not unanimous.. We interpret it to mean that the UN has officially recognized that blogger journalists that fulfill MALU’s criteria have the right to a UN accreditation and will not be discriminated against simply because they are bloggers.”

But will that “understanding” be in the guidelines? Unanswered is the question of whether UNCA's consent should have required a vote of the full membership, and the larger question: why is the UN so scared of independent bloggers?

The current UN Spokesman, on camera at one of the UN's noon briefing, used the podium to call Inner City Press'“blog” characterizing the murder of UN staff member Louis Maxwell by Afghan National forces as having been covered up as “outrageous.”

Due to outmoded UN distinctions between print and photo journalists, which make little sense for new media, Inner City Press has several times been blocked from filming or photographing events at the UN, and was most recentlyordered to leave a photo op with the foreign minister of Rwanda while the UN's own in-house media, UN Photo, was allowed to stay. Click here from that story.

The UN demanded the deletion from an Inner City Press "blog post" of a photograph of asbestos falling in areas frequented by staff, even women with babies in strollers, click here for that.

UN's Ban and DPI's Akasaka, "bloggers" not shown

The outgoing overseer of MALU, Eric Falt, is known to run morning meetings at 9:30 a.m. in the UN's “luggage building” at which messaging, and countering this publication by name, are discussed. It seems to some that this UN is comfortable with UN controlled bloggers, but not independent journalists.

The new UN guidelines, apparently pushed by Falt before he leaves for a UNESCO job in Paris, have as of this writing not yet gone online. Ironically, while setting artificial deadlines for the policy statement now excluding the word “blogger,” the MALU site is entirely outmoded, with a “Step by Step Media Guide” referring to areas of the Secretariat building which have been closed for more than six months now.

Rather than keep the information up to date to help journalists to cover the UN, the focus has been on rushing a vote on a guidelines that's outdated even before it goes online. Only at the UN. Watch this site.

Footnote: the UN's footnote not mentioning "bloggers" but merely that "bona fide" online media includes blogs and vlogs -- with no definitely of "bona fide" (good faith) or any rationale for the UN to define such, is supposed to go onlinehere - what THAT site...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Canadian woman to become top UN internal watchdog

UNITED NATIONS — A Canadian woman who was chief auditor for the World Bank will be the next head of the U.N.'s internal watchdog agency.

Carman Lapointe-Young was approved for the job of undersecretary-general for oversight Wednesday by the General Assembly.

Lapointe-Young was appointed to the non-renewable five-year term as head of the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

LaPointe-Young was appointed auditor general of The World Bank Group in August 2004.

She succeeds Inga Britt-Ahlenius of Sweden, who left this month after issuing a final memo blasting Ban's leadership and blaming him for her agency's problems.

Ban is reviewing the memo and has ordered a review of the U.N.'s ability to investigative itself.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Nailing a Memo to the U.N.'s Door



“Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible…Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing to yourself.”

While this may read like a transcript of a conversation between my high school principal and me, this was in fact a memo written by outgoing chief of the Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) at the U.N., Inga-Britt Ahlenius, to current Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. OIOS’s job is to sniff out and expose corruption from within the United Nations.

This public and unprecedented rebuke of a sitting Secretary General and the organization as a whole, is stunning in its scope, ferocity and detail. It is testimony that at the U.N. today the “existing culture is one of secrecy” and contributes to “a process of decay.”

And that was just the cover letter.

She continues for fifty more pages, excoriating the lack of accountability, transparency and will to stamp out corruption.

For the past few years, I’ve had a chance to see firsthand the depths to which the U.N. has fallen away from its grand ideals. Through producing my documentary, U.N. Me (, I’ve seen how corruption eats away at the core of the United Nations.

While the revelations of this memo are unsurprising to me or any ardent observer of the United Nations, it is still an extraordinary look into a high-ranking U.N. official’s long-simmering frustration with the world body and its inability to police itself. It shows that the United Nations has become so putrefied that even senior officials in the U.N. have been forced to recognize and publicly proclaim it.

I would like to see this as an inflection point. I wish it could be a moment of bright clarity for the institution, a chance to reevaluate and reset itself again, allowing it to begin the deep and necessary process of reform.

Unfortunately, recent history has shown us otherwise.

