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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

UN Staff Demonstrate Against the Head of UN-WIPO

Bea Edwards, January 26, 2017

Staff Protest Retaliation Against Whistleblowers and Corruption

The embattled Director General (DG) of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) continues to face demands for his resignation – this time from the brave souls who dared to join an open protest against his failure to depart WIPO last year in the face of proven misconduct. Francis Gurry, the DG, was found to have intervened improperly in a procurement process by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) obtained a copy of “Consideration and Review of the Final Investigation Report by OIOS on the ‘Abuse of Authority and Procurement Irregularities Implicating a Staff Member of the World Intellectual Property Organization,’” which reads, in part:

The OIOS investigation made the following findings i) Mr. Gurry directly influenced the evaluation process under this investigation by instructing the Chair of the Evaluation Team to base their [sic] recommendation purely on technical information, ii) Mr. Gurry’s recommendation to the Evaluation Team to disregard the financial weight in the evaluation was contrary to WIPO’s procurement instructions, which state that the evaluation should be based on pre-established criteria iii) in disregarding the financial weight of the predetermined evaluation criteria, Mr. Gurry acted in non-compliance of WIPO’s Procurement instructions.

In plain English, after an Evaluation Team had decided how bids should be compared, including both technical and financial information, Gurry then instructed the team to disregard the comparison of costs contained in the competing bids. As a result, the contract went to a friend of Gurry’s, even though the bid was substantially higher than the others.

Subsequently, the chairs of the WIPO governing body restricted access to the investigation report: members of the governing body could only see the report in a closed room for limited hours and without counsellors or phones. The two Chairmen then recommended to their colleagues that Gurry should continue to head WIPO, and they all agreed – including the Permanent Representative for the United States. Her support for Gurry was especially peculiar, given that he had used WIPO to circumvent US sanctions and shipped American computer equipment to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Iran. Equally significant, given the US Mission’s rhetorical support for whistleblowers, the US also stood down as Gurry fired the President of the WIPO Staff Association just before he was scheduled to tell the Member States about Gurry's abuse of authority. 

This is what we know.

Gurry is also (very credibly) accused of instructing security personnel – of unknown affiliation – to steal the personal effects of WIPO staff members to extract their DNA. Allegedly, Gurry suspected the staff members of writing anonymous letters critical of him, and used the stolen DNA to determine whether they had in fact done so (they had not). Apparently, the government of Switzerland cooperated in this caper, lending its forensic capability to the cause. When one of the staff members discovered the theft and protested, Gurry transferred her to Singapore and then forced her into retirement.

Francis Gurry’s story is a long and complex one, involving numerous allegations and actions, but one thing is certain; he intervened improperly in a procurement process to steer a contract to a friend. Not surprisingly, the friend’s bid on the WIPO contract was a pricier one than the competitors’. This is a problem, and not only because Gurry wasted WIPO money.

Procurement at any public institution is where corruption is most likely to occur – that’s where the discretionary funding is. As a result, all UN agencies have strict procurement procedures. However, when the head of a UN agency publicly violates those procedures to benefit a friend and gets away with it, he cannot discipline subordinates for doing the same thing. He can’t accuse anyone else of this type of misconduct without risking the re-opening of his own corruption case.

In this particular instance, the situation is worse still. The staff member foolish enough to believe WIPO and the United Nations would protect him from retaliation for reporting Gurry’s corruption has been the target of career-wrecking harassment since the incident occurred. His name as a reporting witness was given to Gurry.

This is why we must admire the 100 or so staff members who risked their careers to take a public stand demanding Gurry’s resignation. We can be sure that if Gurry can identify them, they will be singled out for reprisal.

This story is yet another UN failure to protect whistleblowers.The WIPO whistleblower who tried to stop the shipments of computer equipment to North Korea and Iran, lost her job: Miranda Brown was forced out of WIPO. A second whistleblower, Moncef Kateb, was fired for preparing to report the DNA theft. A third, James Pooley, a Deputy Director General who reported both incidents, was similarly harassed. A fourth, who spoke to investigators as a witness is currently suffering intense abuse.