Spendthrift UN appoints corruption watchdog

THE UNITED Nations, long the target of allegations of malpractice and colossal bureaucratic waste, has for the first time appointed a senior official to investigate corruption within the organisation, writes Phil Reeves.

Mohamed Aly Niazi, an Egyptian from the UN's top internal audit office, has become 'assistant secretary- general for inspections and investigations', and will head a 90-strong team.

The appointment is likely to be only the first stage in an attempt by the UN to convince an increasing army of critics - especially the United States - that it is putting its spendthrift house in order.

Next year the UN General Assembly will be asked to establish a still higher post with more sweeping powers, according to reports in Washington. 'We want to set a track record for tough investigations that get results,' said Melissa Wells, the UN under-secretary general for administration.

The decision to create the new job was taken by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, to whom Mr Niazi will report, and appears to have been influenced by an investigation into bidding for helicopter contracts for UN peace-keeping operations. The case, headed by Mr Niazi, has led to the suspension of eight UN procurement officials and prompted claims among personnel that the UN does not have the capacity to conduct a thorough, or fair, inquiry.

The pressure on the UN to counter corruption has been growing for some time. The US, the UN's biggest financial contributor, has repeatedly called for the appointment of an 'inspector general' - a watchdog post common in US government agencies. In March, Dick Thornburgh, who headed the UN administration for a year during the Bush presidency, published a scathing report about UN mismanagement and waste.

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