While I will not take the time to enumerate the copious examples that substantiate this point, I will mention one recent and wholly under-reported example that, to me, exposes the United Nations and its “process.” This example begins, as many United Nation’s initiatives do, with right-minded intentions that along the way become either laughingly ineffectual or dark and dangerous.

In January 2006, a task force was created by the United Nations to investigate corruption in peacekeeping procurement, an effort that should rightly be applauded. It was headed by former U.S. federal prosecutor Robert Appleton and staffed by 18 white-collar crime experts.

This task force did an admirable job and uncovered a pervasive pattern of corruption and mismanagement involving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for fuel, food, construction and other materials and services used by U.N. peacekeeping operations. This corruption came with a price tag of more than $610 million. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

But instead of staffing up the task force to complete a more thorough investigation of U.N. efforts, Appleton and his experts were obstructed and attacked for their efforts at every turn. In the midst of their investigations, and with billions worth of contracts yet to be investigated, they were fired. The U.N. bureaucracy refused to follow up on their findings and ignored many of their recommendations.

Ahlenius, in her outgoing report, dealt with this culture of obstruction and obfuscation forthrightly and candidly and for that she should be applauded. But for it to have the effect that she intended, the reformation of the United Nations, it has to be taken seriously by the leadership at the U.N. Unfortunately, they have already begun the process of attacking both Ahlenius and her memo. To not heed her calls for reform is a slap in the face not only to us here in the United States that fund the U.N. to the tune of six billion dollars a year, but also to the vulnerable populations whose needs were not met due to the siphoning of money and aid in these corrupt dealings.

It is clear that something is rotten in Turtle Bay. The leadership of the United Nations should be ashamed.

UN chief reviews self-policing, nominates watchdog
The Associated Press
Monday, July 26, 2010; 12:56 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- An internal review of the United Nations' ability to investigate itself has been launched and a Canadian woman who was chief auditor for the World Bank has been nominated to take over the internal watchdog agency, senior U.N. officials said Monday.

The unusual review of the functions of the Office of Internal Oversight Services that conducts investigations, audits and inspections will focus on "areas where OIOS is not active," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, told colleagues in an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press on Monday.

The agency serves as the U.N.'s chief tool for accountability and oversight for the world body's billions of dollars a year in spending and many of its agencies, programs and policies.

The memo was sent to colleagues on Friday, the same day that Ban sent the General Assembly his nomination of a Canadian woman to serve as the next undersecretary-general for oversight and take over OIOS.

A U.N. diplomat identified the woman as Carman Lapointe-Young, who was appointed auditor general of The World Bank Group in August 2004. She is currently serving on the Institute of Internal Auditors' Global Capacity Development Task Force and is an external member of the audit committees of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because her appointment has not been officially announced.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky declined to confirm Lapointe-Young was Ban's selection when asked about it Monday. He said the name would officially be released "quite soon," but probably not Monday.

Lapointe-Young would replace Sweden's Inga-Britt Ahlenius, who departed this month at the end of her five-year term by sending Ban a 50-page confidential memo that described her office as severely hamstrung and blamed many of the problems on Ban's leadership.

Ahlenius accused Ban of blocking her appointment of a permanent investigative director and taking other measures that reduced her supposed independence within the U.N. In her memo, she described Ban's attitude toward OIOS as seeking "to control the function and to suppress it as an effective instrument."

The directorship position has been unfilled since mid-2006. Ahlenius left it open for 2 1/2 years, but blames Ban for her inability to fill it since roughly the end of 2008. A series of acting directors has run the investigation division for the past four years.

The current acting director, Michael Dudley, e-mailed colleagues after the Ahlenius memo leaked to contradict some of her assertions.

"Since I have been in this position, there has never been any attempt by the secretary-general or his staff to influence an investigation or my supervision of the investigation division," Dudley wrote in the e-mail obtained by AP.

Ban was studying Ahlenius' memo "in its entirety," Nambiar wrote to colleagues, but the secretary-general "fully recognizes" OIOS' independence.


Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

BBC NEWS: - UN climate talks in the mire?


Richard Black | 17:22 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

It's not being touted as such, but the latest document from the United Nations climate convention (UNFCCC) is the clearest admission we've yet had that UN talks are in the mire.

Indonesian_floodingAdd it to the latest word from the US Senate, and "mire" hardly seems strong enough.

Let's take the global document first.

