May 24, 2017

PRIORITIES: UN health agency spends more on travel than on AIDS and malaria combined.

According to the Associated Press, the WHO routinely has spent about $200 million a year on travel expenses—more than what it spends to fight AIDS and hepatitis ($70.5 million), tuberculosis ($59 million), and malaria ($61 million) combined.

At a time when the cash-strapped health agency is pleading for more money to fund its responses to health crises worldwide, it has struggled to get its travel costs under control. Senior officials have complained internally that U.N. staffers break new rules that were introduced to try to curb its expansive travel spending, booking perks like business class airplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels with few consequences.

“We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel,” Nick Jeffreys, WHO’s director of finance, said during a September 2015 in-house seminar on accountability — a video of which was obtained by the AP.

Despite WHO’s numerous travel regulations, Jeffreys said staffers “can sometimes manipulate a little bit their travel.” The agency couldn’t be sure people on its payroll always booked the cheapest fares or that their travel was even warranted, he said.

“People don’t always know what the right thing to do is,” Jeffreys said.

People don’t know what to do? Here’s a hint: If you work for global nonprofit you probably shouldn’t be flying first class or spending $1,008 per night on a hotel suite that has marble bathrooms and a dining room that seats eight. That’s what the AP says Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, did earlier this month while in Guinea to join the country’s president in celebrating the world’s first Ebola vaccine. Chan alone spent more than $370,000 in travel in 2014—and she wasn’t even the WHO executive with the highest travel expenses for the year.

The United Nations is a slush fund for politicians and bureaucrats too untalented or unliked to hold office in their own countries.