- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

NEW YORK — The Bush administration has suggested to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a list of candidates to be considered as the next U.N. watchdog responsible for preventing scandals like that at the discredited Iraqi oil-for-food program.

U.S. Ambassador John C. Danforth last month submitted a list of senior government auditors to take up the five-year position when it becomes vacant in April. The candidates, none of them familiar names to Americans, come from South Africa, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

The United States, which pays more than 20 percent of the organization’s annual operating budget, has long had a keen interest in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which was created in 1994 largely at the urging of the Clinton administration.

“The U.S. … believes that an excellent choice would be an expert of respected professional stature who has familiarity with international organizations through public sector and executive experience,” Mr. Danforth wrote.

“We feel strongly that a viable candidate must also be of strong ethical fiber, adhering to the principles of integrity, objectivity, confidentiality and competence.”

A U.S. official said the submission of names was not a reaction to charges of favoritism and sexual harassment against the current head of OIOS, but was an effort to avoid the long vacuum that predated his hiring.

There was a five-month lapse between the arrival of Dileep Nair, a former civil servant and bank executive from Singapore, and the long-scheduled 2000 departure of his predecessor, Karl Paschke of Germany.

During that time, diplomats and U.N. officials say, the office lost some of its direction and drive.

“We would like to avoid the gap,” a U.S. official said. “We think OIOS is important, and we want someone good in it. We want a seamless handover.”

The undersecretary-general for OIOS is hired on a five-year contract that, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, cannot be extended or renewed. The officer oversees a staff of 200 investigators, auditors, lawyers and other technical experts to create efficiencies and root out waste and corruption in the sprawling U.N. system.

Over the lifetime of the oil-for-food program, for example, the office issued 55 audits on various aspects of its administration and management. Few of those reports have been read outside the United Nations, however, and they are now in the hands of the inquiry headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, according to U.N. officials.

The office also has investigated irregularities in peacekeeping procurement, travel contracts for political missions and criminal behavior by international peacekeepers.

The office says it has exposed waste and fraud totaling $290 million since 1995, of which it recovered $130 million.

The letter from Mr. Danforth explicitly praised the work of Mr. Nair, who for seven months, has faced charges of improper hiring procedures and sexual harassment. He was exonerated last month by Mr. Annan, but U.N. officials say they will consider new evidence if it is presented.

“My government is very pleased with the excellent work of the Undersecretary-General Nair in contributing to the effectiveness of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and making it a vital asset of the United Nations,” Mr. Danforth wrote in his Nov. 18 letter. “With the completion of Nair’s term next April, we are ardently interested in the selection of his successor.”

U.S. officials are reluctant to discuss their candidates to succeed Mr. Nair, acknowledging the “kiss of death” that accompanies a U.S. endorsement for a U.N. post.

All five are current or former auditors-general of their respective governments and were selected with assistance from the Government Accountability Office in Washington.

They are Denis Desautels of Canada, David Macdonald of New Zealand, Jules Muis of the Netherlands, Sweden’s Inga-Britt Ahlenius and Shauket Fakie of South Africa.

OIOS guidelines say the undersecretary-general should have relevant experience, such as in auditing, accounting, financial analysis or public administration.

Perhaps as importantly, the job also demands a stiffened backbone, thick skin and unsurpassed diplomatic skills.

Mr. Paschke, who was lauded by Washington and other major U.N. contributors for his ability to clean house, was considerably less popular with developing nations, which sometimes felt that programs they favored were singled out for review.

A U.S. official who has worked with Mr. Nair praised his skills, and said some of the accusations against him — including the selling of jobs, sexual harassment and favoring Indian nationals for promotions and hiring — didn’t seem to fit.

“I don’t regard him as sleazy,” said the official, who said he wished the anti-corruption official could be “a little more of a junkyard dog.”

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