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New Audit Raises Questions About U.N. Staff Union

Monday, 18 June 2007 12:00 AM

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Staff Union, an organization that represents more than 5,000 Secretariat employees in New York City and an additional 10,000 overseas, has prided itself as an "unofficial watchdog" against waste and abuse within the United Nations system.

Staff Union officials often led reporters to uncover abuses such as those in the scandal-plagued Iraq Oil for Food Program as well as questionable conduct within the U.N.'s Internal Oversight Dept. (OIOS).

Now, a recent audit obtained by NewsMax, shows that officials within the Staff Union themselves may have been engaged in questionable activities.

Under rumors of financial abuses, the Staff Union was pressured by its membership to retain the services of an outside, independent auditor to uncover the facts.

Syed N. Haque, a CPA based in Rego Park, N.Y., wrote to the "Staff Council" of the Staff Union that in his audit, he found "significant deficiencies in the design or operation of internal controls."

Haque went on to state that such deficiencies "could adversely affect the Staff Union's ability to record, process, summarize and report financial data."

The findings by Haque come on the heels of an earlier scandal uncovered at the U.N. employees federal credit union (UNFCU) which resulted in the arrest of a senior UNFCU official by the FBI.

That scam resulted in almost $40,000 being pilfered from the UNFCU's automated teller system.

Among the "problems" raised by Haque in his report:

1. Records are not maintained in a centralized location.

Resolutions and invoice records were scattered in several locations and some could not be located at all.

Haque warned that "such a practice can lead to unauthorized expenses and makes detection of such expenditures more difficult."

2. Audit adjusting entries were not posted to the general ledger.

In short, records from an earlier audit were either incomplete or missing altogether. Efforts to reach the previous auditor were "unsuccessful."

3. Contributions from UNICEF employees.

The employees of the U.N.'s children's fund are not considered staffers of the U.N.'s Secretariat and as such are not covered under any representation agreement, but says Haque, that did not stop the Staff Union from accepting membership dues from the UNICEF staffers.

4. Complete records of contributions made by check were not available.

This pointed out that some UN staffers elected to pay union dues by check rather than a direct payroll deduction. The records of those who paid by check were either incomplete or could not be found at all and Haque warned that we "cannot satisfy ourselves that all contributions have been accounted for."

5. Overtime payments to employees.

The union is accused by the auditor of paying overtime to officials who were not contractually entitled to it.

6. Checks being addressed to the same individual who authorized the payments.

The auditor criticized the union for allowing certain officials to issue and sign checks for themselves.

The auditor laid much of the blame for the abuses at former union president Rosemary Waters who Haque disclosed billed the union for overtime work she was not entitled to, and did so under two different names, her maiden and married ones.

Such accusations had previously surfaced in The New York Sun.

Repeated efforts to reach Waters for reaction to the audit were not successful.

According to Haque, almost $150,000 in union expenditures is in question. While not an enormous amount of money, it is almost 8% of the organization's assets.

Symbolically, the impact of the findings is far greater.

Already under a cloud of suspicion for various other scandals, the staff union audit added more shame to a U.N. community that has grown weary trying to move beyond a seemingly never ending parade of abuses appearing daily in the press.

While current union president Stephen Kisambira insists he is moving to address the audit's findings, many staffers remained unconvinced.

"We are supposed to see the audit's results ourselves," groused one staffer, "I still have not seen it." The staffer insisted that he and many of his colleagues still get their "news" from the U.N. press corps, not the Staff Union.

"So what has changed, really?" he asked.

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UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Staff Union, an organization that represents more than 5,000 Secretariat employees in New York City and an additional 10,000 overseas, has prided itself as an "unofficial watchdog" against waste and abuse within the United Nations...
Monday, 18 June 2007 12:00 AM
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