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UN action imperative to remove breeding ground for corruption

United Nations must initiate a major, highly public and independent review of its accountability mechanisms

The United Nations must initiate and cooperate fully with a major independent assessment of its anti-corruption rules and procedures in the wake of today’s damning report by the Independent Inquiry Commission on the Oil-for-food Programme. Next week’s high-level meeting of the General Assembly will provide the perfect opportunity to announce such an initiative.

“Hamstrung by the absence of clear auditing, internal controls and accountability structures, the Oil-for-Food Programme was allowed to disintegrate into a cesspool of mismanagement and incompetence,” said Peter Eigen, chair of Transparency International. “These are classic conditions in which corruption can take root and flourish.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive of Transparency International, added, “Unless the UN takes action now – initiating a full, public and detailed examination of its anti-corruption infrastructure, led by a figure of international stature – this report will have done little to address the rot eating away at the foundations of the United Nations.”

The UN Secretariat, and ultimately the Security Council, must take responsibility for their role in these failures, just as the mishandling of procurement in post-conflict Iraq by the Coalition Provisional Authority must also be acknowledged.

Four points for translating the commission’s findings into action:

  • Initiate a full review of UN accountability mechanisms, going across agency lines;
  • Institute independent, third-party monitoring of UN programmes;
  • Activate a risk analysis mechanism when undertaking new and complex activities;
  • Strengthen whistle-blowing channels and protections for UN employees.

These initiatives should dovetail with existing reviews of procurement procedures at the UN and with the growing reform impulse within the organisation and the global community it serves. The effectiveness of these reforms is up to the UN’s member states, as the organisation is only as strong as they want it to be – a reflection of their will and commitment. A deep-seated sense of accountability is needed among UN members, particularly the most influential.

The corruption which has undermined the oil-for-food programme and caused such grievous damage to the UN’s reputation is a bitter irony in view of the monumental achievement which bore the first truly global instrument in the fight against corruption, the UN Convention against Corruption, signed by 126 countries.

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Transparency International is the civil society organisation leading the global fight against corruption.


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