Cleaning up at the UN

The Worst-managed Organizations on Earth
By Peter Foster – Financial Post

Last year, a memo from a Norwegian diplomat described United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “spineless and charmless.” Two weeks ago, an even more critical memo was leaked, from the outgoing head of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), Inga-Britt Ahlenius, accusing the SG of being flagrantly obstructive of her attempts to clean up the organization’s persistent corruption. According to her memo, “[Y]our actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible.”

Under the circumstances–and given that the UN is recognized as one of the worst-managed organizations on earth — one has to wonder what would possess anybody to take up the position left vacant by Ms. Ahlenius. Last week a Canadian, Carman Lapointe-Young, was given the job.

Ms. Lapointe-Young has considerable senior auditing experience, both in the Canadian government and at the World Bank and UN, where she formerly audited the organization’s agricultural-development section, but her task at UN HQ makes cleaning the Augean stables look like a job for Swiffer.

Ms. Lapointe-Young claims that Mr. Ban has promised her independence, but then that’s what the OIOS was promised when it was set up in 1994 to deal with the UN’s sloppy internal monitoring. Since then it has faced obstruction at every turn, although some of its own officials — in time-honored bureaucratic fashion–have been more than happy to bury investigations.

The most spectacular recent example of UN corruption emerged with the oil-for-food fiasco, in which billions of dollars were siphoned to the regime of Saddam Hussein under the guise of humanitarian aid. Ex-Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker led an inquiry into the scandal, whose final report appeared five years ago to a resounding lack of interest from governments.

The UN, however, claimed that it would beef up its internal oversight. Ms. Ahlenius was appointed to the OIOS, and another special office was set up to look at procurement practices under Robert Appleton, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who had served as lead counsel on the Volcker inquiry.

Mr. Appleton’s office was closed down in 2008, and attempts by Ms. Ahlenius to have him appointed her chief investigator were persistently blocked by Mr. Ban on the basis that Mr. Appleton didn’t meet the UN’s “gender” or “geographical” requirements. Where were the female candidates from Burundi? Ms Lapointe obviously scores in the gender department, but may raise some grumbles because Canada is far too developed a country.

Ms. Ahlenius’s note to Mr. Ban, delivered as an end-of-assignment report, received far too little coverage. In that light, a few of her comments are reproduced below. In her words, the UN has “no transparency,” and “lack of accountability” and Mr. Ban bears responsibility. “Rather than supporting the internal oversight which is the sign of strong leadership, you have strived to control it, which is to undermine its position.

Since oil-for-food, the UN has faced other cases of non-accountability, including “cash for Kim” payments by the UN Development Program to the government of North Korea. There have also been far more serious allegations: that UN “peacekeepers” have physically and sexually abused those they were meant to be protecting, including children. However, inquiries are often blocked by the countries of the nationals involved. UN inertia takes care of the rest.

When Mr. Ban assumed his job as Secretary-General in 2007 — succeeding Kofi Annan, whose son was deeply implicated in oil-for-food — he declared that his top priorities were transparency, accountability and pushing the global climate agenda.

Uncomfortably for him, those issues became inextricably linked last December, just before the failed UN climate conference at Copenhagen, with the release of the Climategate emails. These suggested that “official” climate science had been cooked, “consensus” was a crock, and that the peer review process had been corrupted by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Subsequently, a stream of further embarrassing details emerged about the sloppiness of the IPCC process and the inclusion in its reports of scary but wildly inaccurate claims manufactured by radical non-governmental organizations. The most embarrassing was that the Himalayan glaciers were due to disappear by 2035.

In March, when he announced an “independent” review of the IPCC’s operations, Mr. Ban declared that what should have been the chief concern of the inquiry — whether the IPCC process had corrupted the science –had already been decided. “Let me be clear,” he said, “the threat posed by climate change is real…. Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change.” He also claimed that the IPCC’s 2007 fourth assessment report had contained a “very small number of errors.” But the number of errors was surely another appropriate topic for investigation. We can thus expect nothing but a whitewash from the UN inquiry. That would perhaps be one place for a new head of the OIOS to direct her attentions.

In line with his lack of fondness for scrutiny and his enthusiasm for climate-change alarmism, Mr. Ban has proven a model spouter of anti-capitalist humbug. When the financial crisis broke in the fall of 2008, he declared that: “We need a new understanding on business ethics and governance, with more compassion and less uncritical faith in the ‘magic’ of markets.”

Let’s hope Ms. Lapointe-Young is inclined — and allowed — to shed light on the much more dodgy ethics of putative global governors, and to bring less uncritical faith to the endemic chicanery of the UN.
Excerpts from a note to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon from Inga-Britt Ahlenius, retiring UN Under-Secretary- General for Oversight Services:
After having served my five-year term as the Under-Secretary-General of [the Office of Internal Oversight Services], I hereby submit my end of assignment report….

I feel compelled and duty-bound to report the following conclusions of my report, which evolves around the question I put on its first page: Is the United Nations now on the right path, more transparent, more accountable? … My conclusion and answer follows from my detailed review of certain core aspects of the Organization.

In spite of all your good intentions pronounced in these respects, my answer to this question, regrettably, is no. And at the end of my report, I summarize my observations:
There is no transparency, there is a lack of accountability. Rather than supporting the internal oversight, which is the sign of strong leadership and good governance, you have strived to control it, which is to undermine its position. I do not see any signs of reform in the Organization.

I regret to say that the Secretariat now is in a process of decay. It is not only falling apart in silos, the Secretariat is drifting, to use the words of one of my senior colleagues. It is drifting into irrelevance. You are the CAO [chief administrative officer] and responsible for the strategic guidance and leadership of the Organization. You are the one responsible for providing perspectives and a way forward and to ensure a coherency approach in and by the Secretariat….

Absence of strategic guidance and leadership manifests itself not only through failure to bring about change and reform of the Organization; it also manifests itself as a sort of an ‘adhocracy’; disintegrated and ill-thought-through “reforms” are launched without adequate analysis and with lack of understanding and a holistic view….

I am concerned that we are in a process of decline and reduced relevance of the Organization. In short, we seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems. This inevitably risks weakening the United Nations’ possibilities to fulfill its mandate. Ultimately, that is to the detriment of peace and stability in the wrold. This is as sad as it is serious.

– Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary- General for Oversight Services


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