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UN Aid Diversion in Somalia Portrayed as Inevitable, Murky Investigation by WFP

By Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press
September 16, 2009

UNITED NATIONS, September 16 -- Amid allegations that UN aid funds are being diverted in Somalia, leading to reported threats by the United Kingdom and U.S. to cut or condition their funding, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked top UN humanitarian John Holmes what the UN is doing.

Holmes said that the World Food Program has begun an internal investigation, and that he doesn't know how long it will take. He said it is mostly the U.S. that is concerned -- others name the UK first -- and that other donors just keep on giving. He said there is little choice but to continue. Video here, from Minute 28:26.

Since the allegations focus on particular trucking companies that are being used, and their links to entities on anti-terrorism lists, Inner City Press asked Holmes what is being done about this, since such diversion would violate, in some cases, legal prohibitions. Holmes said that WFP is diversifying the number of trucking firms it works with. He did not address the legal question. (As reported earlier today, the UN's top legal refuses to answer questions other than on the narrow topics for which she appears for press conferences: today, the UN Treaty Event).

In a sense, there is not a contradiction between taking seriously and acting on these allegations of diversion of funds, and wanting the programs to continue. In fact, diversion leads to a lack of credibility, and ultimately hurts the programs' beneficiaries more.

Merely referring problems to internal investigations, the time frame of which knows no limits, also hurts the UN's credibility, as has happened this summer in the months old investigation of the head of the UN's Congo Mission Alan Doss asking the UN Development Program for "leeway" to hire his daughter. It was relegated to an internal investigation, and nothing has been done. When during the summer's G-8 meeting WFP spent $400,000 to fly in children from Ghana for a "simulated feeding demonstration" for the G-8 leaders' spouses, neither Ban Ki-moon nor John Holmes for OCHA said there was anything wrong with this. This too undermines confidence in the UN, including by donors.

Note: There's other things going on beneath this WFP corruption story, Inner City Press' Somali sources say: the use by the US and, contra Holmes, UK of food as a weapon, embargoing or problematizing food aid to areas controlled by Al Shabaab. As one source puts it, "to kill the fish, you have to drain the water, right?" We will have more on this.

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