UN Becoming 'Responsible and Accountable,' Official Claims

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Amid pressure for a "radical overhaul" of the secretary general's office at the United Nations, a top U.N. official was in Washington, D.C., Friday to tout the progress being made.

"We are building a responsible and accountable inter-governmental organization," said Christopher Burnham, who is the U.N.'s undersecretary general for management. Burnham was previously appointed by President Bush to a similar job with the U.S. State Department.

Burnham noted Friday that the proposed U.N. reforms include whistleblower protection. If U.N. management failed to address a complaint within six months, a whistleblower would be able to call in law enforcement without fear of repercussions, or tell the press about the controversy.

The U.N. will also be working on "a financial disclosure policy more strict than Washington," an ethics office, an internal audit committee and the renovation of the facilities at the U.N. Secretariat Building in New York, Burnham said.

The world body will be studying its effectiveness and possibly seeking to outsource some of its work. "If you can translate a document ten blocks away, can you do this ten miles away, or 10,000 miles away?" Burnham wondered.

The reforms could cost about $510 million to implement.

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and one of its harshest critics in the past, is supportive of the changes that were proposed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on March 7.

"We endorse those objectives, those are our objectives, and there will be considerable hard work ahead to achieve them," Bolton said shortly after Annan's announcement earlier this month. Bolton has also called for a "radical overhaul of the entire Secretariat and for a thorough strategic refit of the Secretariat."

Annan's proposed reforms followed the scandal involving the Iraqi Oil for Food program. The Oil for Food program was devised in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and after economic sanctions had been placed on the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. It was meant to allow Iraq to trade oil vouchers for food and humanitarian aid.

But in April 2004, corruption and abuse in the program were alleged, specifically that officials handling the Oil for Food program had diverted profits from the program to Iraq's government and that the profits were being used to try to buy influence with U.N. officials, including Annan.

A separate scandal involved U.N. peacekeeping troops who were accused of sexually exploiting war refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo in return for food and small sums of money.

"A key ingredient of any successful Organization is an ethical and accountable culture pervading its staff from top to bottom," Annan stated in unveiling his reform package. "For the United Nations, as an Organization founded on the high ideals of its Charter and seeking to set an example in the countries where it works around the world, this is doubly important.

"Unfortunately, in recent years it has become clear that we have too often fallen short of these high standards," Annan added.

Skeptics remain regarding the U.N.'s ability to conduct real change. In a report to the U.S. Institute of Peace, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell warned that "until and unless it changes dramatically, the United Nations will remain an uncertain instrument for action, both for the governments that comprise it and for those who look to it for salvation."

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