The Management Evaluation Unit is the UN’s equivalent of the human appendix; it serves no useful purpose other than to cause intense pain and can kill you if you are not careful.
One of many “make-work” schemes in the UN, it’s greatest success has been in creating posts to employ more staff. Unfortunately, none of these people impressed me very much and none of my experiences of the MEU suggest they reflect the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity expected of an International Civil servant.
Of everything I raised with the UN Dispute Tribunal, only one was actually important, and that was challenging the decision of the Rebuttal Panel who failed to actually carry out the one task they were given.
I referred that to the MEU, and made a very serious error by assuming they would actually do their job. They did not.
Instead, on a number of occasions the MEU assured me they were working on this, but they were busy and needed just a little bit more time. They came back to me in writing five times on this. Taking them at their word, I granted them that extra time.
This turned out to be a deliberate delaying tactic, and by agreeing to their requests for extra time, and (foolishly) believing the MEU might actually address the problem, I delayed filing with the Tribunal until it was so late that it allowed the Organisation to argue – successfully – that the application was time-barred and should be dismissed as not being receivable ratione temporis.
In any other circumstance one would use the word ‘mismanagement’ here, and might even use the word ‘fraud’ to describe the Organisations actions. The Organisation was allowed to benefit from the duplicity or incompetence of the MEU.
This should be a very valuable lesson to anyone making an application…..
Does the MEU actually perform any valuable service?
The answer to that depends on whether you are:
- the Secretary-General (blessed – as he is – with senior staff who believe that bureaucracy and an unfounded charge of “leaking confidential information” is more important that stopping the sexual abuse of vulnerable children) or
- someone being harassed, sexually abused or otherwise victimised by the UN.
Under ST/SGB/2010/9, section 10.2(a) the primary function of the MEU is “conducting an impartial and objective evaluation of administrative decisions contested by staff members of the Secretariat to assess whether the decision was made in accordance with rules and regulations.”
In reality, however, this is interpreted to mean that the MEU will bend over backwards to use any technicality possible to ensure that any decision by any senior manager is updeld, no matter how patently ridiculous it may be.
Like many offices in the UN, the MEU consider their role to be one of a preliminary judicial body, except without even the pretence of impartiality. The MEU’s role is to discourage challenges to bad decisions, thus protecting retaliatory, venal and incompetent managers.
The truth is out there – and in this regard it is demonstrated by the statistics for the most recent year 2014:
Total MEU requests filed in 2014 :
Requests not receivable
Requests formally settled
Decisions appealed & decided by UNDT
Source: A/70/187. Secretary-General’s Report on Administration of Justice at the United Nations for the biennium 2014-2015. Table 1 on page 5
Every MEU evaluation request represents a staff member with a grievance. This table shows that (at least in 2014) the chances of the MEU finding in favour of that staff member is 20:1 against, and that half of all MEU requests are rejected as “not receivable.”
These “not receivable” cases are interesting. Every one of these request came from a staff member with a grievance, and this is the Organisations way of telling them that they can simply go to Hell in a hand-basket.
If the Department of Management was actually concerned about improving the standards of management in the UN, it would not be unreasonable for them to analyse every evaluation request received by the MEU. That would actually identify managers who attracted the most complaints to see if the manager himself was, in fact, part of the problem. That would allow the Department of Management to focus attention on problem areas, and possibly even get rid of those incompetent managers…. but that would involve the Department of Management admitting that some senior staff were not actually very good at their jobs – and that would be heresy.
The MEU plays an important role in the UN “justice” system. It is has nothing to do with “fairness” or “reasonableness” and wash your mouth out with soap if you dare suggest it should have anything to do with “justice” – the role of the MEU is simply to protect management and nothing else.
This table also shows that the MEU can claim credit for ensuring that 94.1% of staff members grievances never make it as far as the UNDT.
I had the great pleasure of dealing with the MEU in no fewer than five matters, for which I received the following responses.
