UN staff fear whistleblowers will suffer internal reprisals

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United Nations staff are afraid to report unprofessional conduct for fear of reprisals and do not view the organisation's leaders as role models for integrity, according to a global survey of employees.

United Nations staff are afraid to report unprofessional conduct for fear of reprisals and do not view the organisation's leaders as role models for integrity, according to a global survey of employees.

Most UN staff believe breaches of conduct are not sufficiently reported and investigated, and feel those who violate guidelines are not disciplined fairly and consistently. A majority of those surveyed also believe internal political pressure makes it difficult to deal appropriately with unethical behavior, according to the survey.

The report was commissioned by United Nations from Deloitte & Touche LLP to measure attitudes and perceptions among UN staff about integrity - a core value of the world body. Online questionnaires were sent to 18,035 staff members around the world. Of those, 6,086 replied, a 33 per cent response rate that the company said is among the highest of any large-scale survey of UN employees.

The survey was commissioned before the UN's reputation was called into question earlier this year over allegations of fraud and corruption in the UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq. An independent panel headed by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker is now leading an investigation into the allegations.

The survey concluded that, from the UN staff perspective, "most of the infrastructure to support ethics and integrity is in place; accountability is not."

"Staff have a relatively low level of trust and this colours perceptions," it says. "But the relatively low level of trust is because they have high expectations that, to a greater or lesser extent, have been disappointed."

Not only do a majority of UN staff view senior leaders as putting their personal interests ahead of ethics, they also believe whistle-blowers aren't adequately protected. They feel that people tend to favour those from their cultural background, regardless of whether it is in the best interests of the UN.

Commenting on the survey in a lengthy letter to UN staff, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that "few staff think that there is widespread fraud or financial corruption ... and most believe they know what is expected of them in the way of integrity and ethical behavior."

But he said staff concerns a point to the need for the United Nations to improve its protection for whistle-blowers and its reporting procedures. He announced the formation of a follow-up consultative group to examine issues raised.

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