Researchers urge international organisations to lift veil of secrecy

May 16, 2018

Lacking transparency: International organisations like the United Nations must do more to be fully accountable and protect whistleblowers

Australia must do more to persuade international organisations (IOs) like the United Nations to be more transparent and accountable, a Murdoch University researcher has said.

Working with international collaborators, Dr Kim Moloney from the School of Business and Governance discovered that IOs lacked both the budget transparency required in democratic states and protections for whistleblowers.

Dr Moloney and Dr Rayna Stoycheva from the University of Miami, investigated the budget transparency of three organisations – the UN Development Programme, the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In a separate study, Dr Moloney and co-authors found that international civil servants working within IOs do not have the same whistleblowing protections as those found in democratic states like Australia.

Dr Moloney said it was important IOs have appropriate protections in place for those exposing potential abuse, so the IOs can uphold the transparency and accountability values they encourage in member states.

“When international civil servants are not protected from abuse, cannot access justice, fear retaliation, and cannot expose corrupt practices, there is a risk that a global governance system anchored around IOs and their member states will struggle to solve collective action problems,” she said.

For their whistleblower study, Dr Moloney and co-authors Dr James Bowman from Florida State University and Dr Jonathan West from the University of Miami conducted interviews with six IOs: United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organisation of American States, Pan-American Health Organisation, and Inter-American Development Bank.

They found that international civil servants working for IOs were required to be loyal to the IO rather than their home state as a way to encourage impartiality. However, this historically prevented them from accessing the legal protections required to expose potential misdeeds.

In addition, they discovered the immunities granted to the IO and its international civil servants are provided to protect them from member-state influence even if immunities make it nearly impossible to prosecute either an international civil servant or an IO for misdeeds.

In her budget transparency study with Dr Rayna Stoycheva at the University of Miami, Dr Moloney found the IOs came up short in their budget process, budget disclosures and budget-related organisational information.

“IOs are so entwined with member states, encouraging action on regional and global problems like the environment and health, it is only right they are as accountable,” Dr Moloney said.

“Countries must proactively encourage transparency in international organisations.”

The two published papers are outputs of a global collaborative effort between Murdoch and the University of Miami (budget transparency), and between Murdoch, Florida State University and the University of Miami (whistleblowers). The paper on budget transparency is here and the paper on whistleblowing is here.

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