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Congressman Rohrabacher's Opening Statement on the United Nations "Integrity and Accountability" Hearing

Mar 2, 2005
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Washington, Mar 2, 2005 -

Statement of the Honorable Dana Rohrabacher
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Hearing on “United Nations Operations: Integrity and Accountability”

This morning we will concentrate on the integrity of the United Nations and on strategies for addressing the UN’s very real deficiencies.

Recently, the New York Times published an article detailing corruption in one of the United Nations’ specialized agencies, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). At the end of the article, a cable is quoted in which the WMO’s legal adviser lamented that ''while bad,'' the weather agency's internal procedures were ''not the worst seen in the U.N. family of organizations.'' This is a discouraging statement. What other agencies have similar or worse problems? What other problems have yet to surface?

To further illustrate this point, I would like to read a quote from a statement given at the UN by a member of our Mission there, Thomas Respasch. In a statement in 2004, Mr. Respasch explained in the UN Population Fund, we were quite surprised to learn that some senior staff members who spend more than half their time in travel status are racking up travel costs of $225,000. We would be interested in learning what steps the Fund has taken to curb these high travel costs. He continued, in UNEP (the UN Environment Program), travel advances to “other persons,” in the amount of $82,208, had been outstanding for more than 20 months.

It would be interesting to learn who those “other persons” were and if this money was ever repaid. There have been numerous other cases of rank corruption with UN personnel around the world. In one instance, there was an official who stole over $4 million of dollars from the UN Mission in Kosovo.

There was also a kickback scheme by one official at the UN-administered airport in Pristina, Kosovo who rigged a contract for a national airline there and another who received a free apartment apparently as part of the same scheme.

In the Congo, a French UN official took lewd pictures of 12 year-old girls and reportedly emailed them back to friends in the UN, quite possibly through the UN email system.

I could go on, but one thing is surely true, these practices are simply inexcusable and the UN must take strong measures to ensure that they never happen again.

Moreover, the procurement and mismanagement failures at the UN’s Oil-for-Food program are now legendary. In this vein, an additional case has recently come to light.

In 1993, seven UN officials were suspended after a probe of irregularities in contracts for helicopters for its peacekeeping operations. One of these seven, Allan B. Robertson was the Chief of the UN Commercial Purchase and Transportation Service. A UN Administrative Tribunal later found that the seven did not show the “intent to favor a specific contractor,” but the Tribunal nevertheless placed references in their employment files to the incident.

One year later, the UN issued a report by the High Level Expert Procurement Group calling for “transparency, clear lines of accountability, inherent control mechanisms, and…a competitive process…” It appears the reforms they called for were not implemented. Three years later, quite possibly the same Allan B. Robertson was back. It appears that he became involved in the Oil-for-Food program. Only a few weeks ago, Robertson was described by Paul Volcker’s Interim Report into the Oil-for-Food Program, to have “surrendered to a clear violation of the bidding rules and basic fair play” in the awarding of the oil inspection contract to Saybolt, one of the UN’s inspection firms.

If this is the same person, why was he allowed to continue in the procurement operations of the UN if he had been previously castigated for a procurement case? What is becoming abundantly clear is that the abject failures of the Oil-for-Food program were less the exception than the rule of operation at the UN. It appears that these failures are just another example of the inherent weaknesses within the UN.

The UN must be reform or it will totally lose credibility and sink into irrelevancy. We can no longer allow the UN to be so arrogant and unaccountable. It cannot continue to fail its own annual internal financial audits. It cannot continue to endlessly promote incompetence upward through the system and reward financial mismanagement and procurement mistakes in the system.

Finally, and importantly, the UN cannot continue to under-fund its own internal auditors at the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). The UN now requires the auditors to obtain financing for their investigation from the very targets they wish to examine. This requirement sets the auditors up for failure from the beginning.

This hearing is intended to highlight some of the UN’s most blatant shortcomings and problems and to consider reforms that will avoid similar problems in the future. Our witnesses today will discuss these issues and hopefully provide us with some ideas and alternatives to help fix these other problems.

We have with us today, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, the US Ambassador to the UN for Management and Reform and Joseph Christoff Director of International Affairs and Trade, United States General Accounting Office.