23/01/2006
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press conference on UN Procurement by Under-Secretary-General for management

 


The United Nations was conducting over 200 investigations into its procurement activities –- double that of a few months ago –- in an ongoing effort to identify instances of fraud or abuse, Christopher Burnham, Under-Secretary-General for Management, told correspondents at a Headquarters briefing today.


A recently completed report from the Organization’s Office of International Oversight Services (OIOS) had raised “a number of serious allegations and concerns”, he said.  Eight staff members -– four each from the Departments of Management and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations –- had consequently been placed on special leave with pay, although those measures should be considered administrative, rather than disciplinary, as they presumed no wrongdoing.


He said the report from the OIOS, which was carrying out the procurement investigations, would be formally presented to the Secretary-General and made available to Member States requesting it, but was not a public document.  Nor would the Organization provide the names of staff on leave, pending a final response to the report or any subsequent investigations.


In improving its procurement practices, he said the Organization had switched procurement reporting to the Controller, Warren Sach, and had put in a new interim head of procurement service, Jayantilal Karia.  It had also increased OIOS resources to expand its investigations, secured full cooperation with host nation law enforcement authorities, and directed the Headquarters Committee on Contracts to report to his Office, with OIOS acting as ex-officio.


An initial review of internal control in the United Nations by Deloitte Consulting was being followed by a more detailed forensic audit of recent procurement activities, he added.  Separately, the OIOS had established a Procurement Fraud Task Force to conduct its investigations, and had also been mandated by the General Assembly to conduct a wider probe of United Nation peacekeeping.


The United Nations was being “proactive” in investigating possible wrongdoing, he stressed.  It had strengthened protection for whistle-blowers, improved financial disclosure, created an ethics office, submitted to a forensic audit, and was fully cooperating with law enforcement.


Asked to specify “concerns and allegations” raised by the OIOS, Mr. Burnham said its report had noted “substantial evidence of abuse in procurement for peacekeeping operations, leading to financial losses and sign inaccuracies in planning assumptions”. It had also stated that the “design and maintenance of the controls needed to ensure that the United Nations procurement complied with financial rules and regulations were insufficient”, and that “important controls were lacking, while existing ones were often bypassed”.


To another query about overspending on procurement contracts, Mr. Burnham said potential abuse could reach tens of millions of dollars or more, considering the number of abuse cases.  The investigation was currently ongoing, however, and more concrete figures must await its completion.


When another correspondent emphasized that the public should have a right to see the report -– and how its tax dollars were being spent -- Mr. Burnham said he would take that concern into consideration.  Undoubtedly, Member States would make the report available to the public in due course.


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For information media • not an official record