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Monthly Archives: August 2007

In almost every UN story, there is layer upon layer of absurdity and conundrum. So it is with the chemical weapons samples that just turned up in a UN office cabinet in New York.

There are plenty of questions raised by the UN disclosure Thursday that the UN’s former weapons inspectors for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, who staff a special outfit called UNMOVIC — Hans Blix’s stomping grounds from 2000-2003 –failed to notice until just last week that for more than a decade they’d been storing in a cabinet in their own New York office samples of phosgene — a chemical weapons agent which kills by collapsing your lungs and choking you to death. That follows the discovery earlier this year that the UN Development Program had been keeping counterfeit U.S. cash for more than a decade in its Pyongyang office safe. So what else has the UN got in its closets? That’s the subject of my column today on NRO, suggesting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon redeem his broken pledge to hold an independent audit of the entire $20-billion-per-year UN global system, which after more than six decades of no serious oversight is by now about as safe and dependable as a suicide-bomber’s backpack.

But there is, of course, much more to the UNMOVIC story itself. Along with such questions as who carried phosgene into the U.S., and then into the UNMOVIC office in midtown Manhattan, and how, I keep wondering what on earth these weapons inspectors for Iraq have been doing for most of the past decade? UNMOVIC was set up originally under a different name, UNSCOM, in 1991, as part of the UN efforts to contain Saddam after the UN – Desert Storm coalition forced him back out of Kuwait, but left him in power in Baghdad. The UN aim was to keep tabs on Saddam Hussein’s arsenal, on the ground, in Iraq. But in late 1998, Saddam kicked out the UN inspectors. They were allowed back into Iraq for a brief stretch before the 2003 overthrow of Saddam. After that, the inspectors who went in were David Kay and Charles Duelfer from the U.S.

UNMOVIC inspectors lingered on in places such as Cyprus and New York, bankrolled on the UN payroll with leftover Iraqi Oil-for-Food revenues, waiting for the Security Council to decide what to do with them. Only this June, four years after Saddam fell, did the Security Council finally vote to disband the operation.

So, for all but a few months out of the past nine years, from 1998-2007, UNMOVIC has not been the oufit inspecting weapons on the ground in Iraq. What have they been doing? I stopped by their offices in New York late last year, specifically to ask that question. They were busy reviewing and cataloguing and observing from afar and waiting to find out what, if anything, they were going to do next. They had a lot of fancy equipment, and a nice view of the East River. They also had plenty of money to pay for whatever they were doing — under Oil-for-Food, the weapons inspections were funded with a .8% cut of Saddam’s more than $64 billion in official oil sales — which worked out to the whopping sum of more than $500 million.

But somehow, over all those years, with all that time, and all that money, they never got around to taking a full inventory of their own cabinets until just last week? Whatever else this phosgene flap is about, it’s one more glaring example of why it’s insane to give any more money to the UN before demanding a full, independent stock-taking that would tell us, for the first time ever, what they’re really doing with what they’ve already got.

The UN Staff Union Fights Back

August 29th, 2007 - 8:28 pm

With a resolution supporting what Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the rogue UN Development Program won’t — see posts below on UN management ethics ( or lack of). In the corruption so far cleaned up, or at least investigated at the scandal-rich UN, the courage of staff members willing to blow the whistle, at risk of their jobs, has repeatedly played a vital part. If the UN and UNDP in broad daylight, and despite protests from the US Mission and some of the better informed members of Congress, now get away with firing this UNDP whistleblower, we will all pay for it. Who on the UN staff will then dare come forward to report misconduct?

Excerpt from the full resolution: “Aware that a staff member of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) who had the courage to report a significant case of misconduct and was declared a whistleblower by the Ethics Office suffered retaliation and is no longer employed by the United Nations“….

As the Ethics Charade at the UN drags on (see four previous posts), I’m reminded of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” in which the White Queen tells Alice, “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday — but never jam today.”

The same could be said of most UN “reforms,” but the never-present nature of UN ethics is showcased right now by the unhappy fate of the whistleblower, Artjon Shkurtaj, fired by the UN Development Program, which refuses to recognize the “jurisdiction” of the UN Ethics Office. Apparently that glitch in the system was of no interest to UN top management, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, until the Ethics Office earlier this month produced a finding supporting Shkurtaj, and urging investigation into his firing by the UNDP.

Here’s how it works:

Ethics Tomorrow: Here’s from Ban’s remarks in the Q & A at a press conference this morning: “Now let me briefly mention about this ethics issue. It is crucially important for the United Nations system to uphold the highest level of ethical standard and this ethical standard should be implemented across the board, system-wide, in a coherent manner… This is what we need. I’m going to consult with Member-States of the General Assembly.”

