The United Nations has a well-earned reputation for
mismanagement and vulnerability to corruption and fraud. In the
past few years alone, the U.N. has been embroiled in numerous
- The Iraqi Oil-for-Food scandal that Saddam Hussein used to
generate over $10 billion in illegal revenue, according to the U.S.
Government Accountability Office;
- A huge corruption scandal in which over 40 percent of U.N.
procurement for peacekeeping was tainted by fraud;
- Widespread incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N.
personnel in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Guinea, Haiti, Ivory
Coast, Kosovo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.
To help address the lack of oversight for its activities, the
U.N. established the United Nations Procurement Task Force as an ad
hoc group within the United Nations's quasi-inspector general, the
Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), to investigate and
pursue allegations of fraud and mismanagement. The Procurement Task
Force began work in January 2006 and over the next two years
uncovered fraud, waste, and mismanagement in U.N. procurement and
other activities involving contracts valued at more than $630
million. The evidence unearthed by the Procurement Task Force led
to misconduct findings against 17 U.N. officials and the conviction
of a senior U.N. procurement official. On the eve of its
elimination in December 2008, the Procurement Task Force issued
four significant corruption reports involving 20 confirmed
corruption schemes. The Procurement Task Force had also begun
conducting external investigations of vendors doing business with
The Russian Block
Despite its successful track record, in budget discussions this
past fall, a number of U.N. member states refused to extend the
mandate of the Procurement Task Force as an independent
investigatory entity. The effort to prevent an extension for the
Procurement Task Force was led by Russia and Singapore, whose
nationals have been fingered for mismanagement and corruption.
Russia was also concerned about ongoing investigations of Russian
corporations by the Procurement Task Force.
Concerned that a number of ongoing investigations by the
Procurement Task Force might implicate Russian citizens and
companies if allowed to continue, Russia even sought to prevent
staff from the Procurement Task Force from being transferred to or
hired by OIOS. Robert Appleton, who led the Procurement Task Force,
is one such staff member. According to The Washington
The Russian government introduced an amendment that would bar
Appleton, a former federal prosecutor from Connecticut, and his
staff members from serving at the United Nations for three years.
Russia subsequently reduced the hiring freeze to six months and
then dropped the language altogether.
But Russia pressed for a separate amendment stating that any
plan to transfer the task force's "skills and competencies" into
the U.N. investigation division "shall not involve the transfer of
With help from European countries and Japan, the United States
successfully blocked Russia's effort. However, Russia "firmly told
[the U.S.] delegation even up to today that no matter what happened
they would still be vehemently opposed to these people having any
possibility of being hired." Russia's opposition has significant
consequences for transparency and accountability at the U.N. As the
Wall Street Journal points out:
The delays could put at risk 175 investigations that the task
force had not completed, according to Inga-Britt Ahlenius, who
oversees the U.N.'s main investigative division, the Office of
Internal Oversight Services, or OIOS....
Since funding for the unit ended, two of the unit's 18
investigators have found other jobs within OIOS. Ms. Ahlenius says
she wants to hire nine people, including about six from the task
force, for six months to help conclude the unfinished
investigations. But those hirings have been held up in the U.N.
"If we can't get these people on board, we can't continue the
investigations," she says. She added that OIOS, which currently has
about 75 investigators, lacks experts in contract fraud. From 40 to
50 of the 175 probes outstanding are considered high-priority,
according to a confidential OIOS document.
Appleton applied to be director of investigations at OIOS more
than a year ago and was unanimously recommended, out of a candidate
pool that originally included 73 applicants, by a hiring panel
comprised of non-OIOS officials. Shortly thereafter, however,
the U.N. secretary-general's "Senior Review Group" decided to
restart the process because all four finalists were American males
and did not meet U.N. rules regarding geographical choice and
The Push for Reform
Appleton is eminently qualified to be the OIOS director of
investigations. In addition to his experience in heading the
Procurement Task Force, he is a former assistant U.S. attorney in
Connecticut and served as special counsel to the Oil-for-Food
investigative committee lead by former Federal Reserve Chairman
Paul A. Volcker. Moreover, Ahlenius has strongly endorsed his work.
His fellow investigators from the Procurement Task Force similarly
possess vital skills and experience needed by OIOS.
This delay--led by Russia and U.N. officials more interested in
concealing United Nations scandals than preventing them--is part of
an effort to derail Procurement Task Force investigations and
undermine oversight at the U.N. The U.S. should push for reforms to
shield OIOS from political interference from the member states over
the office's hiring, funding, and investigations. The first step
toward reform is clearing the way for experts from the Procurement
Task Force to be hired by OIOS, thereby shoring up the competency
and independence of U.N. oversight and investigations.
Brett D. Schaefer is Jay
Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret
Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
Office of Internal Oversight Services, "Report of the Office of
Internal Oversight Services on the Activities of the Procurement
Task Force for the 18-Month Period Ended 30 June 2007," October 5,
2007, at http://tinyurl.com/9extl7 (February 4,
Kate Holt and Sarah Hughes, "U.N. Staff Accused of Raping Children
in Sudan," The Daily Telegraph, January 4, 2007, at http://www.telegraph
(February 4, 2009); Kate Holt and Sarah Hughes, "Sex and the U.N.:
When Peacemakers Become Predators," The Independent, January
11, 2005, at http://www.stopde
mand.org/afawcs0112878/ID=5/newsdetails.html (February 4,
2009); Colum Lynch, "U.N. Faces More Accusations of Sexual
Misconduct," The Washington Post, March 13, 2005, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-
dyn/articles/A30286-2005Mar12.html (February 4, 2009);
Save the Children, "No One to Turn To: The Under-Reporting of Child
Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Aid Workers and Peacekeepers," May
2008, at /static/reportimages/F918F14ECC7E9D04265321187A07966D.pdf
(February 4, 2009).