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22 August 2007 Blog Home : August 2007 : Permalink

Artjon 'Tony' Shkurtaj Update

Since I've covered the story of the UNDP whistleblower Artjon I think it is worth giving an update to the story. Via the NY Sun, we learn that:

The U.N.'s top ethics enforcer ruled Friday that a whistleblower has suffered "prima facie" retaliation at the hands of his superiors at the U.N. Development Program, but over the weekend, the UNDP said it would look elsewhere for a more favorable ruling.

The tiff presents a major new challenge for Secretary-General Ban, according to several people involved in the matter. Known for his nonconfrontational manner, Mr. Ban must now decide whether to confront the embattled UNDP and its administrator, Kemal Dervis, or risk erosion of one of last year's only major reform achievements -- the establishment of an ethics office.

In other words the UN bureaucracy doesn't like being held up to ethical standards. Indeed the article goes on to explain:

In his August 17 letter, Mr. Benson told Mr. Shkurtaj that, if his office had jurisdiction over the issue, "In my view, a prima facie case of retaliation would have been established." Similar letters were sent to Mr. Ban as well as to the UNDP administrator, Mr. Dervis, and two other top U.N. officials.

Mr. Benson added in his letters, however, that the UNDP "does not wish to pursue this matter within the parameters" of the General Assembly resolution that established the ethics office last year.

The international development agency's budget is funded independently of the United Nations and is run by its own board of directors, which is one of the arguments it cited in rejecting the jurisdiction of the ethics office.

But the UNDP has not created an ethics mechanism that would serve the same function as Mr. Benson's office to protect whistleblowers. The agency also had not initially objected publicly to Mr. Benson's inquiry into the case, raising the issue of jurisdiction only after the ruling in Mr. Shkurtaj's favor.

Reading between the lines what we have here is a UN agency that was willing to accept any ethical decision that went in its favour but not one that went the other way, as this one did. Hence, once it did go in the wrong direction, the bureaucrats find reasons why it doesn't count. The Inner City Press article is more detailed and more revealing:

From the memo, the full text of which is [at the bottom of the link above], it is important to note the "absence of an applicable protection from retaliation policy within UNDP." Under Kemal Dervis and particularly Associate Administrator Ad Melkert, UNDP has promised a number of reforms, including making internal audits available to Member States, but has delivered on few or none of them. Shkurtaj explains that the UN's Office of Legal Affairs has not endorsed UNDP's purported whistleblower protections, and expresses a total lack of faith in UNDP's "own external review."

UNDP has refused to answer questions. Approached inside UN headquarters by Inner City Press while it was covering -- as the only media present -- the UNDP Executive Board meeting, Dervis said, "I will not answer any of your questions." Melkert, due to his previous claims to be a reformer and that "you ain't seen nothing yet," has been provided with additional opportunities to response this month. A series of ten questions posed to UN's chief spokesman David Morrison as well as Dervis, Melkert and others have not been responded to.

Shkurtaj states that it was Ad Melkert himself who ordered that his contract not be renewed, and that efforts be made to determine his post-UN-employment immigration status and to eject Shkurtaj from the United States. As Shkurtaj puts it, "UNDP continues to act like a rogue UN agency. UNDP first rejected the findings of the UN�s Board of Auditors. UNDP now refuses to cooperate with the UN Ethics Office. It is time -- long overdue -- for there to be consequences and accountability in the most senior ranks of UNDP Management."

There's an interesting point here. It would seem that the UNDP has called some buddies in the US's DHS/ICE and pointed out that Artjon has no right to reside in the US now that his UN contract has not been renewed. While this is undoubtedly true it also, no doubt totally coincidentally, makes it a little tricky for pesky reporters and investigators based in New York to interview Mr Shkurtaj.

Inner City Press' follow up yesterday also makes the point that the UNDP claiming that the UN Ethics Office does not apply to it is rather silly. Unfortunately the official UN response is still nice and weaselly:

Inner City Press:  Just now, at the stakeout, the UN Ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, called 'ludicrous' UNDP's argument that the Ethics Office does not apply to it, and said that he or the US mission thinks that Mr. Ban wants the Ethics Office to have jurisdiction over the whistle-blower's case.  Inevitably, it is a follow-up to you to say that, is the impression that he just stated, is that Mr. Ban's position?

Spokesperson:  At this point, it is a fact that, legally, the Ethics Office has no jurisdiction over UNDP.  As you know, UNDP has its own intergovernmental body, and its own Executive Board.  What I can only say is what I said yesterday, that the Secretary-General encourages a thorough and independent investigation into all matters related to the case, including its whistle-blower aspects.  However, whether it is done by the Ethics Office or by another body is not being raised here.

Although the spokesperson does go on to say:

As you probably know, the UN Board of Auditors is preparing to begin the second phase of an external audit into the operations of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UNDP in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as requested by the UN Secretary-General.

UNDP has said that it is proceeding to arrange an additional and complementary external review to take place under the auspices of its Executive Board.  A formal announcement on this review will be made in a few days.  This review would look into issues relating to UNDP's operations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea not covered in the second phase of the external audit.  And this could include Mr. [Artjon] Skhurtaj's allegations.

Note the COULD in that last sentence. I'm fairly sure that unless the press keep up the pressure that COULD will turn out to lead to "BUT UNFORTUNATELY WE DIDN'T HAVE TIME/RESOURCES..." This is exactly the same as the weaselling regarding Mr Shkurtaj's whistleblower status. As Captain Ed's link to WaPo article on the subject explains, as well as the jurisdiction question the UNDP also claims that its own whsitleblowing protections do not apply to contractors and Mr Shkurtaj was in fact a contractor, albeit one who was working for the UN for 13 years.

It is worth pointing out that in the IT industry the use of long term contractors as a way to dodge social security charges and other employement legislation has been pretty much wiped out by changes in the rules regarding how such contracts are governed. Numerous companies such as Microsoft, IBM and so on have been forced, sometime retrospectively, to count long term contractors (and 13 years definitely counts as long term) as employees. It might be worth figuring out how long Mr Shkurtaj's contracts were and whether they were with the same UN body, because if he has had many years of consecutive contracts with the same UN body then he would certainly count as an employee under most national employment statutes. As a transnational body, the UN may consider itself not to be bound by such petty details but that does rather go back to the original gripe of the UN's lack of accountability.

Now the final question I have is that, given all this bad publicity, why is the UNDP so keen to look like an organization that is out of control? We know that the UN is proposing to investigate the work of the UNDP and other UN agencies in North Korea so why would it seem so desperate to court bad publicity? One obvious reason is that the UNDP thinks that by being obstructive here it can focus attention on N Korea, where all the misbehaviour has already been exposed, and divert attention from other UNDP missions where perhaps similar activities have occured. It may also help to divert attention from people such as Mr Melkert, Britain's Minister for Kleptocrats and other people nominally in charge of the place over the last decade or so. One wonders whether, perhaps, the UNDP was involved in Mercedes Benz exportation? or maybe some of its staffers were involved in all the prstitution and child abuse scandals that UN peacekeepers have been accused of?

Update: Claudia Rossett has written on the subject at NRO and points out that the Minister for Kleptocratswas responsible for much of the growth in UNDP budget over the last decade or so.