- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

NEW YORK — The U.N. humanitarian relief office has engaged accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers and put in place other measures to reassure governments and other donors that the billions pledged to the tsunami relief will be spent as promised.

The move comes just as an inquiry committee has released dozens of internal documents detailing years of mismanagement in the Iraqi oil-for-food program, although U.N. relief officials insisted there is no connection.

In fact, the organization indicated it never intended to hire an outside auditor for the relief effort for tsunami survivors. PWC, which has offices throughout Asia, volunteered its services last week.

“It was an offer made by Pricewaterhouse, and we gratefully accepted,” said Kevin Kennedy, a senior official with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “I know there is a fixation with oil for food. … It’s not connected.”

Officials in the United States, which has pledged $350 million for tsunami aid, welcomed the action.

“Beautiful,” said one Capitol Hill staffer. “We wish the U.N. would hire auditors for other programs, as well. Oil-for-food shows how much an internal audit is worth.”

With a donors’ conference convening in Geneva yesterday, OCHA has received pledges in excess of $4.7 billion in two weeks. That includes promises of commodities such as blankets and rice, offers of transport and logistics, and cash.

The donations have been pouring in from governments, corporations and horrified citizens who have organized fund-raisers to send relief to the region.

In an effort to improve accountability and transparency, OCHA will post a running tally of what donations have been received, and how the money or in-kind contributions were used. The Web site (www.reliefweb.int) includes sometimes gripping situation reports from trouble spots around the world.

PricewaterhouseCoopers will audit only cash contributions to the United Nations’ emergency appeal, not the broad range of assistance that is now flooding into the region. It is the first time OCHA, which has as many as two dozen active appeals at any time, has used an outside auditor.

Very little of the billions pledged for tsunami relief will actually pass through OCHA’s hands, making PWC’s job more complex.

Most large donor nations, including the United States, generally deposit aid directly with the U.N. agency or private relief organization that will do the work on site.

In this case, PWC will have to monitor money delivered to as many as 40 U.N. agencies and many more private organizations, said OCHA spokesman Brian Grogan.

Many of the largest donors said they welcome any effort to improve transparency and accountability inside the U.N. system, but that they weren’t too worried about OCHA’s handling of the funds.

Laurence Cockcroft, the chairman of Transparency International’s office in Britain, said yesterday that any action to reassure donors would be a good thing.

Aid “should be spent as effectively as possible, and should be open to scrutiny from both existing national audit offices and civil society,” he said.

But Mr. Cockcroft stressed the need for transparency to combat corruption in the countries where the money is being spent.

“Monitoring the global effort is one thing but TI would like to see [country] audits, in the public domain, and released quarterly … not a year afterward,” he said.

Indonesia in particular has a legacy of corruption from previous governments, he said.

“We would also like to see [private relief groups] on the front line and even the militaries held to the same standards of accountability as governments.”

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