Whistleblower Who Exposed Wrongdoing in UNDP Somalia Projects Vindicated

For Immediate Release

Contact: 
Dylan Blaylock
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 - 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.

Background

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.

Haiti

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 Notes

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

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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.

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