Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Oil-For-Food, Part Eight: The Fox Guards the Henhouse

The oh-so-ever-resourceful Claudia Rosett does her best to keep the heat on the UN in OpinionJournal today. Best passage:
...with a degree of patience the Secretariat has not displayed toward its critics, Mr. Annan seems to be waiting for the U.N.-authorized inquiry, funded at his behest with $30 million in residual Oil for Food money (meant to aid Iraqi citizens, not U.N. investigations), and led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, to inform the secretary-general, privately, and at stately speed, sometime next year, what his own role actually was. At that stage, Mr. Annan will decide what information he deems appropriate to share with the public.

To this scene in recent months we may add the reports of rape and child molestation committed by U.N. peacekeepers in Africa, allegations of sexual harassment involving the heads of both the U.N. refugee agency and the internal audit division, a revolt against "senior management" by the U.N. staff union, the findings of an internal U.N. integrity survey that a lot of U.N. employees fear retaliation if they speak out, and the statements of a few brave whistle-blowers, fighting for their jobs, to precisely that effect. Plus, if you like, there's the expanding saga of how the secretary-general until confronted by the press allegedly failed to notice that his son had allegedly been doing lucrative business deals with a major U.N. contractor under the Oil for Food program. All of which has been subject to the marvelously circular argument that the press should shut up until the U.N., in between firing off hush letters to its contractors and employing Mr. Annan's U.S.-taxpayer-funded staff to lambaste the U.N.'s critics, can carry out allegedly full and independent investigations of all these troublesome matters.

Do you see the problem here? The UN is diverting even MORE Oil-For-Food money from its intended purpose, to investigate the billions already stolen, and the investigation funded by that money reports to the Secretary-General himself. This is akin to having Ken Lay investigate the trading practices of Enron.

I happen to believe that Kofi Annan is basically a good man at heart, despite my frequent criticism of him in this space. A good man does not necessarily a good executive make, however, and the criticisms of Annan go way beyond OilyGate. Like a lot of decent people who have let events get out of hand, he is looking for a way to salvage his reputation and that of his organization.

Because I do believe in the essential goodness of the Secretary General, I have one suggestion for his New Year's Resolution: release the Volcker report in full, provide all requested documentation to the congressional investigators, and let the chips fall where they may. Transparency in great abundance is the only way forward if the UN is to retain the credibility Annan so desperately seeks.

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