Wednesday, January 26, 2005

An independent inquiry (not!)

There are several congressional inquiries into the oil for food scandal and, in particular, into the UN’s part in it. There is now one particular minnow who has been found guilty, is facing anything up to 28 years in gaol and is (if I may mix my metaphors) singing like a canary.

Then there is the UN’s own Committee of Inquiry, described as independent and chaired by Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a paid up member of the great and the good, holder of various positions in the Institute of International Economics, the American Assembly and the American Council on Germany. The man, in short, who will bring the tortuous and secretive UN structure into the light of day, make it transparent and accountable, and restore its reputation. (One may ask when precisely it had such a very high reputation, but that, as they say, is another story.)

There is just one snag. Mr Volcker lists a number of his positions on the Independent Inquiry’s website but he seems to have forgotten one: his directorship on the United Nations Association of the United States of America, which was current in the 2003-4 report.

The UNA-USA is, not to put too fine a point on it, a cheerleader for the United Nations in America. Kofi Annan spoke in it praise on May 8, 2002:
“There are United Nations Associations in many other countries, but this one is unique – both in the challenges it faces and in the energy and resources it devotes to tackling them. From our perspective, it is hard to think of any work more valuable than what you do to improve the understanding of United Nations issues in our host country.”
Good of him to remember that the US is the host country. Mr Annan and his assistants have been known to forget how much it contributes to the UN’s existence.

On the other hand, the achievements of the UNA-USA have not been conspicuous. The UN is seriously unpopular among most Americans and the food for oil scandal together with the slowness with which Volcker’s committee has been working, as well as Volcker’s preliminary announcement that his report will not produce a “smoking gun” are not going to be helpful in changing that attitude.

According to Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation
“UNA-USA has played a lead role in defending the UN’s response to the Oil-for-Food scandal and the embattled leadership of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It has also prominently defended the reputation of the Oil-for-Food Independent Inquiry Committee. To a great degreee, UNA-USA has acted as the UN’s and the Volcker’s Committee’s chief cheerleader with regard to the Oil-for-Food controversy.”
Well, that’s just fine and dandy. But can a director of such an organization be said to be an independent person? And can he, therefore, be said to be chairing an Independent Committee of Inquiry? Answers on the back of a stamp, please.

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