25 May 2022 – Mukesh Kapila
I have found over past weeks that professional circles familiar with the multilateral United Nations system tend to see or excuse its transgressions in nuanced terms. It is as if the complexity of the contexts in which the UN functions confuses their moral direction-finder. Perhaps a weary cynicism and sense of impotence about the lack of transparency and accountability in our global multilateral system is at the base of this?
The fact is that there have been far too many scandals in the UN system, and this one at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is just the latest. Members of the general public going about their life may find it hard to get their head around the intricacies of what happened. My thanks to Rebecca Myles for inviting me on to WBAI Public Radio 99.5 FM in New York City to explain. The interview is here between approx 9:15 and 29:30 minutes.
At the end, my host asks the crucial question on what citizens can do about such misdeeds. As I say in response, we may not be able to right all wrongs in a world where there is much wrong-doing , but we must always try. And for ‘institutional’ wrongs, demanding transparency and accountability is at the front and centre.
In the specific case of UNOPS there should be no doubt that responsibility for egregious misdeeds rests squarely on itself through the rash misjudgements of its senior-most leadership and management. After all, it is UNOPS itself that cooked-up the remarkably careless S3i framework and processes, in apparent violation of usual UN principles and rules. The result was the misdirection of around US$60 million of donor funds that could have been used more effectively and speedily to help the poor and suffering at a time when there is much need everywhere.
That being said, the scandal at UNOPS would be wasted if the right lessons are not learnt so as to remove – or, at least, reduce – the vulnerabilities that create corruptible environments and impunity in the international multilateral system. This is discussed further in my invited opinion piece here, in The National. That will mean not allowing the UN to be “neglected, abused or misused for narrow self-interests” while also ensuring that it cannot hide behind it’s smokescreen of immunities and privileges, or tolerate the travesty of its self-policing rituals.
However, it is unlikely that these reforms will happen any time soon – such being the strength of the interests and forces aligned against meaningful change. But that should not be cause for despair. Something in the global mood is shifting, if the correspondence I am receiving from diverse types of hurt, betrayed, and outraged people from many corners of the world, is anything to go by.
They plead that more be done – beyond UNOPS. What could that be? Thanks for ideas already received; more are welcome. As we put them together in terms of worthwhile actions, this topic is something on which we hope to revert.