United Nations wastes NATO victory
by Julius Strauss
The United Nations mission in Kosovo, responsible for setting up and running the civil administration in the war-ravaged province, has become bogged down by bureaucracy and incompetence and almost all its major projects are far behind schedule.
Morale among mission members is at an all-time low, huge amounts of money are being wasted and ethnic Albanians and Serbs, infuriated by the incompetence of the administration, have largely taken the governing of the province into their own hands.
Five months after Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav President, pulled his troops and police out of Kosovo, there is still no effective postal service or telephone network. Hundreds of criminals have been arrested but not a single case has been brought to court. The registration of civilians, cars and property, considered essential to setting up a governable state, has not yet begun. Organized crime is out of control. The murder rate is rising and elections scheduled for next spring have been postponed until the autumn.
Pristina's traffic management, electricity and water supply are all being run less efficiently than under the Serbian regime. Power and heating are off for at least half of the day and most of the streets are unlit. Multi-racial police teams patrolling in new red-and-white four-by-fours are derided as `Coca-Cola patrols' by locals. One had to be rescued by Nato soldiers after being attacked by Serbs.
The inefficiencies of the UN mission þ dismissed as a joke even by its own employees - have been emphasized by the relative success of Kfor, the Nato-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo. The UN was not originally considered for overseeing the reconstruction of Kosovo after its force performed badly in Bosnia, failing to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica.
The European security body, the OSCE, would probably have been given the mission had the Serbs agreed to a peace plan tabled at Rambouillet in France in February, but the UN was called in after the Russians intervened. Five months on the UN mission is a laughing stock. The Telegraph interviewed more than a dozen employees and few had anything good to say. One employee said: `Everything it touches goes wrong. The ``cover-my-ass'' mentality rules. The thinking goes, ``this is not for the greater good of the organization but at least I won't get fired''.'
Another, who is leaving after several years in different UN missions, said: `The whole thing is a joke. Even by the standards of other missions this one is going nowhere. Some people are gifted but they are just smothered by the incompetence of the system.'
Despite the inefficiency, salaries are high - ranging from £28,000 to £56,000 a year. On top of that officials collect £45 a day expenses and £20 a day danger money. These salaries not only incur the jealousy of locals but also of aid workers and Nato soldiers, who receive a fraction of the amount. Insiders say they also act as a magnet for sub-standard officials looking for easy money.
One disgruntled UN official in Pristina said: `This system has brought in a whole class of people who just cycle into one mission after another. They only care about keeping their jobs going.' Of the money available, the UN mission in Kosovo spends more than two-thirds of it, or œ280 million a year, running itself.
Humanitarian workers, some of whom worked in Kosovo long before the war with Nato, say UN staff act dictatorially. One aid worker with a medical charity near Pec in western Kosovo said: `We had this area all ship-shape. Then the UN turned up and started organizing right over our heads. The Albanians hate them.'
The unwieldy decision-making process in New York is also blamed. One mission official said: `We get a briefing document of, say, 20 pages. Ten say go left, ten say go right, so we just go straight on, safe in the knowledge that whatever happens we're going to get blamed.'
Bernard Kouchner, the French head of mission, has been criticized for being disorganized and unpredictable. `Paddy Ashdown with 200 people could have done much better than this', said one analyst. Perhaps the most damning indictment comes from the ethnic Albanians themselves. In June they welcomed the UN and Nato as liberators. The respect for Nato still stands, but the UN is now universally disliked.
This article appeared in The Daily Telegraph (London), 16 November 1999