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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

U.N. Staffers Subject to New Ethical Guidelines

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations , 12 May (IPS): The U.N. Secretariat, which faces ongoing charges of mismanagement and corruption, will provide advice and guidance to staff members on ethics and public morality.

The newly-created Ethics Office, which came into existence last January, has pledged to protect whistle-blowers against retaliation for reporting fraud and malfeasance in the U.N. system worldwide.

Tunku Abdul Aziz, a U.N. special adviser and head of the Ethics Office, told reporters Thursday that in the past U.N. staffers "were merely expected to comply with the rules and regulations governing their service".

But as of now, they will be "persuaded and encouraged to go beyond mere compliance and to understand the true nature of public duty in the public interest, with all that it implies," said Tunku Aziz, a co-founder of the Malaysian chapter of the anti-corruption body, Transparency International

He stressed the new office will not be another layer of U.N. bureaucracy. "I can assure you, it will be a lean mean little outfit," he said, pointing out that he was not interested in creating a huge bureaucracy inside the U.N. system.

According to guidelines laid down by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "All (U.N.) offices and staff members shall cooperate with the Ethics Office and provide access to all records and documents requested by it."

The exceptions to this are medical records that are not available without the express consent of the staff member concerned, and records of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) that are subject to confidentiality requirements.

Annan says that a key ingredient of any successful organisation is "an ethical and accountable culture pervading its staff, from top to bottom". Unfortunately, "in recent years it has become clear that we have too often fallen short of these high standards".

Since Annan took over in 1997, about 40 staff members have been summarily dismissed. One of those was on procurement-related issues.

Additionally, more than 100 peacekeepers and civilian staff with U.N. peacekeeping operations have been either dismissed or expelled, and a number of entire military units have been repatriated to their home countries, mostly on charges of sexual exploitation.

Under the new financial disclosure system, the value of gifts that U.N. staffers will be required to declare will decline, from 10,000 dollars to the current 250 dollars.

Asked about "financial disclosure forms" that have to be filled out by senior staff members, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week about 80 percent have done so.

"Those required under the new rules and regulations are directors and all staff in procurement, people with access to information regarding accounts or financial information, and anyone else that each department's executive office deems appropriate," he added.

Besides the secretary-general and his deputy, the third- and fourth-ranking officials include about 125 under-secretaries-general and assistant secretaries-general.

The mandatory requirement for financial disclosures will also be expanded to include directors and other staffers with access to "sensitive financial information". A total of over 1,300 staffers will be subject to this requirement.

The recent negative disclosures against the United Nations include findings of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the now-defunct, scandal-plagued U.N.'s oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and "the absolutely impermissible acts of sexual exploitation by some of our peacekeepers", Annan said in his 43-page landmark report on U.N. management reform, released last March.

Last week, three U.S. legislators -- Senators Tom Coburn, Jeff Sessions and James Inhofe -- wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to push for radical management reforms in the United Nations as a condition for payment of U.S. dues.

"Before Americans are required to pour millions more into the hopelessly corrupt U.N. procurement system, it is imperative that we know that good faith efforts for reform are being entertained and enacted, starting first and foremost with comprehensive transparency using a public website," the letter said.

The three senators have urged the United States not to pay its share of a proposed 1.7-billion-dollar U.N. project -- called the Capital Master Plan -- to renovate and refurbish the 60-year-old secretariat building in New York.

"The Capital Master Plan will be a major procurement and management project, managed within the same corrupt procurement system that gave rise to the oil-for-food programme and many other scandals only now coming to light," the senators have told Rice.

Since U.S. Congressional legislators and the media have been repeatedly denied access to contracts and contracting information, the senators point out, no one knows the full extent of the procurement scandals involving kickbacks, nepotism and worse.

The letter also says that despite the news of eight unnamed procurement employees being put on administrative leave and the indictments of two U.N. staffers, "the United Nations refuses to divulge details surrounding these incidents or release any reports or audits."

To this day, it says, there are companies directly involved in the procurement scandal but that are still listed as active U.N. contractors.

"For these reasons, the United Nations must have meaningful and full transparency with its procurement contracts and budget before we can agree to begin funding this 1.7 billion dollar procurement project," the letter says.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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