October 18, 2005

Proposed U.N. shield for whistle-blowers stalls

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations has yet to
take steps to protect staffers who accuse superiors of
misconduct, nearly 18 months after Secretary-General Kofi Annan
promised to shield such whistle-blowers from reprisals, U.N.
officials acknowledged on Tuesday.

Annan, in a June 4, 2004, letter to U.N. staff, said the
world body's internal watchdog office had found through a
survey that U.N. employees believed that little was being done
to root out unethical behavior and that workers who exposed
wrongdoing risked reprisals.

"We will ... develop measures to reinforce formal
protection for whistle-blowers," Annan said at that time. "I
want to stress that I am fully committed to addressing the
concerns that all of you have identified in this survey."

Almost a year and a half later, however, new draft rules on
whistle-blowers remain on the desk of Deputy Secretary-General
Louise Frechette, said Barbara Dixon, who heads the watchdog
unit's Investigations Division.

"We had anticipated when we were working on that document
that what was going to happen was there was going to be a final
policy on whistle-blowers. There is not one yet," Dixon told a
news conference.

Tarred by a steady drumbeat of accusations against various
U.N. officials in recent months, many of them linked to the
now-defunct $64 billion oil-for-food program for Iraq, the
United Nations circulated a proposed new whistle-blower policy
for comment in April as part of a broader U.N. reform

When Annan said in the 2004 letter that employees should
not be afraid to disclose unethical behavior, "he was setting
the tone for what was going to come later," Dixon said. "Going
through and setting up a program takes some period of time. I
would hope it would happen sooner rather than later."

A number of management reforms were adopted last month at a
U.N. summit. But the whistle-blower rules were not included.

The main U.N. bureaucracy has nearly 15,000 employees
worldwide and a $1.8 billion annual budget. That does not
include more than $3.5 billion for peacekeeping forces and
20,000 staffers who work in U.N. programs and funds.

The whistle-blower proposal would create an ethics unit in
Annan's executive office to hear reports of reprisals or
threats against staff reporting mismanagement or wrongdoing,
and to discipline those found responsible.

The unit would report annually to the U.N. General Assembly
on all the cases it handled and the actions it took. A new
whistle-blower review panel would watch over the ethics unit
and suggest improvements.