At the last round of UNFCCC negotiations in Bonn, the convention's secretariat was asked to prepare a "what if?" document.

In this case, the question is "what do we do if the Kyoto Protocol discussions don't agree a set of carbon cutting targets and other outstanding issues that can come into effect in 2012 when the current set of targets expires?"

The secretariat's role in this isn't political, but legal. Its mandate was to set out options that governments could elect to pursue; what to do is their choice.

The reason for the discussion of Plan B options is this: if there are no agreed industrialised country targets agreed by the time the current ones expire, how are governments supposed to set regulatory frameworks on carbon emissions, and what would induce companies to make low-carbon investments when the financial carrots and sticks might vanish in less than two years' time?

The document throws up a range of options.

One would see governments agreeing to continue the existing arrangements until 2014 rather than 2012. A second would see the adoption of some kind of "opt-out" rather than "opt-in" rule; another would see measures adopted by a majority of countries rather than by consensus, as of now.

Stepping back from the minutiae of what's being proposed to the wider issues thrown up here, there are two to pull out.

One is the sheer complexity under which the UN negotiations are currently labouring.

Try this for size:

"The acquisition and transfer of emission reduction units (ERUs), certified emission reductions (CERs), assigned amount units (AAUs) and removal units (RMUs)27 under Articles 6, 12 and 17 of the Protocol for the purpose of fulfilling commitments under Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Kyoto Protocol relating to the first commitment period until one hundred days after the date set by the CMP for the completion of the expert review process under Article 8 of the Kyoto Protocol, otherwise known as the true-up period..."

2012_beach_protestAs Star Trek's Mr Spock might comment: "It's English, Jim, but not as we know it."

Or maybe the UNFCCC has been infiltrated by the spirit of James Joyce bent on penning a sequel toFinnegans Wake.

The more complex things get, the more scope there is for governments to pick holes in any text and prolong negotiations, whether for genuine or for tactical reasons.

The other issue is what's signified by the document's mere existence: essentially, that the UN process is in trouble.

Yes, the rounds of talks go on and yes, a wide range of governments have pledged action, through theCopenhagen Accord, than ever before.

But the carbon curbs so far generated are a pale shadow of what is needed if you acceptthe 2007 conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - which virtually every government says it does - and the process doesn't look like generating anything stronger any time soon.

The year 2012 is an obvious deadline because of the expiry of the Kyoto targets.

If that's missed, then effectively there is no target date for a new set - extension to 2014 can easily become 2016, then 2020, and before you know it governments will still be talking about what to do by the time CO2 concentrations top the 450 parts per million figure that some profess to regard as an unbreachable upper limit.

The single biggest factor missing from the negotiations is, as it has been for a decade, the lack of a strong and equitable US commitment.

The emergence of such a thing looks even less likely following the admission that the Senate will not be able to pass domestic cap-and-trade legislation during this session.

Harry_ReidWith mid-term elections due in November, the mathematics of the Senate next term are likely to be worst for those backing legislation.

And already, less than two years after green fanfare surrounding Barack Obama's election, some observers are giving the bill its last rites.

If President Obama couldn't deliver climate legislation, who can? There are reasons to argue that a Republican president would be better placed than any Democrat - but only, of course, if he or she backs such legislation in the first place.

As I've mentioned before, the mood and tone within the UN process has shifted a vast distance since the run-up to December's Copenhagen summit.

You could say it's now much more in tune with the political realities than the ebullient trumpeting of seismic global optimism that characterised the arrival of delegates into the snowy Danish capital.

There are something like 700 international environmental agreements in operation across the world now; about most of them, we hear nothing. Meetings happen, progress is made or not, delegates come and go, and the years pass by.

Back in December, it would have seemed unthinkable to raise the possibility that the UNFCCC, charged with tackling what many held to be the planet's most pressing problem, could join their ranks.

Based on facts on the ground since, it doesn't seem half so incredible now.

At UN, As Ban Ki-moon Switches from S. African to Canadian As New OIOS Chief, Post-Ahlenius Rebellion Spreads, Sources Say

By Matthew Russell Lee, Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, July 23 -- Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, reeling from the damning exit memo of the outgoing head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, may now get himself in more troubling in naming a replacement.

