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No checks, no balances

This AP article about Paul Volcker's damning report on the U.N. Oil-For-Food program demonstrates the U.N.'s biggest problem: Not the sordid particulars of this particular scandal, but the more fundamental fact that it has no accountability. No real checks and balances constrain its actions.

UNITED NATIONS - Secretary-General Kofi Annan is taking disciplinary action against the head of the U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq following an investigation of alleged corruption in the humanitarian program, a senior U.N. official said Thursday.

The decision came after a report by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker accused program chief Benon Sevan of unethical conduct and Joseph Stephanides of manipulating an oil-for-food contract, according to Mark Malloch Brown, Annan's chief of staff.
Why on earth should Kofi Annan be the one to take "disciplinary action" here? Isn't there a possibility that he was aware of, and involved in, Sevan's wrongdoing?

Having the head of an organization place himself in the dual role of its watchdog wouldn't fly in any other circumstances:
MANHATTAN -- Capo di tutti capo John Gotti is taking disciplinary action against underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano following an investigation of alleged racketeering activities, the family consigliere said Thursday.
HOUSTON -- Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling is taking disciplinary action against other senior executives following an investigation of alleged massive accounting fraud, a company spokesperson said Thursday.
THE DEATH STAR -- Emperor Palpatine is taking disciplinary action against fallen Jedi Darth Vader following an investigation of alleged attempts to crush the upstart rebellion, a senior Imperial officer said Thursday.
If Kofi expects everyone to be satisfied by his own personal crackdown on members of his staff, then he truly has lost both his sense of shame and his connection to reality.


Anonymous said...

"Why on earth should Kofi Annan be the one to take "disciplinary action" here? Isn't there a possibility that he was aware of, and involved in, Sevan's wrongdoing? Having the head of an organization place himself in the dual role of its watchdog wouldn't fly in any other circumstances."

Annan's son, Kojo, was one of the main beneficiaries of the Oil-for-Food scandal. At minimum, that should preclude him for having any role in the UN's response to the problem of corruption in the ranks.

However, Annan and the UN are seen as de facto 'Friends of the Left', and therefore aren't subject to logic, common sense, etc. Only Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Gonzales should be held to account for their actions. After all, what's the starvation of thousands of Iraqis when a few Fadeyeen Saddam have been humiliated by thong-clad female interrogators?

Posted by Sharon

Anonymous said...

Diplomats and pols pay no cost for being wrong,
do they...unlike the rest of us. 

Posted by jomama

Anonymous said...

First, thusfar it is simply not proven that Annan's son had any knowledge of the problems with the oil-for-food program. On the other hand, it isn't proven that he didn't have knowledge of them either.

What we think we know about Mr. Annan's son was that he was receiving a deferred payment from the Kotectna (sp?) company in the late 90's so that he wouldn't be hired by anyone else.

Without knowing for a fact that Annan's son knew what was going on in the OFF program, saying that he clearly should be blamed just because he was receiving money from that company is identical to saying that Dick Cheney deserves blame for everything Halliburton has done fraudulently in Iraq, since Mr. Cheney is still receiving a deferred compensation from them.

Secondly, without knowing what Mr. Annan's own role was in the program, it simply makes no sense to say that he doesn't have the right to handle the matter. If there is a scandal in 1 department of the Cabinet, technically that goes back to the President, because all members of the Cabinet report to the President. But if the President had no knowledge of what was going on, then the blame will stop somewhere below him. The Boeing-tanker scandal would be a prime example of this; clearly improper behavior on the part of several levels in the DOD, but that doesn't mean the President should resign.

If the Volcker report finds that Mr. Annan himself was involved or at least had detailed knowledge of the fraud and then took no action to stop it, then he deserves all the blame in the world and should be removed. If either his underlings were responsible, or he did take action to try to stop it and was rebuked by the British, Americans, French & Russians (each of whom was protecting 1 or 2 of the countries benefiting from the fraud), then the blame lies elsewhere.

My personal suggestion is that we all wait to draw conclusions until the relevant sections of the Volcker report are released. We know about Savan and a few other things now. We'll know more later. 

Posted by Balta

Anonymous said...

Those are fair points Balta. However they are somewhat compromised by the initial reluctance of Kofi Annan to deal with this issue in a serious was and the strong defense that was made of Sevan which turned out to be totally false.

I don't think that he should be forced to resign at this point, but there does need to be more accountability for the U.N. in general and this case highlights that problem. Open accounting systems and transparency would go a long way toward addressing this problem. The people of the world should have been fully aware (or at least able to become so) of the details of the Oil-for-Food program from the beginning. This is true of all U.N. finances. 

Posted by Dave Justus

Anonymous said...

There is, I think a much more important point. Officials in States who are members of the UN were also on the take in all this. We know that French, Russian and Chinese officials were among those benefiting from oil contracts under the OFF program. These states were also the ones pushing for an end to the sanctions regime; sanctions that were supposed to help contain Saddam Hussein and prevent his plans to re-arm.

The Duelfer report makes it clear that Hussein's aim was to wiggle his way out of the sanctions then start up his WMD programs again. The fact that stockpiles were not found is not the news, Hussein maintain his production capabilities and intended to re-arm once the sanctions were removed.

The very member states who were supposed to enforce the "collective security" of the UN were the same ones who were selling out. In other words, Hussein was calling the shots, and if he hadn't been stopped by the US invasion, would surely have succeeded in ending the sanctions and would be today a very great threat.

The whole notion of collective security is unworkable under the UN, it will never work. Collective security can only be accomplished when nations with common interests work together to protect them. This can never happen under the UN arrangement. Its time to scrap the UN altogether and let temporary alliances among free nations replace it. We should never tie our security to those of nations whose interests are contrary to ours. 

Posted by Chris



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