United Nations: What's gone wrong? / An unhealthy situation in Geneva: Agencies out of control

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The Independent Online
THE controversial director- general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, won re- election to the post earlier this year after a bitter campaign in which he was strongly supported by his native Japan but opposed by every major Western donor nation, including Britain and the United States.

Reports by the official auditors to the WHO later took a critical view of procedures and management decisions connected with contracts, worth many thousands of dollars, awarded to individuals in a position to support Dr Nakajima's re-election. The director- general rebutted any suggestion of improper conduct.

But diplomats in Geneva are now concerned over unusual financial procedures that Dr Nakajima followed when he took up residence there in the summer of 1988. The director- general agreed a contract for the rental of a villa in the suburb of Chambesy from 1 August for 14 months at a monthly rental of Sfr8,333 and 33 centimes. Dr Nakajima then completed the standard form to request the subsidy paid by the UN to its employees to help them with accommodation costs.

A memorandum to all professional and higher category staff in the WHO sets out the subsidy guidelines. Article 24 states: 'The rental subsidy scheme applies to rented accommodation only and is therefore not applicable to staff who live in their own homes or in a dwelling owned by someone residing in the household.'

Dr Nakajima submitted the rental subsidy application form to the WHO's director of personnel and general services, H R Crockett, on 19 October 1988. In the space marked 'monthly rent' he listed Sfr8,333.33. He attached a copy of the rental contract.

It was an unusual document. The rental figure of 8,333 Swiss francs was high for a property of its size and location in Geneva. Second, the contract stipulated that the entire rent for the first 12 months, a total of Sfr100,000 ( pounds 37,453 in 1988) was to be paid in advance.

Third, Article 11 of the contract, dealing with the standard three-month deposit, had been deleted.

Mr Crockett, who had disagreed with Dr Nakajima over other personnel matters, did not take any steps to approve the application. He departed for a business trip to New York. While he was away, Dr Nakajima decided to remove him from control of personnel matters.

An official notice of 4 November 1988 announced that Mr Crockett's Division of Personnel and General Services was to be disestablished. Its duties were to be split between a Division of Personnel and a Division of Conferences and General Services. Dr Nakajima appointed Mr A Lafif, a man of 65 who had retired from the WHO five years previously, to head the Division of Personnel. Mr Crockett was appointed director of the other new division. These changes came into effect on 7 November 1988.

On 8 November 1988, Mr Lafif filed a Note for the Record. 'I have been informed by Dr Nakajima that the rent for his house is Sfr6,250.00 and not Sfr8,333.00. The difference goes towards the possible future purchase of the property which, inter alia, is still subject to permission from the Swiss authorities,' he wrote.

Mr Lafif added that he had approved rental subsidy at 'the actual rent paid, ie Sfr6,250.00'.

Mr Crockett, although shocked by the change in his status, headed the Division of Conferences and General Services until 2 January 1991, when he was transferred against his will by Dr Nakajima to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyons.

Mr Crockett appealed to the ILO Tribunal against this second transfer. The tribunal, at a loss to explain Dr Nakajima's behaviour, upheld Mr Crockett's complaint. On 10 February this year it set aside Dr Nakajima's decision to transfer Mr Crockett and ordered the WHO to pay him Sfr25,000 in damages for moral injury and Sfr10,000 towards costs. He has now returned to a post at the WHO in Geneva.

A spokesman for the WHO was asked why Dr Nakajima had requested UN subsidy for monthly rent of Sfr8,333.33 when Mr Lafif's note stated that the 'actual rent paid' was Sfr6,250.00. The spokesman said that Mr Lafif's note 'was a matter of interpretation'.

Asked why Mr Lafif's Note mentioned a payment towards 'possible future purchase of the property' during the lifetime of the contract, the spokesman said that any suggestions of conduct contrary to UN staff guidelines were 'wild speculation'. The spokesman confirmed, however, that Dr Nakajima is now the owner of the property.

(Photograph omitted)