United Nations: Draining the Swamp, Cleaning the Stables and Changing the Culture

The President-elect Trump’s opinions of the United Nations may have scandalized the delicate sentiments of the International Fraternity of the Perpetually Offended, but neither they nor (with respect) Mr. Trump ever worked in the UN. I did.

I found it to be run by people with small minds in big jobs, and my personal experience is that Mr. Trump is not wrong. The question, however, is: what can he actually do about it?

Ambassador Bolton summed up the salient facts about the UN’s regard for the US in an interview on CNN recently; they only respects two things about the United States – one is their Security Council veto and the other is their money.

At the diplomatic level, little is likely to change, though the American veto will revert to being the means to protect Israel from legalized destruction as efforts to delegitimize the country continue.

At the administrative level, however, Trump’s hand is on the purse strings, and there he does have the means to bring about change.

There have been calls for the US to simply stop paying into the UN altogether, and that is certainly an option.

Such a draconian tactic, however, would alienate many friendly nations because in the final analysis – the UN does perform a valuable role in international diplomacy. If the entire Organization were to be abolished, something not dissimilar would have to be created to fill the vacuum.

What other options does Trump have?

Interestingly, the legislation requiring partial withholding of the US contribution already exists. The 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act provides, at §7048, for 15% of the contribution to the UN budget to be withheld unless the State Department reported that whistleblower protection measures in the UN met international ‘best practices.’

What happened, sadly, in the months following, was that a controversial UNAT decision meant ‘whistleblower protection’ in the UN actually got weaker instead of stronger. It was deemed to be a privilege rather than a right, but the State Department sabotaged the provision by reporting there was nothing amiss.

Aside from the waste of US tax dollars, that maneuver sent a very strong message to everyone lining their own pockets from the UN; neither the UN’s own internal justice system nor the US Government are any threat – so carry on with whatever malfeasance you are engaged in and could carry on silencing anyone who tries to expose it.

I have a personal interest here. I was an investigator in OIOS from 2011 to 2015, and the UN has tried to silence me, (without much success).

The UN squanders $11 Billion of taxpayers money without regard for how much of it is embezzled or lost to fraud – but it appears that as an investigator, I had a bad habit of asking questions.

It still concerns me that pumping money into the pockets of local political figures or warlords leaves little incentive to resolve the underlying conflict, and a considerable financial motive in maintaining the status quo by justifying an ongoing UN presence. I know of investigations where the UN ignored indications of possible terrorist financing.

In such lucrative situations, UN ‘peacekeeping’ actually reduces the chances of any lasting peace agreement.

More and more people consider the UN to be fundamentally corrupt. Very few, however, understand the nature of that corruption, so they have no evidence to support their opinion.

The corruption and the culture of immunity that pervade the UN rely on, and thrive on, senior staff being assured that they are immune from investigation should they be accused of any wrongdoing, and that they can silence any complaints.

Key to understanding how that has been achieved is recognizing how two supposedly ‘independent’ offices have been emasculated; one is the Investigation Division of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and other is the UN Ethics Office.

I joined OIOS believing I was employed to investigate fraud and misconduct, but the Organization proved to be terrified I might actually do so. While insisting I was fundamentally incompetent, OIOS was strangely unable to point out a single example of what I am supposed to have done wrong – and that makes about as much sense as a soup sandwich,

The retaliation against me went into the realm of the comical, but the shibboleth is that the UN is never wrong, and the propaganda is always that the “proper procedure” was followed, justifying the most outlandish decisions with gymnastics of antonymous logic.

I am the evidence of the corruption in the UN, and my story is a case study in why the UN simply cannot be left to police itself; ‘self-regulation’ has failed.

Self-regulation has tolerated the rape and sexual exploitation of women and children. It has allowed for willful blindness financial irregularities were reported. It has encouraged retaliation and been the death knell of accountability, it has fostered a culture where senior UN officials act with impunity and junior staff are scared to speak up.

Most of the corruption in the UN is not the straight-forward illicit exchange of cash; instead it is bias and cronyism. Decisions and appointments are made for the benefit of the individual rather that the Organization, and certainly not for any principles of efficiency, competence or integrity.

Instead of investigating allegations of corruption, OIOS proved to be an integral part of the problem not part of the solution, because favors are returned, so senior officials need never worry about being investigated should their malfeasance be reported and the real financial corruption is covered up.

Retaliation is commonplace, though the Ethics Office bends over backwards not to recognize it, so when misconduct is reported, it is the whistleblower not the miscreant who suffers. This is why ‘whistleblower protection’ is so strategically important. Without it, no one will risk their careers even reporting wrongdoing.

Then – though the UN will deny it – the next problem is the UN’s investigative procedures being a mindless box-ticking procedure designed to minimize the risk of an “investigation” actually discovering anything illegal. What the UN wants is activity without result.

Where else in the world would an investigator be told they must never ask questions just to satisfy their curiosity?   That may be lunacy but it is the sort of lunacy one encounters in the UN on a regular basis.

The UN praises Edward Snowden as some sort of hero – because ‘human rights’ are more important than the criminal law relating to US national security.   Pardon me for laughing, but in their determination to hang me, the UN stated that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did not apply, because their ‘staff rules’ took precedence over ‘freedom of speech.

Seriously?

In the US, the joke is that a Grand Jury could indict a ham sandwich; but in the UN, a “fact-finding panel” is quite capable of finding that ham sandwich is actually a strawberry trifle.

Still, lamenting the problem without offering a solution is called whining, and the President-elect wants to ‘drain the swamp.’

Compared to any attempt to reform the UN from within, the labors of Hercules would pale into insignificance. Tackling corruption in the Secretariat however is a different proposition, and one where the UN’s financial clout can be leveraged. The investigation of wrongdoing and the protection of ‘whistleblowers’ must be taken out of the hands of the UN itself and carried out by a completely independent body.  

This was one of the recommendations of the Heritage Foundation in August and an outline of how such an organization could operate formed part of my own statement to a US Congressional Committee in April 2016.

The UN lurches from scandal to scandal, be it cholera, misconduct, child sex abuse, bribery, rape

or anything else; nothing ever changes, the innocent suffer, no one is held accountable, and the US taxpayer is left to pay for it.

For moral more than political reasons, the Trump administration owes it to the American electorate to break this cycle and introducing real accountability for wrongdoing is key to breaking the culture of impunity in the UN.

Reform is never easy, but cleansing the Augean Stables was one of the twelve labors of Hercules. The analogy is not completely inappropriate here, and that task was the one achieved in just one day!

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Peter A. Gallo

A native of Edinburgh, Scotland, Peter spent 19 years in the Far East as an investigator in the private sector, based in Hong Kong, he worked on pre-investment Due Diligence, fraud and corruption investigations throughout China and the Asia-Pacific, and was recognised as a leading authority consulting on money laundering and terrorist financing prevention. In 2011 he was recruited by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services and spent four years based in New York, gaining a unique insight into the inefficiencies fostered by the UN in practice. He graduated in law from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, has an MBA from Strathclyde and an LLM in International Criminal Law from the University of Torino, Italy. Admitted to practice law in Scotland, Hong Kong and New York, he has written and provided training in the prevention and investigation of financial crime to both professional and academic audiences, having been a Certified Fraud Examiner and Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist. Following his experience with the UN, he is now an outspoken critic of the corruption and ineptitude inherent in the Organization, particular in respect of it’s failure to investigate fraud, waste and abuse within the UN system and the Organizations failure to protect women and children from sexual exploitation.

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