Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Schoolboys should be seen and not heard

That, presumably, is SecGen Kofi Annan’s attitude to the subject. Why else would he have called the experienced New York correspondent of the Times, James Bone, “cheeky” and “an overgrown schoolboy”, not a serious journalist at all.

One assumes that the SecGen’s idea of a serious journalist is a latter day Pravda hack, who would not dream of asking awkward questions. Unfortunately, Mr Bone did. The question that really sent the SecGen into a spin was about the Mercedes car that his son Kojo seems to have bought in his name, thus not paying taxes on the purchase or on the importation to Ghana. The car, it seems, has disappeared.

Mr Bone has responded to the SecGen in today’s Wall Street Journal Europe with an article, entitled “An ‘Overgrown Schoolboy’ Asks: Where Is the Car?”

The piece traces the tortuous way in which the details about young Kojo’s employment with Cotecna became public and his father’s probable involvement.

The news of this first broke in January 1999.
“At the time, the secretary-general turned to a respected financial figure, Joseph Connor – a former chairman of Price Waterhouse World Firm who was then the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for mangement – to investigate. The inquiry – which had a crucial paragraph mysteriously added to Mr. Connor’s signed version – took less than a day. It found that Kojo had resigned from the Swiss firm, Cotecna Inspection SA, before a U.N. contract was awarded to the firm. We now know that was false.”
The obvious conclusion to be drawn here is that no matter how respected a financial figure is, once he becomes a tranzi, all is lost. But Mr Bone does a bit of mea culpa himself.
“Before attacking me at his news conference last week, Mr. Annan bemoaned that the press had been misled by “deliberate leaks”. Sadly, I can confirm that. I was shown Mr. Connor’s confidential report – including the added paragraph – by a furtive Annan aide. I regret I incorporated that U.N.-sponsored falsehood into a piece I filed. (“Geneva firm has ‘nothing to hide’ in oil-for-food row”: the Times of London, April 24, 2004).”
Um. Either Mr Bone has misdated the article or he persisted in believing those “UN-sponsored lies” for a very long time. Still, he has made up for it.

As he points out, SecGen Annan pulled in another highly regarded financial figure, Paul Volcker, to report on the oil-for-food scandal. In actual fact, the report has not been quite what Annan expected. Volcker kicked over the traces somewhat. But in one respect he has not been very forthcoming: the question of the SecGen’s knowledge of his son’s involvement with Cotecna. There is evidence for knowledge and for meetings that Volcker prefers to pass over lightly.

Then there is the Merc. Mr Volcker’s investigators found a memo on the computer of one of SecGen Annan’s assistants, which makes it clear that the whole office knew who was buying the car and how. Equally clearly, an authorization was sent to the firm that was selling the car from the office, which saved young Kojo $6,541 on the purchase price and another $14,103 in tax when he imported it to Ghana. Every little bit counts.

Strangely enough
“Neither Kofi Annan, his aide Lamin Sise, nor his assistan Wagaye Assebe, can recall what happened, and the original documents have disappeared – but somehow the Mercedes was purchased with the diplomatic discount anyway. Adoulie Janneh, the U.N. official whoa rranged the tax exemption in Ghana, was recently promoted to U.N. under-secretary-general, in charge of the Economic Commission for Africa.”
Meanwhile, where is the car? Nobody knows and repeated questions produced Annan’s choleric outburst.

Why, one wonders, are people so sceptical of the UN’s ability to reform itself or of SecGen Annan’s intentions to do anything about it.

There are two issues here. What James Bone is talking about is personal corruption and, no matter how SecGen Annan twists and turns, more and more dirt sticks to him. At the very least, he used his position to try to cover up for his son’s behaviour, but the probability is that he did a great deal more.

Then there is the corruption of the organization itself. The UN, which claims to be a burgeoning world government is completely unaccountable in any sense of the word: financial, legal, political. It is not elected; it has no body of law to administer; it answers to nobody. A large proportion of its member states are run by tyrannical, bloodthirsty kleptomaniacs. Another lot is run by kleptomaniacs who do not necessarily kill thousands every month. And yet, it claims a moral authority over countries like the United States or Britain.


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