letters to the editor 88.
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Sir, - In response to "UNRWA audit finds mismanagement but doesn't back critics' terror charges" (October 11): I am writing as chairperson of UNRWA's Advisory Commission - comprising 21 member governments and three observers - whose mandate is to advise and assist UNRWA's commissioner-general in the execution of the agency's program.
During its most recent meeting in Amman on September 27-28, the commission deliberated on the report of the UN Board of Auditors referred to in your article and was satisfied with UNRWA's responses to the report's findings. Despite the points raised in the auditors' report, UNRWA is not being mismanaged and it did receive a clean bill of health, unlike the article suggests.
The article reports on a letter from two US congressmen to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, commenting on this auditor's report, in which the suggestion is made that UNRWA is grossly mismanaged and that its refugee camps may foster terrorism. These are serious allegations, but to the writer's credit he notes that the allegations of the congressmen "do not jibe with a close reading of the audit." He also correctly points out that the congressmen's letter could undermine UNRWA's constructive regional role and could be detrimental to US efforts to stem the crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory. In spite of these accurate comments, the impression created by other parts of the article is that UNRWA is mired in mismanagement and may be conducive to terrorist activities. This impression is incorrect and must be dispelled.
Under its present leadership the agency has taken courageous steps to modernize and strengthen its management. UNRWA has embarked during 2006 on a substantive process of management development, which will address most of the issues raised by the auditors. The article omits this important fact. The centerpiece of the reform effort is a three-year organizational development process that will improve the way the agency manages its operations and will thereby enhance the impact of its services. As such the reforms will address the issues raised by the auditors in a thorough, systemic way. The fact that the reform process is endorsed by refugee-hosting countries as well as by donor countries is a measure of the confidence UNRWA's stakeholders place in the agency's management.
Contrary to the audit report, your article does not acknowledge the extremely difficult circumstances in which UNRWA is compelled to operate. The agency's record of humanitarian service to Palestine refugees could not have been achieved without sacrifice and risks by its staff. Indeed, the UN Board of Auditors report acknowledges that some of the procedural delays and administrative complications identified were directly attributable to difficulties faced by the agency's staff in gaining access to its headquarters in Gaza.
Rather than suggesting that UNRWA camps would foster terrorism, UNRWA should be commended for the fact that it has always been a force of stability in the region. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip it delivers essential services, the continuation of which are in Israel's and the international community's interests.
The agency's management is not only genuinely committed to reform, but also conscious of the need to translate reforms into optimal delivery of services to Palestine refugees. For all these reasons, UNRWA deserves our continued support and encouragement.
Representative to the