An American working for the UN, who suffered severe retaliation after reporting corruption in Kosovo and failed to receive the compensation he requested, is asking that Secretary of State John Kerry withhold 15% of US dues to the UN as required by US law.
James Wasserstrom asked a UN tribunal for $3.2 million for lost wages, attorney’s fees, and other financial damages relating to the retaliation for coming forward and received only $65,000.
Wasserstrom complained in 2007 to the Ethics Office that he suffered retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct while head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Oversight of Publicly Owned Enterprises in Kosovo.
He had told the United Nations he was concerned about corporate governance in Kosovo and alleged the possibility of a kickback scheme tied to a proposed power plant and mine that involved top politicians and senior U.N. officials.
Instead of being protected as a whistleblower, Wasserstrom claimed he suffered retaliation, which started with his U.N. public utility watchdog office in Kosovo being shut down and his U.N. contract not being renewed.
Although Wasserstrom eventually won his case, he was only awarded $65,000, despite the fact that he says his legal fees, lost wages and other financial damage incurred amounted to well over $2 million.
“The U.N. and Ban Ki-moon are not serious about transparency and accountability,” Wasserstrom told reporters.
“In my case, the United Nations did not adhere to best practices for legal burdens of proof, nor did the organization hold the retaliators accountable, release its finding regarding my substantive disclosures, or eliminate the effects of the retaliation,” he wrote to Kerry.
Shelley Walden, an expert from the Government Accountability Project, was also at Wasserstrom’s news conference. She confirmed that in her group’s opinion the United Nations is not following best practices for protecting whistleblowers as required by U.S. federal law.
Wasserstrom now works at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
A spokesman for Ban said last month that the judgment of the U.N. Dispute Tribunal would not be final until it was confirmed by the U.N. Appeals Tribunal. He said the United Nations was examining the judgment to determine whether it would appeal.
Where the UN goes, corruption follows. Wasserstrom was just doing his job — one of the few UN employees who bother. Most of the time, they just turn a blind eye to what’s going on. The American uncovered some run of the mill UN corruption — a kickback scheme on public projects — that involved the usual suspects, including important pols and “senior UN officials.” In retaliation, they made him go away.
Wasserstrom and the Government Accountability Project have put Kerry on the spot. The UN is very sensitive about the US contribution and cutting off 15% would invite the kind of petty retaliation the UN is famous for. Kerry is likely to wait until the appeal of the tribunal’s ruling has run its course before deciding.
Corruption at the UN in the Secretariat, the peace keepers, and the myriad development agencies and organizations is endemic. It is ingrained in the culture and no one has been able to make much of a dent in it — even those who have actually tried. Paul Volcker chaired the committee looking into one of the biggest bribery scandals in history, the Saddam Huseein oil for food scheme. His dozens of recommendations to reform the system went largely unheeded. No one wants to put a halt to the gravy train.
Given the fact we get so little out of the UN except hostility toward us and some of our allies, the time has come to re-examine our massive contribution to this corrupt body and either get other nations like China to pick up some of the slack, or seriously consider leaving the world body.