Sunday, April 16, 2006


UN Corruption, Part II

The worst part of the corruption in the UN isn't that it just wastes money on spectacularly expensive projects. It is that the corruption exists in every department, at every level and in every sector of the UN, at least here in UNMIL. It exists in headquarters, in almost every military unit, and it exists on my team.

Just over one month ago, I was in Monrovia, and walked from UNHQ to our apartment. Less than two blocks from the headquarters, on Tubman Boulevard, the primary road through town, I noticed several Nigerian soldiers on the sidewalk receiving money from a local businessman. The back of the UN truck was filled with a stack of over a hundred loaves of bread from the UN bakery. These soldiers were openly selling the food, and did not even take note as an American officer, in uniform, walked by, gawking.

The sale of United Nations food here is commonplace. Most of the street side stands are, coincidently enough, stocked with the exact same brand names of food as we're served in the mess. The fact that it is sold to the locals is widely rumored, although the bread incident is the only one I have personally observed. To my local contingent, the UN provides weekly shipments of fresh fruit. But in three months, I have been served exactly one apple, and only see grapes when some General is visiting town.

Amazing enough, you can see these fruits on sale at the local markets, despite the fact that they aren’t grown in Liberia. Many other contingents are worse, with troops seeing very little of the food that is provided by the UN.

I have personally seen local taxis fueling at the UN only gas station, and there is widespread reselling of UN gasoline at roadside stands. In the logistics section, HQ briefly launched an investigation into the amazing amount of lost diesel fuel, only to have the investigation quietly die after a week or so. One of the other American military observers tells me that he has personally seen soldiers at routine checkpoints taking cash from local drivers.

In my own team, one month before I arrived, there was a vehicle accident from drunk driving that was unreported. DUI is common, and in the recent weeks several locals were injured from a serious hit and run incident in Monrovia.

The UN has no real threat of enforcement of its own ranks except repatriation. Even that is no real threat, as most commanders, nervous to protect their own UN paychecks, sweep most incidents under the rug, not wanting to bring attention to themselves or their units. The incidents that to get investigated take months to complete, by which time the offending member has collected thousands of more dollars, and is probably already on his way home. Outside of the human rights abuse cases (which I'll go over in a future post), there are no IG channels to report incidents to except your own commanders. No performance reports from the UN will follow a person home, and very few countries will prosecute crimes that their soldiers and citizens commit while on a mission. There is simply no means for enforcement, and this fact is well known to everyone here.

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