Thursday, June 30, 2005

Set a tranzi to catch a tranzi

Vice-President Siim Kallas, the Commissar of Anti-Fraud matters, no stranger to fraud investigations in his own country, has been very busy.

He was the fifth Commissar to travel to Ukraine since the setting up of the EU-Ukraine Action Plan in February.

According to the Commission’s press release:
“He met President Yushchenko, Deputy Prime Minister Bezsmertnyi in charge of administrative reform, Interior Minister Lutsenko, Justice Minister Zvarych, the Head of the National Security and Defence Council Poroshenko, the Head of the Parliament’s Committee on Organised Crime Stretovych as well as representatives of civil society.

A key topic of the discussions was the state of play in the implementation of the Action Plan adopted jointly by the EU and Ukraine on 21st of February in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, in particular the reforms of the administration and the judiciary, and the fight against corruption.”
Well, quite. Who better to preach the need to fight corruption than a Commissioner of the European Union?

Still the man means business. He has announced that there will be an investigation of charities and NGOs in the EU as well.
“Citizens have the right to know how their own money is being spent, including that given to NGOs. Because an awful lot of money is being channelled through organisations that we hardly know in the name of ‘noble causes’.”
One of those organisations, if the fragrant Margot is to be listened to, is the Commission itself and we don’t always know how the money is being spent in the name of all sorts of causes, noble or otherwise.

The actual investigation into the 32 charities, NGOs and aid organizations, who are accused of “double dipping” is being carried out by OLAF, the anti-fraud office of the Commission.

It seems that these promoters of “noble causes” may well have asked for funds from the EU, the UN, the US government and the World Bank for the same project, submitting separate proposals and invoices.

The whole subject of aid giving by the EU is fraught with problems quite apart from the general difficulties to do with the subject of aid.

The Court of Auditors has lambasted ECHO the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office on numerous occasions, generally and on the subject of specific projects.

As Ambrose Evans Pritchard’s article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph said:
“European auditors still have no idea what happened to payments of almost €1billion in Russia over a seven-year period for cleaning up unsafe nuclear power plants.”
Or, for that matter, the money that was sent to deal with a non-existent food-shortage after the collapse of the rouble in 1998.

Other problems have arisen.
“Much of the EU's humanitarian aid programme to Zimbabwe has fallen into the hands of the Mugabe regime, since funds had to be exchanged at the vastly over-valued official exchange rate - going straight into the coffers of the central bank.”
The same pattern has been seen with numerous other aid programmes in Africa, but, one might argue, that is true with aid given by all governments and international organizations.

The ongoing problem of aid to the Palestinian Authority has been discussed on numerous occasions. In 1997 the Court of Auditors found that none of the projects that were supposed to have been built were anywhere near completion, some not having been started and the money had vanished either into the hands of the PA or those of EU officials. No proper accounts had ever been presented.

There have also been accusations that EU money has been used to finance terrorist activity and open anti-Semitic propaganda in schools in the Palestinian territory and various Arab states.

After due investigation that they were forced to carry out, OLAF solemnly reported:
“The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has closed its investigation into the European Commission’s Direct Assistance to the Palestinian Authority’s budget. On the basis of the information currently available to OLAF, the investigation has found no conclusive evidence of support of armed attacks or unlawful activities financed by the European Commission’s contributions to the budget. However, the possibility of misuse of the Palestinian Authority’s budget and other resources, cannot be excluded, due to the fact that the internal and external audit capacity in the Palestinian Authority is still underdeveloped.”
Nice way of putting hat, “underdeveloped”. One assumes it means, nothing was noted or could be proved anywhere.

But then OLAF itself has not been free of taint. In fact, the dishonesty and lack of accountability within its own office have been commented on adversely by the self-same Court of Auditors.

And it is OLAF, whose doings were recorded by Hans-Martin Tillack, the German journalist, which set into motion the various arrests, confiscations of material and persecutions by the Belgian police, at the instigation of the anti-fraud office.

So far Mr Tillack’s attempts to get back his documents, to prevent OLAF and the Commission from finding out the names of his sources and to stop various past and present OLAF officials from slandering him have been unsuccessful.

One can’t help looking forward with some anticipation to the final report produced from bunch of … ahem … not entirely accountable officials on another similar bunch.

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