- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

Oversight pays off
The U.N. inspector general's office has saved the United Nations some $58 million in the past year, according an annual accounting report issued last week.
The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has recovered some $2.5 million in squandered or stolen U.N. assets and reduced planned expenditures by some $8 million, according to OIOS Undersecretary-General Dileep Nair.
Its auditors, investigators and accountants have also made recommendations that could, in principle, save various U.N. departments, agencies, funds and programs another $59 million if acted upon.
The largest cost-cutting measure identified by OIOS is the $45 million it said that could be saved by refiguring the mission subsistence allowance a cash allowance paid in local currency routinely given to civilians and administrators at peacekeeping missions around the globe.
Roughly half the money recovered involved subcontractors who had failed to share the benefits of currency fluctuations with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Office of Internal Oversight Services, created seven years ago after sustained congressional demands, has established itself as an in-house auditor, adviser and, when necessary, investigator of various U.N. departments, agencies, funds and programs. OIOS officials say that initial suspicion and resentment of their work has been fading.
OIOS has a staff of 165 and an annual budget of $29 million.
In the past year, it provided the core evidence against an extortion ring operating in the Nairobi office of the UNHCR that required those seeking refugee status to pay bribes. So far, nine individuals have been arrested for extortion and for attempting to cover it up with a conspiracy to kill an unnamed ambassador to Kenya.
Australia, Canada, Kenya, Britain and the United States have sent investigators to OIOS for the case.
Several of the those accused by OIOS have faced criminal trials. Interestingly, the most ambitious perpetrators have been American. This spring, a U.S. appeals court affirmed a district court's sentence of 41 months for a former official in the U.N. Bosnian office who was accused of stealing nearly $800,000 with faked travel plans and baggage surcharges.
OIOS also investigated allegations of fee-splitting at the U.N. tribunals for the Balkan and Rwandan genocides. Defendants apparently demanded kickbacks from their U.N.-paid lawyers.

Tourism takes beating
Fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States continues to choke the global economy and deter shoppers, travelers, investors and others who keep the economy rolling.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) paints a dire picture for the 200 million people worldwide who earn their money from the tourism industry hotel workers, travel agents, caterers, taxi drivers and myriad service-industry employees.
A best-case estimate of 10 percent reduction in tourism could cost 8.8 million jobs at least 1.1 million of those in the United States, according to the Geneva-based ILO, which warns that the U.S. impact could be three times as severe, depending on how travelers react over the next few months.
"The worst-case scenario would all but halt discretionary travel to the United States," said the report's authors.
"Should this happen, the economic ramifications would have an unprecedented and devastating impact on tourism around the world."
For example, the report said, 290,000 Japanese canceled trips to the United States after the attacks.
Noting that the travel sector was already weakened by the global recession, the World Tourism Organization had forecast a maximum of 3 percent growth for the industry. That was reduced to 2 percent after Sept. 11.
The first to feel the blow will be lesser-paid workers.
The tourism industry grew at a rate of 7.4 percent in 2000, according to the tourism group.

What is terrorism?
Hopes that the United Nations could quickly draft a new omnibus counterterrorism resolution appeared to be dashed last week, with diplomats unable to agree on a definition of terrorism.
The two-week drafting session ended Friday with governments unable to agree on whether there should be explicit exemptions for the actions of "freedom fighters" or national armies.

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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