In the increasingly loud dispute over the U.N. Development Program's North Korea program, it is instructive to look at the case of a whistleblower named Atrjon Shkurtaj.
An Albanian national, Mr. Shkurtaj is a 13-year Turtle Bay veteran who received an "outstanding" performance evaluation last December for his work as the UNDP's Pyongyang office manager, but was unceremoniously dumped a few months later, in retaliation for trying to fix the system from the inside.
"As an accountant, I can't have $3,500 lying in my safe, unaccounted for," Mr. Shkurtaj told me over the weekend, recalling how it all started. In February 2005, he alerted his direct superiors to his problem: 35 counterfeit $100 bills that had been sitting in the safe, ignored, since 1995.
As Mr. Shkurtaj went up the chain of command, alerting higher-ups to this and other violations of UNDP rules, the agency's brass finally heard the message and addressed it head-on: They killed the messenger.
In March 2007, not long after an audit of the North Korea program was ordered by Secretary-General Ban, theUNDP told Mr. Shkurtaj that his contract would not be renewed. His access to the agency's computers was denied. His mug-shot was posted on the monitors that guards at the agency headquarters use to identify unwanted intruders, including suspected terrorists.
Now, I may not be a professional forensic accountant, but Mr. Shkurtaj would seem to be an excellent source for any auditor engaged in the investigation of the Pyongyang program — a probe that Mr. Ban had ordered in January. Mr. Shkurtaj is a meticulous man, always careful to back his allegations with ample supporting documents. And a dream employee: One performance evaluation commended Mr. Shkurtaj for setting up a safe and efficient computer program in the Pyongyang office. Known as ATLAS, it was later introduced in other UNDP outposts.
Would you re-employ him? "Absolutely," the chief of theUNDP Northeast Asia Division, Romulo Garcia, wrote in Mr. Shkurtaj's December 14, 2006, evaluation. "Tony is quick, professional, highly competent, creative, hard-working, and dedicated. He would be a tremendous asset to any organization which hires him." But whenever UNDP spokesmen have been asked about the work termination — reporters were careful not to name Mr. Shkurtaj for fear of further retaliation by the system — they consistently belittled him. As spokesman David Morrison explained it in a recent press conference, Mr. Shkurtaj is merely a "former consultant," who had "raised some concerns" before he "left" the agency in March.
Mr. Shkurtaj was finally outed on Friday in a New York Times article that sympathetically portrayed the UNDP's efforts to fight allegations about its North Korea program. The newspaper lifted Mr. Shkurtaj's name from a letter that Senator Coleman, a Republican of Minnesota, wrote to Mr. Ban last week. It quoted Mr. Morrison as saying that Mr. Shkurtaj "left" the program "after fulfilling several short-term contracts."
Mr. Shkurtaj tells me the newspaper did not contact him for a response. Nor did it detail any other aspect of Mr. Coleman's June 26 letter, which was highly critical of the UNDP. Over the weekend, Mr. Morrison declined to tell me whether the agency considered Mr. Shkurtaj a whistleblower. "Mr. Shkurtaj is clearly a whistleblower and accordingly should receive full whistleblower protections," Mr. Coleman wrote. America has contributed $1 billion to UNDP since 1997, but the agency's lack of cooperation on the North Korea audit and its failure to implement the whistleblower protections mandated by other U.N. agencies will "undermine efforts" to garner congressional support of U.N. funding, the senator warned Mr. Ban.
The U.S. State Department has also exchanged blows with the UNDP over the North Korea scandal, each side refuting facts that the other side has used to support its arguments. Friday's Times article cited a "confidential letter delivered Thursday evening" to America's ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad. In it, according to the article, the UNDP's associate director, Ad Melkert, challenged American allegations of financial irregularities at the agency.
The next day, Mr. Khalilzad told reporters, "I don't know this gentleman, Mr. Melkert, I have not met him. I have not received the letter that the Times alleges he has written to me challenging those things."
Whom do you believe? America? Mr. Melkert? Or Tony Shkurtaj, who tells me that the UNDP North Korea episode "is just one ingredient in the toxic stew that is poisoning the United Nations and its agencies"?