Mr. Kemal Dervis
United Nations Development Programme
UN Plaza, New York
cc: Mr. Ad Melkert, UNDP Associate Administrator
Mr. Hafiz Pasha, UNDP RBAP Director
Office of Human Resources
Office of the Ombudsperson
UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Staff Council
23 July 2007
Dear Mr. Dervis,
Subject: Mrs. Nileema Noble
It took this long for us to bring certain untenable things to your attention because we gave Mrs. Nileema Noble what she asked for a year ago when she assumed the post of the Resident Representative of UNDP: the benefit of the doubt. Although we already saw the forebodings of trouble, we shrugged off some of her troubling behaviour as mere eccentricities which we can live with and even overcome in time. But the longer we worked with her, the faster we came to the conclusion that her autocratic and oppressive behaviour will not change; that the longer she stays here, the faster the erosion of UNDP’s and even the UN’s credibility in the Philippines .
Furthermore, many of us can no longer function optimally because of the almost daily harassment and abusive treatment we receive from her. Such abusive behavior, which has resulted to a hostile working environment and demoralization of staff, should not be tolerated in any form by the United Nations and United Nations Development Programme, as stated in the Charter of the United Nations, the Staff Rules and the Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service. As you know, Staff Rule 101.2 (d) indicates that “any form of discrimination or harassment, as well as physical or verbal abuse at the workplace or in connection with work, is prohibited. Harassment in any shape or form is an affront to human dignity and international civil servants must avoid it. They should not engage in any form of harassment and must be above any suspicion of it. Further, Article 15 of Standards of Conduct
for the International Civil Service states that, “Managers and supervisors are in positions of leadership and it is their responsibility to ensure a harmonious workplace based on mutual respect. They must act impartially, without intimidation and favouritism.”
Mrs. Noble has been, and continue to be culpable of verbal and physical harassment and abuse of authority and has violated the rights of staff members, especially the right to effective remedy and due process. Specifically, she has exhibited improper and abusive behavior, unthinkable from a high-standing UN official, as manifested in the following incidents:
Verbal and Physical Harassment. According to the UNDP Guidelines on Harassment and Abuse of Authority, harassment is understood to be any improper and unwelcome conduct that has or might reasonably be expected or be perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another. Harassment may be present in the form of words, gestures, or actions which tend to annoy, alarm, abuse, demean, intimidate, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment to another or that causes an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. Harassment normally implies a series of incidents.
Ø Most recently, she insulted and embarrassed staff in front of high ranking government officials, publicly berating them with rude language for supposedly not undertaking a task which she committed to the government without even consulting and formally informing the staff concerned.
Ø Poked a staff member’s chest and forcefully slapped another’s back to emphasize a point because she is angry or frustrated.
Ø Rebuffed a staff who was so happy because Mrs. Noble already signed a contract (after several weeks of the document being with the latter). When the said staff slightly touched Mrs. Noble on the shoulder and quipped that it was finally over, Mrs. Noble physically shoved her hand away and responded in a loud voice, “What are you suggesting- that I’m pending documents in this office… “.
Ø Meetings where she often raises her voice and nit-picks on managers and staff members, embarrassing and denigrating them unnecessarily. Several incidents of one-on-one meetings with staff where she raised her voice caused further intimidation and fear among them.
Ø High-handed behavior with staff members, treating them with not a bit of respect. In one incident, a staff witnessed Mrs. Noble’s ordering another staff to fetch a pen under her table, which she can very well do on her own.
Ø Several incidents with staff where she would nakedly point out their supposed rudeness in front of colleagues for not immediately greeting her good morning or good afternoon while she does not even observe it herself. In fact, she would rudely interrupt meetings of staff with the Deputy Resident Representative and not even apologize for the rude intrusion. There was one incident where she was not satisfied with the workshop flow and accused the UN staff in-charge of the activity of sabotaging the Office, in front of everyone.