Earlier this year, Inner City Press reported that the new head of OIOS was slated to be an auditor from South Africa. This would conform to many member states' understanding that developed and developing countries would alternate atop the OIOS: Karl Paschke of Germany, then Dileep Nair of Singapore, then Inga Britt Ahlenius of Sweden. The next was slated to be from South Africa.

But diplomatic sources tell Inner City Press that on July 23, after facing questions for a week about his interactions with OIOS, Ban told regional groupings that instead of the South Africa, he would be appointing a Canadian.

This has triggered outrage among developing countries. It comes against the backdrop of ad hoc meetings to “revitalize the General Assembly” which are discussing requiring Ban Ki-moon to come before the GA to seek his second term, and not only the Security Council.

UN's Ban and auditors 2008, Canadian and Dag under Fire not shown

Specifically, under the heading “Selection of the Secretary General,” the draft “takes note of the views expressed at the Ad Hoc Working Group at the 64th session and bearing in mind the provisions of Article 97 of the Charter, emphasizes the need for the process of selection of the Secretary General to be inclusive of all Member States and to be made more transparent.. including through presentation of candidates for the position of the Secretary General in an informal plenary of the General Assembly.”

Interestingly, the marked up draft of this pending paragraph reads as follows:

10. Affirms its commitment to continuing its consideration of the revitalization of the General Assembly's role in the selection and appointment of the Secretary General, including through (encouraging (Algeria / NAM: delete and add 'the') Russian Federation: retain) presentation of candidates for the position of Secretary General in an informal plenary of the General Assembly before the Security Council considers the matter (Russian Federation); Russian Federation: bracket entire para.”

10 Alt. Also encourages formal presentation of candidatures for the position of the Secretary General in a manner than allows sufficient time for interaction with member states, and requests candidates to present their views to all Member States of the General Assembly (Belgium / EU, US & Russia) (Algeria / NAM supports Islamic Republic of Iran proposal of retaining as OP 10 bis).”

In the Security Council, placating or giving patronage to the five Permanent Members would be enough to gain the second term. But if the GA and regional grouping get involved, Ban's snubs like that of Africa for the deputy post in the UN Development Program, and the devaluation of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, could come back to haunt Ban. Watch this site.

Logistic remain African Achilles heel

Logistics, or the lack thereof, remains the Achilles heel of most African peacekeeping missions.

Former African Union (AU) Commission peace and security department director Geofrey Mugumya will tell next month's defenceWeb Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conference that a haphazard approach to logistics as well as to financing and force generation has hamstrung numerous past and present AU peacekeeping missions, starting with the continent's first mission in Chad in 1979.

The defenceWeb' Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conferencewill will take place at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, from August 26 to 27.

Mugumya will remind that the then-Organisation for African Unity undertook its first peacekeeping venture in Chad between 1979 to 1982. In notes prepared for the conference, he says the operation differed from the ceasefire observation missions that the OAU had been deploying up to that time.
But with the exception of the lead country—Nigeria, “there was lack of cooperation from many African countries. Among the other countries, which were supposed to provide units to the neutral African force—Congo, Benin, and Guinea, only the Congolese contingent composed of 500 troops showed up in Chad on January 18 1980.”

He will note a major lesson learned from the Chad operation was that the effectiveness of a peacekeeping mission is “commensurate with the capacity and political will of the troop-contributing countries and the centrality of cooperation by the neighbouring countries.

“The lack of a clear mandate, and concept, particularly with regard to logistics, operation and troop-generation, further demonstrated the inexperience of the OAU” he will note. Mugumya will add peacekeeping is “not a picnic but a complex and expensive operation.” Many African countries cannot afford to participate in peacekeeping operations without being assisted from outside.

Mugumya notes the a meeting of African Chiefs of Defence Staff (ACDS) met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to draw lessons from the mission, but it is not clear what they learned.

“Did the AU [African Union] really incorporate the lessons learned from its past engagement in peacekeeping operations in the planning of AMIS [AU Mission in Sudan, deployed to Darfur] and AMISOM [AU Mission in Somalia], and hence the envisioned ASF [AU Standby Force]?” He records that at the inception of AMIS, in 2004 there was only one military officer in the Military Unit of the AU General Secretariat and “none the of the regular AU senior staff especially in peace and security Department had experience in peacekeeping.”

In addition, the “planning of AMIS was made in hurry as the political leaders wanted to demonstrate political commitment and as result there was no time to look at the best practices based on the lessons learned from the past.” As a result, the “mandate of the mission was never clear. … Critical areas that are necessary for launching a successful large and multidimensional operations peacekeeping operations were lacking...”

