Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Fiscal Lions at UN Headquarters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Fiscal Lions at UN Headquarters

Article excerpt

THE recent creation of an independent inspector general by the United Nations General Assembly will go far toward expanding the capabilities of the UN. Strict financial oversight and strengthened accountability will generate greater confidence in UN operations and increase public demands for the UN to deal with humanitarian disasters, conflict control, and other urgent problems.

The irony is that many demands for the new post came from American antagonists of the UN - while resistance initially ran strong among many UN diplomats who eyed it suspiciously as a poison pill prescribed by UN bashers. So its establishment must be counted a victory for President Clinton's much-maligned foreign-policy team, which constructively refocused the UN debate. Perhaps for that reason, partisan critics on the right now stridently deny American success.

The UN's own fiscal oversight bodies have repeatedly called for a strong, independent oversight office - insisting that the UN's archaic and disorganized internal reporting requirements kept not only the outside world, but even senior UN officials, from knowing the severity of its fiscal problems. The abuses they discovered - while no match for the fabled $300 hammers and of Pentagon lore - were bad enough to stir a wave of indignation that shook the UN's complacent establishment.

For a remedy, United States politicians turned to a model of their own recent invention - the inspectors general that Congress pioneered in the federal government in response to widespread fraud and abuse in federal agencies two decades ago. Established over the opposition of virtually every agency, US inspectors generally have proved successful in stinging departments into more effective performance.

Essential to this success is their independence. Previous audit, evaluation, and investigative units could only be timid lambs when higher-ups growled at them to back off. Now, working for independent inspectors general, they have become lions. We may expect the same at the UN. Statutes guarantee independence to inspectors general by requiring Senate confirmation, permitting their removal only by the president (not department heads), and mandating full transmittal of their reports to the Congress. These safeguards have yielded more open governance and more economical administration; brought billions in hard savings; protected whistle blowers; and subjected wrongdoers at all levels to administrative or criminal punishment. It was only natural that the US should propose applying the inspector-general model to the UN.

Washington's initiative coincided with growing frustration in New York with the UN secretariat's habits of inertia and timidity - acquired during decades of East-West and North-South hostilities. UN bodies of experts, frustrated by years of secretariat stonewalling of reform, called pointedly for independent oversight. Moreover, the French were calling for a UN legal procedure to deal with corruption in the secretariat, since fraud by international civil servants is rarely punishable under national law, and the UN has no power to administer any penalty beyond dismissal. …

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