The State Department is looking into reports that United Nations organizations keep more than $100 million in bank accounts paying little or no interest.
These and other allegations contained in a recent Washington Post series on the finances of the U.N. system will be examined by the State Department, Charles W. Maynes Jr., assistant secretary of state for international organizations, said at a press briefing Monday.
Maynes' comments were not included in a question-and answer summary made available by the State Department Monday. The State Department later released a full transcript of the briefing.
The Post articles reported that organizations in the U.N. system have $1.4 billion of excess funds in bank accounts and run a surplus of as much as $350 million a year.
The stories said individual organizations, such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Food Program (WFP), have enough money in the bank to operate for six months to two years.
Maynes criticized the stories for totaling the accumulated cash of the U.N. organizations, which he called "autonomous." But he said the State Department is "instructing all of our missions at the various U.N. agencies. . . to examine closely all the points that have been made, and we're going to be looking ourselves into every allegations."
"An example would be the suggestion or charge that the U.N. agencies have money in bank accounts which could earn a larger sum of interest elsewhere," Maynes said.
Referring to a report that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations itself keep an average of $20 million in interest-free checking accounts, Maynes said:
"I honestly don't know from a professional point of view, if the checking account of UNDP, which is listed in the series of articles as $20 million, is too large or too small or just right for an institution that spends $500 million in the course of a year. Maybe it is too large. Anyway, we intend to have experts look into that question."
As part of its investigation, Maynes said, the State Department will request certain documents from U.N. organizations.
"To our knowledge," he said, "we have never been denied any documents that the United States government has requested. As a result of this article, we shall request some documents relating to some of the charges, whether we think the charges are correct or incorrect. . . ."
U.N. officials' refusal to allow a Post reporter to review financial documents of the organization apparently resulted from a feeling that "no one off the street can come in on a general fishing expedition," Maynes said.
Members of the United Nations can make such requests, he said.
The General Accounting Office, the audit arm of Congress, has made such requests in the past and been turned down, according to GAO audit reports.
Maynes said he saw nothing wrong with a Japanese government requirement that U.N. organizations keep funds contributed by Japan in Japanese banks earning low interest until needed.
"They have the right to do that," he said.