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Cleaning Up the U.N.


Taxpayers from New York to New Delhi had reason to cheer last week as the United Nations agreed to establish a new Office of Internal Oversight Services, roughly analagous to our own system of inspectors-general. The purpose is to crack down on waste, fraud, corruption and mismanagement within the world organization.

America led the fight to establish the new oversight and inspections office because of our interest in a U.N. that spends its resources wisely, establishes sensible priorities and emphasizes results. In an era of relative international cooperation, more is possible at the U.N. and more is expected. But members must instill sound and modern management procedures for the U.N. to succeed.

During negotiations we were concerned that the new oversight jTC mechanism be strong enough and independent enough not simply to promise reform, but to deliver it. Similar concerns were expressed by members of Congress. The resolution approved by the General Assembly, when supplemented by the necessary implementing regulations, appears to meet these tests.

First, the head of the new office will be at the level of undersecretary general, the second highest U.N. rank. He or she will have clout.

Second, the new office will be operationally independent. Like our own inspectors-general, the Internal Oversight Services office will have full authority to carry out inspections and evaluate programs. It will have access to documents, information and U.N. officials. It will be able to report directly to the General Assembly on key matters, including the adequacy of its own budget. The head of the office must be qualified technically. And he or she must be appointed by, and cannot be removed without, the concurrence of the General Assembly. Other important protections include safeguards for whistle-blowers and mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the new office's recommendations.

Most Americans support the U.N. We had the largest hand in writing the U.N. Charter. We stood with the organization through years of Soviet obstructionism and times when radical ideologies appeared ascendant. We did so because we believe the principles embodied by the U.N. are worthwhile, and that international cooperation is essential. But we also want to be sure that our contributions to the U.N. are wisely used, for purposes we can endorse, by managers who uphold high standards.

The new Office of Internal Oversight Services is part of a process by which we may and must "reinvent" the U.N. and make it more efficient, more accountable and more able to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities for cooperative action that now exist. No single step will provide all the answers. But by creating a strong and independent internal inspection office, we have taken a giant step. We have kept faith with our taxpayers and with those around the world who want the U.N. to be an effective and useful instrument of addressing global needs.

Madeleine K. Albright is the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

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