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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

24 January 2006

United Nations Investigating 200 Charges of Procurement Abuse

U.S. Ambassador Bolton says report "demonstrates need for reform"

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- Internal U.N. investigations have uncovered 200 instances of alleged procurement mismanagement and fraud in peacekeeping operations and at U.N. headquarters, a senior U.N. official has reported.

Under Secretary-General for Management Christopher Burnham said the United Nations has placed eight staff members on special leave and is investigating cases that potentially could involve tens of millions of dollars.

At a press conference January 23, Burnham credited the U.N. secretariat's "proactive" approach for the increase in the number of investigations.  A report by the U.N. Office of International Oversight Services (OIOS) is being sent to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.N. member states, he added.

Burnham said that he expected the number of cases to increase, "if the men and women of the United Nations continue to show the courage they have in the last six months" in reporting suspected instances of abuse.

The report comes just months after the Independent Inquiry Committee ended its almost two-year investigation into the administration and abuse of the U.N.-operated Oil-for-Food Program.


Calling Burnham's information "very disturbing," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said that the issue demonstrates "the need for the massive management reform that we have been calling for. ... [I]t shows the sad record of mismanagement that we're trying to deal with through the reform process."

Bolton said that "there is a lot of blame to go around" because U.N. member states do not adequately fulfill their supervisory and oversight responsibilities.

"I think the lesson for member governments is that greater oversight over the secretariat is obviously needed ... the member governments really can't delegate this and it shows why very close scrutiny of all these areas is very important," he said. (See related article.)

"This procurement problem is one that directly affects our tax dollars as the largest contributor to the U.N. system," the ambassador said.  "That means every case of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement the United States pays a quarter of that."

The United States pays 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget and 27 percent of U.N. peacekeeping costs.


Burnham, a former U.S. State Department under secretary for management, who joined the U.N. staff in 2005, said the United Nations is not making the report public but quoted one excerpt that said "substantial evidence of abuse in procurement for peacekeeping operations leading to financial losses and significant inaccuracies in planning assumptions" had been uncovered.

The report also said "the design and maintenance of controls needed to ensure that U.N. procurement complies with financial rules and regulations were insufficient.  Important controls were lacking while existing ones were often bypassed," Burnham said.

The under secretary-general said the United Nations was cooperating with U.S. law enforcement.  He noted that OIOS had turned over evidence to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, which indicted and obtained a guilty plea from former U.N. procurement officer Alexander Yakovlev.

"We are doing all the right things to ensure that the global taxpayer's money will be protected going forward, and we are ferreting out corruption and fraud where it existed and where it exists," Burnham said.

With Annan's tenure as secretary-general ending December 31, 2006, Bolton said that during the selection process for a successor, the United States "will be looking for a chief administrative officer."

"We need one, we need one soon," he added.

"The U.N. Charter says very clearly that the U.N. secretary-general should be the organization's chief administrative officer.  We are original intent people in the Bush administration and we look at the U.N. Charter and it says 'chief administrative officer.'  That's what we're looking for."

For additional information see The U.S. and United Nations Reform.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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