Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Oil For Food: The Report Is Out

Paul Volcker's committee looking into the UN Oil For Food Scandal has just released its final report. Links to each of the 4 volumes (in PDF format, Acrobat Reader required) can be found on this page.

While the report doesn't exactly recommend throwing Secretary-General Kofi Annan in jail for corruption, he gets a lot more than a slap on the wrist:

This report records the reluctance of both the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General to recognize their own responsibility for the Programme’s shortcomings, their failure to ensure that critical evidence was brought to the attention of the Security Council and the 661 Committee, and their minimal efforts to address sanctions violations with Iraqi officials; altogether there was a lack of oversight concerning OIP’s administration of the $100 billion Oil-for-Food Programme, and, above all a failure shared by them both to provide oversight of the Programme’s Executive Director, Benon Sevan.

In sum, in light of these circumstances, the cumulative management performance of the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain. In making these findings, the Committee has recognized the difficult administrative demands imposed upon the Secretariat and the Secretary-General, both by the design of the Programme and the overlapping Security Council responsibilities.

The deputy Secretary-General, by the way, is a Canadian and former deputy defence minister, Louise Fréchette. The report also cleared a second Canadian -- bureaucrat Maurice Strong -- of wrongdoing, for dealing with a lobbyist working for the Iraqis:

Also reported are Iraq efforts to secure another high-level contact at the United Nations in 1997 when [Korean lobbyist Tongsun] Park introduced his Iraqi contacts to a Canadian, Maurice Strong -- Secretary-General Annan’s newly-appointed Executive Coordinator for United Nations Reform. In the course of Mr. Park’s relationship with Mr. Strong, he obtained $1 million US in cash from his Iraqi contacts which he used to consummate a stock purchase in a company controlled by Strong’s family. While there is an indication that Iraqi officials tried to establish a relationship with Mr. Strong, the Committee has found no evidence that Mr. Strong was involved in Iraqi affairs or matters relating to the Programme.

The big recommendation to come out of this report is to spin administrative functions--things like handling the budget, personnel issues, out of the Secretary-General's office, letting him focus more on diplomacy, politics and all-round schmoozing. Instead, a chief operating officer would take care of the paperwork, while an independent oversight board would look after program oversight, to make sure corruption doesn't happen.

What Volcker's report stresses is that the kinds of reform recommended are nothing new -- there've been proposals for UN reforms for years, but they've rarely been acted upon. Despite the presence of U.S. envoy John Bolton (a real hellraiser for reform), I very much wonder if the Volcker report won't go the same path.