Ethics Yesterday: Scroll down in this June 12, 2006 Op-ed by Kofi Annan, which ran under the oxymoronic headline, “A Moment of Truth for the United Nations,” to the penultimate paragraph in which, along with the new Peacebuilding Commission (a joke), and the new Human Rights Council (a travesty), Annan touts the new ethics office and “tougher system for protecting whistleblowers.”

Ethics Today: Huh?

Impunity (not peace and prosperity) is what the UN is by now all about, and in the case of whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj, fired this spring by the UN Development Program, there appears to be no way to call anyone at the UN to account (see three previous posts).

But at the U.S. Mission, U.S. Ambassador for UN Management and Reform, Mark Wallace, is still trying to do exactly that. He has now written a must-read letter to the head of the UN Ethics Office that brilliantly summarizes a great deal of what’s wrong not only with the UNDP, but the UN itself. The letter surfaced this morning on Inner-City Press; you can pull it up here, and Fox News now has a story summarizing the case.

“The epitome of institutional impunity,” referring to UNDP’s rejection of the UN Ethics Office, is just one of the spot-on phrases in Wallace’s letter. Here are a few more:

“Counter to good governance”…”contrary to UN rules”… “failure of the UNDP to further cooperate”… “untenable”…”your findings appear to directly implicate the very same UNDP leadership that now refuses to cooperate in your independent investigation”… “no amount of self-created forum-shopping can relieve the UN of its ethical obligations”…”no staff member at UNDP (or any other UN Fund, Program or Specialized Agency) will feel free to come forward with whistle-blowing information when they have no protection from retaliation” … “irresponsible amd unaccountable behavior”…”You did however omit some rather obvous facts”…”We have seen the UNDP act with impunity before when its leaders have rejected making financial disclosure, refused to release internal audits and rejected the adverse findings of the UN Board of Auditors.”

Wallace urges the head of the UN Ethics Office, Robert Benson to investigate further, even without the UNDP’s cooperation. That’s a great idea. Wallace also urges Benson to convey strong concerns about the UNDP’s actions to the Secretary-General, and ask him to insist that the UNDP cooperate. That’s also a great idea, but one starts to wonder what Ban himself, former foreign minister of South Korea, might have to hide in this scandal swirling around UN operations in North Korea.

The head of the UNDP, Kemal Dervis, has given only two press conferences at UN headquarters in NY since taking charge of the UNDP two years ago, and there has been no announcement to date that he is willing to face the press over any of this. Instead, in bureaucratese you could use to grease your car axles, the UNDP has a statement posted that says, in effect, “trust us.”

As for Tony Shkurtaj, the fired whistleblower — now hung out to dry by Ban Ki-moon, meaning Shkurtaj has been left to the tender mercies of the same UNDP managers on whom he blew the whistle — I reached him by phone this morning. Speaking of the UNDP, and the $5 billion we trust this swollen UN agency to hand out around the world every year, he asked: “Didn’t we learn anything from Oil-for-Food?”

UN “Ethics” – Round three. In which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (your tax dollars pay for at least 22% of everything he does) fails the Ethics test, and the UN outdoes even itself for new highwater marks of hypocrisy. Now the case of the fired whistleblower from the UN Development Program is being handed over, in effect, to some of the very folks on whom he blew the whistle. At the UN, this is called an “independent” review.

To recap, as detailed in the two previous posts: There’s a UN whistleblower out there, Artjon “Tony” Shkurtaj, who spoke up about gross misconduct by the North Korea office of the UN Development Program, or UNDP — now at the core of the Cash for Kim scandal. (During Shkurtaj’s 13-year career with the UNDP, he served as chief of operations in the Pyongyang office from 2004-2006). This March,the UNDP fired him. Shkurtaj went for help to the UN Ethics Office, set up last year to protect whistleblowers against such retaliation as being fired. UN Ethics Director Robert Benson said Shkurtaj had a clear case, deserves whistleblower protection, and that there should a UN investigation into the UNDP retaliation against him. But the UNDP, flagship agency of the UN, is now refusing to recognize the “jurisdiction” of the UN Ethics Office, which reports to the Secretary-General.

Thus did the ball land in the court of Ban Ki-moon, chief administrator of the UN, or so it says in the charter. There was plenty Ban could have done. Ban occupies a prominent stage, and if he chooses to stand up for principle rather than present himself as a pile of mush, he enjoys the advantage that as Secretary-General he cannot be fired. He has not been shy about his views on a variety of topics that are actually not his bailiwick, such as urging us to send more aid to North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, or blaming “climate change” for state-abetted genocide in Sudan.

