- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

Revelations about the sordid United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal grow daily. Meanwhile, the reputation has been unfairly tainted of an icon of American life, a quarterback and respected vice-presidential candidate, apparently driven solely by goodhearted concern for the suffering of children under what was an ineffective sanctions regime in Iraq.

We are compelled to expose the problem’s root — the failure of reform in, and fragility of oversight over, the United Nations, the World Bank and other multilateral development institutions. Musical chairs are no substitute for radical change. These institutions are important levers that can help end tyranny globally as President Bush has urged. But their secrecy, lack of transparency and incompetence negate that potential.

Looked upon a base for hobnobbing with the glitterati, multilateral organizations have increasingly drawn socialites or organizational hacks to top spots. Management competence has taken a back seat, and unique agency structures increase opacity and doublespeak, inevitably worsening accountability.

And true, America only has the largest shareholding power in the World Bank, and contributes the most to the U.N. and all its specialized agencies. So, by playing Europe against the U.S., most international agency heads can avoid any real scrutiny.

Sweeping immunities provided by member states a lifetime ago render agency chiefs impervious to courts of law. Personnel of multilaterals can be fired merely for speaking with a U.S. agency, such as Treasury, with supervisory responsibilities.

Indeed, U.S. departments’ lack of resources dedicated to monitoring has compounded the problem. Regrettably, Congress has not viewed direct involvement as a priority.

Restricting engagement to investigating after disasters occur would be unfortunate, especially after President Bush’s call for the entire government to take pro-active measures.

Many problems inherent in the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food scandal could have been unearthed or prevented years ago if a credible whistleblower policy had been in place similar to those legally required of corporations under the Sarbanes-Oxley Law.

Fearing the instant reprisals for which the U.N. and its specialized agencies like the World Bank have become known, conscientious staff members were unable to alert authorities to what was effectively the criminalization of a humanitarian program. The oil was meant to provide food and medicine for children, not profits for a tyrant’s henchmen, who tainted the reputations of people like Jack Kemp and Jimmy Carter by merely meeting with them.

In the World Bank and the U.N., whistleblowers against corruption, mismanagement or other abuses have faced harsh and continuing retaliation. The Government Accountability Project, the foremost U.S. independent whistleblower protection organization, gave a failing grade to all multilateral development banks, including the World Bank. Furthermore, its criticisms of the lack of U.N. whistleblower protections have been similarly vociferous.

Without drastic measures, no present or former U.S. official motivated by empathy will henceforth dare venture into any humanitarian crisis involving the U.N. or its specialized agencies. The change in top World Bank top management in four months provides a real opportunity for reform.

The U.N. leadership is due to change in two years. Proper whistleblower protection systems must be put in place immediately This will give new leaders tools and incentives to prevent waste, mismanagement and corruption and, it is hoped, eliminate programs that unfairly stain well-meaning people.

Sunil Chacko is a physician, public health and finance specialist and worked for the World Bank Group. Malcolm Wallop is a former Republican U.S. senator from Wyoming.

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