15 December 2005

The following is reproduced as received on 3 December:

Dear Sir,

We are military officers at the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and we wish to bring to your attention a serious issue which has taken place in this Mission. We write this so that public attention can be drawn to yet another example of the lack of integrity among senior management in the UN. We do not wish to discredit any particular nation. India has had a distinguished history of contribution to the UN peacekeeping operations for over 50 years covering more than 30 missions and has provided able leaders for various missions. This is why the present episode which we narrate here is so shameful.

UNMEE is a peacekeeping mission which was set up to monitor the peace brokered between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2000. The Mission is headed by a Special Representative of the Secretary General. It has a multinational military force headed by a Force Commander to monitor the Temporary Security Zone which was created to act as a buffer between these two countries.

The present Force Commander Major General Rajender Singh, SM, VSM is from India. He came to the Mission in July 2004 taking over from General Gordon of Britain. The purpose of this mail is to expose what this Maj. General Singh has done in the Mission. In a bad year for the UN, where the Secretary General has come under fire after the Volcker report which exposed the corruption and mismanagement in the UN this case is another example of the rot in higher management levels of the UN.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) of the United Nations had commissioned the oversight body of the UN, the Office of the Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to carry out a review of the state of discipline across all peacekeeping missions. This was done in the light of the developments in the UN Mission in Congo where UN peacekeepers had sexually exploited the local population. The OIOS has resident auditors placed in some of the Missions to act as internal auditors residing in the Mission. The audit was tasked to look into all aspects of misconduct and indiscipline in the Mission. The auditors accordingly conducted the audit and a consolidated report was given to OIOS in New York which presented it to DPKO.

The audit report for UNMEE among other things pointed out four cases against the Force Commander (FC), Maj-General Singh. This came under the group of cases of Senior Management not leading by example. These cases pertain to (1) abuse of UN flights by the FC and his family (2) abuse of official telephone calls by the FC (3) FC retaining satellite television equipment in his residence although not authorized to do so and against the directions of the Special Representative of the Secretary General and (4) FC drawing rations and water from the Indian contingent. When the auditors exposed these findings, the FC went to extraordinary lengths to cover up the case.

UNMEE is a non-family Mission. However, the FC’s wife has always been here from the start except for brief periods when she returned to India. She recently went back in August and has now not been able to come back due to the Mission now not allowing families to come back. In fact, the FC’s daughter, son and daughter-in-law have also come to the Mission. UNMEE has two offices, one in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and the main Headquarters of UNMEE. It has a branch office at Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia and UN flights go to and from these cities. The UN flights are meant for on-duty UN personnel. However, FC’s wife used to accompany him regularly on these trips. However, as she was a non-UN personnel she would be placed at the lowest priority of passengers. As the aircraft has very limited seats and the demand for seats is always more than availability, the FC would get Indian soldiers to reserve seats for "duty" purpose for themselves on the day he intended to fly with his family although they would in fact not be traveling at all and then get them to cancel it at the last moment so that his family could be accommodated. At other times, genuine duty Indian army passengers would be off-loaded to make space for his family. This practice became so widespread that UNMEE officials lodged official complaints. It was only when the auditors wrote about this in the report citing specific cases of abuse where duty passengers could not travel simply to accommodate the FC’s family that the FC resorted to extraordinary cover-up. First, the audit facts were disputed as incorrect by providing "evidence" which were in fact, fake leave applications cooked up to show that the officers who did not travel did not do so as they were holidaying in Addis. However, when the auditors checked the leave applications they found forged signatures and they exposed the fact that the applications were put in on dates when these officers were in Addis although the applications showed them to be present in Asmara. These officers were specifically ordered by the FC not to travel from Addis so that his wife could travel on the aircraft but the fake applications were showed to the auditors to disprove their point when they exposed this. This is a clear case of fraud. FC has since been given a letter of displeasure by the Special Representative of the Secretary General.

In the same OIOS report, it was shown that the FC made several calls to India and claimed these to be official so the expenses were borne by the UN. The auditors wrote that some of these calls were made beyond 11 PM Indian time when no office would have been open and calls which were shown as official in one bill were shown as personal in another.

In the third case, the FC and other senior managers were asked by the SRSG to return the satellite TV equipment in their residences as they had already been provided with satellite TV connection in their offices and they were not entitled to two connections under UN rules. Consequently, all the satellite TV cards in the residences were deactivated. While all the other senior mangers complied with the SRSG’s directions, the FC removed the card from his office and used it at home and continued to watch satellite TV at home. The missing card was detected through a physical inspection at the auditor’s request and the case exposed.

In the fourth instance of abuse, the FC is an international staff member (D-2 level) who is paid by the UN. As such, he is not a member of the contingent and is entitled to draw military rations and water. But he has done so and continues to do so from the Indian contingent located in Asmara.

When OIOS conducted a survey amongst UNMEE personnel during the audit, most of them cited these cases as examples of abuse of authority and senior management not leading by example. For such a high-level officer to do this at a time when the UN and its Secretary General are under fire for corruption and rocked by scandals, is shocking.

Yours faithfully,

Military officers at UNMEE