Ø Mrs. Noble questioned one staff for not immediately informing of her plans to go n a special leave without pay (SLWOP), and accused her of not being ransparent. When the staff attempted to explain that it was premature to advise he office of her plans at that time, she was told by Mrs. Noble that if this happened in another organization, she would have been kicked out immediately and would seriously damage her career. As a result of this incident with the staff, Mrs. Noble called her supervisor and berated her regarding the kind of relationship with her staff, saying that as the supervisor, she should know in advance all of their individual plans, including personal.
Ø Several incidents where staff were too afraid to speak or question her decisions even if such will clearly compromise the organization for fear of retaliation. Whenever staff muster enough courage to speak their minds on certain issues which clearly contravene her own, she would intimidate these staff until they give up. By her actuations, Mrs.Noble always presumes herself to be correct and no one should, therefore, question her actions. In one of the staff meeting, Mrs. Noble announced staff movements and claimed that she has informed the particular staff of his re-assignment to another unit, where he allegedly agreed on. The concerned staff responded that it was the first time that he has heard of the re-assignment.
Ø Often exhibiting unnecessary frustration, rage and intimidation if an outcome is not to her liking, accusing staff of perceived hidden motivation, imaginary errors and incomplete staff work. She often accuses staff of hiding things from her and not providing her enough information, no matter how many briefings, briefing papers and other information materials are provided her. She does not listen to staff explanation and makes oft-repeated accusations which are baseless and untrue.
Ø One incident where she almost tore a letter apart when she erased her signature in front of a staff, implying that the staff was trying to trick her into signing that document.
Ø She also has the habit of throwing papers back to the persons submitting them, if she is not satisfied with such papers.
Abuse of Authority. According to the UNDP Guidelines on Harassment and Abuse of Authority, abuse of authority implies the improper use of a position of influence, power, or authority by a staff member or non-staff personnel against another staff member or non-staff personnel or a group thereof. This is particularly serious when a staff member or non-staff personnel uses his or her influence, power or authority to negatively influence the career or employment conditions (including, but not limited to, appointment, assignment, contract renewal, performance evaluation or promotion) of another staff member or non-staff personnel. It can include a one-time incident or a series of incidents. Abuse of authority may also consist of conduct that creates a hostile or offensive work environment, which includes, but is limited to, the use of intimidation,
threats, blackmails or coercion.
Ø Recent arbitrary (and forcible) termination of two staff without due process. Further, the manner in which she handed out the decision and her ensuing instructions for its implementation, such as the terminated staff’s leaving the UN premises immediately, packing their belongings and turn-over of keys and IDs within the hour) showed how little her respect is for common decency and dignity of a human person, treating them like common criminals. Staff members who witnessed these incidents were left in shock and fear. If these could happen to high-ranking national staff in the UNDP/UN, then it can very well happen to them, or even much worse. These incidents of arbitrary termination happened in a span of only two weeks.
Ø Adding insult to injury, one of them was told not to contest the decision of his termination. If he did, then Mrs. Noble said that she will have to state a reason for the termination that will tarnish his record which, in effect, would deprive him of possible UN employment opportunities in the future..
Ø Several verbal threats to staff that their contracts will not be renewed if targets are not achieved or performance is not acceptable to her. She even made a threat to withhold a staff member’s salary if performance is not up to her standards.
Ø In staff meetings, she often emphasized and justified her micro-management approach to her lack of trust in the unit mangers’ capacity and ability to perform their assigned tasks. This led to several incidents where she arbitrarily decided on operational and programmatic issues, disregarding programme recommendations such as: which consultant contract gets signed, who gets to go on leave, etc.
Ø Her arbitrary decisions on programme management modalities and strategies led to delay in the implementation of projects, delivery of resources and much confusion on how programmes are to be managed and implemented by partners. One classic example is her arbitrary removal of Project Management Offices and the change of an Implementing Partner, without due process, rational basis and against the objections of her managers and staff.
