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Fraud, Abuse Charges Threaten UN Peacekeeping


Japan and the United States have warned that funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations might be cut unless reforms are made promptly. The two countries contribute nearly half of the U.N. peacekeeping budget. U.N. Security Council is taking a close look at management of peacekeeping missions worldwide.

Japan's U.N. Ambassador Kenzo Oshima told the Security Council Wednesday his country's support of peacekeeping operations is under threat because of persistent reports of waste and fraud in purchasing equipment and supplies.

"I feel compelled to say that, unless immediate and convincing measures are taken to redress the problem, my government, which currently contributes about 20 percent of the PKO budget, will find it very difficult to maintain domestic support for underwriting peacekeeping operations," said Kenzo Oshima.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton called the Japanese envoy's statement "electrifying". Bolton, who has repeatedly criticized U.N. management practices as a "culture of inaction", told the Security Council U.S. taxpayers are like the Japanese in demanding greater accountability from the world body's rapidly expanding peacekeeping operations.

"We must see changes," said John Bolton. "The problem of procurement fraud, waste and abuse is one that directly affects our tax dollars as the largest contributor to the U.N. system, 22 percent in the case of the regular budget, 27 percent in the case of the peacekeeping budget. This means that the United States pays or one-fourth of the price in every case of fraud, waste, and abuse. This is unacceptable."

An internal U.N. report issued last month charged that waste and fraud in peacekeeping procurement had cost the world body as much as $300 million over the past five years. The U.N. operates 18 peacekeeping missions with 85,000 troops, at an estimated cost of $2 billion per year.

Another mission for Darfur is in the planning stages.

U.N. Chief of Staff Mark Malloch Brown told the Security Council Wednesday he was alarmed by reports of fraud. He cautioned that the $300-million figure might be inflated, but at the same time he agreed that there is an urgent need to address concerns of donor countries about how their money is being spent.

"We are extremely sympathetic to the U.S./Japan position on this," said Malloch Brown. "They have a tough case to sell to their legislatures and public opinion, and we have to help them make it, by showing that where there is corruption or management failures, we're acting in a much more proactive way to address them. "

Malloch Brown says he expects many of the management reform issues will be addressed in a report Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to release next week. A broader report addressing questions of procurement reform is due out later this year. But Malloch Brown cautioned that the reforms being proposed will cost the U.N. membership more money.

The world body recently placed eight procurement officers on administrative leave with pay pending an internal probe into purchasing practices. A separate investigation is being conducted by U.S. federal prosecutors.

But U.N. officials have emphasized that the suspension of the eight employees was taken as a proactive measure, and is not a finding of guilt.