This includes the absence of a Joint Logistics Operations Centre (JLOC) “to support and coordinate the provision of logistical support in accordance with Senior Leader Team (the SLM itself was not in place) priorities.” There was also no Joint Operation Centre (JOC) to collate situation reports and operational information to provide current situational awareness of the mission and acts as crisis coordination hub and no Joint Mission Analysis Centre (JMAC) to provide integrated analysis of information in order to assess medium and long term threats to the mandate and to support SLT decision-making.

As a result AMIS encountered serious challenges. This was made worse by the assumption that donors would come forth to support the mission and as a result “boots were on ground before predictable funding was secured.” AMIS then had no control over those who supported “in kind” in strategic areas of the mission such as aviation, fuel, ground transport, camp construction, catering, medical and insurance.

“Coupled with the inadequate administrative, procurement as well as financial rules and regulations of the AU, which were not designed to respond to the needs of such huge operations, the whole programme became a mess,” Mugumya will tell his audience. “In some instances, the first contractors to arrive in the mission, took advantage of the AU weaknesses to make deals. The Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) was not clearly negotiated and “as the result most its provisions were not implemented.” Status of Forces Agreements (SOFA) were also “badly drafted and sometimes even never signed and as result some countries turned up with non-functional equipment.”

An AU “Task Force” sent in early 2005 to assess AMIS' management and logistical procurement determined that “the whole Administrative and Management structure was not in place. In particular the logistics were messy.”

By January 2007 when AMISOM was launched, criticism of the AU's performance in Darfur was robust. In an effort not to repeat what happened in Darfur, the AU simply decided that troop contributing countries (TCCs) to AMISOM should self sustain with the AU to reimburse them once it had mobilised resources, he will aver. “This was another miscalculation, because most of the countries that had originally pledged troops could not afford to cater for themselves in all logistics.

Another negative factor was that by the time AMISOM was launched, it was at the same time that AMIS was being transformed to UNAMID, and bearing in mind the challenges TCCs/PCCs encountered with AMIS, most of them shifted their pledges to UNAMID as they understood that under the UN, there is always predictable funding.”

Mugumya is to conclude that these lessons now appear to have been learned and written into the ASF. “However, success of how the future ASF shall much depend on the availability of funding, which should not only from the AU members but the United Nations as whole.” And that remains the rub.

U.N. Ignores Its Own Freeze on Deals With Alleged Somali Food Distribution 'Cartel'

Fox News - Fair & Balanced

Even after the World Food Program promised it would not engage in any new work with a "de facto cartel" running food delivery in Somalia, the relief agency signed off on deals to pay more than $75,000 to at least one of the embargoed firms, Fox News has learned.

At the time, it looked like a bold attempt to contain a hemorrhaging humanitarian scandal.

On March 10, 2010 — the same day it was slammed in a report to the United Nations for "irregular" procedures in supplying food to war-ravaged Somalia — the embattled World Food Program promised it "would not engage in any new work" with three Somali food distributors alleged in the report to operate a "de facto cartel" dominating the relief agency's food delivery business.

Yet two months later, on May 11, 2010, according to WFP documents examined by Fox News, the U.N. relief agency signed off on deals to pay more than $75,000 to at least one of the embargoed firms, for "transportation/logistical services," even though WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran's announced freeze on business with the company was still in force.

According to a WFP spokesman, a detailed review of WFP's Somalia operations is "expected to start this month," under the auspices of the Auditor General of India, who has just begun serving a term as the relief organization's external, i.e., independent, auditor.

The spokesman added that "it will be left to WFP's executive board to decide whether the results of the external audit are made public." (The board is made up of 35 nations, including the U.S.; it supervises and authorizes WFP's activities at twice-yearly meetings.)

WFP was not alone in sending cash to the sanctioned firm, according to records discovered by Fox News on the United Nations Procurement Division website.

Another procurement branch of the U.N. had awarded two deals worth some $286,000 to the U.S. subsidiary of the same enterprise, on March 31 and April 28, long after Sheeran's freeze announcement had been given worldwide publicity.

Click here to see the procurement awards: Set 1 | Set 2

When Fox News asked earlier this month whether that freeze was still in place, a WFP spokesman was emphatic that the organization still "has not awarded new contracts to the three contractors named in the report."

