UN Still a Management Mess, Government Reports Say

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The United Nations still has a lot of cleaning up to do, according to government reports released last week. Those reports coincides with a Senate hearing about alleged U.N. bungling that might have helped fund North Korea's weapons programs.

A new General Accountability Office (GAO) report focuses largely on reforms implemented at the U.N. since the "oil for food" scandal.

According to that report, "the UN ethics office has taken steps to improve organizational ethics, including implementing a whistleblower protection policy, but GAO identified issues that may limit the impact of the policy."

Other U.N. shortcomings noted in the report include the lack of independent auditing and an insufficient procurement system. Also, proposed reforms at the U.N. lack a timeline for completion, according to the report, and many U.N. member states still don't agree on what reforms should be implemented.

Further, "none of the six organizations we examined required their internal oversight staff to disclose their financial interest, which could ensure their employees are free from conflicts of interests," the GAO said.

On Thursday, Jan. 24, the Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held a hearing at which the United Nations' Development Program (UNDP) operation in North Korea was criticized for mismanagement and poor fiscal controls.

The Senate panel also questioned charges that $2.7 million in funds was paid by the UNDP to North Korean agents involved in missile development and arms sales. The charge was made by a U.S. official, but the Senate committee said the amount was closer to $52,000 rather than $2.7 million.

The Senate report also accepted the U.N.'s explanation that the UNDP's link to the funding for arms sales was unknown at the time.

Nonetheless, the reports from the Senate panel and the GAO underscore the "chronic management problems" and "chronic corruption problems" at the United Nations, said Ted Carpenter, vice president of defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and author of "Delusions of Grandeur," a book about the U.N.

"The latest revelations about how the North Korean government successfully manipulated the U.N. fund for its own purposes -- none of this should be surprising to those who are familiar with the decades-long track record of the United Nations," Carpenter told Cybercast News Service .

"The big surprise would be if one could reach the conclusion that the management and the corruption problem are sharply on the decline," he said.

The U.N. was already reeling from the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, involving alleged bribes and kickbacks from the government of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to U.N. officials and companies based in the West and Middle East. It was the largest scandal in the organization's history and prompted calls for dramatic reform.

A report from the 2005 World Summit said that the U.N. Internal Justice System was "outmoded, dysfunctional, ineffective and lacks independence."

A spokesman for the United Nations and the United Nations Association of the USA could not be reached for comment on Friday. The U.N. Web site features a section on reform that says, "Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is committed to the continued modernization and reform of the organization," and "he will define his own reform priorities, in consultation and collaboration with the member states."

Robert Benson, director of the ethics office of the U.N. Secretariat, told the Senate panel last week that a "framework was created within which a unified set of ethical standards and policies will be established and applied. Fundamental to this was the creation of a United Nations Ethics Committee."

However, establishing a whistleblower system and legitimate auditing will not be enough to help the systemic problems, Carpenter said.

"If you don't have a culture of integrity and responsibility in an organization, one can audit day and night and all you do is uncover a modest percentage of abuses," he said. "What's lacking in the United Nations is that culture of integrity and responsibility."

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