Local billionaire Ng Lap Seng made use of five non-government organisations (NGOs) which are all affiliated to his real estate investment firm Sun Kian Ip Group to interact with six departments of the United Nations in various ways – such as sponsoring their events and funding staff travel – discloses the latest published internal audit report by the Office of Internal Oversight Service (OIOS) of the United Nations (UN).
The internal audit report, which was undertaken at the request of the Secretary-General of the UN and was released over the weekend, presents evidence that the local businessman’s attempts to curry favour with the UN could date back to 2008, when one of his NGOs was listed as a participant in the organisation’s Global Compact initiative.
According to OIOS, the five NGOs that Ng was using to interact with UN bodies are the Global Sustainability Foundation, International Organisation for South-South Co-operation, World Harmony Foundation, South-South News and Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation.
Last October, the 68-year old businessman was charged with bribing Josh Ashe, former president of the UN General Assembly in 2013 and 2014 and a former ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda.
IPads offered for ‘paperless event’
The UN audit body stated in the report that Sun Kian Ip Group had offered iPads to all participants for a co-sponsored event titled ‘High Level Multi Stakeholder Strategy Forum on South-South and Triangular Co-operation’ in the Special Administrative Region last August.
The local developer contributed US$1.5 million (MOP12 million) to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the event, which was attended by a number of UN Secretariat staff, OIOS said.
The report reads that the proffered iPads all had 64GB capacity and were engraved with the logo of the organisers on the back.
‘They received the iPads at the registration desk upon arrival, where they were informed that the forum was a ‘paperless event’; all documents relating to its meetings or presentations had been pre-loaded in the device for their use,’ OIOS wrote, adding that ‘there was no attempt by the organisers to take back the iPads’ when the event was concluded.
According to the audit department, three UN staff members who attended the forum only handed over the devices after the commencement of the audit. In particular, one from the Global Compact Office stated to the audit body that he kept the iPad for himself.
Funding travel for UN staff
The UN audit also found that Ng’s self-owned news outlet South-South News had funded travel for a staff member of the UN Department for General Assembly and Conference Management for two seminars in Hong Kong and Macau last April and August, respectively. The two seminars were both on the topic of ‘South-South Co-operation’.
Another staff member of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) was funded by the news company to participate in a high-level meeting in Hong Kong in April 2012. The audit report stated that the UN-Habitat later signed a memorandum with South-South News as a media partner for co-operation on the ‘World Urban Campaign’ in July 2012.
South-South News had actually been accorded media accreditation and provided office space in the UN secretariat by the UN Department of Public Information since 2010, the report claimed.
Recent leaks from the Panama Papers have disclosed that such a company of the local businessman was established in the British Virgin Islands in May 2010, indicating the news outlet had sponsored UN events on at least three occasions.
Furthermore, the UN audit unit claimed Ng’s Global Sustainability Foundation had contributed US$60,000 to a memorial event of the UN titled ‘Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade’.
The body added that the NGO had originally committed to a contribution of US$100,000. Nevertheless, OIOS stated that all the contributed amount by Ng Lap Seng had been utilised for the intended purposes in accordance with the organisation’s financial regulations and rules.
Lack of checks
In the report, OIOS highly criticised the lack of due diligence checks by UN departments in selecting their partners, allowing the organisation to be involved with parties ‘whose interests may be at odds with those of the UN’.
‘Various resolutions of the General Assembly have recognised the importance of developing partnerships with the private sectors, NGOs and civil society… However, engaging in partnerships requires that a robust due diligence process is established and consistently applied to ensure that the attendant risks are mitigated,’ the audit body said.
‘The above instances of non-compliance with due diligence requirements exposed the organisation to the risk that it could get involved with external parties whose interests may be at odds with those of the United Nations – particularly its integrity, independence and impartiality,’ it concluded.