- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

NEW YORK — Jose Antonio Ocampo, the head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), yesterday defended his management of the scandal-laden “good governance” division, saying that he personally had initiated internal investigations and shut down a foundering office within his department.

In his first public remarks on DESA’s scandal-plagued Division of Public Administration and Development Management unit, or DPADM, since the opening of a U.N. investigation prompted by a Washington Times article last month, Mr. Ocampo also denied having received complaints from staff about concerns that range from mismanagement of government funds to favoritism and intimidation in the hiring and disciplining of employees.

“We have a clear policy, anyone can come to me, or go to the ombudswoman and share their observations, and their privacy will be respected,” Mr. Ocampo said in response to questions. “But nobody has so far.”

That claim flies in the face of documents and accounts given to The Times showing that several staff members complained to Mr. Ocampo, both in person and in writing, about purported mismanagement, intimidation and favoritism in DPADM between 2003 and 2006. There are at least three cases pending before the U.N. Joint Appeals Board, which adjudicates personnel matters.

Several former DESA staffers said they had reported through official channels what they saw as the fraudulent use of contractors, favoritism toward Italians and management decisions that were redundant and senseless. Between 2003 and 2006, these staffers and their lawyer said, they clashed directly with their supervisor, DPADM Director Guido Bertucci, while others went to Mr. Ocampo with evidence.

In mid-December, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations wrote to the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services advising it of “reports alleging that the DPADM has threatened to retaliate against staff members who have brought this matter to light” and warning that evidence might be destroyed.

Additionally, correspondence obtained by The Times over the course of a two-month investigation shows that the Greek government requested an investigation into potential misuse of about $5 million.

Athens had contributed the money in 1999 to build a center in Thessaloniki that promoted “public service professionalism” among Mediterranean nations. But just three years later DPADM opened a duplicative center in Naples.

The findings of that investigation were to have been released in December, but the report was delayed while DPADM compiled a lengthy response to its contents. U.N. officials said yesterday it could be released within two weeks.

The second investigation was opened on Dec. 17 after a report in The Times uncovered evidence of favoritism and intimidation within DPADM, which is responsible for promoting transparency and accountability among member governments.

The article noted that tens of millions of dollars have been contributed by the government of Italy and spent on consultants and projects that directly benefited Italian nationals and the government itself.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs is a sprawling U.N. office with more than 570 employees and an annual budget of $267 million, nearly half of that voluntarily contributed by governments. Its divisions gather statistics or promote policy on sustainable development, women’s empowerment, good governance, accessibility and related issues.

“In the United Nations we have an internal control system,” Mr. Ocampo said of the U.N. investigation. “What we’re doing is to let the internal control system work.”

He defended his decision not to remove Mr. Bertucci from his post as DPADM director, as is customary in other U.N. departments when there is a comprehensive investigation under way.

“If [the investigation] indicates that there were improprieties, we will take a measure,” Mr. Ocampo said. “But any justice system, including the U.N. justice system, is based on the principle of presumption of innocence.”

Asked several times whether he trusted Mr. Bertucci, the undersecretary-general said only, “He is under investigation, and I will take into account whatever the investigation says.”

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