Ø Numerous delayed appointments, abrupt termination of contracts and refusal to sign contracts and documents, which affected much of the staff’s workload (which are already burdensome) and performance and delivery of programs and projects. At present, the RCA process (personnel evaluation) of some staff are being delayed for months when contract expiration is fast approaching. In a previous instance, this resulted in arbitrary termination of staff while his RCA rebuttal process was still in progress.
Ø Unreasonable delay or non-approval of official travel and staff leaves (well within the delegated authority of managers) which caused non-participation in important meetings and conferences locally/abroad, loss of opportunities for learning and staff development, and unfulfilled monitoring obligations of UNDP to its donors. There was an incident where one staff resigned due to the delayed approval of her one-month leave, which she filed two months earlier. She has worked for UNDP for eight years and never took any long-term leave except for that one instance and was let go just like that.
Ø Mrs. Noble’s impossible, whimsical requests and demands to be included in certain high-level meetings and conferences have led to incidents where staff had to push themselves to the limit to satisfy her. There was an incident where a staff had to stay late at night for two days just to enable her to get into an event she, for some reason, craved to be in. When everything has been arranged, she decided last minute not to go anymore, without any explanation or apologies.
Ø Abolition of a very important Unit: the Programme Monitoring Unit and its staff (whom she unreasonably judged to be incompetent and ineffective) which led to the distribution of that Unit’s workload to already overloaded staff in the office. More than 17 staff left during her term due to non-renewal of contracts, forced resignation and staff demoralization. Only a handful of staff are left and continue to leave due to the hostile working environment. Increased incidence of stress-related illnesses is prevalent among staff nowadays.
Ø Former staff and SSAs who left or resigned have been banned from visiting the CO or being hired again. In one incident, under instructions from Mrs. Noble, DRR Naka informed the former supervisor of one staff that resigned not to visit or show herself in the CO since this would upset Mrs. Noble. Further, one SSA’s contract has been terminated within 10 days without reason or explanation.
Ø A very grave infraction committed by Mrs. Noble was her incursion into staff privacy in communications. She had one of the staff member’s office cellphone seized, its contents downloaded, on mere unfounded accusation of a PMO staff that the staff member was spreading malicious messages about her. Mrs. Noble made no amends nor even offered an apology even when the exercise did not yield information incriminating the staff whose cellphone was seized.
We are also aware of Mrs. Noble’s retort that these allegations are mere complaints from “incompetent and non-performing staff”, as she would call those who would go against her whims and caprices. This is totally untrue as shown in our previous performance appraisals for the last 5 years. Most of us have worked here for several years and this is the only time that we experienced such oppressiveness, callousness and total disregard of our rights and dignity especially coming from a high-ranking UN official.
These are but some of the incidents, showing without a doubt, the abusive character of Mrs. Noble. We have been forced to seek your help because, unfortunately, we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel and are afraid that this oppressive situation will continue.
In order to prevent further verbal and physical harassment and abuse of authority, resulting in violations of UN rules and our rights as international civil servants, and in order to prevent further prejudice to the work of UNDP and the UN in relation to its partners, we ask that Mrs. Nileema Noble be immediately relieved as Resident Representative of UNDP and UN Resident Coordinator in the Philippines . We also ask that disciplinary action be immediately commenced against Mrs. Noble for violation of UN regulations and our human rights as UN staff.
We would like to serve notice that we reserve our right to seek recourse through other avenues for legitimate grievances.
We hope that this plea will not be in vain.
Concerned UNDP Staff and other UN Staff
Mary Gemme Montebon
Amelia D. Supetran
Emmanuel E. Buendia
Francisco G. Morito
Imee F. Manal
Roberto V. Carandang
Anna L. Senga
Frances M. Solinap (former UNDP Staff)
Francis Gertrud R. Mercado (former UNDP Staff)
Elcid C. Pangilinan