UN whistle-blower case shows accountability limits
Geneva: Two whistle-blowers exposed evidence-tampering by a top official within the UN office that is supposed to investigate corruption in the world body`s operations and suffered retaliation for it, a UN judge has ruled.
The ruling and other recent opinions by the UN Dispute Tribunal show that the world body still struggles to hold itself accountable despite the promised reforms since a vast scandal involving its oil-for-food programme with Saddam Hussein`s regime in Iraq.
The cases focus on the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, an independent internal watchdog created at the insistence of the United States that oversees the conduct of officials, staff and more than USD 23 billion that the UN spends annually on behalf of governments around the world.
Despite UN efforts to keep their case from public view, the two whistle-blowing investigators from OIOS won a public hearing in October. The judge said their case exposed the "extraordinarily toxic interpersonal relationships that existed at the time amongst a few individuals at the higher echelons of OIOS and, in particular, within its Investigations Division."
The case precedes the tenure of current OIOS head Carman Lapointe, who said the UN hasn`t decided whether to appeal the ruling but is working hard to improve oversight.
"I hope that 2014 will be a turnaround year," Lapointe said. "We can and do make a difference for the better, at times in spite of ourselves."
OIOS was created two decades ago but failed to detect and prevent the scandal involving 2,200 companies from some 40 countries that colluded with Saddam Hussein`s regime to bilk USD 1.8 billion from a UN-administered oil-for-food programme for Iraqi humanitarian relief in the years before the US-led invasion in 2003.
After that embarrassment, the United Nations in 2006 established a special anti-corruption unit, the Procurement Task Force, that uncovered at least 20 major schemes affecting more than USD 1 billion in UN contracts and international aid.
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