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United Nations Must Reform Peacekeeping Operations, Bolton Says

Security Council reviews procurement audit; internal jurisdictional issues remain

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- A new report criticizing the management of U.N. peacekeeping operations shows "the need for a fundamental shift" in the organization's operating culture, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton says.

Calling on U.N. members to use the report "to chart a new course" of reform, Bolton said February 22 that "the stakes are too high to sweep these problems under the rug."

The problem, Bolton said, involves more than money or integrity.  "The discussion we are having today is about saving lives, not only of the civilians we are trying to protect, but the soldiers and civilians of the countries participating in peacekeeping."

"Without accountable, cost-effective, efficient and transparent U.N. procurement practices, the U.N. will not have its essential goods and services, billions of dollars of contributions might be ill spent or not properly accounted and the safety of U.N. peacekeeping operations would be jeopardized," the ambassador said.

Bolton, president of the U.N. Security Council for February, pressed for a public review of the report by the 15-nation council, even though reform is being discussed by the General Assembly's Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) Committee.  The council held a two-hour meeting on waste, fraud and abuse in peacekeeping procurement on February 22. The meeting will be followed February 23 by a meeting on sexual abuse and exploitation in peacekeeping operations, another issue that has tainted one of the most visible U.N. operations.


At the heart of the debate is an audit conducted between July 2005 and December 2005 by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on peacekeeping procurement. The audit sought to identify risks, duplication, fraud, and abuse of authority.  The subsequent report, Comprehensive Management Review of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations – Procurement, came out while the United Nations still was reeling from the scathing investigation of U.N. management of the Oil-for-Food Program by an independent commission headed by Paul Volcker.  (See related article.)

The OIOS found that adequate controls, managerial supervision and strategic guidance have been lacking, thus exposing the United Nations to serious risk of financial loss.  It said that management had not done enough to exercise due diligence and establish high levels of ethics and accountability. The OIOS also found indications of irregularities and conflict of interest with vendors that it said require urgent further investigation.

Bolton said it is time "for a wholesale change" in the way many agencies and entities within the U.N. system operate.  "Whether it is a culture of inaction or a culture of impunity, we must see changes," he said.

Acknowledging that the report requires "a very serious response," Mark Mallock Brown, chef de cabinet to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, briefed the council on the report, assuring it that the secretariat will put in place a reform strategy that addresses three distinctly different risks that peacekeeping operations face. These will be unveiled in March, Brown said.


Although all 15 council members and other nations who addressed the council agreed on the seriousness of the issue and the need for reform, there was disagreement on jurisdictional and procedural grounds.  Many nations, including those in the Group of 77 (G-77), argued that the U.N. Charter clearly sets out that management and budget issues belong in the General Assembly and that issues already before the General Assembly are not to be brought to the Security Council.

The G-77, which describes itself as “the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations,” seeks to provide the developing world with the means to “articulate and promote its collective economic interests and enhance its joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues in the United Nations system,” according to its Web site.

Nevertheless, Bolton called the Security Council meeting on the issue important and significant.  It shows "unanimous support for continued reform in the U.N. system to correct the abuses," he said.  "The number of people attending shows how seriously the issue is taken."

The ambassador said that the United States sees the Security Council as a forum where action can be taken.  "We authorize peacekeeping missions.  We write the resolutions that create them.  We can take steps in those resolutions or elsewhere," he said.

The council meeting was not a means to impede the work of the General Assembly, Bolton added.  "We'd welcome General Assembly debate on the subject. . . . Let's see the debate going in other bodies."

For additional information, see United States and U.N. 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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