Roger L. Simon

Oil-for-Food ... Play It As It Lays

The Oil-for-Food Scandal is heating up in anticipation of the release of Volvcker’s “final” report on Wednesday. The London Observer says it will not be good for Kofi, although the report contains no “smoking gun” connecting the Secretary General directly to the corruption, only through extraordinary mismanagement and nepotism.

The son of Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, tried several times to trade on his father’s reputation, a damaging report into the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq will reveal this week.

However, sources who have seen the 1,000-page study said there would be no new ‘smoking-gun’ revelations or accusations of impropriety against the UN leader.

Instead, it will show how Kojo Annan, 31, tried to take advantage of his family connections. One example concerns Kojo’s attempt to get a discount on a car purchase in Ghana.

However the long-awaited report by the independent commission set up to investigate the scandal-ridden oil-for-food programme will criticise the UN leader for a series of management failures.

The inquiry, set up by Annan and headed by former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, will allege a culture of mismanagement, lack of oversight and incompetence throughout the body.

The secretary-general and his Security Council committee, which ultimate controlled the scheme, are among those under fire.

Volcker investigated allegations concerning Kofi Annan and his dealings with a Swiss company, Cotecna, which paid his son as an adviser and won a contract in the oil-for-food programme

Although the report, to be published on Wednesday, clears the UN chief of improper behaviour over Cotecna, the broad criticism over the handling of the world’s biggest humanitarian scheme will raise fresh questions over his future.

To make matters worse, its publication will be on the eve of a world summit at the UN’s headquarters in New York to mark its 60th anniversary. Annan tried to pre-empt the study’s impact by unveiling reform proposals of his own as the scale of the oil-for-food scandal became clear. But critics, particularly in Washington, claim they do not go far enough.

Of course you wouldn’t know this reading the New York Times on Saturday whose reportage reflects a disconnect that appraoches cognitive dissonance between American attempts to reform the UN and the problems the UN created for itself.

The NYT ran two United Nations stories on Saturday. Page 4 had an article by Warren Hoge about international frustration with the US attitude toward the UN Millennium Project and further back on page 8 (no surprise) was a Julia Preston report on yet more UN corruption – the indictment of another top UN official for money laundering in the Federal District Court in Manhattan.

Of course, these stories are related, although you wouldn’t know it from the Times’ coverage (or placement). Hoge’s discussion of American caveats regarding M. D. G. (the millennium development goals) contains not a single word about Oil-for-Food or any other of the seemingly-endless stream of UN scandals; as if our government’s seeking to put brakes on UN spending existed in a vacuum. Oh, yes, Hoge does cast a jaundiced eye on the possible nefarious influence of John Bolton. If billions in aid money have been siphoned off by UN officials, their minions and attendant companies, it must be his fault – at least their emphasis would have us believe that. After all, Bolton is not in the grand “genteel” tradition of the State Department diplomat.

Or perhaps, they seem to imply, if our government had only given more money to the UN, all that corruption wouldn’t have happened.

The Times appeared, a few months ago, to be taking Oil-for-Food seriously, but they seem to have backed off, preferring to devote their efforts to blaming Bush for nominating a man for UN Ambassador who is taking it seriously. I wonder what people like Hoge would think if the finances of the New York Times were run in the same manner as the United Nations. Would they react the same way? I don’t think so. Maybe I am naive, but I think fighting the UN kleptocrats for all their worth is the best way to strengthen the organization, What our old fashioned “traditionalist liberals” are doing will only lead to its ultimate demise.