- MEU (704-13 Ethics Office) 26-Jul-13
- MEU (820-13 Rebuttal panel) 21-Feb-14
- MEU (071-14 Whiteboard) 10-Mar-14
- MEU (250-14 Orig Complaint) 25-Jul-14
- MEU (104-15 House Arrest) 10-Mar-15
- MEU (024-15 Referral to OHRM) 17-Mar-15
Sadly, I was never impressed. To understand the importance of how the MEU successfully sabotaged my UNDT application, you have to understand that there are two time limits to be followed if you are considering submitting an application to the UN Dispute Tribunal.
First of these involves the MEU. they have 30 days in which to respond to a request for management evaluation, and you cannot make an application to the UNDT until the MEU have either responded or have had their full 30 days in which they had the opportunity to respond. So, if the day on which the staff member sends a request to the MEU is Day 1, then they cannot file an application with the Tribunal until either they have a response from the MEU, or Day 31, whichever comes first.
So far so good. Then at the other end, there is time limit under the UNDT rules, which states that an application to the Tribunal must be made within 90 days of the staff member receiving a reply from the MEU, or if they do not reply – within 90 days of Day 31.
OK, fine, so in diagrammatic form, the timeline looks like this:
The staff member cannot file an application with the Tribunal too early, nor can he file it too late. He has 90 days in which to think about the MEU’s reply.
OK, no problems there….
What if the MEU respond early? What if they respond in say only 10 days?
In that case, the staff member still has 90 days – but only 90 days. He does not get any additional benefit from the MEU being early because the 90 days for the UNDT starts running earlier.
OK, that is fair. The staff member has the same full 90 day opportunity to consider the response from the MEU.
The staff member cannot complain much about that.
So, what if the MEU respond, but their response is late?
This is what happened in the case of Mohammed when the Tribunal held (paras 17 & 18) that when computing time limits for the filing an Application when an MEU response is late “the Applicant cannot be penalized for MEU being dilatory in its obligations.” In that case, the time limit was critical because although the MEU was late, the 90 day period for the UNDT had not yet run out – but it had by the time the staff member filed with the UNDT.
The UN argued that the staff member was time-barred. He should have filed with the UNDT within 90 days of Day 31.
Imagine, for example, the MEU respond on ‘Day 60’. Lawyers for the UN (who care only about having cases kicked out by any means possible) argued that the 90 days for the UNDT started to run on ‘Day 31’, not on ‘Day 61’ when the MEU replied, because the staff member was still able to meet the 90 day UNDT deadline. It was just tough luck that the MEU were late and that he didn’t have the full 90 days…..
The Tribunal did not accept that argument, and held that when the MEU reply is received late, but it is still within 90 days of ‘Day 31’ – then the MEU response resets the clock; the staff member still has fully 90 days to consider his options.
Everybody happy? Excellent.
So what would happen if the MEU was so late in replying that more than 90 days had passed since ‘Day 31’?
That, strangely enough, was the situation with me.
I received something from a Rebuttal Panel which indicated they had not based their decision on the factors in front of them, and had failed to exercise their jurisdiction.
That sounds like a fairly basic ‘procedural’ question to me, so I sent it to the MEU. I sent it by fax on 30 September 2013. They have 30 days in which to respond. The MEU replied after 29 days, pointing out that one page of the fax had not come through. I apologised and rather than blow an o-ring, accepted responsibility for not having checked it properly at the time.
They then said they would need a little bit more time, and being a co-operative sort of individual; I agreed. The reason they needed a bit more time was apparently because the OIOS Executive Office had not responded – and because there had been a page missing from the application.
Hold on a minute, did they not notice there was a page missing earlier, when they had first looked at it and contacted the OIOS Executive Office? Let’s not go there.
In any event, the MEU came back to me in writing a second time, and said they needed a little bit more time, and of course I agreed, and they came back again a third time, and then a fourth time, and in total they came back to me in writing five times
Then, on 7 February 2014, Ms. Arielle Silverstein of the MEU called me, and said that she was very sorry that it had taken this long to deal with my request.
She had been off work, she said, because she was having a baby. Well, that is all very nice, and I am sure everyone was very happy about it – but it had absolutely nothing to do with me! That the MEU – which of course is part of the Department of Management – lacks the managerial ability to manage their workload, comes as no surprise but that also has nothing to do with me.
So, once again neatly side-stepping the merits of the question; when this got to the UNDT, the Administrative Law section argued – successfully – that the application was time-barred.
