Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Aid Projects Need More Critical Media Coverage

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Aid Projects Need More Critical Media Coverage

Article excerpt

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 organizations.

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 regime.

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 impact.

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. …

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