Interview: ExCo affair 'tests FAO chief's backbone'

ADG Roberto Ridolfi with FAO Director General Qu Dongyu. Photo: Twitter
 ROME -- The FAO Assistant Director General Roberto Ridolfi could in theory face dismissal from the UN agency if reported and found guilty of 'misconduct' due to the evident conflict of interest in his lobbying for sponsorship for the ExCo cooperation fair to the intended benefit of his son's company, a former UN investigator said Thursday. While it is an embarrassment to the FAO leadership team, dealing ruthlessly with the case could provide new FAO DG Qu Dongyu with another opportunity to show he will brook no nonsense in his senior team, the former senior investigator, Peter Gallo, told the Italian Insider. Asked about the case on Monday at a diplomatic reception, the DG merely muttered 'Italian Insider' and declined further comment.
 "If Ridolfi's actions constitutes 'misconduct' under the Staff regulations and Rules, yes. he can be fired for it – and without even bothering to look up the relevant legal provisions, I would say that a competent investigator and diligent prosecutor could almost certainly build a case on the basis of what you say," added Mr Gallo, a founder member of the NGO 'Hear their Cries.' 
 Signor Ridolfi's lawyer in a statement Friday strongly denied any wrongdoing by the Italian international civil servant and former senior Eurocrat who Italy has been backing to become No.2 man at the FAO to the new Chinese director general, Qu Dongyu. Insider disclosed last week that Mr Ridolfi had lobbied ENEL and other companies from his post at the FAO to sponsor the glittering ExCo event held in May at the Fiera di Roma and that his son Francesco had asked for commission from a Fiera di Roma salesperson who was concluding the sponsorship deal with ENEL. 
 Mr Gallo continued: "If they cannot get anything else to stick, there is always the gold old 'catch all' rule about 'failing to uphold the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity expected of an international civil servant."'
 He added: "As for whether or not the FAO actually has such a creature as either a competent investigator or diligent prosecutor on the payroll; I could not say."
 
  "Even assuming they did (and also assuming that some brave staff member actually reported it) 'somebody would have to authorise the investigation. That is why anyone who actually DID act in accordance with the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity expected of an international civil servant – they would never have a snowball's chance in Hell of either (a) being appointed to, or (b) remaining in, the post of Head of Investigations in the FAO!"
 Mr Gallo went on to say that "If the Staff Rules were actually enforced – and enforced fairly, without fear or favour - the UN would be an entirely different place. The problem is that they are not. The G-staff clerical officer who drives his brother-in-law's Uber car a couple of nights a week before Christmas will be investigated and fired. The Director who is banging half the women in his Department and rewards the best ones with unnecessary trips for which they can claim DSA, on the other hand, is never investigated because there is 'no evidence of any misconduct.'"
 
 "As you know, the higher up the Organization they go, the more everyone at that level is indebted to others at that level and above – and they more they know about the sins of those people too – so pushing one of them under the bus becomes too risky. If one is allowed to fall…. anyone could be next – so all will protect the collective in order to protect themselves."
While FAO human resources director Fernando Servan was dismissed for repeated sexual harassment soon after the new DG took over it is not clear whether Mr Dongyu will sanction a tough line against other cases of alleged misdemeanours in his territory, Mr Gallo added.
 "Even if someone like Servan is so far out of order that they have to do soemthing; the investigation will take months, it will be very narrowly focussed, and even if by some miracle they found conclusive evidence that he was the second shoooter on the grassy knoll who shot Kennedy; they will get a 'reprimand' ….. but they never lose their pension!"
Asked if Qu Dongyu will make a difference to the dubious organizational culture at the FAO, Mr Gallo said: "Maybe."
 "China is getting a lot of bad press at the moment; a lot of it not deserved at all, and Qu's appointment has been seen as a blow for US interests. I do not agree. In fact, I think the US/China 'us or them' attitude is a bit childish. I spent 19 years in Hong Kong before I joined the UN, so I have a lot of respect for some things the Chinese Government has done, especially when it comes to dealing with corruption."
 
 "Corrupt government officials in China have (relatively) little to fear from the Police. What REALLY scares them witless is a visit from the gentlemen from the Communist Party's 'Central Commission for Discipline Inspection'…… They do not just come for a little chat and a cup of tea, and while some of their investigative tactics might be criticised (though not by me!) they take a very hard line against corruption in all its forms and they are very effective."
 "If there was an equivalent in the UN, or if the UN actually took the problem of 'misconduct' seriously - the world would be a very different place!"
 "At the highest levels, I believe the Chinese Government understands they owe a responsibility to the man in the street – and they have to deliver in order to retain their legitimacy; which is why corruption in the country is such a serious problem."
 "I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the fact that the new Head of the FAO is Chinese. I have never met Qu Dongyu and know nothing about the man, but I would imagine that he must realise that if the FAO is to be successful, it has to spend more time on dealing with hunger problems and less on playing silly games for the benefit of overpaid bureaucrats who can't keep it in their pants ... "
 "There are people on the right wing of the political spectrum - particularly in the United States -- who seem to be afraid that with Qu in charge, any successes that the FAO has will be seen as 'Chinese' successes," Mr Gallo continued.
 "My attitude to his appointment is 'fine' because if it takes a Chinese official to clean up the FAO ….. so be it. Let him do his job. If he can clean up that mess; there are plenty other UN Funds and Programs that could benefit from a change of management attitude from the top," Mr Gallo told the Insider.
   jp