Despite claiming that it is cash-strapped, a new report has revealed that the World Health Organization (WHO) has spent about $200 million a year for luxury travel. The figure is more than it spends on fighting AIDS, alleviating mental health and countering diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.
According to the Associated Press, internal documents show that the United Nations body doled out $201 million in travel expenses for roughly 7,000 employees last year. The immense list includes first-class tickets, luxury hotels and helicopters. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and Executive Director Bruce Aylward were the biggest spenders at the international agency.
Since 2013, WHO has devoted $803 million alone on travel.
To provide an example of Chan’s extravagance, during a trip to Guinea soon after the Ebola outbreak, she opted to reside in the largest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry at a cost of $1,008 per night. Instead of visiting several locations by automobile, Chan chose a chopper because she did not want to travel on the bumpy roads.
It remains unclear if WHO picked up Chan’s tab in Guinea because host countries oftentimes pay for it.
Aylward, meanwhile, accumulated close to $400,000 in travel expenses throughout the Ebola crisis. This is because he primarily flew by chopper rather than using a jeep to make stops at clinics.
Internal trip reports showed that travel costs had soared to $234 million during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Critics note that the agency could have done more to rein in its expenses, especially when many of the affected nations could not afford the basic necessities, including gloves, protective boots, body bags and soap for medical workers.
Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, warned that WHO may have significant funding issues in the future because of this report:
If WHO is not being as lean as possible, it’s going to be hard to remain credible when they make their next funding appeal.
WHO, which often claims it is short on cash, receives an annual budget of $2 billion. Last year, it spent $450 million on programs to limit the spread of diseases, $71 million on fighting AIDS and hepatitis, $60 million on combating malaria and $59 million to contain the spread of tuberculosis. These funds come from 194 member nations – the U.S. is the biggest sponsor of the UN agency.
In December 2016, President Donald Trump tweeted that the UN had “such great potential”:
The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!
Soon after the AP report made headlines, WHO issued a statement on Sunday, defending its travel costs. The organization noted that about 60% of its travel expenses were for sending independent experts to other nations and representatives from member states to attend meetings.
WHO also protected Chan to Al Jazeera, stating that she “strictly abides by WHO’s travel policies”:
Travel is an essential aspect of WHO’s global health work – convening experts for collective decision-making on health interventions or travelling experts anywhere in the world that requires technical assistance for global health.
By other comparisons, Doctors Without Borders, which maintains a staff of roughly 37,000, spends just $43 million annually on travel. The international aid group prohibits staff from traveling first class – President Joanne Liu only flies economy class.
But it isn’t just the WHO that has a spending problem at the UN. Over the years, there has been a myriad of scandals that have bruised the UN’s reputation.
In 2005, the UN made headlines when it was discovered that there was extensive corruption occurring in its Oil-for-Food Program.
An independent inquiry found that Kojo Annan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s son, received payments from the Swiss company Cotecna Inspection SA for helping it receive an exorbitant contract. There was insufficient evidence to convict.
The investigation further revealed that Benon Sevan, former head of the UN’s Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq, obtained kickbacks when he could get oil firms contracts. Annan suspended Sevan and several others with pay: $1 per year plus benefits and diplomatic immunity from prosecution.
Last year, the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), a group of experts mandated to examine UN funds, organizations and programs, published a scathing report that discovered widespread fraud, deception and abuse at the international body. The study ultimately concluded that there is systemwide theft of goods, money and services, and the UN is in a “state of near denial”:
In other words, under-reporting and/or non-detection [of fraud] in the United Nations system could be significant and endemic.
And, when it comes to travel, other agencies are spending vast sums of cash. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, which has 13,000 staff members, expended $140 million on global travel in 2016.
The UN is a stronghold of dishonest, odious and corrupt officials. Since they are diplomatically immune and mostly unaccountable, they can get away with wasting tax dollars from its near two hundred members. UN officials are like politicians elsewhere: they have metastasized into entitled beings; loathsome of sovereignty and indifferent to the population.
Like NATO and the European Union (EU), it is time to dissolve the UN.