Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Oil-for-food inquiry reportedly to call for urgent reform at top of UN | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

LONDON (AFP) – A long-awaited report into the UN oil-for-food debacle in Iraq is expected to call for an urgent and thorough reform of the leadership of the United Nations, a British newspaper claimed.

The leak, if true, will turn up the pressure on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as he prepares to host world leaders at a September 14-16 summit aimed at endorsing far-reaching reforms of the world body on its 60th anniversary.

Annan himself said on Monday night he wished the world body had never been asked to take part in the 64-billion-dollar scheme to help impoverished Iraqis.

An independent panel led by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker is due on Wednesday to publish the report — the most detailed yet — on the oil-for-food scandal, which has tarnished the United Nations.

The Financial Times newspaper, quoting a copy of a summary of the report which it saw, said: &#34The main conclusions are unambiguous.

&#34The organisation requires stronger executive leadership, thorough administrative reform and more reliable controls and auditing.&#34

The report found &#34ethical lapses&#34 and weakness in the oil-for-food programme”s management were &#34symptomatic of systematic problems in the UN administration generally,&#34 the summary reportedly said.

It cautioned that the United Nations was only able to do its job if it maintains an image of competence, honesty and accountability.

&#34It is precisely those qualities that too often were absent in the administration of the oil-for-food programme,&#34 the report said.

Turning to Annan, the document described him as widely respected, but noted that his duties of being &#34chief diplomatic and political agent of the UN&#34 had become all consuming, the FT said.

It said most notable was a &#34grievous absence of effective auditing and management control&#34 plus a &#34palpable absence of auditors and the lack of clear, if any, reporting lines ”to the top”.&#34

In another blow, it said moves made by the UN General Assembly to improve accountability were &#34far short of what is needed.&#34

Annan told the BBC, during a trip to London to attend a two-day AIDS donors” conference, that he suspected the report would contain much criticism.

But the UN leader dismissed any suggestion the oil-for-food controversy symbolised people”s wider criticisms about the world body.

&#34The UN is not oil-for-food. We have a whole range of activities. Oil-for-food was an extra programme we were asked to undertake. Honestly, I wish we were never given that programme. And I wish the UN will never be asked to take that kind of programme again,&#34 he said.

The report is expected to shed some light on questions raised by the Volcker panel about Annan”s son Kojo who was once employed by the Swiss firm Cotecna, which received a large contract under the now-defunct oil-for-food scheme.

Asked about the possibility of Kojo”s name once again coming under the spotlight, the UN boss said: &#34As I have indicated, this whole process has been painful for me as a secretary general and as a father, but I will let the report stand for itself.&#34

The programme — which ran from 1996 until 2003, when US-led forces invaded Iraq to oust then-president Saddam Hussein — allowed Baghdad to sell oil in exchange for humanitarian goods the country lacked due to sanctions.

Turning to discussions on UN plans for tackling poverty and key reform issues, Annan said it was &#34unfortunate&#34 that John Bolton, the new US ambassador to the United Nations, had proposed hundreds of last-minute amendments.

&#34I think it is unfortunate that these proposals came this late,&#34 he said.

Despite the remaining obstacles, Annan said he hoped preparatory talks ahead of the summit would not end in failure.

&#34I think they are beginning to wake up. I will be able to make that judgement, let”s say, by the end of Wednesday,&#34 Annan said.