Donor countries renew attack on WHO chief

Geneva - Senior officials of the World Health Organisation came under renewed fire yesterday from donor countries concerned at what they see as serious management problems.

The row erupted over the response by the WHO director-general, Hiroshi Nakajima of Japan, to a critical report by the UN agency's external auditor, Sir John Bourn, who is also Britain's Auditor-General.

Mr Nakajima spoke of "concern" at the findings of the report - made public in the Independent last Friday. But he said there was "no point in commenting further on the findings, since it was felt no positive dialogue could be established".

Clemens Wetz, of the German delegation at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, said yesterday: "The organisation is saying: 'We don't like the report and we dislike it so much that we are not going to talk to the auditor about it.' That is not the attitude of a serious administration."

He added: "There seems to be a rather strong dissent within the organisation at its headquarters here in Geneva."

His comments were backed by several other Western European delegations.

Sir John has said he will end the arrangement for the British National Audit office to audit the WHO accounts because of lack of "co-operation and trust" with its bosses.

Mr Wetz said: "Lack of co-operation with the auditor is not the right way to give confidence to member-states that contributions are being used for the correct purposes."

The row is the latest in a storm of criticism over WHO management that has dogged the assembly since it opened its annual session last week.

The two-week conference of the WHO's 190 member-states is meant to focus on policies to advance global health and the agency's budget, paid for by members, for 1996 and 1997.

Instead, a dispute over allegedly racist comments made by Mr Nakajima last January flared again, with an attack on him at the assembly's first session. Zimbabwe's Minister of Health, Timothy Stamps, called on Mr Nakajima to explain his alleged remarks that it was difficult to appoint Africans to WHO posts because of their poor communication skills and problems adapting to Western culture.

Other countries have been critical of what they see as a loss of influence by the organisation in the world. "The WHO we see worries us. Many member- states are not impressed with what they are calling an uninspiring leadership," the Zambian Health Minister, Michael Sata, told the assembly last Thursday.