Non-Profit Says New U.N. Ethics Steps Lack Credibility

A non-profit whistleblower protection organization that helped the United Nations write a new ethics policy in 2005 has declared the latest extension of that policy to be “a Potemkin Village of costly ethics offices” that lack “independence, credibility or standards.”

The strong words come from a Washington-based non-profit organization known as the Government Accountability Project, who helped create the United Nations Ethics Office, which was promulgated under then-Secretary General Kofi Annan, in the wake of the Oil for Food scandal and numerous scandals in the U.N.’s procurement department.

They came in reaction to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s announcement yesterday of a series of separately administered ethics agencies that would govern the U.N.’s many and far flung independent agencies, such as the United Nations Development Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and UNICEF—in effect, the Balkanization of U.N. ethics programs.

Click here to read a report on the new steps.

Ban’s new system “replaces a single ethics office, structurally independent of management and responsible for applying a uniform set of ethical standards, with proliferating ad hoc internal ethics offices, operating at the pleasure of the heads of these agencies,” said Bea Edwards, GAP International Program Director. CAP estimates that as many as 15 ethics offices could result, each reporting to the head of its organization.

The policy would be particularly ineffective in protecting whistleblowers who tried ot draw attention to corruption or abuses in the U.N. system, she said. Rather than a unified standard, “a committee will now negotiate definitions of ethics to be applied system-wide. Such a dubious process could take years and does not bring justice to whistleblowers. Nor does it protect them from retaliation or address the issue of corruption.”

Ban’s new policy follows a confrontation in August when the U.N. secretariat’s newly appointed ethics commissioner, Robert Benson, declared that he had found a “prima facie” case of retaliation against a UNDP whistleblower, Artjon Shkurtaj, who first disclosed that his organization had been violating its own rules in handing over hard currency to the regime of Kim Jong Il, and using North Korean government workers in sensitive UNDP posts.

Benson declared that he did not have jurisdiction to investigate the case, and asked UNDP chief Kemal Dervis to give him that authorization. Dervis refused, and announced that UNDP would set up its own ethics policy and office.

Ban’s new policy ratifies that state of affairs.