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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Government Accountability Project
202.408.0034 ext. 137
Whistleblower Who Exposed Wrongdoing in UNDP Somalia Projects Vindicated
Retaliator was Country Director of Haiti during Aftermath of Earthquake
WASHINGTON - March 9 - The Government Accountability Project (GAP) applauds United Nations Ethics Committee Chairman Robert Benson and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark for protecting a UNDP whistleblower from retaliation.
In February, UNDP agreed to enforce a decision issued by the United Nations Ethics Committee on December 11, 2009. The decision stated that GAP client Ismail Ahmed, a former UNDP financial services program officer, suffered retaliation for making protected whistleblowing disclosures regarding wrongdoing in the UNDP Somalia Country Office. Dr. Ahmed alleged that fraud and corruption in the UNDP Somalia Remittances Programme threatened to jeopardize the ability of remittance companies to comply with international regulations addressing money laundering and terrorist financing. He also disclosed detailed information about corruption in the procurement process and support provided to a company suspected of links with terrorist organizations.
"This decision shows that there can be light at the end of a very long tunnel for UNDP whistleblowers who have overwhelming evidence of retaliation," said GAP International Program Officer Shelley Walden.
The UN Ethics Committee found that because of these disclosures, Dr. Ahmed suffered retaliation, his professional reputation was damaged, and he was transferred without appropriate support. In addition, according to the decision, in 2007 UNDP Somalia Office personnel tried to thwart attempts by the Somali remittance industry to hire Dr. Ahmed, who has twenty years of experience in this area, and a PhD in Economics. The blacklisting was "communicated quite openly" in relation to a consultancy contract that UNDP funded.
Overall, the Ethics Committee recommended that UNDP take comprehensive steps to correct the effects of the retaliation directed at Dr. Ahmed as a result of his disclosures.
Both the UNDP's investigative body - the Office of Audit and Investigations (OAI) - and Ethics Office undermined Dr. Ahmed's due process rights by failing to disclose retaliatory statements made in his case, and claiming that there was no retaliation against him, despite strong evidence to the contrary. In addition, UNDP has yet to inform Dr. Ahmed, three years after he made his first disclosures of corruption, whether corrective action was taken to remedy the concerns he raised. Dr. Ahmed has not been given a copy of OAI's investigative report, despite a recent United Nations Dispute Tribunal decision that strongly encourages UN funds and programs to release such reports. Moreover, the retaliators in Dr. Ahmed's case have apparently not been disciplined.
Instead, news reports show, a retaliator in Dr. Ahmed's case was promoted and transferred to Haiti, where he was the Country Director for UNDP at the time of the devastating earthquake there. The move is a cause for concern as the ability of UNDP to monitor the disbursement of aid in Haiti has been severely compromised by the chaotic aftermath of the disaster.
Other troubling actions in the handling of the case include:
- The failure of OAI to interview a key witness to the retaliatory actions. Several other witnesses were afraid to speak with investigators, as UNDP's whistleblower protections do not cover certain employees - such as service contract holders and independent contractors - or provide protection from retaliation for making protected disclosures or cooperating with an investigation.
- The inappropriate participation of a UNDP management representative in an investigative interview. During the interview, she was allowed to ask questions, take notes and draft the final report and recommendations. As a direct or indirect management representative, this person was a party to the conflict, and her presence had a chilling effect on both the investigator and the whistleblower.
- The conflict of interest involving OAI. Dr. Ahmed's disclosures included allegations of irregularities and corrupt practices related to contracts issued to KPMG East Africa. KPMG previously conducted several internal audits for OAI, including in the UNDP Somalia office in which Dr. Ahmed worked.
At UNDP, Dr. Ahmed was responsible for providing guidance and support in the development of a self-regulation system and the implementation of a compliance mechanism designed to enable remittance companies to prevent the use of their networks by terrorist groups. Corruption in the procurement process, however, resulted in UNDP's failure to implement an effective money transfer and compliance platform, jeopardizing the ability of Somali remittance companies to comply with international regulations countering money laundering and terrorist financing.
In December 2008, the UN arms monitoring group confirmed that funds to terrorist insurgency groups in Somalia were still being channeled through Somali money transfer companies. The U.S. government has also raised concerns recently about resources being diverted to terrorist groups in Somalia in contravention of U.S. law