September 07, 2005

Oil For Food Coverup

Kofi Annan is taking the rap for the Oil For Food program's mismanagement. Nice as it is to see someone at the top take responsibility for anything, the fact is that Annan never had as much authority over the program as it's been suggested. The investigation is being reported damningly, but the real story is farther along in the coverage. Emphasis mine:

The United Nations urgently needs stronger leadership and wide-ranging reforms to prevent the "illicit, unethical and corrupt behavior" uncovered in the $64 billion oil-for-food program for Iraq, a year-long inquiry found.

The investigation by the Independent Inquiry Committee, headed by Paul Volcker, the former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman, to be released on Wednesday, says the United Nations was ill-equipped to handle a program of that magnitude "or even programs of a lesser scope."

"An adequate framework of controls and auditing was absent," said the report's introduction, obtained by Reuters. "There were, in fact, instances of corruption among senior staff as well as in the field."

"At stake is the U.N. ability to respond promptly and effectively to the responsibilities thrust upon it by the realities of a turbulent and often violent world," said the report. "It is precisely those qualities that too often were absent in the administration of the oil-for-food program."

... Despite its criticisms, the report said the program, which provided a lifeline for some 90 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, had some "real accomplishments."

"They were achieved despite uncertain, wavering direction from the Security Council, pressures from competing political forces in Iraq and endemic corruption on the ground," the Volcker committee report says.

The report is expected to blame every U.N. organ involved in the program -- the 15-member Security Council, meant to supervise it, and U.N. relief agencies conducting turf wars.

But the report is not expected to come up with any further information against Annan personally, although it will probably fault his son Kojo, for using his father's name for personal profit in purchasing a Mercedes under diplomatic cover. ...

The Security Council, meant to supervise it. Which is to say that every single Oil For Food contract was examined by UN staff, who made their recommendations, and then passed them to the Security Council who had the authority to make the final decisions. As the UN FAQ says:

... The Security Council Iraq sanctions committee, known as the “661 Committee” for the resolution that established it, had full responsibility for monitoring implementation of the Programme. The Committee, which had the same membership as the Security Council itself, also approved contracts and dealt with any irregularities in their implementation. ...

Of course the Bush administration would love to fob all the blame off on the United Nations, but the fact of the matter is that the United States had veto power over every single contract that passed through this program and could have objected at any time. Today, a Texas businessman is one of only three people prosecuted for wrongdoing in this affair.

US companies were involved, US oversight was involved at every step of the way, and the UN bureaucracy didn't even have the ability to act on their own staff findings, emphasis mine:

... Indeed, an analysis by Michael Pan, a researcher at the Center for American Progress, notes that all the trades in the oil-for-food program had to be approved by a committee of the U.N. Security Council, known as the 661 Committee, on which U.S., British, French, Russian, and Chinese officials sat. They raised no objections, even when U.N. staff flagged 70 separate transactions as potentially suspicious.

"The United States and Britain, along with the other members of the UN Security Council, designed and oversaw the oil-for-food program," wrote Harvard's John G. Ruggie in the International Herald Tribune ("What About the Log in Your Eye, Congress?" December 8, 2004). "The United States alone had 60 professionals review each of the 36,000 contracts awarded—more than twice the size of the UN oil-for-food office's professional staff. America and Britain held up 5,000 contracts, sometimes for months, to ensure that no technology was getting through that Saddam could use for weapons purposes. But they held up none—not a single solitary one—on the grounds of pricing irregularities, even when alerted by UN staff." ...

There's a big scandal here alright, but I don't think it's Kojo Annan's fancy car.

In short: The Bush administration, who's lost billions of dollars to corruption during their supervision of Iraq and couldn't even rescue a major, culturally significant US city from a hurricane they knew was coming, is criticizing the UN for corruption they reported before it happened and suggesting that it's the UN who isn't equipped to manage in a dangerous world.

It's enough to make a person a little angry.

Posted by natasha at September 7, 2005 07:17 PM | International | Technorati links |

Thank you, I have said this several times in conversations and comments on conservative blogs but had not covered in my blog.

The US in particular was interested in jerking Saddam around with their holds on equipment such as anti-biotics but could not have cared less about corruption. As you pointed out, a Houston company was involved in that corruption. This is a scandal but it is driven by conservatives who hate the UN anyway and they refuse to compare it to the much larger Iraqi occupation financial scandals.

Posted by: Easter Lemming Liberal News at September 7, 2005 11:03 PM

Yet another example of U.S bungling followed up with U.S. passing the blame off on someone else. That will be the lasting Bush legacy.

Posted by: Scott at September 8, 2005 05:20 AM