The Corner

Awarding the Useless

The United Nations Foundation and the United Nations Association of the U.S.A. (UNA-USA) will hold its 2012 Global Leadership Awards Dinner in October, but the names of the honorees were just announced. Among them was a curious choice: Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella, director-general for the U.N. Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). The announcement stated that he will receive the award for “his work on a variety of global issues, including promoting sustainable energy for all, poverty reduction, climate change, and the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals.”

UNIDO was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966 to help encourage industrial development in developing countries. To say that UNIDO has not performed well is an understatement. The U.S. withdrew from the organization in 1996 at the direction of President Bill Clinton, whose pro-U.N. administration concluded that “UNIDO has not been able to define its purpose and function very well, much less become effective in its programmatic activities” and recommended that the organization be eliminated altogether. The U.S. was not alone in its skepticism. Canada withdrew from UNIDO in 1993 and Australia left (for the second time) in 1996.

There is little reason to believe that UNIDO has improved since the mid-1990s. #more#Early last year, the United Kingdom released a report reviewing its bilateral and multilateral aid policies. Among its conclusions, that report announced that “the contribution to UK development objectives [of four U.N. agencies] is so poor that DFID will withdraw our core funding altogether.” UNIDO was one of the four U.N. agencies listed and the report’s analysis of the organization was harsh:

The MAR could not find any evidence of UNIDO having a significant impact on global poverty. It is small, lacks a strong country level presence and has a narrowly focused role. There are more effective development actors with a greater impact on the ground. Key elements of UNIDO’s work are covered by other UN organisations such as the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme. UNIDO also has a wide range of organisational weaknesses including limited transparency, weak results reporting and weak financial management.

UK aid is therefore more effectively spent in other parts of the multilateral system. The UK will therefore withdraw from membership of UNIDO.

If the Obama administration had indeed considered re-joining UNIDO, as was rumored in 2009, the U.K. report should have forcefully disabused them of that notion. President Clinton made the right call in 1996; the U.S. should not rejoin UNIDO. The U.K. report should also raise questions in the minds of current UNIDO member states about whether their UNIDO funding could be put to better use.

Dr. Yumkella might be a fine individual. But instead of accepting personal awards for “promoting sustainable energy for all, poverty reduction, climate change, and the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals,” he might be better served by focusing on improving UNIDO’s effectiveness, management, transparency, and relevance if he wishes to avoid further attrition to UNIDO’s membership.

— Brett Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

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