This Associated Press story does a wonderful job of revealing just how uninterested the United Nations is in combating U.N.-related mismanagement, fraud, and corruption. As I detailed in a 2009 Heritage Foundation paper, the U.N. has a well-earned reputation for mismanagement and vulnerability to corruption and fraud. The United States tried for years to get the U.N. to take steps to address this problem, with little success. But when the extend of fraud and mismanagement under the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program became clear, the Bush administration was able to get the U.N. to create the United Nations Procurement Task Force (PTF) as an ad hoc group within the U.N.’s quasi–inspector general, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), to investigate and pursue allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
The PTF began work in January 2006 and over the next three years uncovered fraud, waste, and mismanagement in U.N. procurement and other activities involving contracts valued at more than $630 million. The evidence unearthed by the PTF led to misconduct findings against 17 U.N. officials and the conviction of a senior U.N. procurement official. Unfortunately, the PTF did its job too well. As punishment for pursuing cases against Singaporean and Russian nationals, those countries led a successful effort to eliminate the PTF in December 2008.
My prediction that the decision to eliminate the PTF would undermine accountability and oversight at the U.N. is, unfortunately, proving true. As detailed in the AP story, U.N. investigations into fraud, corruption, and mismanagement have ground to a halt since the elimination of the PTF:
Since [the elimination of the PTF at the end of 2008], the number of cases opened, pursued or completed has dropped dramatically and the [OIOS's permanent investigation division] division has let go most former task force investigators, the AP found in an examination of U.N. documents, audits and e-mails, along with dozens of interviews with current and former U.N. officials and diplomats.
Over the past year, not a single significant fraud or corruption case has been completed, compared with an average 150 cases a year investigated by the task force. The permanent investigation division decided not to even pursue about 95 cases left over when the task force ceased operation, while another 80 unfinished cases have languished.
It also stopped probes into contractors and cut qualified staff and other resources — and halted five major corruption investigations documented by the task force in the final days of 2008.
Moreover, the U.N. management under Secretary General Ban Ki-moon seems determined to prevent efforts to bolster investigatory capabilities in the existing U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which was supposed to pick up the slack following the demise of the PTF. For instance, Ban’s office reportedly twice blocked the appointment of the head of the OIOS permanent investigation division for more than two years because the most qualified candidate — as determined by an independent panel — was an American.
Meanwhile, the acting head of the division, Michael Dudley, has severely curtailed new investigations by barring new inquiries into anyone outside of the U.N. In other words, any U.N. employee can escape investigation or prosecution simply by quitting.
The story reports that, according to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, the loss of the PTF and the lack of an OIOS permanent investigation director are each “a source of concern to the United States.” But apparently the concern was not strong enough to lead the U.S. mission to demand reinstatement of the PTF in return for U.S. support of the U.N. budget this past December. The U.S. did not even bother to call for a vote on the budget.
Since the U.S. pays for 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget, you would think that the probability of U.S. tax dollars being misused at the U.N. would be more alarming to the person in charge of U.S. relations with the U.N.
– Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at the Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the U.N. and the Search for Alternatives.