Departing UN official for oversight blasts Ban Ki-moon’s record on accountability

By John Heilprin, AP
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

UN official blasts Ban Ki-moon on accountability

UNITED NATIONS — The departing head of the United Nations agency that battles internal corruption issued a scathing assessment of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s record on accountability, fueling criticism from Washington and defensive remarks from Ban’s spokesman Tuesday.

In a confidential memo to Ban obtained by The Associated Press, outgoing Undersecretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius accused Ban of systematically undermining her authority and weakening the U.N.’s oversight functions so much that it is becoming irrelevant.

Her criticism represents an unusually vociferous though not unprecedented attack on the U.N. chief’s leadership and his unfulfilled pledge to restore a U.N. reputation tarnished by financial corruption and sexual abuses by U.N. peacekeepers.

“There is no transparency, there is lack of accountability,” said Ahlenius in her end-of-assignment report to Ban upon the end of her five-year term as head of the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services. The office, set up in 1994, is supposed to operate independently and has three main divisions for investigations, audits and inspections.

“Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to control it which is to undermine its position,” the former Swedish auditor general wrote to Ban. “I regret to say that the Secretariat is now in a process of decay. It is not only falling apart … it is drifting into irrelevance.”

Ahlenius also said Ban and his senior advisers have blocked her efforts to fill key vacant posts within her office, causing “damage to the integrity of a core process” at the U.N. and have taken other steps, such as trying to set up a competing investigations unit, that undermined her tenure.

“I am concerned that we are in a process of decline and reduced relevance of the organization,” she wrote in the memo, which was first reported by The Washington Post. “This inevitably risks weakening the United Nations’ possibilities to fulfill its mandate.”

Ban’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, said “many pertinent facts were overlooked or misrepresented” in Ahlenius’ memo.

“This secretary-general, like his recent predecessors, has had to strike a balance between acting as a chief administrative officer of the United Nations on the one hand, and providing truly global leadership on the other,” Nambiar wrote in a response to the Post that was later released to the AP by Ban’s office.

Nambiar portrayed Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, as an effective, globe-trotting leader whose priorities since coming to the United Nations in January 2007 include behind-the-scenes dealmaking, climate change and women’s issues.

But it is not the first time a high-profile critic has portrayed Ban as an ineffective leader, falling short on a promise to restore the U.N.’s reputation.

Norway’s then-U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul issued an unusually blistering attack on Ban last year in which she accused him of weak leadership, lack of charisma and angry outbursts, in an internal memo leaked to Norwegian news media.

Juul criticized what she called Ban’s “weak handling” of international crises and said “Ban routinely has angry outbursts that even levelheaded and experienced co-workers have trouble dealing with.” Ban defended his style and performance, saying he has provided quiet and effective leadership on many issues.

Nambiar said Ban blocked Ahlenius from hiring her choice to head the investigation division in the belief that it was “not an interference with the independence of (Ahlenius), but a correct action by the secretary-general to ensure that the requirements of the relevant rules and policies to which OIOS is subject are adhered to.”

A well-respected former U.S. federal prosecutor, Robert Appleton, who had headed the U.N. Procurement Task Force that investigated major fraud and corruption from 2006 to 2008, was twice unanimously selected by an independent U.N. panel to head the investigations unit, and was among the more than 70 applicants who responded to worldwide advertising for a candidate.

Appleton, who also had been the special counsel for the inquiry into the scandal over the U.N.-run oil-for-food program for humanitarian relief in Iraq, was Ahlenius’ choice for the job, but Nambiar and other senior U.N. managers said the list of applicants lacked diversity. Without a permanent director, the investigation division is run by an acting director, Michael Dudley, a career U.N. official.

Ahlenius’ memo was delivered to Ban last week, in her last action before leaving the U.N. It followed an Associated Press report last Wednesday that her departure would leave three of the agency’s four top jobs unfilled — including the head of the investigation division, which has lacked a permanent head since 2006 — and there was no successor to Ahlenius in sight, adding to fears that the U.N. was becoming less capable of policing itself.

Ahlenius had declined to be interviewed by AP, which reported that interviews with OIOS officials and documents uncovered by AP investigations showed a demoralized office that has cut back on investigations into fraud and corruption and whose staff lacks confidence in the management’s leadership.

A spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Patrick Ventrell, told AP that the United States was frustrated with OIOS and particularly “disappointed with the recent performance of its investigations division,” and that U.S. officials had been “crystal clear with the U.N. at the highest levels that the coming change in OIOS leadership must bring about a significant improvement in its performance” to boost oversight and transparency.

On Tuesday, Ahlenius’ memo also drew strong reaction from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has proposed requiring the U.N. to do more to fight corruption or risk losing U.S. financial support.

“The stew of corruption, mismanagement, and negligence long-plaguing the U.N. has reached a boiling point,” Lehtinen said in a statement. “It is even clearer that U.S. taxpayer dollars being shipped off to the U.N. will continue to be sucked into a black hole unless true reforms are enacted.”

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday, however, that Ban has made improvements in the U.N.’s accountability since 2007, when he “came into office with precisely that aim, to strengthen accountability and transparency.”

But, he added, Ban “would be the first to say this organization has a long way to go to fully implement the changes that are needed. And it’s precisely in that context that … we’re studying closely this end-of-assignment report.”

Nesirky said Ban also “is concerned about these vacancies and particularly wants to fill this director of the investigations division as quickly as possible.”

Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the U.N.

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