Libyan confiscated cash and the efficiency of United Nations agencies

The international press reported that in August the Netherlands paid to the World Health Organization one hundred million Euros taken from confiscated ‘Ghadaffi Funds’

Approximately two month later a visit to the Ministry of Health warehouse in Benghazi showed no sign of WHO medicines. Donations of medicines had reached from China, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Switzerland and other countries, but nothing so far from WHO.

Speaking to the Head of Procurement and Logistics at the Ministry of Health in Benghazi I was told that practically none of the donor countries had asked her what was needed.(Only Switzerland asked for the need. Their donation was not so large, but at least consisted of what was actually needed). Consequently there was sufficient material in stock for war injuries, however, “normal” drugs needed in any country, such as medicines for cancer patients, heart patients, patients of epilepsy and for non-war related operations were in critically short supply.

The Head of Procurement also told me that orders were prepared for all medicines, but they were awaiting the confirmation of the usual Letters of Credit to the suppliers from the Libyan Central Bank.

This short discussion with the staff at the Ministry of Health in Benghazi showed that in fact the office is running smoothly and has always been running smoothly. What did not function and does not yet function is the Libyan Banking system, including the Libyan State Central Bank.

Apparently the persons who had decided to give the 100 million Euro to the World Health Organization did not know the situation on the ground in sufficient detail. It would actually have been much more efficient simply to pay the orders already piling up in the Ministry of Health. The staff at the Ministry of Health has longstanding relationships with the suppliers, they know what is needed and they know what has priority, and the usual suppliers know how to get supplies into the country.

WHO in the meantime is reported to argue with suppliers about the terms of delivery. When one orders medicines to the tune of one million Euro per consigment the suppliers are used to the system of “cash against documents”. WHO is trying to convince the suppliers to agree to their usual term of payment 30 days after delivery. That is fine when WHO is purchasing a desk and a laptop for their bureaucracy, however, it does not work for purchases in the scales of satisfying the needs of a whole country.

WHO is good in the topic of Public Health. They can give us nice statistics of child mortality development over the years, they can monitor an outbreak of bird flu and cholera, but they do not really have any experience in supplying such quantities of drugs needed without any delays.

Let’s not speak of the fact that if The Netherlands would have simply payed for the orders of the Ministry of Health the usual UN agency’s “Overheads and Staff and Office Costs” would not have needed to be paid. That could easily be 20% or 20 million Euro out of the one hundred million Euro. Well, the WHO Geneva Headquarters must be happy. They were facing a severe cash crises at their Geneva Headquarters due to the rising Swiss Franc, before this bonanza reached them. May be they can now even withdraw the notices that they had given to a hundred staff or so recently.

Rafiq A. Tschannen, reporting from Benghazi.

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