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UN Ethics office will go beyond regulations to create moral milieu says

“The ethics office will be central to the reform process,” journalists attending a Headquarters press conference were told by Tunku Abdul Aziz, who co-founded the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International and is now providing advice on the set-up, operating procedures and staff recruitment for the Office, one of several reform measures endorsed by the 2005 World Summit.“Where as in the past members of the UN staff were merely expected to comply with the rules and regulations governing their service, in today’s UN they’re being persuaded and encouraged to go beyond mere compliance and to understand the true nature of public duty in the public interest, with all that this implies,” he added.Conceived by Mr. Annan, the Office was formally established on 1 January, with an interim team of seconded UN staff members, to administer the new financial disclosure and whistleblower policies, both of which were mandated by the General Assembly to take effect by the start of 2006.In the case of a complaint of retaliation for whistle-blowing, the Ethics Office will conduct a preliminary review to see if there was a credible case. If so, it will forward the matter to the UN Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS), which serves as the world body’s independent watchdog.Under the new financial disclosure system, the value of gifts that UN officials will be required to report will drop from $10,000 to $250, and financial disclosure forms will be required from a far broader spectrum of officials.In addition, the Office is available to provide confidential advice to staff, “untainted by any outside influences,” in order to help them avert conflict of interest problems, said Mr. Aziz said.These exchanges will remain confidential and information from financial disclosure forms will remain internal at this time, Mr. Aziz stressed in reply to questions from journalists about the lack of public access to such information.“Full public disclosure is considered appropriate for ministers of State and heads of State, not for public servants,” added Howard Whitton, who has been a Principal Adviser on public sector reform projects in various Eastern European countries for the Organization for Security and Cooperation for Development (OECD) and is consulting on setting up the UN’s ethics office.“It’s essentially preventive, it’s not a policing action,” he said of the disclosure system.If the experts who monitor the forms cannot resolve a problem with a given individual, he said, they can report it to the Office and the case will be pursued from there. “If the official refuses to resolve the problem, in principle they can be terminated.” Many aspects of the Office, however, are still being worked out, Mr. Aziz stressed, and procedures can be adjusted as need be. Even the optimal level of staff to fulfil the Office’s mandate still needs to be determined.“But I can assure you, it will be a lean mean little outfit,” he said, stressing that he was not interested in creating a bureaucracy.

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