The current intra-UN dispute over ethics, however, is precisely an administrative matter, and something in which integrity in the top leadership, and backing for the Ethics Director, is sorely needed. This is the moment for Ban to be issuing an immediate high-profile public statement urging the UNDP to respect the findings of the UN Ethics office, and supporting the right of all UN staff, at any of the UN’s gazillion agencies, offices, bureaus, missions and far-flung boondoggle centers to ask for whistleblower protection — the better to ensure honest use of public money and trust.

Instead, Ban has wilted. Since Ethics Director Benson copied Ban in last Friday on his memo urging whistleblower protection for Shkurtaj, Ban has done nothing — zero, zip, nada — to defend the decision of his own Ethics Office, or the right of UN staffers such as Shkurtaj to protection. At today’s noon briefing, Ban’s spokeswoman, Michele Montas (but let’s not blame this on her — let’s keep the focus, she speaks for Ban), explained that this was all a problem of legal “jurisdiction,” that Ban could do nothing, that it was all up to the member states, and that it would now be addressed by the UNDP itself. There, the executive board is now going to look into matters of ethics, and the case of Tony Shkurtaj, by way of the UNDP executive board appointing an “independent review board, or person, or agency.”

“Independent” — ? Who are they kidding? The UNDP is not some transparent outfit with an impartial executive board. The 36-member board is packed with representatives of member states whose officials are rolling in the $5 billion or more worth of funding that flows every year through the UNDP to murky projects, conferences and other UN enterprises around the globe. The board is derelict in its oversight already — no big surprise there, since no board members except the U.S. appear even remotely bothered that the UNDP keeps its internal audits secret from its own board members. This board nodded along with the UNDP management while the outrages detailed by Shkurtaj (and others) were taking place. And this is the board that is now supposed to set the terms and appoint a reviewer as a token that “ethics” is alive and well in the UN system.

In the old movies, they had a better name for this sort of proceeding. They didn’t call it an independent review. They called it a Kangaroo Court.

(More on this, with video clips, on Inner-City Press).

Ban Ki-Moon’s Ethics Test and the UNDP

August 21st, 2007 - 6:04 pm

More on the latest crazy scene at the UN, in which the UN Ethics Office comes down on the side of a UN Development Program staffer — the former chief of UNDP operations in North Korea — who was fired for whistleblowing, and the UNDP tells the Ethics Office to go take a hike. (See confidential UN memo in post below).

Now Ban Ki-Moon has to decide whether he backs his own Ethics Office, or gives in to the UN’s wayward flagship agency, the UNDP (whose number two man, Ad Melkert, was so deeply concerned earlier this year about the ethics of former World Bank Chairman Paul Wolfowitz). My suggestion, in a column for NRO today, is that Ban give a job to the fired whistleblower, Artjon “Tony” Shkurtaj, either as special liaison between Ban and the UNDP, or as a special investigator into the UNDP.

Amid the sex-oil-food-fraud-bribery scandals of Kofi Annan’s final years as UN Secretary-General, the UN as part of its “reforms” set up an Ethics Office. One of the jobs of this Ethics Office is to protect whistleblowers on the UN staff.

But then along comes a whistleblower who worked in the UN Development Program’s North Korea office, Tony Shkurtaj. At considerable risk to his own livelihood, he points out huge problems of UNDP mismanagement, including the presence for years of $3,500 in counterfeit U.S. banknotes in the UNDP’s Pyongyang office safe — to which the UNDP never alerted the U.S. authorities. So, this spring, following his whistleblowing, Shkurtaj loses his UNDP job. He goes to the UN Ethics Office, and asks for protection from UNDP retaliation. And lo! the Ethics Office says that prima facie he deserves exactly that! — protection. So, do we get a happy ending?

Of course not. This is the UN. We now learn, that the UNDP — flagship agency of the UN — does not accept the “jurisdiction” of the UN Ethics Office. So far, still no protection for whistleblower Shkurtaj. It’s a fascinating system, but do you really want to trust these guys with your tax money, not to mention such matters as global peace and prosperity? If you want to, you can read the “confidential” memo of the ethics office for yourself — and forward it to anyone who still subscribes to the hallucination that the UN is a dependable guardian of global good behavior. It refers to a system in which some UN staff now qualify for Ethics protection, and others, apparently, don’t. For more on this, Matthew Russell Lee of Inner-City Press is out in front.