The MEU had managed to delay their response so long that the clock was NOT re-set.
This means that the Organisation is not only allowed to benefit from their own delaying tactics; they are actually rewarded for them!
Before getting too excited about that, consider the more interesting question; what did the MEU actually say after 153 days?
Ah, now that was even more interesting. “Very sorry” they said, “this is ‘not receivable.’”
Not receivable? Oh really? Well, if it was ‘not receivable’
- Why could they not have told me that on Day 2?
- Why did it take them so long? and
- Why did Arielle Silverstein tell me she was “almost finished” with the evaluation on 7 February?
The MEU repeatedly informed me that they were working in it and they needed just a bit more time, and took 153 days to respond. By so doing, they ensured I would be timed-out of applying to the UNDT.
Pardon me for not congratulating them on their highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity.
The person in the MEU responsible for was dealing with this was a Ms. Arielle Silverstein. The reference on that response letter was MEU/820/13/R[AS].
On 25 July 2013 I had written to the Management Evaluation Unit about the summary decision by the Ethics Office not to recognise my Annual Appraisal as retaliation. On that occasion the MEU did respond immediately. They replied within 24 hours, and their letter bears the reference MEU/704-13/R[AS].
- Why did Ms. Silverstein take 153 days to answer a question she had earlier been able to answer in 24 hours?
It is a small world. Ms. Silverstein has now moved to the Ethics Office where her skills in sabotaging any attempt to challenge a decision by management will doubtless be much appreciated.
But wait – there’s more – because that was only one of my run-ins with the MEU.
On paper, under ST/SGB/2010/9, the MEU is supposed to conduct “ an impartial and objective evaluation of administrative decisions contested by staff members of the Secretariat to assess whether the decision was made in accordance with rules and regulations
They interpret that as strictly excluding any sort of qualitative assessment of the decision, and they hide behind the UN’s self-serving unfamilarity with anything involving the concept of “reasonablness”.
My experience of the MEU shows that as far as the Department of Management is concerned, a UN official could decide that X or Y had to be done (or not done) because there was a letter R in the month, because he wore short trousers when younger, or because a particular staff member plays the piano, but as long as they can say that the “proper procedure” was followed, the MEU will bend over backwards to interpret the facts presented to them to ridicule and dismiss any objection to it. By their own admission, they find against the staff member 19 times out of 20.
Of course, when things got a little bit difficult for the MEU, they had Susana Malcorra to sign off on anything, and given her capacity as Protector-in-Chief of Mrs & Mrs Dudley, the words ‘impartial” and “objective” in ST/SGB/2010/9 go up in smoke and even a deaf dumb and blind man living in a cave on the planet Pluto knows what her answer is going to be.
My favourite example of the total perversion of logic from the Management Evaluation Unit’s is their in the “house arrest” matter.
In fairness, this has to be something deserving of an award. Baldini’s “possible assault” allegation was simply paranoid legal psycopathy but if there is a Nobel Prize for pseudo-legal contortionism, Marco Madriz must be a contender for his response to that evaluation request. MEU Referral (House Arrest) (9-Feb-15)
So…… after having my work on the kidney transplant fraud case severely and mercilessly lambasted in my Annual Appraisal, and having Sherlock Dzuro tell me that asking if evidence of a criminal offence should be referred to the law enforcement authorities in Jordan for criminal investigation was a sign that I did not understand what OIOS does…… guess what? The Department of Field Support read the report (which had been delayed for 16 months anyway) and recommended that this should be referred to referred to the law enforcement authorities in Jordan for criminal investigation.
By this stage I was totally and comprehensively pissed off with the bias and the incompetence that I was faced with on a daily basis so I sent an acerbic missive to Vlad Dzuro throwing his ignorance and arrogance back in his face.
Nobody appreciates my rampant sarcasm, but I did not appreciate my professionalism and my experience being portrayed as retarded either, and the difference is thatI was not the one who was refusing to answer anything….
Rather than actually address the issues, Dan “your ethics man” Wilson – who was of course unable and willing to give me an answer to any question at all – responded by once again making a third party complaint of “harassment” on Dzuro’s behalf.
