Monday, January 10, 2005


In a NYT article, Judith Miller reports that the "U.N. Moves to Devise System for Tracking Relief Money". Having been flailed over UNSCAM debacle, Ms. Miller reports that it "is taking measures to ensure public accountability of how money is spent, as it begins a multibillion-dollar program of tsunami relief."

You really have to wonder about these folks:
In an interview on Sunday, Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said his office was working with international financial experts, including the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, to devise a public tracking system so that member states and the members of the public who contribute to the relief program can follow the progress of the money as it works its way to those in need, through the Internet.
Devise? Like the myriad private agencies don't have ready to use public tracking systems which would do just fine "in an emegency." Borrow the IFRC's software! Of course if you start from scratch and hire all the accountants, who is left to be objective reviewers in the end. But that is not the main concern here.

The main concern here is this:
"This is the biggest assistance operation of its kind ever," said Mr. Egeland, who is coordinating the giant relief program. He said he hoped the myriad relief groups and nongovernmental organizations involved in the tsunami efforts would join the financial tracking system that the United Nations is setting up, so that "every citizen can track which dollars are going to what program in which country."
Let me count just three ways off the top of my head as to why this is a bad idea.

1) There is an emergency so get your butts in gear. Two weeks into it and where are we? Devising! I'll just skip over the fact that they should have done this months ago, if not years ago. Haiti, and Durfur didn't need this system? I can only guess why they didn't allocate general funds to get their act together earlier, but I will leave it to you to point to per diems or dining tabs.

2) Trying to roll all relief into the 'devised' system will just take longer and likely make a muck of it, not to mention the additional cost of having a system to track systems that are tracking systems. Besides, what needs transparency is the UN's work not, say the IFRC or the AMC or CRS or World Vision.

3) This is the really big one. The UN is a disgrace and just having a system is not going to change that. Constant public beatings will. The NGO's should stay miles away from this so that the UN's numbers can be seen unobfuscated by the good, effective, and efficient work done by the NGO's. If the NGO's numbers are used to blend their intolerable waste and corruption down to reasonable "inefficiencies", the UN will have never get cleaned up.

I've left an opening for highlighting the benefits of a dose of humility for the Glory Hog but I'll get it started with this: If the UN really wants to be a clearing house for information, they can provide a list of links to NGO websites just the way everyone else of high moral standing does when it comes to getting and giving credit.

Update: Finished reading the article. Well, they have done enough devising to have a name for the tracking system: ReliefWeb. I say it should be UNAccountable. Another. I thought this was a system to track how it was spent, not how it was collected. I'm sure collection is an issue, but the real issue of UN accountability is where the money goes, not beating on those who pledge beyond their means or will.

Clean up your own little sty first, Jan, before you go poking your head in to criticize others people's sties.

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