UNITED NATIONS - A beleaguered UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Thursday stood
his ground despite charges of corruption, inefficiency, and mismanagement of
the $34 billion now-defunct Iraqi oil-for-food program run by the UN secretariat,
which he administers.
Asked if there would be any resignations from within the organization over
the strictures, Annan told reporters: "I don't anticipate anyone to resign.
We are carrying on with our work."
The charges were spelled out in a voluminous report by the Independent Inquiry
Committee (IIC), chaired by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker,
which criticized the UN secretariat, and faulted the 15-member Security Council
mandated to oversee the politically-flawed program.
"Our assignment has been to look for mis- or maladministration in the
oil-for-food program and for evidence of corruption within the UN organization
and by contractors. Unhappily, we found both," Volcker told the Security
The Volcker committee, which also included Richard Goldstone and Mark Pieth,
was appointed in April last year at the initiative of Annan and with the support
of the Security Council.
The committee was asked to probe the inner workings of the program, which was
originally meant to provide humanitarian assistance and alleviate the suffering
of more than 25 million sanctions-hit Iraqis.
"Clearly, there is another side to the story," Volcker said, "one
of positive success" because the program averted "the clear and present
danger of malnutrition and a further collapse of [Iraq's] medical services."
"That is no small achievement, especially when combined with the support
the program provided for maintaining the basic sanctions against Iraq and its
inability to obtain weapons of mass destruction," Volcker added.
Still, the main conclusions are unambiguous, he argued, pointing out that the
United Nations "requires strong executive leadership, thoroughgoing administrative
reform, and more reliable controls and auditing."
Annan said he was glad the committee had also reaffirmed an earlier conclusion
that the secretary-general did not influence or attempt to influence the procurement
process in the multi-billion program.
But Annan admitted he was "not diligent or effective enough" in pursuing
an investigation after the fact, when he learned the Swiss company that employed
his son Kojo Annan had won an inspection contract under the oil-for-food program.
"I deeply regret that," he told reporters.
Still, Annan refused to be drawn into a debate over criticisms of his son who,
according one published report, had purchased a luxury vehicle using his father's
name to enjoy the tax-free privileges of a diplomat, and transferred it to a
third country duty-free.
Asked if there is legal recourse the United Nations can seek against someone
who falsely claims diplomatic immunity as is alleged against his son
the secretary-general said: "I think that is something for the law
enforcement people to look into it." However, Annan said that the evidence
of actual corruption among a small number of UN staff is "profoundly disappointing
for all of us who work for this organization."
Volcker said there was "a pervasive absence of effective auditing and
administrative controls." Weak planning, sorely inadequate funding, and
too few professional staff were all characteristic of the process.
"The absence of truly independent status for the auditing and control
functions was a critical deficiency," he added.
As chief administrative officer of the United Nations, Annan said he has to
take responsibility "for the failing revealed, both in the implementation
of the program, and more generally, in the functioning of the secretariat."
Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Policy
Studies, said the secretary-general must not be viewed as the chief executive
officer (CEO) of a worldwide corporation.
"The United Nations is based on principles, embodied in the UN Charter,
that require its leadership, especially the secretary-general, to stand and
defend its principles against those trying to force the United Nations to become
part of illegal wars, to endorse illegal occupations, or to ignore looming genocides,"
Bennis told IPS.
"The recent attacks on the secretary-general, easier to attack than the
institution as a whole, have little to do with the actual (and quite limited)
instances of corrupt activities in the secretariat, and everything to do with
Annan's statement that the U.S. war in Iraq was illegal and the organization's
refusal to endorse the U.S.-UK invasion," said Bennis, author of Calling
the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.
In criticizing the Security Council, Volcker said that the program left too
much initiative with Iraq. As one former member of the Council put it, "It
was a compact with the devil, and the devil had the means for manipulating the
program to his ends."
"That basic difficulty was compounded by a failure to clearly define the
complex administrative responsibilities," shared between the 661 Committee
(of the Security Council which was entrusted with the task of monitoring the
oil-for-food program) and the secretariat, "and by continuing political
The result was "no one seemed clearly in command. Delays in, or evasion
of, decision-making was chronic," Volcker said.
The loopholes in the program also permitted former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
to engage in a highly profitable smuggling of oil, which the Security Council
chose to ignore.
Volcker also said there were "serious questions about the UN's ability
to live up to its ideals."
"Certainly there are questions about the UN's ability to live up to its
ideals. But those ideals have everything to do with the UN's independence and
willingness to defy U.S. bullying, and defend its own Charter," said Bennis
of the Institute for Policy Studies.
The United Nations showed its ability in the run-up to the Iraq war, when the
international organization refused to join Washington's war train.
At that moment, she said, even the Security Council was part of the UN's defiance,
itself part of the broader global defiance of people and governments around
the world but too often the Security Council stands as the main obstacle
to the UN's fulfillment of its ideals.
When it said "no" to the U.S. war in Iraq, the United Nations did
not become irrelevant, quite the contrary. But the moment of defiance, relevance
and global significance was brief, and soon collapsed under U.S. pressure, Bennis
Indeed the Security Council has failed to define its own parameters and responsibilities.
But the Council is also inherently flawed because of its structural lack of
democracy with the United States and four other permanent members (Britain,
France, Russia, and China) able to veto anything they don't like, the Council's
operations are a recipe for paralysis and failure.
Bennis said "the effect of the right-wing campaign in the United States
has been to focus public and media attention on the alleged responsibility of
the UN secretariat, especially Kofi Annan personally, in overseeing the oil-for-food
program, rather than keeping the focus where it belongs, on the role of the
United States and other Security Council member states."
U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham was the U.S. official who most often
participated in the work of the 661 Committee, she pointed out. The United States
and Britain routinely and publicly used their power on that committee to delay
or cancel contracts based on their often-cited (though rarely substantiated)
claim of "dual use" equipment, meaning potential military as well
as civilian use.
But there are no publicized reports of a U.S. or British representative (or
any other Council member) putting "holds" on a contract because of
the widely-known practice (typical of the global oil industry) of kickbacks
(Inter Press Service)