Whether the WFP payments were "new contracts" may amount to hairsplitting by the food agency. The payments examined by Fox News represented fresh cash transfers to the embargoed firm for specific deliveries that were entered into WFP's accounting system on May 11 under WFP Purchase Order 4700237846.

The goods involved in the deals were described in the document Fox News inspected as "non-food items."

The transportation company named in the WFP purchase order is Deeqa Construction and Water Well Drilling Co. Ltd., a long-time Somalia vendor to the U.N. relief agency. It is one of the three firms named in a report by a special unit of the U.N. Security Council known as the Monitoring Group on Somalia, or MGS, as having allegedly "dominated" the delivery of WFP food aid in that war-torn country for more than a decade, and in some cases as allegedly having ties with armed Islamic groups.

The report was sent on March 10 — the same day Sheeran made her freeze decision — to the U.N. Security Council's committee that monitors a longstanding arms embargo in Somalia and Eritrea, as well as anti-terrorist financial sanctions.

In the report, the MGS cited "multiple, independent" — but unnamed — witnesses who said that a 2008 raid on Deeqa food trucks by armed Somali militia, which led to the theft and resale of most of 1,220 tons of WFP food aid, was staged.

The report also charged that a radical Islamic militia called Hizbul Islam, a sometimes rival and sometimes ally of the terrorist group Al Shabaab, protected a Deeqa warehouse during a 2009 firefight between the radicals and the U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. The food was subsequently removed safely and then, the MGS charged, later diverted for resale to a Somali food market.

In addition, the MGS report delivered a scathing review of WFP's overall performance in food distribution, declaring that contracts are awarded competitively only "in theory."

The group said, its "preliminary investigations" showed "the existence of a de facto cartel, characterized by irregular procedures in the awarding of contracts by the WFP Somalia country office, discriminatory practices and preferential treatment."

Regarding the heads of the three named distribution firms, the report declared, "In both a literal and figurative sense, these three individuals have long been 'gatekeepers' of WFP food aid to Somalia."

Deeqa was one of the alleged cartel members, and its chief executive officer, Abdulqakir Nur, was also named personally by the Monitoring Group, as being among Somalia's wealthiest and most influential men.

Click here for the monitoring group report.

Nur has strenuously denied all charges leveled by the Monitoring Group, and condemned its report as "factually wrong, highly politicized, and damaging to the well-being of the Somali people and U.N. peace efforts in the region."

He has declared that he cooperated fully with MGS investigators, and provided proof of his company's and his own innocence, but that proof was disregarded.

Click here for Nur's statement.

Deeqa's major line of business with WFP in Somalia may have been transportation and logistics, but its U.S. subsidiary, Deeqa Enterprise, LLC, lists the nature of its business on a U.N. procurement site known as the U.N. Global Marketplace as "trader." Deeqa lists itself as capable of providing a wide variety of foodstuffs, not to mention architecture and engineering services, transport policy and planning, and air, sea and land transportation services.

In the case of its two deals with the U.N. Procurement Division, Deeqa Enterprise was operating as a vendor of building materials for U.N. engineers in Somalia and concrete barriers to be used for crowd control purposes by peacekeepers in the capital of Mogadishu.

Queried about the Deeqa Enterprise deals, a U.N. Procurement Division spokesman in New York declared that the U.N. headquarters procurement unit was "not involved in this acquisition." He also said that the Procurement Division "is dependent on each U.N. organization to share information and has not received any notification from WFP on this vendor."

The spokesman added that Deeqa had been chosen in each case by the U.N.'s local procurement branch after competitive bidding.

The U.N. spokesman's remarks may have been true — but they were also misleading.

The U.N. procurement arm that struck the $286,000 worth of deals is known as UNSOA (shorthand for United Nations Support Office for AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia). U.N. documentation shows UNSOA is a participating member of the U.N.'s Kenya-based Somalia Country Team, a collective assembly of 18 U.N. agencies funds and programs in the beleaguered nation.

The branch of WFP responsible for the food agency's long term business relationship with the alleged cartel members, known as the WFP Country Office in Somalia — is also a member of the U.N. country team.

