- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

NEW YORK — The division of the U.N. bureaucracy that is responsible for “good governance” badly mismanaged its Greece-based center to train public administrators in Mediterranean countries, providing little of substance during the center’s five-year existence, an audit by the U.N. watchdog has found.

The Washington Times obtained a copy of the audit of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or DESA, which found “irregular” use of consultants and a failure to keep the Greek government apprised of its activities and accounting.

The audit was completed in November, but DESA officials have blocked its release.

In clear but restrained language, the U.N. Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) found that the U.N. Thessaloniki Center for Public Service Professionalism completed or produced few items on its agenda during the program’s final two years in operation.

Despite this, DESA spent about $600,000 on the center in 2004 and the same in 2005 before shuttering it.

“Given the center’s poor performance, it is obvious that DESA has failed in its responsibilities as the project’s executing agency,” the audit found. “Establishing accountability for this failure should enable DESA to strengthen its substantial management of technical cooperation projects and prevent such failures from reoccurring.”

The audit cited several examples of “irregularities in the selection of consultants,” who wrote reports that should have been completed by DESA staff or were incapable of providing the services for which they were hired.

The Thessaloniki Center was established in 1999 at the request of the government of Greece, which also funded the project with about $2.76 million over its five-year life span.

The center was conceived to train public servants in the Mediterranean region and former Soviet states to be more transparent, accountable and effective in running their respective government bureaucracies.

The OIOS audit paints the center as an expensive project, plagued by staffing troubles, spotty record-keeping and the inability to complete projects.

“No substantive activity was implemented in 2004. In 2005, only three events were held,” according to the OIOS report. It noted that “DESA was not committed to a single work plan against which it would monitor the performance” of the office.

DESA itself may have undercut the Greek center by opening in May 2003 a center in Italy, whose participating countries and objectives deeply overlapped with Thessaloniki’s, the report found.

The Greek center was closed in November.

U.N. auditors made four “critical” recommendations to improve DESA’s management of the Thessaloniki Center. However, DESA has taken the unprecedented step of rejecting them all, saying, in part, that since the center was closed, the recommendations should be dropped.

In a response to the OIOS findings, DESA officials said many of the center’s problems were attributable to poor performance by the two chief technical advisers hired to run it.

The first engaged in “irregular and non-authorized activities,” and his successor’s tenure was marked by “incompetence and poor performance.”

DESA notes that the Greek government also contributed to the problems by delaying payments in 2004.

Matters were complicated, DESA added, when it was decided to relocate the center from Thessaloniki to Athens in 2004.

The audit was conducted May through July last year at the request of the Greek government, which contributed most of the money for Thessaloniki.

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