PRESS CONFERENCE BY OFFICE OF INTERNAL OVERSIGHT SERVICES
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
18 October 2005
The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was intent on addressing many accountability issues raised by its annual report on the Office, presented to the General Assembly last week, said Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services. Ms. Ahlenius, along with Patricia Azarias, Director of the Internal Audit Division, and Barbara Dixon, Director of the Investigations Division, answered questions from the press about the report at a briefing today.
Asked if anyone, and in particular Sanjay Bahel, had faced disciplinary hearings in an audit of the United Nations’ engineering manpower services, Ms. Azarias said that the OIOS had conducted a full audit of the United Nations’ procurement function, and that “technical violations” had been found in relation to it. However, the OIOS had not dealt specifically with Mr. Bahel. The technical violations were referred to the investigations department, she said.
Noting that an annex to the report mentioned over 30 investigations into possible fraud, rape, bribery and misconduct at Pristina Airport and a raft of mismanagement problems at the United Nations mission in Kosovo, the OIOS representatives were asked what if anything the OIOS was doing about these allegations and whether Ms. Ahlenius had done anything in response to them in her prior position as the Auditor General in Kosovo. In response, Ms. Ahlenius said that she was charged with establishing an independent office of the auditor general in Kosovo, and that no audits were carried out while she was there; she was involved solely in training new staff. She said, however, that she was aware of mismanagement in the publicly-owned enterprises at Pristina.
Ms. Dixon said some matters had been referred to local prosecutors regarding Pristina and others to the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). She was concerned that the UNMIK was not taking necessary actions, however, and the OIOS continued to follow the situation and to press the UNMIK to act. The OIOS planned to provide the General Assembly with a follow-up report. Ms. Dixon said that the OIOS had no enforcement authority, but could only recommend to other authorities that they consider enforcement action.
Asked if the OIOS designated individuals as whistleblowers and whether it protected people so designated, Ms. Dixon said that the OIOS does not use the term, “whistleblower”. Those people who provide information about wrongdoing and feel threatened are given numbers to protect their identities, including from the OIOS staff members. There were over 100 people with such numbers currently. Ms. Dixon said there was currently no protection for those who brought malpractice in the United Nations to the OIOS’s attention, but the OIOS last year had submitted a proposal to provide such protection. The Deputy Secretary-General’s office was considering the proposal, Ms. Dixon said.
In response to a question, Ms. Dixon said that the OIOS, within staff constraints, followed up on all recommendations it made for enforcement action. When recommendations were not followed up by enforcement authorities, sometimes the OIOS would bring the matter to the General Assembly, she said.
In response to a question, Ms. Dixon said that the OIOS had made a recommendation to the Southern District to investigate alleged wrongdoing by Mr. Yakovlev (a former United Nations procurement officer).
Asked if Ms. Ahlenius had been surprised by how the OIOS was run and whether she was frustrated that the Secretary-General seemed to “wantonly” disregard some OIOS recommendations, for example, in the case of Ruud Lubbers, Ms. Ahlenius said she was looking into the future, not backwards.
Asked what the largest issues she found in the OIOS since assuming her position, Ms. Ahlenius said that the lack of independence of the office was the greatest concern. This lack of independence stemmed from the fact that the office’s budget was determined by the people who were the office’s auditors. “This constitutes a major obstacle to our independence”, she said.
The function of the audit office had changed considerably since the United Nations was started, as the United Nations had grown in size and complexity. Therefore, the basis on which it had been established had to be substantially revised, she added.
Asked about the status of the Ackerman report, Ms, Ahlenius said she didn’t know anything about it, as was proper, but that it would be made public when it was complete. To a question about the status of the OIOS’s procurement investigation, Ms. Dixon said that there were numerous investigations under way, and there virtually were always such investigations under way. She said she did not know how many were currently in process.
Asked if the OIOS would make an assessment of the United Nations’ procurement processes, Ms. Dixon said that others in the United Nations had astutely assessed the processes. The OIOS’s job was to determine whether there had been wrongdoing in any particular instance.
In response to further questions concerning the United Nations mission in Kosovo, Ms. Ahlenius and Ms. Dixon said there were serious mismanagement problems in Kosovo due to lack of oversight and lack of accountability mechanisms. Asked why there had been no response to their recommendations concerning the problems in the mission, Ms. Dixon said they had been told that some things had changed in Kosovo; that some of their concerns involved Pillar 4; and, therefore, that it was not clear that the United Nations had responsibility.
Asked about information a reporter had received that Ms. Dixon was responsible for designating whistleblowers and thereby providing them a cloak of protection, Ms. Dixon said she was unaware she had such a role, and that the OIOS did not have the power to protect whistleblowers.
Asked if the OIOS was following up on allegations that there was political pressure to steer clear of people in staff positions at United Nations Headquarters in investigations, Ms. Dixon said she would not comment on any ongoing investigations. The OIOS had also asked the authors of the Volcker report to provide their evidence for allegations made about insider information provided for contracts. The authors were trying to decide whether they will provide additional evidence, she said.
Asked if the Volcker commission was obstructing investigation by the United Nations itself of allegations it had made, Ms. Dixon said, “You characterize it as you like. I’m telling you all the facts.”
Asked if they felt that the Secretary-General had betrayed the United Nations staff by repeating his repudiation of OIOS findings concerning Lubbers last week, Ms. Dixon said that she felt that, “The report speaks for itself. Every word in the report is true. I said what I have to say about Mr. Lubber’s conduct in that report and I stand by every word in that report.” She said that she had written the report.
Asked if she thought the OIOS was just window-dressing, Ms. Dixon said, “If I thought it was just window-dressing, I wouldn’t be here.”
Asked if there was any way that the OIOS officials could meet separately with the press, without the presence of the Secretary-General’s spokesman so that the press might regain confidence in the OIOS, Ms. Ahlenius emphasized that the OIOS was embarking on efforts to change its status to achieve more independence. In any case, she said she would be happy to meet with the press separately.
Asked about allegations of the theft of fuel and the breakdown of systems of control in United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), Ms. Dixon said that there was a criminal investigation under way, and the OIOS was cooperating with that investigation.
Asked if kickbacks being paid to obtain jobs in peacekeeping operations -- a problem mentioned in the OIOS’s report -- was a widespread problem, Ms. Dixon said that the OIOS was not certain, but it was looking into it.
A questioner said that there was a feeling at United Nations Headquarters that Headquarters employees were immune from investigation by the OIOS because the OIOS was beholden to their political sponsors within the Building. In view of that, the questioner asked whether the OIOS planned to investigate the fact that the Chief of Staff was renting a house from George Soros, a major United Nations donor, for $2,000/month less than the previous renter or was this a case of immunity because of the OIOS’s “pandering” to its sponsors. Ms. Dixon took exception to the characterization of pandering, citing, for example, the OIOS’s independent stance on the Lubbers’ case. She added that she did not discuss ongoing investigations.
Asked how the OIOS could be trusted when Ms. Dixon said the Office did not use the word “whistleblower”, but then used the word in a new manual the OIOS is proposing, Ms. Dixon said it was merely a proposal, and the Office had traditionally used the term “complainant”.
Told that Cynthia Brzak, an employee of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), had been informed that she was about to lose her job and asked whether Ms. Brzak came under the OIOS’s definition of whistleblower, Ms. Dixon said she did consider Ms. Brzak a whistleblower, and that she was unaware Ms. Brzak was about to lose her job.
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For information media • not an official record
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