Thursday, February 03, 2005

Volcker speaks

Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, present chairman of the UN’s own enquiry into the oil-for-food, and continuing cheer-leader for the UN and its many activities, is presenting an interim report today.

The New York Times says this morning:
“His interim report, which has been eagerly and skeptically awaited by United Nations critics, is months overdue. Hampered by what investigators and diplomats called a reluctance among some member countries to cooperate and a lack of subpoena power, Mr. Volcker's panel has had difficulty obtaining evidence. Conservatives and other critics have accused him of being insufficiently impartial and independent, a charge he has denied. And John Danforth, who recently left his position as American ambassador to the United Nations, said Mr. Volcker, with a staff of over 60 people and a budget of some $30 million,lacked some tools needed to conduct a thorough inquiry.”
This would indicate that even the revered NYT, usually supporter of “multilateralism”, particularly if it means bashing a Republican administration (they had better get used to it) is waxing sceptical.

Mr Volcker is sadly reporting that the food-for-oil procurement system failed because it did not follow "the established rules of the organization designed to assure fairness and accountability".

Indeed. And who was responsible for ensuring that this happened? Not, apparently, SecGen Annan, who is still assuring all and sundry and it wasn’t him guv, or his son. We are not talking chicken feed, after all. At $64 billion, it was the largest UN humanitarian programme.

The report will speak of the irreconcilable conflict of interest that prevented Benon Sevan, the head of the programme from doing an averagely honest job.
“Citing what he called "conclusive" evidence, Mr. Volcker wrote that by "effectively participating in the selection of purchasers of oil under the program," Mr. Sevan had violated both "specific United Nations rules and of the broad responsibility of an international civil servant to adhere to the highest standards of trust and integrity."”
There will also be a mention of one Joseph Stephanides, a senior official on the Security Council staff, who “failed that the organization's own rules for buying oil, selling goods and selecting contractors were followed”.

Several questions will, undoubtedly be raised. The obvious one of how something like this could have happened will not be answered until someone truly independent, perhaps, one of the Congressional committees of enquiry, reports.

Then there is the problem of what is to happen with the people who behaved stupidly, dishonestly, culpably or, even, criminally. Will they be tried? Will they simply be retired with large pensions, all paid out of public funds and free to take up directorships as and when they please?

How will similar behaviour be prevented in the future, given that the UN has no machinery of supervision and no accepted standards of behaviour?

What of SecGen Kofi Annan and his progeny, described in a recent article in the Times as a man who simply lends his name to all sorts of shady deals but is “as straight as can be”. (He also spends his time in London with “other” Nigerians, according to the same article. Clearly, the journalist does not realize that Kojo Annan is a Ghanaian, that there is little love lost between most Ghanaians and Nigerians and that there is a question mark over the activity of numerous Nigerian businessmen in London.)

There is a kind of a response to the last question:
“Even though no evidence of "systematic or widespread abuse" was found in how the program's administrative funds were spent, Mr. Volcker wrote, the commission still found what he called "a clear lapse from disciplined judgment."

Mr. Volcker called his panel's initial findings about Mr. Sevan "more disheartening." He indicated that the investigation of Mr. Sevan, an aide to Kofi Annan, was continuing, as was his investigation of how and why Cotecna Inspection, a Swiss-based company that was hired to inspect humanitarian goods bought by Iraq and that employed Mr. Annan's son, got its own contract.”
As they say, this one will run and run, though how long can Mr Volcker go on wriggling like this is another interesting question.

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