UNITED NATIONS (CMC):
The United Nations says it is investigating allegations of fraud and mismanagement in procurement affecting its peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters that a U.N. task force has uncovered cases of "fraud, corruption, waste and mismanagement, both at U.N. headquarters and peacekeeping missions, with aggregate value in excess of US$610 million."
She said the U.N. is also investigating similar allegations involving the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).
"The case of staff members accused of wrongdoing in connection with procurement exercises in MINUSTAH and MONUC is under consideration in the internal justice system in accordance with established procedures," Montas said.
She said the cases "are being accorded the highest priority," adding: "We are well aware that there have been problems in procurement.
"This is why we are moving full steam ahead with procurement reform in order to have a system that is much tighter and transparent, leaving less room for abuse," she added.
Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to the U.N., said Washington is "concerned about the allegations."
Committed to transparency
"We want these allegations to be fully investigated and, where appropriate, to have criminal references made," he said.
"We are very much committed to a procurement process that is open and transparent and efficient," he added.
"And we support very much the continued work of the task force that has uncovered some of the irregularities, improprieties in the article."
Meantime, in what the U.N. has described as "a major step forward" in addressing allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse among its peacekeeping forces, a working group of the General Assembly Wednesday agreed on a strategy to assist victims who may have suffered at the hands of United Nations personnel.
Under the strategy, the U.N. said the victims would receive assistance to address their needs directly arising from the alleged exploitation or abuse.
It said assistance may include medical treatment, counselling, social support, legal services or material care.
In addition, the UN said the strategy commits it to helping children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse.
"This is an important day for the victims, whose suffering can be reduced with the UN's support," said Jorge Urbina, chair of the working group, who is also Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations.
"This policy represents a long overdue measure to strengthen our policy of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse," added U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Jane Holl Lute, officer-in-charge of the Department of Field Support.
"The establishment of a comprehensive approach to victim assistance throughout the United Nations system will greatly enhance the efficacy of assistance efforts and, therefore, make an important difference in the lives of victims," said Margareta Wahlstrom, Assistant Secretary-General of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In the latest sex scandal to tarnish the world organisation, at least 114 Sri Lankan troops have been expelled from MINUSTAH for allegations of sexual exploitation of Haitian women and girls.
When the alleged abuses in the Haitian capital's impoverished Martissant neighbourhood were brought to the mission's attention in August, a unit of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services was deployed to investigate.
The U.N. said the report to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York remains confidential.
David Wimhurst, a MINUSTAH spokesman, said all violators of UN ethical policies are swiftly punished.
"The rules are very strict and very clear," he said.
"There's a zero-tolerance policy,'' he added about the code of conduct that all of the nearly 9,000 UN soldiers, police and civilians deployed in Haiti must uphold.
"You can't have sex with anybody under 18 or with anybody in exchange for money, services, promises or food,'' he continued.