- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

U.N. disaster-relief coordinator Jan Egeland vowed yesterday that his agency “would account for every penny” in administering the almost $1 billion tsunami-relief fund, acknowledging that the Iraq oil-for-food scandal had made the United Nations more sensitive to any appearance of corruption.

“Accountability … is an issue,” Mr. Egeland told reporters and editors at The Washington Times. “There’s no question that the oil-for-food program has made it even more of an issue.

“I think that everyone knows that as this international phenomenon of assistance — of the U.N.’s increasing role in the [world] — that they have to be very conscious of their transparency and their accountability. And I think that’s a big thing that’s happening,” Mr. Egeland said.

On other matters, Mr. Egeland said that former President Bill Clinton, named by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday as his special envoy for reconstruction in tsunami-affected countries, would serve as a fund-raiser, peacemaker and enforcer, making sure donor countries made good on multiyear pledges that often go unfulfilled.

He also lavished praise on the U.S. government and especially American citizens and corporations for their contributions to the relief fund for the Dec. 26 tsunami that slammed into the coastlines of a dozen Indian Ocean nations.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker is due to issue an interim report tomorrow on charges that billions of dollars were skimmed from the long-running U.N.-run program that allowed former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to sell oil and purchase humanitarian goods.

“Oil-for-food was the first and, I believe, the last time the [U.N.] Security Council will instruct the United Nations to administer the assets of a country,” Mr. Egeland said. “It became a very special thing, and now we have to look at every detail and turn every stone and see whether anything is creeping out.”

He promised that humanitarian efforts for tsunami victims would be “audited and reported on every single day” because “unprecedented generosity requires unprecedented transparency, and in real time.”

Mr. Egeland, former head of the Norwegian Red Cross, said he had leapt at an offer from the accounting powerhouse PriceWaterhouseCoopers to donate 8,000 work hours to enhance the world organization’s financial-tracking system.

For the first time in U.N. history, the ledgers for tsunami assistance are publicly available on the relief department’s Web site — www.reliefweb.int — in a form that breaks down contributions by nation, destination and use.

The site currently tracks government donations of money, military and humanitarian supplies, but it could be expanded to include contributions from private organizations and others.

During the interview, Mr. Egeland was especially eager to clarify remarks reported in The Washington Times on Dec. 28 that wealthy nations were “stingy” — at least regarding the ongoing official development assistance that could help lessen the impact of natural disasters such as this one.

That remark — rejected by President Bush, but privately welcomed by other relief officials as a brilliant moneymaker — set off a giving war among several nations that quickly filled the coffers necessary to deliver emergency assistance to as many as 5 million survivors.

“If I was to comment on the United States specifically, I would say, ‘The U.S. is great at this kind of assistance; it’s the best at it. Always very generous, always very early,’” he said.

He noted that the U.S. military, as well as the armed services of 20 other nations, provided the cargo planes, helicopters and landing craft that delivered desperately needed aid and complex logistics.

Because of that cooperation, “We could see the second wave of death and destruction did not happen,” said Mr. Egeland, adding that in the early days of the disaster, World Health Organization officials had predicted that more people could die of disease or starvation than from the tsunami itself.

But he also called on donor nations not to forget about long-standing emergencies in Sudan, Uganda and other nations that have fallen out of the headlines.

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