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UN recommends reform of General Assembly chief's office

[GENEVA] The United Nations on Tuesday recommended overhauling financial oversight of the General Assembly president's office following a bribery scandal involving one of its former chiefs.

The US authorities charged John Ashe with tax fraud in October, suspecting him of having accepted more than a million dollars in bribes from Chinese businesspeople seeking to influence the world body.

A former ambassador to the United Nations for Antigua and Barbuda, Mr Ashe chaired the General Assembly's 68th session between September 2013 and September 2014.

The damaging scandal prompted Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a task force that would make recommendations for improving transparency.

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Its report released on Tuesday will be considered by the assembly next week.

"The allegations involving the president, which have tarnished the image and reputation of the organisation, occurred in an environment where there were significant loopholes and blind spots in the operational arrangements for the president and the office," the report said.

"Despite the high level of visibility of the office, there are insufficient transparency and accountability measures," posing the organisation a risk, it added.

The report, which does not specifically comment on Mr Ashe's case, recommends 20 measures to improve regulation over the president and his office.

The General Assembly president, a rotating post filled annually by different member states, is not a UN employee and therefore not subject to the organization's regulations.

The office's activities, including the president's travel, are normally financed by a UN-managed fund that can receive cash and in-kind contributions directly from member states, NGOs and foundations.

Those contributions "are made on an ad hoc basis and at the sole discretion of the president," the report said, adding that the UN lacks a system for reporting them to the General Assembly.

"A significant number of in-kind contributions, for which no official records are available, are provided directly to the president and the office by donors," the report said.

The assembly is also unaware of the level of "resources deployed by the president from all sources," it added.

If approved, the new rules will require the General Assembly president to regularly report his activity and travel as well as make financial disclosures upon assuming and leaving office for assessing outside contributions.