A leaked 50 page document by the UN’s Chief Investigator, Inga Britt Ahlenius, dated 14 July 2010 and entitled “End of Assignment Report” trashes Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on accountability and transparency, largely deservedly. The UN’s Chief Investigator wrote, “Is the United Nations now on the right path, more transparent, more accountable? I address this question under four main headlines: Transparency, Accountability, Oversight and Management of Reforms. My conclusion and answer follows from my detailed review of certain core aspects of the Organisation. In spite of all your good intentions pronounced in these respects, my answer to this question is regrettably: NO… And at the end of my report I summarize my observations: there is no transparency, 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 reforms in the organization.”
Where does this lead us? Let’s consider this in more detail. Last Wednesday Colombo Telegraph exposed a US$ 1.57 million corrupt deal related to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Sri Lanka. Documents obtained by The Colombo Telegraph show how United Nations funds were paid to three Sri Lankan companies which were physically not contactable. US$ 1.57 million (Approximately Rs. 167,000,000.00 – valuation 2008) was paid to supply companies which the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations could not contact.
The FAO in Sri Lanka purchased project deliveries for the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka to a value exceeding US$ 1.5 million from three suppliers, namely, Dev Trades, A. F. Associates and YCO Farm. These suppliers could not be found in their given registered addresses and were not present at the given addresses. Two FAO staff members Niranjala Gunaraj, Finance Assistant, and Thevarajah Vaigunthan, National Project Officer, both attached to the FAO Emergency Unit, collected the payments on behalf of these three companies.
We asked the UN to publish their own investigative report. We wrote to FAO Country Representative, Patrick Evans and Assistant FAO Representative (Administration), Dihan Hettige, asking what happened to the inquiry findings. After a week Patrick Evans replied to our queries.
Interestingly, Patrick has never denied they paid US$ 1.57 million to “ghost” companies. He says; “The issue you are raising has been thoroughly investigated and addressed in a proper manner.” But we beg to differ and can categorically state that the UN FAO Country Representative is in a cover-up game.
The issue was not addressed in a proper manner. Patrick says; 1. no money was stolen or lost, 2. all inputs were delivered to the beneficiaries and were of suitable quality,3. no crime was committed, 4. transparent procurement procedures were not properly followed and 5. immediate action was taken to correct the situation including removal of the staff member involved and publication of an article in the local newspapers informing the public of the same.
Let us examine these responses one by one;
He accepts transparent procurement procedures were not properly followed. Why an UN FAO organization had failed to follow transparent procurement procedures? It is in itself a crime. He says; no money was stolen or lost. When you purchase goods from “Ghost” companies where has the money been paid to? Today we can expose part of this corrupt deal. It shows where the money went. Bank details of one of this “ghost” companies, A. F. Associates shows employees of the UNFAO were paid millions of Rupees to their personal accounts.
Bank details showcasing transfers of monies from A.F Associates, prove that millions of rupees were transferred to two employees personnel accounts. In 2008 September and October only A.F Associates transferred Rs. 4.1 million to A. Sivanandan’s personnel account in Jaffna and C.R. Moses’s personnel account in Batticaloa. (See the box below)
He says; all inputs were delivered to the beneficiaries and were of suitable quality. How can “Ghost” companies deliver goods to beneficiaries? Where is the proof? Patrick’s own files which were obtained by us shows low inputs were delivered to the beneficiaries of low quality. Effectively, cheating Sri Lanka’s poor – the farmers in supplying low quality seed and agricultural products.
An email dated October 1, 2008 from Benziger, from the FAO office in Trincomalee says; “I regret to inform you that there are long term pending issues with procurement system connected to inferior quality of inputs, in which we brought this issue to Colombo level is not at the first time now. Anyhow, it is very much worrying that such issues is keep on continuing in the FAO system and expanded to other UN agencies. ….Further we came to know that the price different is unreasonable and price difference were very high ( please check with Poultry purchase order).” ( see box for full email )
The point however is this. Patrick Evans says no crime was committed. Is purchasing from “Ghost” companies and paying for same not a fraud? Is fraud not a crime?
Evans also maintains that immediate action was taken to correct the situation including removal of the staff member involved and publication of an article in the local newspapers informing the public of the same. Patrick is again misleading the public. If there was no crime committed why was the staff member removed from the organization and his contract not renewed? Why was there a delay in the publishing of such notice in a local newspaper and informing the public of same? If he was involved in a fraud, why was he not reported to the Police or CID in Sri Lanka?
Immediate action was not taken. According to UN files, whistleblowers within the organisation kept raising these irregularities from 2006 onwards, but no action was taken until the end of 2008. In 2008, an inquiry was initiated through FAO Headquarters Audit Department, where three officials, namely, Ms. Maria Carbone, Ms. Georgina Costello and Mr. Dennis Richards came to Sri Lanka to conduct the inquiry.
On May 10, 2009 UN FAO put an advertisement in the Sunday Observer business page with a photograph of Thevarajah Vaigunathan and said “This serves to inform the general public that Mr. Thevarajah Vaigunathan former National Project Officer of the Food and Agricultural Oraganisation (FAO) of the United Nations, is no longer employed by FAO, and FAO is not liable for any of his transactions/actions.”
So, is this enough? Was it only Vaigunathan who was involved in this corruption? Who are the others? Why did not the UN hand over the investigations to the police?
With FAO denying there was no crime committed, and with all the other staff both in the office and in the field intact how would have the FAO played a major role in supporting the re-settlement process in the north and east of Sri Lanka assisting returning IDPs to resume productive livelihoods? What is the assurance of the quality of the assistance provided and that there was no further fraud? There is no question the current maha paddy harvest is the largest ever recorded in the country.
This issue is about accountability for the funds received for the development of Sri Lanka. Evans says; “the FAO continues to assist the Government to addressing priority needs in the agriculture, fisheries, livestock and forestry sectors.” Why was the Government not informed of the said fraud when it was clear that there were many staff members both local and foreign involved?
So, this is the level of UN transparency and accountability. This in fact undermines the UN’s system of independent investigations.
There are many similar experiences around the world. A good example for this is Lockheed’s PAE subsidiary a no-bid $250 million contract to build peacekeeper bases for the hybrid UN African Union Mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID. Faced with questions about why competition rules were waived and the aura of corruption, American press questioned this deal for months and eight months after press investigations UN’s Ban Ki-moon admitted in a report that “Lockheed Martin in Darfur is far behind schedule and has not performed as expected.” The issue is still unfolding.
According to our investigations, the evidence was clear, but the FAO Country Representative Patrick Evans and Assistant FAO Representative (Administration), Dihan Hettige, encouraged FAO headquarters to bury this incident. Why? Why did Dihan Hettige want to bury the investigation?
Dihan Hettige was the Communications Director of the Ministry of Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction under President Chandrika Kumaratunge, before he joined the UN FAO. He has a history of engaging in cover-up games. A report by Transparency International Sri Lanka questions his role when he had been employed at the Ministry to which we today carry his response. (Click here to read Dihan Hettige’s cover-up game.)
Speaking to The Sunday Leader on Friday, Patrick said “We found that no theft had occurred either of money or of the product. Two separate auditing companies from Rome and Bangkok investigated the accounts and found no irregularities.” Patrick did you provide the email dated October 1, 2008 from Benziger, from the FAO Trincomalee office to the auditors?
Why don’t you publish the report? We want the UN to publish its own report into this incident upholding the principles of transparency and accountability.