According to well-established U.N. procedures around the world, all of those country team members meet regularly to discuss their common issues and problems, in Somalia's case under the auspices of the U.N.'s Somalia Resident Coordinator, a British native named Mark Bowden. Bowden is also designated as Somalia's local Humanitarian Coordinator, meaning that he is also charged with orchestrating relief efforts.

The U.N. country team in Somalia was undoubtedly very aware of the Monitoring Group and its concerns about Deeqa and other suppliers, since the leakage of money, weapons and food aid to Islamic militias was a fundamental focus of the Monitoring Group's work on its visit.

Whether the country team — and WFP's local representatives in particular — was happy with the Monitoring Group's investigations and conclusions is another issue.

In their report, the investigators say they "experienced obstructionist non-cooperation by the WFP country office" in investigating the country's major aid contractors, and were also denied access to U.N. Humanitarian Air Service flights to visit far-flung reaches of Somalia. (WFP's Sheeran has said, in a letter to the head of the U.N. sanctions committee on Somalia, that the denial was caused by the fact that such flights are legally limited to "humanitarian purposes," and alternative flights were available.)

In fact, many of the charges leveled by the Monitoring Group against WFP in Somalia are very similar to criticisms made of the WFP Somalia operation a year ago by WFP's own Inspector General.

In a report submitted to WFP's executive board in June, 2009, he noted that the agency had a "continuing issue of inadequate monitoring" of the agency's partners in Somalia, and there was a "lack of monitoring and evaluation tools to reliably report on food distribution for project activities." He also noted numerous "procurement weaknesses and irregularities" in contracting transport and logistics services and food commodities" — without specifying details.

Click here for the inspector general's report.

Lack of coordination — or sometimes, inaction — toward U.N. vendors suspected or convicted of serious rules violations is an old story at the U.N., even though the world organization has been claiming for years that it was about to change.

In January 2008, a Fox News investigation revealed that the United Nations chief anti-poverty arm, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), had deliberately decided to ignore the suspension by the U.N. Secretariat of an Italian firm named Corimec S.p.A after it was found guilty of bribing U.N. procurement officers in exchange for contracts.

In the wake of the UNDP decision regarding Corimec, however, the U.N. supposedly was going to do something about the problem. It set up an inter-agency procurement group — now known as the Procurement Network of the High-Level Committee on Management — which was supposed to work on harmonizing such things as dealing with sanctioned vendors.

But progress has apparently been glacial. It was only in February 2010, that another high-level unit set aside $3.2 million for six "priority projects." One of them was called a "vendor eligibility project: development of a common framework on vendor sanctions for the United Nations system."

The "vendor eligibility project" was targeted for completion in June, 2010. U.N. officials were unable to tell Fox News if the project was up and running before this story was published.

Meantime, on July 12, yet another important player entered the fray against the Monitoring Group report: the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, Mark Bowden.

In a special report to the Security Council, he reminded members that providing humanitarian aid to Somalia, a country where 3.2 million people, or about 43 percent of the population, are refugees, was a high-risk business. During March and April 2010, he said, 13 militia attacks were launched against U.N. relief agencies or their local partners, and several warehouses or relief agencies looted.

He also defended the small number of contractors used by his relief organizations as due to "the difficult operating environment in Somalia, coupled with a very limited group of contractors." At the same time, he argued "mitigation measures to address politicization, misuse and misappropriation of humanitarian assistance are in place" — and a new tracking system for contractors "is in the testing of functionality phase."

The concern that outweighed all others, in Bowden's report, was a dramatic drop in humanitarian funding for Somalia — the fuel for his operation. So far this year, the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has tracked only $160 million in new funding for Somalian relief, with the U.S. providing about $28 million, or 17.5 percent, of that. That is about a 40 percent drop from the previous year.

Along with unspent money from last year, OCHA has about $375 million on hand for humanitarian assistance in Somalia this year, but it estimates that it needs $596 million.

One of the major reasons for the dry-up of money, Bowden made clear, was growing international concern over the activities of Al Shabaab — one of the things that led to the latest Monitoring Group visit in the first place.

Whether his assurances — and those offered by WFP — would cause donor nations to overlook the concerns raised by the MSG, and open their collective wallets further, was not known.

For its part USAID, the agency that is the biggest funder of WFP activities, told Fox News it "takes seriously" the allegations raised by the Monitoring Group, and will "continue to work with WFP and our partners in the international community to address the issues raised in the report."

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News.