So Lapointe gets yet another third party complaint under ST/SGB/2008/5, this one on behalf of Dzuro who has a history of making petty complaints against me about the tiniest thing, including for “walking in an aggressive manner” but is suddenly not deemed capable of making his own formal complaint……
This is OIOS at its best, of course.
Now, let’s not get too worried by the procedures for dealing with complaints of harassment as laid down in ST/SGB/2008/5 para 5.14 because Lapointe just decided she was not going to bother with an investigation here.
Instead, she just decided that I should be barred from the office. I was presented with a telecommuting agreement and told that I could sign it and work from home, or I would be relocated to the sit with the bean-counters on the floor below, but I was not being permitted to work in the OIOS office on the 7th floor.
That was fine by me, there is just one tiny little problem, and that is that in the UN, telecommuting agreements are governed by ST/SGB/2003/4, which clearly early states all flexible working arrangements are purely voluntary. I was not being given a choice.
Now, at this point, anyone who has any understanding of the law of contract (and there are clearly very few of them in OIOS) might start hearing the chimes of little bells and remember such terms as ‘coercion’ and ‘undue influence’ and ‘duress’.
I declined to sign this “voluntary” agreement, but I was not exactly heart-broken at the prospect of sitting on my backside at home. This was November, and the winters are cold in New York.
Now, given that the nature of this alleged “harassment” was for sending an acerbic e-mail, and there was no attempt to deny me access to the e-mail system; how does banning me from the office bear any relation to the alleged harassment?
God only knows.
Well, perhaps God and Carman Lapointe but unfortunately neither of them was willing to explain this great exercise of the intellect.
This was nothing but a disguised disciplinary measure. A blind man looking the other way in a coal shed at night could see that.
Notice that this is not the first time that Dan “the ethics man” Wilson) has used a third party ‘harassment’ complaint to deflect attention away from evidence of someone’s wrongdoing and to retaliate against the person drawing attention to it. That is a perfectly acceptable tactic in OIOS, but never mind…
Three months pass. Under ST/SGB/2008/5 para 5.17 any ‘harassment’ investigation is supposed to be completed in three months. OK. So on 5 February, I wrote and ask if its OK that I come back to the office. And why not? The worst of the New York winter was over by now anyway.
Lapointe then informed me, in writing, that she had decided not to bother investigating the complaint because she considered that forcing Dzuro to confront the fallaciousness of the vitriolic bile with which he had filled my Annual Appraisal was “the same thing” as making a satirical reference ten months earlier to a UNDT judgement where Michael Dudley was found to have tampered with evidence.
Clearly an unrecognised genius in the filed of jurisprudence, Lapointe considered that I was going to be found guilty for something else anyway, so it was perfectly legal to banish me from the office, as a de facto punishment for something for which I was not being investigated.
This is interesting. Most criminal justice systems, in most civilised countries (and Canada is certainly one of those) proceed on the basis that:
- an individual is innocent until proven guilty;
- any person accused of wrongdoing is entitled to a defence;
- that the individual has to be guilty of a specific offence committed at a specific place and date;
- those facts have to be proved by evidence meeting the requisite standard of proof; and
- that the punishment imposed for that wrongdoing must be something mandated by law.
Now some of this is really new stuff. It is not impossible you have been practising law for many years and never have heard of any of this, though probably not if you were brought up with something called Christianity, or Judaism, or even Islam for that matter because these principles can be found in the Old Testament – but don’t let that worry you, especially id you have been working for the UN for a while.
Carman Lapointe, of course, had her own views on what constituted ‘natural justice’ and these seem to have evolved on an entirely different planet from the one I thought I was living on. In addition to the legal supprt available within the UN, she was of course surrounded by other intellectual heavyweights in the OIOS Executive Office to “advise her.” These included ‘Special Min’, who was one of the many pneumocephalics in the UN who had failed to recognise there might just have been something just a little bit retaliatory in the way in which Ms. Nguyen-Kropp & Mr. Postica had been treated, but why would anyone want to learn from having got is so spectacularly wrong the last time?
There’s a lesson in this; when dealing with an idiot, never underestimate the value of their experience!
OK, fair enough.
