UNITED NATIONS, AP – An exhaustive investigation of the Iraq oil-for-food program has made clear that the United Nations simply isn”t capable of taking on massive tasks like the $64 billion operation and will never be unless it adopts a host of reforms, the probe”s chief said.
The Independent Inquiry Committee”s comprehensive report, released Wednesday, exposed failures across the U.N. system, from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to his deputy to the U.N. Security Council. They allowed corruption to flourish and stood by as Saddam Hussein bilked about $10.2 billion, it found.
In the report, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker”s team recommended several reforms, including establishing an Independent Auditing Board to fully review U.N. programs and creating and urgently filling the position of a chief executive officer.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged world leaders at next week”s U.N. summit to use the "golden opportunity" to adopt the reforms, but many developing nations object because they think doing so could strip them of coveted power.
"It would be unfortunate for the U.N. in my opinion, if faced by all this evidence, they don”t do enough," Volcker told The Associated Press. "I think you”re forced to the conclusion that if they don”t, the world has lost a potentially important resource when problems of this sort arise. And if they don”t reform, they shouldn”t undertake any programs of this sort."
The Volcker committee”s five-volume, 1,036-page report reveals just how bad things had become in the program, and how tainted the U.N. image has become as a result. Yet it says reform is urgent because there is no other organization like the United Nations in the world to be able to take on such tasks.
"At stake is the United Nations” ability to respond promptly and effectively to the responsibilities thrust upon it by the realities of a turbulent, and often violent, world," the report said.
Oil-for-food was originally designed to provide health care for millions of Iraqis trying to cope with tough U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam”s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
But Saddam, who could choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods, manipulated the program by awarding contracts to — and getting kickbacks from — favored buyers, who most often supported his regime or opposed the sanctions.
The report, which came after a year-long, $34 million investigation, faulted Annan and his deputy, Canada”s Louise Frechette, of tolerating corruption and doing little to stop Saddam”s manipulations. The powerful U.N. Security Council was accused of doing much the same.
"In the first place the program left too much initiative with Iraq," Volcker told the Security Council earlier Wednesday. "It was, as one past member of this council has put it, a compact with the devil, and the devil had means for manipulating the program to his ends."
The findings led to new criticism from U.S. congressmen leading their own investigations of oil-for-food in Washington. Senator Norm Coleman, R-Minn., reiterated his call for Annan”s resignation, while Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said the report raised questions about his leadership.
Rep. Henry Hyde (news, bio, voting record), R-Ill., stopped short of calling for Annan”s resignation but offered a withering assessment nonetheless.
"If the U.N. Secretariat and its member states ignore the profound lessons detailed in this report, the institution itself will be imperiled by the morass of corruption that increasingly undermines its already tattered legitimacy," he said in a statement.
Annan told reporters he would not resign.
Volcker”s report is the fourth of five. The final one, expected in October, will study the companies involved in the purchase of Iraqi oil or sale of humanitarian goods under the program.
In August, officials with the probe said about half the 4,500 companies that took part in the program in Iraq paid kickbacks or illegal surcharges and are being given a chance to respond to the accusations.
Volcker told the AP that one striking thing about those companies was just how many were of Russian origin. Russia was a leading opponent of the sanctions and Wednesday”s report suggests it may have tried to stall on efforts to probe corruption in the program.
"The Russian thing just jumps out at you," Volcker said. "But there in particular, they claim that a good many of those are not Russian at all in substance."
While much of the attention focused on U.N. management, the report also addressed lingering issues about Annan”s son Kojo, who was once employed by a Swiss company called Cotecna that sought — and eventually won — a contract to do work under oil-for-food.
The committee said additional evidence supplied by Kojo Annan established that he assisted Cotecna in its effort to win the contract, contrary to earlier denials. But the report said it appears Cotecna won the contract because it was the low bidder. "It is not known whether Kojo Annan”s efforts made a difference," it said.
Kojo Annan said in a statement issued by his London lawyers that he never attempted to influence the awarding of the contract.
In addition, he used his father”s "name and position" in 1998 to buy and deliver a car at a reduced price, the probe said. It said he asked beforehand whether he could buy the car in his father”s name, but there was no evidence to show the secretary-general ever agreed.
Kojo Annan called the car discount a youthful "indiscretion" that he regrets.