The forced resignation of former World Bank director Paul
Wolfowitz for nepotism was largely the result of intense pressure by
an irate staff who saw his actions as lacking in dignity and concern
for the well-being of the organization. The willingness of the press
to pursue the issue was another contributing factor.
Wrongdoing, of course, is nothing new to the international aid
industry. But in most cases there is no dogged media reporting or
public will to bring the culprits to task. The fact that Mr.
Wolfowitz was appointed in the first place by the Bush
administration only underlines the practice of member states (who
consider it their right) to dump political appointees - regardless
of competence - on the United Nations and other international
agencies. This does little for the credibility of these
The UN's 53-member Commission on Sustainable Development recently
named Zimbabwe (led by the notorious president Robert Mugabe) to
head the key UN body. This is another example of the disdain that
countries often harbor for the mandates of institutions that are
supposed to serve humanity and not dictatorial regimes. Another is
the systematic failure of governments to hold their peacekeeping
soldiers accountable for rape or trafficking.
International aid is in desperate need of more critical
reporting. This is crucial if committed aid professionals are to do
their jobs properly. Many feel frustrated by their inability to
thwart the inherent nepotism, corruption, and power abuses that
pervade much of the system.
Aid organizations regularly cover up managerial dysfunction,
including sexual harassment, by ignoring the actions of those
responsible. This includes a UN agency director in Geneva lying
about his age to stay in power longer, the misappropriation of US
funds by private contractors in the Middle East, and the placement
of inappropriate personnel in well-paid UN positions by in-house
"mafiosi" to the detriment of more qualified individuals.
In certain instances, this has led to an environment of impunity
with few employees daring to speak out. One UN department head who
consistently intimidated fellow colleagues was not only reassigned
to another agency, but at a higher salary and position. Another
working in Somalia was removed for blatant conflict of interest only
to reemerge later with the same organization in Europe.
The UN system, however, will only prove as good as its member
states allow it to be. All too many organizations are burdened by
incompetent individuals who stifle the initiatives of others,
sometimes with resounding consequences for the victims of war, HIV-
AIDS, or drought. Nor is there any real pressure to "out" officials
who abuse their trust.
The UN's country representative in Harare, Zimbabwe, a Mozambican
known to be close to Mr. Mugabe, has been accused by nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) of refusing to treat Zimbabwe's economic
collapse as a humanitarian crisis for fear of embarrassing the
Every year, the UN and NGOs, and also the military, spend
hundreds of millions or, as some suggest, billions of dollars on
humanitarian, reconstruction, or peacekeeping programs of dubious
Among these are costly but ineffective initiatives, such as opium-
eradication proA-grams in Afghanistan or desperate face-saving
development operations in Iraq.
Many disasters, whether Somalia's civil wars or ZimA-babwe's
economic collapse, are instigated by corrupt regimes, power-hungry
factions, or criminal elements. Simply pouring in more aid or
imposing inappropriate peacekeeping operations are not going to
resolve such crises. …