Now, remember that the role of the ‘core functions’ of the MEU, according to ST/SGB/2010/9, para 10.2 include:
(a) Conducting an impartial and objective evaluation of administrative decisions contested by staff members of the Secretariat to assess whether the decision was made in accordance with rules and regulations;
(b) Making recommendations to the Under-Secretary-General for Management on the outcome of the management evaluations and proposing appropriate remedies in case of improper decision made by the Administration;
Well, here we have an administrative decision being contested, and the question for the MEU is whether this spectacular train wreck of executive decision-making was “in accordance with rules and regulations.’
The MEU was faced with a little problem. Any finding that even one thing in this panoply of managerial incompetence could constitute “improper decision made by the Administration” was not going to reflect well on Lapointe, and it was going to open up that can of worms that was the PIP that it was so important remained forgotten, buried and inviolably locked shut forever….
You can guess what’s coming, can’t you?
Of course the Organisation need have no fear; the MEU’s “impartial and objective evaluation” found that it was me who was at fault and that Lapointe did absolutely nothing wrong!
How did that work?
The MEU was asked evaluate the decision not to allow me to return to the office; so in the finest traditions of prevarication, they simply ignored the fact I was barred from the office and portrayed this as my having “agreed” to work from home in the first place. (Coercion is not a term they are familiar with.)
In their attempt to put the blame for this on me; they recite that they consider the material facts; notably that I was advised that this relocation was a temporary provision and would be re-assessed by management upon completion of formal procedures under ST/SGB/2008/5 and/or any other administrative reviews ….. which was fine ….. because the whole purpose of the management evaluation request was actually to address the fact that Lapointe was now deciding that this “temporary provision” was going to be permanent and that the formal procedures under ST/SGB/2008/5 had never taken place….
By this convoluted process, Mr. Madriz recited “facts” which he then ignored.
In the UN, as Madriz points out, a staff member can only challenge an “administrative decision” – which is a decision that has “direct legal consequences to the legal order” – but that is entirely different from “other administrative acts, such as those having regulatory power like the rules or regulations.”
So what we have here is a decision, predicated on formal procedures under ST/SGB/2008/5 never having been followed, but a disciplinary measure (which was not one that was sanctioned under Staff Rule 10.2) was imposed anyway.
Don’t worry about it. Josef Stalin wouldn’t, so why should anyone else?
It is also well established law in the UN that the decision to initiate an investigation is only a “preliminary step”. It is not an administrative decision and the staff member being investigated cannot challenge it, even though the decision might be patently retaliatory and ridiculous to the point of being insane. If anyone needs reminded of that, of course I had been down that road when Lapointe decided I should be investigated for daring to offend the precious Michael Dudley.
In fact, talking about roads down which Lapointe had been before; she had previously tried to have me suspended immediately – before even being investigated – over that “graffiti-gate” whiteboard comment. She had asked Catherine Pollard, and told Susana Malcorra, and you can bet your life she was told that she couldn’t. She was now doing the very thing she had been unable to do earlier.
Don’t bother thinking about that either, it is likely to cause a brain-ache. (At least to anyone who has a brain.)
So, the “impartial and objective” MEU considered that I could not challenge the illegal decision to impose a punishment for something for which I had never been investigated because …. well…. because that was not an “administrative decision” because an administrative decision is one that has legal consequences.
Mr. Madriz – who would be a shoo-in for the Rube Goldberg Literary Obfuscation Award – decided that the operative administrative decision directly affecting my rights in this case was Lapointe’s (unjustifiable) decision to bar me from the 7th floor in the first place, because that somehow had legal consequences – notwithstanding the fact that it is well established that a “preliminary step” cannot be challenged.
At this point, viewers of the British TV comedy ‘Yes, Minister’ may have a mental image of Sir. Humphrey lathering himself up into a state of almost sexual excitement…..
How does any of this bureaucratic diarrhoea make any sense? Well of course it doesn’t but that’s not important. What is important is protecting senior managers, covering up mismanagement, making a mockery of the Rule of Law and ensuring that the staff continue to do as they are told and never challenge anything.
This is what the UN calls a “justice system.” It’s not so great for staff members who are the victims of sexual harassment or other abuses of power, but Ban Ki Moon thinks it is a great system.
- What’s the bloody point?
To be continued…