|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
press conference by Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services
In a bid to increase transparency and rid the United Nations of its “traditional culture of secretiveness”, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) planned to set up this year a permanent capacity to investigate serious economic and white-collar wrongdoing, while also addressing sexual exploitation and abuse, Under-Secretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius said this afternoon.
The OIOS Procurement Task Force, created in January 2006 to investigate allegations of fraud and mismanagement following the “oil-for-food” report, had already found that $600 million of the $1.4 billion worth of contracts it had investigated were tainted with corruption and mismanagement, she said at a Headquarters press conference to discuss the restructuring of the OIOS Investigation Division. Accompanying Ms. Ahlenius was Task Force Chairman Robert Appleton.
As part of the overhaul, Task Force cases would be taken up by the new permanent Investigation Division, she said, recalling that the General Assembly had authorized funds on 26 December for the Task Force to continue its work throughout 2008. Pending the Assembly’s approval later this year, peacekeeping missions would be relocated to regional centres in New York, Vienna and Nairobi. “There is no excuse for having poor internal control mechanisms and for tolerating mismanagement and certainly not corruption and fraud. We are handling public money and considerable funds and should care about that as if it was our own.”
She said that to date, OIOS and the Task Force had submitted 25 reports disclosing mismanagement, fraud and corruption, including the case of Sanjaya Bahel, a former United Nations official convicted of corruption by United States courts based on the Task Force’s findings. Three of the eight staff members of the Departments of Management and Peacekeeping Operations placed on non-paid leave last year had since been cleared of wrongdoing.
Asked whether the Task Force was investigating a $250 million no-bid contract with Lockheed Martin to build infrastructure for the Organization’s peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Mr. Appleton said due process rules prohibited OIOS from discussing individual cases, but more than half of Office’s work involved large, multinational corporations and their representatives and agents. The Task Force had 300 pending cases.
Dismissing reporters’ claims that most United Nations procurement contracts were tainted, he said: “$1.4 billion is not every contract in the United Nations. There’s no question that some of the large contracts here have been tainted, but in terms of the number of contracts, it’s not anywhere near the majority.”
Concerning investigations into sexual exploitation by peacekeepers in Haiti and Liberia, Ms. Ahlenius said her Office had issued a report in December on the Sri Lankan contingent in that country but it had not been released to Member States due to the ongoing court martial process in Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lankan authorities were cooperating closely with OIOS, whose locally-based staff had been witnesses in court cases concerning the matter.
She said the Office’s caseload in the last three months totalled approximately 250 cases, two thirds of which concerned peacekeeping missions. They included 80 cases of sexual exploitation, 14 of them in Liberia.
The Under-Secretary-General stressed that most United Nations personnel were very hard-working and committed, but there were “some bad apples” involved in corruption as well. It was difficult to put a monetary value on corruption and fraud but the greatest harm was that done to the Organization’s reputation and integrity.
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