Guilty Guilty Guilty Guilty

August 17th, 2007 - 10:03 pm

The UN loves to get prizes. Maybe someone should set up an annual award for the UN program that best lends itself to graft, kickbacks and catering to tyrants. In honor of that mother of all UN relief programs, it could be called the Oil-for-Food Award — a program which today yielded four guilty pleas in the New York Southern District. These were from Texas oilman David Chalmers, two companies he ran under the name of Bayoil, and a Bulgarian associate of Chalmers, who was resident in Texas, Ludmil Dionissiev.

There’s plenty more to say, especially with the trial of an alleged co-conspirator, oilman Oscar Wyatt, scheduled to begin next month. But let’s start by noting that the U.S. — except for the horrendous folly of hosting UN headquarters at Turtle Bay — was one of the minor players among the scores of UN member states in which the UN’s Oil-for-Food program became a vehicle for Saddam’s dirty deals. And in the U.S. alone, Oil-for-Food investigations by the Southern District have by now led to:

8 guilty pleas
+
2 guilty verdicts
+
2 agreements and forfeiture judgments
+
9 pending cases

Some of these cases involve private individuals and businesses, some involve UN officials. All of them emanated from a UN relief program that UN officials assured us at the time was one of its most efficient ever, and had been “audited to death.” It leaves me with visions of the sign that ought to be emblazoned over the portals at Turtle Bay: “Abandon All Integrity, Ye Who Enter Here.” Were it not for that, I’d suggest giving the Southern District a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Kim’s Cash and North Korea’s Floods

August 16th, 2007 - 10:22 pm

The United Nations is planning a donor’s meeting Friday to rush aid to flood-hit North Korea. The first item on their agenda, as I suggested in the post below, ought to be a demand that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il lead the way by sharing his hoard of ready cash with the flood victims. After all, the U.S. recently arranged the transfer of $25 million in hard currency to Kim, thawed out at Banco Delta Asia with the U.S. State Department and Treasury telling us it would go for humanitarian uses. What better than to help North Koreans recover from floods which according to Kim’s own state media are the emergency of the hour?

Let’s break that down a bit further. Based on North Korean numbers, the UN is telling us there are some 300,000 flood victims, and some 58,000 houses destroyed. If Kim were to hand out his $25 million in hard currency for the clearly humanitarian purpose of helping these people, that alone would come to about $83 per person, or more than $430 per household.

That would be a small fortune for most North Koreans, especially if given in hard cash. And if Kim is asking for help in good faith, he should have no problem giving these people access to world markets, to buy not what he thinks they need, or what UN relief agencies think they need, but what they think they need.

Of course, this is whistling in the wind. The UN specializes in handing out other people’s money, and Kim specializes in finding ways to divert it to his own uses. But if you want a test of the good faith involved in this latest rush to send relief to North Korea, keep an ear out for whether any official — whether from the UN, the U.S., or, say, the sanctimonious climes of Scandinavia — breathes a word about Kim’s $25 million, and why Kim ought to be first in line to help his own countrymen, not by shaking down the global aid establishment yet again, but by handing out by the fistful his hoard of ill-gotten cash.

Following floods in North Korea, we are now hearing urgent calls for the world community (in this case, that means you, the U.S. taxpayer) to swamp Kim Jong Il’s regime with aid. That’s strange, because right now Kim’s regime is presumably swimming in ready cash, thanks to the mighty efforts of U.S. envoy Chris Hill to ensure that Kim got the $25 million in allegedly crime-tainted funds that had been frozen at Banco Delta Asia in Macau.

Recall that when North Korea was making its public demands for that $25 million, earlier this year, we were told the money would not be spent on Kim’s liquor habits, palace parties, and WMD programs, but would be earmarked for humanitarian use. What better than for Kim to spend it on his own flood aid? In all the decades of Kim cult claptrap from Pyongyang, that might just be the first decent and honest instance of Pyongyang’s party line about “self-reliance” being put to good use.

Behind the calls for aid is an assumption the only answer to this latest in North Korea’s endless roster of horrors is international charity. Nonsense. There are private companies that could do a fine job — probably a much better job — of efficiently and quickly helping the poor and stricken, if Kim were to hire them and give them access. They would charge for their help. Kim can afford to pay. It is his abominable government that is responsible for the wretched state of North Korea’s infrastructure in the first place. A bonus: Every dollar Kim’s regime spends on flood aid would be that much less for his pleasure palaces, crony pay-offs and nuclear programs.

And if no one thinks that Kim would be willing to spend a penny of his $25 million in extortionist loot on actually helping his own flood-hit countrymen, then all the more reason to question what kind of crackpot policy would trust the “good will” of this tyrant enough to send him anything at all?