Saturday, April 15, 2006
UN Corruption, Part I
The daily corruption in the United Nations is wasting tens of thousands of dollars on building a private golf course for the Bangladeshi generals, while thousands of Liberians continue to lack sufficient food to survive.
Liberia is a country with a per capita GNP of around $800 per year. The country has been devastated by fourteen years of civil war, resulting in over two million people being displaced to IDP and refugee camps in the region. The population is still returning home, and is attempting to restart basic, subsistence agriculture.
The problems in the country are two-fold. One, the basic resources needed for farming have been lost, while two, the transportation infrastructure has been mostly devastated, by the war and the annual torrential rains that wash out roads. Even if farmers can produce basic cash crops, they lack the ability to bring them to market and earn reasonable prices.
The resources needed are largely simple. The land which was last farmed in 2000 has become overgrown, and most farmers will spend months attempting to rehabilitate them, clearing bush, tilling soil, rebuilding irrigation canals and planting crops. All done by hand. Meanwhile, there are no trained blacksmiths in the towns to make the axes and shovels necessary; and no iron to make the tools from, either. Most markets do not have rice seed available, and much of what is sold, are bad seeds to begin with. But the lack of initial investment capability of the population means that the most farmers can't purchase the few seeds that are available.
In the meantime, most locals are relying on basic gathering techniques, on the remnants of the pre-war tree farms to build up the necessary cash to finance their living. In Liberia, they fall back onto two cash crops that are not victim of the annual growing cycle: rubber and palm oil. Palm oil will earn a local less than one dollar (US) for a five gallon jug. These 40 lbs jugs have to be hand carried to market, generally around two to three hours walk from their farm. Rubber is somewhat more lucrative, with a going price of around $300-700 per ton, but this also has to be man-transported to one of the many rubber purchasing stations, relegating families to harvesting only a couple dozen pounds per week.
But because of the transportation station, these prices are dramatically below normal market value. Half of the roads depicted on the maps have simply disappeared. Some have popped up elsewhere, but even those are plagued by disappearing bridges. The ability to bring the basic cash crops out of the towns, and to bring in much needed supplies, such as raw iron, tools or tin sheets for roofs. On one patrol recently, I was humiliated by constant stream of local people, around 50 in all, walking five miles to a village I had just visited, each of them carrying one 4x6 sheet of tin roof. I could have put the entire load on my nearly empty vehicle, but instead, eight year old kids are pressed into hard labor to do the portage.
The UN has the capability to improve on this situation. In country are a dozen military Engineering Companies, attached as a part of each sector's peacekeeping Battalion. These assets can and should be used to recondition roads, build proper water drainage and repair and strengthen bridges in our AOR. We have one Company of Bangladeshi engineering troops about a half click from my house. With rainy season barely one month away, it is important that as much work as possible get done before the beginning of May as possible. But, here in Bong County, the Sector 3 commander, a Bangladeshi one-star General, has reallocated those assets to building himself a golf course. Every day for the past month, on my way to the office, I've driven past two or three bulldozers sitting in the middle of a field, building up a tee box and conditioning a fairway.
This is not just negligence, but outright corruption. Tens of thousands of dollars of assets are being redirected away from the task of rebuilding Liberia, and assisting with the security and humanitarian situation in this country. Never mind the fact that the soil is to clayey, and the large clumps of soil make an inadequate surface for a flat fairway. Mere yards away from where the first hole will be situated, dozens of locals line up to beg for rice that is literally the table scraps from the peacekeeper's meals.
The transportation situation in this country is desperate. Much of the Liberia is inaccessible by road. And, in general, no NGOs or peacekeepers will go where they can't drive. There are thousands of Liberians who will suffer through one more rainy season, miss one year's worth of harvest, and be unable to get access to medical care because one General wants to play golf. This situation needs to stop immediately, with UN assets directed back to the mission of UNMIL, rebuilding Liberia.