UNITED NATIONS - Amid charges of waste, fraud, and malfeasance in its multi-billion-dollar
peacekeeping operations, the United Nations has suspended one contractor and
eight staff members pending further investigations into potential wrongdoing.
The focus of the investigation is procurement, which, according to one UN source,
could emerge as a major financial scandal in the history of the organization.
The audit is being confined to five years of peacekeeping-related procurement,
including major UN procurement contracts.
A UN staffer who served in one of the peacekeeping missions and is familiar
with several others told IPS that "corruption and kickbacks were taken
for granted in most overseas operations."
He cited two examples from recent peacekeeping missions: A former diplomat,
currently with a peacekeeping mission in Europe, is said to have received a
Mercedes Benz car as a kickback for favoring a particular contractor. The vehicle
was sent to an address in a third country and is awaiting shipment until the
staffer gets back to his home country.
In another mission, he said, a husband-and-wife team was working in tandem
to defraud the organization mostly on procurement.
"The higher-ups either don't take notice or are working in cahoots,"
According to a UN statement released Monday, "the secretary-general [Kofi
Annan] is confident that the steps now being taken will help ensure that remaining
deficiencies in the UN procurement systems will be quickly uncovered and corrected."
Another four staff members in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations were
recalled from overseas missions in order to assist with the audit. But they
will be returned to their duty stations.
Placing eight staff members on special leave is an administrative, not disciplinary,
measure that "fully respects the due process rights of the staff members
concerned and does not presume any wrongdoing on their part."
While the audit report is not yet finalized, "it raises a number of issues
of serious concern," the UN statement said.
"In light of the critical importance of an efficient and effective procurement
system to the proper functioning of the United Nations, the Secretariat has
provided additional resources to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS)
in order to expand its investigation of procurement allegations as quickly as
possible," the statement added.
The United Nations said it is also continuing to "cooperate fully with
ongoing investigations into UN procurement being undertaken by national law
Since 1948, the United Nations has spent a staggering $41 billion in its peacekeeping
With 15 peacekeeping operations currently in force, the total peacekeeping
budget has reached over $5 billion for 2005-2006, compared to the UN's regular
biennial budget of over $3 billion.
Currently, there are nearly 85,000 personnel serving in UN peacekeeping operations
from Lebanon and Western Sahara to Kosovo and Haiti.
As UN peacekeeping costs have skyrocketed arithmetically over the last two
decades, waste and corruption have continued to increase geometrically.
One of the biggest setbacks suffered by the United Nations was the loss of
about $3.9 million from a compound that housed the offices of the UN peacekeeping
operations in Somalia in 1993.
Although Britain's Scotland Yard was called in to investigate the loss, the
United Nations never recovered the stolen money.
In 1996, the United Nations mistakenly overpaid nearly a million dollars to
its peacekeeping staff in Iraq and Kuwait and tried to rectify the error
by frantically demanding its money back.
The overpayment of more than $800,000 was made to about 150 staffers, including
military observers, local recruits, and headquarters personnel who served with
the UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM).
But despite an investigation, the United Nations was unable to track down the
staffer responsible for the overpayment.
UNIKOM was established immediately after the January 1991 Gulf War to monitor
a demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait.
According to an OIOS report, however, UNIKOM had eventually overpaid staff
allowances to the tune of more than $6.3 million. These payments continued despite
the irregularities pointed out by the auditors. Only a small percentage of this
amount was recovered.
In the peacekeeping mission in Angola, transportation and related services
were procured, and payments of $677,000 were made, without following the applicable
financial rules, regulations, and procedures.
A large number of requisitions were raised for goods and services that were
not essential or urgently needed. When this was brought to the attention of
the management, immediate steps were taken to cancel these requisitions valued
at more than $15 million.
In the UN Peace Forces (UNPF) in Zagreb, an examination of payments for rations
indicated that discounts of more than $700,000 were lost as a result of payments
not being made promptly.
An audit of military contingent claims for reimbursement of vehicle spare parts
disclosed a pattern of unjustified claims by one contingent, thereby preventing
more than $1 million in unfounded expenditures.
The UN's peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, however, suffered the most
with a spate of robberies amounting to millions of dollars in stolen trucks,
cars, phones, and computers.
A total of more than $8 million in equipment was stolen mostly by unknown
persons from the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) during
The stolen equipment included $3 million worth of vehicles, $2.5 million in
communications equipment, $1.5 million in laptop computers, half a million dollars
in prefabricated accommodation, and $453,000 in generators.
The United Nations was also forced to write off about $3.6 million worth of
vehicles, photocopiers, fax machines, and prefabricated accommodation.
No one has been held responsible for the robberies in Cambodia, although staffers
were accused of not doing enough to protect UN property.
(Inter Press Service)