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Clean Up the UN

Walter Russell Mead

In addition to the Panama papers, there’s another big international scandal unfolding: the latest report of large-scale wrongdoing at the United Nations. Reuters reports:

The United Nations’ internal investigations office has uncovered serious lapses and due-diligence failures in the world body’s interaction with organizations tied to an alleged bribery scheme involving a former U.N. General Assembly president.

The 21-page confidential report by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services’ (OIOS), reviewed by Reuters, outlines the results of an audit ordered by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in response to charges against John Ashe, General Assembly president in 2013-2014, and six other people.

These findings are another reminder that the ‘international space’ is poorly governed, and that the press doesn’t watch it as closely as it watches national politics. Organizations like FIFA, the IOC, and the various arms of the UN bring together people and interests from countries with many levels of public morality, some of which are kleptocratic sinkholes of rampant disregard for all standards of legality and decency. Because very large amounts of money are often involved, these organizations can make fantastic petri dishes for various criminal groups and activities. In the long run, much more aggressive international law enforcement is going to be needed; in the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department and other national organizations need to get more involved.

This will involve stepping on some toes—vast quantities of money slosh through the international system for programs that sound good but that can be very corruptly managed. Even the EU does such a bad job of handling its spending in member states that auditors routinely refuse to endorse its accounts; just imagine what goes on in UN and NGO-sponsored aid programs in some of world’s most corrupt countries. There aren’t a lot of serious press investigations into how food aid programs actually work in the countries in the bottom decile of the Transparency International index, for example.

One possible approach: any country that falls below a certain level on the TI index or a similar measurement of corruption gets automatically targeted for much more aggressive accounting standards on all aid funds and development projects. Cleaning up international institutions should be a high priority, especially for Wilsonians who want to grant them even more responsibility on the world stage.

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