Issue 11: Earlier Reports of Mismanagement within the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees Appear to have been Unwarranted

Reports of mismanagement within the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) seem to have been rebutted, and they have not derailed the candidacy of  High Commissioner Mrs. Sadako Ogata for another term.

Analysis:  An impressive defense of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), mounted by both the organization itself and its many supporters, seems to have quieted criticism for the moment. Now is a good time to step back and to ask whether the furor was warranted or not.

Our starting premise should always be that UN agencies, funds and programs must be held to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. Good management, proper oversight, and the legitimacy of the UN system itself, demand that the system be accountable for all its actions, including how funds are spent.

But the charge of mismanagement should be leveled only after certain important questions have been answered.

First, what mechanisms have been put in place for internal oversight? The UNHCR uses the auditing services of the UN, and submits to an annual audit of its operations by the UN Board of Auditors. In addition, the Refugee agency has established its own internal auditors.

Second, how much tolerance for mismanagement and abuse exists? In the instance of the UNHCR, the High Commissioner has been widely hailed for bringing great energy, vision and high ethical standards to the Refugee agency. In a recent letter to the editor of The Financial Times, Mr. Bjorn Skogmo, Chairman of the UNHCR Executive Committee wrote that Mrs. Ogata and her senior management continue to work with governments and to look for ways to improve every aspect of UNHCR.

Third, what is the day-to-day context in which the organization operates? Harsh conditions are no excuse for management abuse, but the extreme situations that the UNHCR often faces can not be ignored. Operating in wartime conditions, coping with attacks on humanitarian workers, and at times confronting the complete breakdown of civil society, the environment in which the UNHCR works should be remembered before allegations of mismanagement get blown out of proportion.

No individual or organization within the UN system is immune from the strictest requirements of accountability. At the same time, the system operates on the basis of a dialogue between administrators and auditors. Before condemning any organization, the accepted process should be followed, and a careful analysis of all factors undertaken. If that were done with respect to the Refugee agency and its High Commissioner, Mrs. Ogata, we are quite sure that both would escape recent hints of scandal.


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