from a blog by Felix Dodds, a friend and well respected commentator on international development and especially the Sustainable Development Agenda. . . .
I wasn’t going to blog on this issue, because it seems to be all over the media. However, when reading the media stories I’m very unimpressed by how they are reporting this.
Prosecutor Preet Bharara, in his diagram led with the headline, “Alleged United Nations Bribery Scheme”. This gives the impression that the UN is somehow involved in the bribery. From my reading of the situation and the evidences he is presenting, it isn’t UN or UN staff or even those who were members of staff of the office of the former president of the GA, who are, at the moment, being accused of anything. It is a representative and deputy representative of two member states of the UN. This is totally different from the organization being involved in any kind of wrongdoing. This is totally different to the way it has been presented by Mr. Bharara which has then been translated into the way that much of the media has presented the story as organizational corruption at the UN.
Let’s take a step back and look at the facts that have been reported. There is an accusation that former Ambassador John Ashe, while an Ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda to the UN, may have not paid tax on some money for work he completed while he was President of the UN General Assembly – but not as UNPGA.
Now lets look at the issue of who the President of the UN General Assembly (UNPGA) is. The President of the UN General Assembly is elected by member states.
For those readers who do not know – this includes the media – the President of the UN General Assembly is NOT a UN staff person.
And the composition of the UNPGA office is also mostly composed of Member States representatives not UN staff.
“Compensation of the President of the General Assembly is determined by the home Member State, which pays the President a salary. This salary is in addition to the privileges of all persons acting in service of the UN or its member states.” (www.unelections.org )
He is NOT answerable to the UN Secretary General but as Rule 36 states “the President, in the exercise of his functions remains under the authority of the General Assembly.” (UN rules of procedure)
It is the responsibility of the media to report accurately what the state of affairs is. What would be more accurate to say is that an Ambassador at the UN, appointed by his country and later elected by his peers, and answerable to the 193 member states to the UN, while undertaking his work as President of the UN General Assembly is being compensated by his country for this work is accused of bribery. Of course, this is not as dramatic.
If he and representatives of a number of other member states also signed a letter to the UNGA to try to have a conference centre built at a location in Macau, then this is an issue again for those member states. On its own, it is not the improper act it is being made out to be by the media because member states can and do send letters to the UNGA all the time calling for whatever they want. Neither the UNGA nor the UN has taken up any of the suggestions in the letter. So where is the UN at fault?
The President of the UNGA is operating under his or her own countries rules as far as how they conduct their business. There may be a need for member states consider making it a requirement for the UNPGA to publish any additional funds he or she receives in the course of their Presidency. The present UNPGA may want to consider publishing his countries rules regarding additional income acquired while being one of THEIR civil servants. This would set a very good example.
Finally, there is clearly more to come out of Mr. Bharara. He has indicated that there are other people being investigated and if I see any further indication of the media not doing their job professionally I will come back to this issue. But can we in the meanwhile ask the media to do their job and report accurately after doing the proper research.
Lets get back to focusing on one of the UN’s great success the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals – an agenda that will change the way we live on this planet.