UN to Whistleblowers: ’kill the messenger’

Credit: secwhistleblowerprogram.org
11 December 10 - A rousing battle between former Under-Secretary-General Inga- Britt Ahlenius, who once headed the U.N.’s powerful investigating arm, and her boss Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is threatening to get ugly.

Thalif Deen/IPS - After she sent a 50-page memo highly critical of Ban last July, Ahlenius says she received phone calls from "a former U.N. staff member and also a South Korean with U.S. citizenship" warning her about "acts of retaliation".

The retaliation, she was told, would come from people in "the circles around the secretary-general" and "they would spare no efforts to hit and hurt me in retaliation for my report."

In a letter to the U.N.’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar last month, Ahlenius says: "I shared this experience with some people in and outside of the (U.N.) Secretariat and we did not agree on whether this was a friendly warning or whether it was a threat in itself."

"I chose however to interpret this (phone) conversation from the positive side and as a friendly act," she adds.

But Ahlenius stressed that Ban does not tolerate any criticism, including "constructive criticism", of the way he runs the United Nations in his capacity as its chief administrative officer.

The culture and approach is "kill the messenger", she says using, wittingly or unwittingly, an ominous metaphor to drive home her message.

In her original memo which triggered the threat, Ahlenius, a former auditor general of Sweden and until July the head of the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), accused the secretary-general of being non-cooperative; of exceeding his authority on certain high-level appointments; of double standards on staff dismissals; and of lacking good governance.

IPS was the only news organisation with access to the entire 50-page document which was posted on its website last July.

"I regret to say the (U.N.) Secretariat now is in a process of decay. It is not only falling apart into silos - the Secretariat is drifting, to use the words of one of my senior colleagues," Ahlenius said.

"I am concerned that we are in a process of decline and reduced relevance of the Organisation. In short, we seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems," she wrote.

Challenging the very leadership of Ban, she said: "You are undermining the authority of your senior advisers both by affording them short - one year - mandates and also by exercising your direct authority over the appointments of their staff."

"There is no transparency (and) there is lack of accountability. Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to control it which is to undermine its position. I do not see any signs of reform in the Organisation," Ahlenius wrote in her "End of Assignment Report’.

In a seven-page rebuttal to that 50-page memo, and speaking on behalf of the secretary-general, Nambiar makes his own charges against Ahlenius.

She, in turn, counters with her own five-page response sparking a second round of a full-scale war of words.

IPS, which was given access to the two documents, has posted both memos on its website.

In his letter, Nambiar accuses Ahlenius of having chosen "to resort to misrepresentation of the record and distortion of facts".

"Particularly disturbing is the way you have chosen to allow your comments to go public even before they were brought to the notice of your colleagues," the letter says.

Nambiar blames the declining state of the OIOS and its investigative machinery on Ahleinus’s "mismanagement that caused serious damage to the accountability and integrity of the Organisation."

The charge of "mismanagement" appears at least three times in the letter, including a reference to "a glaring example of mismanagement".

The letter also points out that "despite your generalized erroneous allegations, you have failed to cite any instance of the secretary-general having tried to block or obstruct any investigation, audit or evaluation activity sought to be undertaken by you."

Nambiar also questions Ahlenius’s lines of authority - where they begin and where they end.

In her memo, Ahlenius raised a number of issues related to political agenda and management reform.

"As to the political agenda," rebuffs Nambiar, "I do not feel it is necessary to respond to you since it goes far beyond your audit and investigation mandate."

On issues of management reform, he bluntly tells Ahlenius: "I believe that your comments on the intensive and extensive management reforms measures of the secretary-general are far beyond the purview of your office."

In her response, Ahlenius regrets that she is "deeply disappointed by the content and tone of your letter".

"I was however warned that this would occur, if I dare challenge the secretary-general with a report that would be critical of his performance," she writes. "My first reaction to you letter is not to respond at all. However, finally, I decided to respond."

Ahlenius says that "in order to project a credible message to the world and to constitute a relevant partner for the member states in addressing the world’s problems, the Organisation must be professionally managed and must be led through example."

"This administration (of Ban Ki-moon) has hardly done that and your letter is testament to the way in which constructive criticism is viewed by the secretary-general."

She also criticises Ban’s efforts "to control OIOS" which she points out "is counter productive and reflects poorly on his image."

The U.N. Secretariat is "in desperate need of different management reforms and the secretary-general must himself take the concrete lead and act to assume responsibility, not to simply talk about such ambitions in his speech," she concludes.

See online: OIOS
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