Saturday, December 9, 2017

UN Appeals Tribunal rules on unlawful actions by Pension Board, 10 December 2017

On 27 October 2017, the UN Appeals Tribunal ruled that the actions of the UN Pension Board to block two elected UN participant representatives from the  Board were unlawful (UNAT Judgment No. 2017-UNAT-807; Rockcliffe (Appellant) v.United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board (Respondent); Counsel for Appellant: George G. Irving; Counsel for Respondent: Sergio B. ArvizĂș, and Judgment No. 2017-UNAT-801; Faye (Appellant) v. United Nations Joint Staff Pension Board (Respondent); Counsel for Appellant: self-represented; Counsel for Respondent: Sergio B. ArvizĂș, links below to the judgments).

Recall that two recent internal audits of the Fund secretariat conducted by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services and completed in October 2017, revealed disturbing findings about lax controls and management in the Fund secretariat as CEO Sergio Arvizu’s five-year contract nears its end on 31 December 2017 (Nos. 2017/104, 2017/110). 

UNAT's ruling is further indication that for the sake of the Fund, Arvizu must go and that the Board, which lacks oversight and transparency, is in need of reform. The Board appears to have ignored OIOS audit 2017/02 on the backlog in pension payments in pushing for a three-year contract extension for Arvizu at its July meeting. It then hopped on board a claim of conflict of interest posited by the Fund's Chief, Risk Management and Legal Services (para. 3 of the judgment) backed by Arvizu --related to a 1992 legal opinion which had never been put into effect and which UNAT found to be baseless -- to try to block the two duly elected participant representatives from the Board.  

In the Fund secretariat, the buck stops with Arvizu, but a triumvirate of senior managers shares responsibility for mismanagement detailed in OIOS audits and other reports, and must all be held accountable, including for the recent rejection by the UN Board of Auditors of the actuarial valuation for 2017 because of unreliable data provided by the Fund --yet another managerial mishap on which the Board failed to exercise its oversight role. 

Quote from the Rockcliffe judgment, identical to the Faye Judgment : “It is the ruling of the Appeals Tribunal that Ms. Rockcliffe as a duly elected member of the UNSPC has the same rights and privileges which are bestowed on other UNSPC members and she ought not to be denied those rights. We therefore order that Ms. Rockcliffe is granted access to all relevant Pension Board documents. We further order that she is allowed to participate and function as an elected member to the UNSPC in all relevant areas including the preparations for the Pension Board sessions and meetings and its constituent groups, committees and working groups.”

In brief,  after the appellants were duly elected as  participant representatives to the Board, its Standing Committee -- alleging a conflict of interest arising from election to the Board while being a staff member of the Fund -- refused to recognize their election and refused to allow them to participate in the Board and its activities.

The UNAT ruling states as follows:
- Ms. Rockcliffe /Mr. Faye meet the requirements for eligibility for election as UN participant representative to the Pension Board, with the same rights and privileges pertaining to an elected member;
- The Standing Committee has no power to remove or restrict their rights and privileges;
- Therefore the Standing Committee’s decision to deny Ms. Rockcliffe/Mr. Faye access to the Pension Board documents and participation in the Board and its activities is unlawful.

Recall too the 27 October 2017 statement of the UN participant representatives to the Pension Board: "The UNAT judgement vindicates the 4,500 staff who signed a petition protesting the ban and the staff unions, who through CCISUA staff federation, launched the legal appeal.  At the same time it shines a light on the legal and moral vacuum within the pension fund's leadership. To this end, the staff unions have made clear to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Arvizu should not be extended when his contract comes up for renewal at the end of this year. A new leadership is needed” (link to full statement below).

Secretary-General Guterres must act on his promise of more accountability and transparency in the UN by making this much-needed leadership change.

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