- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

NEW YORK — The United States has started a new initiative to force dozens of U.N. independent agencies to publish detailed budgets in an effort to see how U.S. contributions are being spent, an official said yesterday.

U.S. diplomat Mark Wallace said the United States intended to use its muscle as one of the largest contributors to the agencies to persuade administrators to make the changes, rather than seeking support for a resolution.

“We’re not seeking co-sponsors on this,” said Mr. Wallace, who oversees management and administration issues for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. “We think it’s important enough to do ourselves for now.”

The U.S. Mission has circulated a list of eight demands for the U.N. Secretariat and its agencies, funds and programs aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to traditionally murky areas.

The initiative is called the U.N. Transparency and Accountability Initiative, or UNTAI. The U.S. Mission has tried to build support for the initiative by distributing made-in-China lapel pins saying ‘UNTAI,’ but so far Mr. Wallace has been the only diplomat seen wearing them.

The U.N. system includes some two dozen agencies of varying independence, including UNICEF, the World Food Program, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and the U.N. Population Fund.

Most fund their programs with voluntary contributions, and Mr. Wallace hinted that Washington may be reluctant to continue funding programs that reject the suggestions.

The United States pays close to $3 billion annually to U.N. entities, including assessed contributions to the operating budget and peacekeeping, and voluntary contributions to programs that protect refugees and children, and foster health and development around the world.

The latest initiative grew out of frustration with the UNDP, which has been running a variety of operations in dictatorial countries such as North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe. These are countries of undisputed need, but Washington suspects their leaders demand kickbacks and favors in exchange for allowing relief work.

The North Korea program, in particular, has been dogged by accusations of improper spending and allowing the government to dictate local hiring.

A former UNDP office manager in Pyongyang, who was let go after reporting irregularities, has been denied whistleblower status under a new U.N. program.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has spoken often of renewing the United Nations and building trust between the organization, its employees and its member states.

However, he has not decreed that Secretariat standards will apply to some two dozen independent bodies — a fact that irks some U.N. lawmakers and accountants in light of recently exposed irregularities in procurement and the administration of some programs.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Kristen Silverberg said in an interview last month that Mr. Ban could unify the system simply by circulating a written memo.

Under pressure from the United States, Mr. Ban may be close to expanding the reach of the U.N. Ethics Office, which administers the whistleblower policy.

But the agencies and programs say they are independent of the Secretariat and intend to remain that way.

Washington”s initiative says specifically that agencies should:

• Post line-by-line budgets on their Web sites, as well as audits, procurement activities and other information.

• Draft and enforce ethics guidelines, financial-disclosure policies and whistleblower protections.

• Conform to internationally accepted accounting standards.

• Establish a cap on administrative and overhead costs for each program.

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