Dr. Coburn Links U.S. Funding for U.N. Renovation Plan to Sunshine' Reforms
Urges Senate to Withhold Support for Renovation Until U.N. Meets Minimum Budget Transparency Standards; Will Chair Further Hearings
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) yesterday met with top leaders of the United Nations in New York to warn them that U.S. support for a costly renovation of its headquarters, known as the Capital Master Plan, may not go forward unless the United Nations significantly improves the level of financial transparency in its budget and accounting practices. Dr. Coburn also announced that the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee he chairs will conduct a follow-up hearing on this topic on Tuesday, June 20.
"As a generous contributor to the United Nations, the American people and their elected representatives have a right to demand that the world body spends their tax dollars wisely. Congress should withhold funding for this renovation, which has already been mismanaged, until the United Nations casts more sunshine on its budget practices," Dr. Coburn said.
The estimated cost of the planned renovation skyrocketed in the past year, increasing 45 percent from $1.2 billion in July 2005 to $1.7 billion today. In terms of cost per square foot, the U.N. renovation ($697/sq. ft.) is expected to cost nearly three times what it cost to build the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. from scratch ($263/ sq. ft.). Leading developers in New York City have warned that the U.N. cost estimates far exceed local real estate market values.
The United Nations has also refused to grant Congress access to construction contracts, outlays and disbursements related to the project - items the Federal Financial Subcommittee chaired by Dr. Coburn requested in July 2005.
"If the United Nations is worried about rehabilitating its image with the American people they can start by practicing transparency instead of secrecy and holding officials accountable for corruption and mismanagement. The Capital Master Plan will be carried out by the same system responsible for the Oil-for-Food scandal, which has so far failed to produce meaningful reform at the United Nations. Not one thing has changed in the U.N. procurement system since that scandal and not one U.N. official has been dismissed. Moreover, the United Nations' own internal audits suggest that the entire U.N. procurement system is plagued by corruption. The American people and Congress are right to be concerned that their tax dollars will be misspent in the Capital Master Plan," Dr. Coburn said.
"The American people, by and large, support the existence of the United Nations and believe the world is safer with it than without it," Dr. Coburn added. "Financial mismanagement at the United Nations frustrates and angers Americans not because America wants to withhold financial support from the world body, but because Americans would rather have their tax dollars feed the hungry, clothe widows and orphans, and help victims of natural disasters rather than be pocketed by corrupt bureaucrats or dictators. The United Nations can help heal its self-inflicted wounds and restore the American people's confidence in the institution by getting its financial house in order."