18 May 2006 | Anusha Bradley
The United Nations' new ethics office has promised to shield whistleblowers from the repercussions of reporting fraud or any wrongdoing, its chief adviser has said.
Tunku Abdul Aziz, the co-founder of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International - a non-governmental organisation devoted to combating corruption - is helping the UN to set up the operating and recruitment procedures for the ethics office.
It is one of a number of changes to take place at the UN following allegations of corruption and reports detailing shortfalls within its organisation. Two recent audits of the procurement function cited "lack of internal controls" and management oversight as causes of potential waste, fraud and corruption.
The ethics office was officially established at the beginning of the year, but this is the first time Aziz has faced the media to explain its progress.
Addressing the press this month, he said he aims to persuade and encourage all UN staff "to go beyond mere compliance to understand the true nature of public duty in the public interest".
In the case of a complaint, such as fraud or abuse, the ethics office will conduct a preliminary review to see if there is a credible case. If so, it will forward the matter to the UN Office of Internal Oversight, which acts as an independent watchdog.
The ethics office will provide confidential advice for staff "untainted by any outside influences," Aziz said.
He stressed it would not add just another layer of bureaucracy to the UN's operations, describing it as a "lean, mean little outfit".
Under new ethics procedures, staff must sign financial disclosure forms declaring any income, assets, or transfers to family worth over $10,000. Debts of more than $50,000 must also be declared. This information is used to determine any potential conflict of interest.
All the UN's 1,300 directors and procurement staff who deal with "sensitive financial information" are required to fill in the forms. The UN said 80 per cent had so far done so.
In addition, the value of gifts UN officials are required to report will fall from $10,000 to $250. UN Procurement Service staff are not allowed to accept any gifts under a "zero-tolerance policy" introduced in December.
Among recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office, the US senate's watchdog, in a report published last month, was that the UN adopt ethics guidance and establish clear lines of authority for procurement reporting.