Leaked memo portrays UN chief obsessed with secrecy, controlling probes and news leaksBy John Heilprin, AP
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Memo portrays UN chief wanting control, secrecy
UNITED NATIONS — A portrait of Ban Ki-moon as a secrecy-obsessed U.N. chief seeking to wrest control of internal investigations emerges from a blistering 50-page confidential memo by his former oversight chief.
The unusual memo by Inga-Britt Ahlenius, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, describes Ban as more concerned with preventing news leaks than with releasing possible criminal evidence to prosecutors. It also details how she fought Ban’s efforts to set up a competing “new investigative capacity” within the United Nations.
The Swedish former auditor general also stated that the secretary-general improperly refused to allow many of her office’s audit reports to be made public, or to allow nearly all of its confidential investigative reports, with evidence of potential criminal wrongdoing, to be referred to outside prosecutors.
“Such secretiveness serves us poorly,” Ahlenius wrote to Ban. “In fact you repeatedly profess to a leadership style of teamwork and collaboration. … In reality, however, your style comes out as one of command and control.”
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Thursday that Ban regrets that Ahlenius’ confidential memo was leaked, but he considers her “frank thinking and advice” an important tool for improving his management and he and his senior advisers are “carefully reviewing” it.
Angela Kane, undersecretary-general for management, said Thursday the General Assembly, not Ban, had directed setting up a “task force” to help with investigations. “It is not correct to say that the secretary-general was attempting to set up another investigative capacity,” Kane said.
Kane also argued that it was right for Ban to go after news leaks.
“There have been a number of leaks and, of course, the secretary-general would turn to OIOS to investigate any breaches. And a leak is a breach. I think that is perfectly understandable,” Kane said.
Ahlenius, who stepped down as undersecretary-general in charge of U.N. oversight last week, was appointed in 2005 to a non-renewable five-year term by then Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
She says in her “end of assignment report” to Ban that he tried to take control of investigations after her Office of Internal Oversight Services resisted his efforts to launch official probes into news leaks. The OIOS is meant to operate independently within the U.N.
Ahlenius at the time told Ban’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kim Won-soo that, “in my opinion, it would also be seen as very negative on the secretary-general, who had advocated transparency, to pursue leaks.”
She did not specify which news stories Ban was so concerned about.
The U.N.’s ability to police itself for major fraud and corruption since the disbanding of an elite, anti-corruption U.N. Procurement Task Force in 2008 is of concern to the United States and other major donors, who worry about the billions of dollars they contribute to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.
The task force had been set up in 2006 to supplement the work of OIOS, which was created in 1994 as the main U.N. agency for conducting audits, inspecting programs and investigating alleged fraud and corruption. But after the task force aggressively completed more than 300 investigations in three years and identified 20 significant fraud or corruption schemes, it was shuttered by the General Assembly because of opposition from some member nations that protested findings of wrongdoing involving their citizens or companies.
Its functions and caseload were supposed to be folded into OIOS’ investigation division, but an AP investigation found a steep drop-off in the U.N.’s pursuit of fraud and corruption cases since the start of 2009.
Much of Ahlenius’ report deals with her frustration at lacking real independence within the U.N., most notably by being blocked by Ban’s office with filling top posts within OIOS.
“The fact is that you are not upholding to the letter, nor to the spirit, the General Assembly’s decision to ensure an operational oversight body in the interest of the organization,” she said. “In this sense your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. No secretary-general before you has questioned the authority delegated to (the head of OIOS) to appoint the staff in OIOS. Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing to yourself.”
Last year, similar criticism was voiced by Norway’s then-U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul in another unusual personal attack on Ban. Juul accused him of weak leadership, lack of charisma and angry outbursts, in an internal memo leaked to Norwegian news media. Ban said in response he has provided quiet and effective leadership on many issues.
The staffing problems at OIOS included Ahlenius’ inability to put in place her choice for a permanent head for the investigation division, a position filled by temporary directors since 2006. One of OIOS’ other two main divisions also lacks a permanent director — and a replacement for Ahlenius has not yet been named despite the General Assembly instructing Ban to fill the post in a “timely” manner.
Ahlenius said an independent panel twice deemed a highly respected former U.S. federal prosecutor, Robert Appleton, to be the most qualified candidate for the directorship of the investigation division after two full recruitment rounds, with global advertising.
Catherine Pollard, assistant secretary-general for human resources, said Ahlenius failed to follow U.N. rules when she tried to hire Appleton by failing to put forward three names, including one woman. Ahlenius said in her memo, however, that Ban and his senior managers blatantly and intentionally blocked the appointment, showing disrespect for her oversight independence, and following Pollard’s advice to consider unqualified female candidates would have violated U.N. rules.
Tags: Criminal Investigations, Fraud And False Statements, Government Regulations, Industry Regulation, Products And Services, United Nations