Stop the presses. As it turns out, the mismanagement of the multi-billion United Nations’ Oil-for-Food scam — run with all the oversight of a back-alley cock fight — reaches to the office of Mr. United Nations himself — His Excellency Kofi Annan. The world has expressed shock its beloved Mr. Annan — the Nobel Peace Prize winner and would-be reformer — is not a saint after all. Go figure.
Released yesterday, the second report of the investigating Volcker Commission, finds the secretary-general failed to identify a conflict of interest between his son Kojo, and Kojo’s employer, Cotecna Inspection Services. Cotecna is a Swiss firm that inspected humanitarian products brought into ports under the Oil-for-Food program before they were allowed into Iraq — services worth roughly $60 million to the company. Kojo Annan worked for Cotecna as both an employee and a consultant from 1995 through 1998, but continued to be paid $2,500 a month from the company until 2004.
Kofi Annan, hailed as a skilled administrator and gifted diplomat by supporters, didn’t spot this glaring conflict though he met — at least three times — with high-ranking Cotecna executives both before and after the United Nations awarded the firm a lucrative contract in 1998. It was also discovered through a joint investigation by the Financial Times of London and Il Sole 24, an Italian newspaper, that Kojo Annan received at least $300,000 from Cotecna — nearly double the previous disclosure. Cotecna’s payments to the younger Mr. Annan, the newspapers reported, “were arranged in ways that obscured where the money came from or whom it went to.”
Kofi Annan insists he’s as clean as a whistle, His chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown, before the Volcker findings leaked, predicted Mr. Annan would “be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”
But an Oil-for-Food investigator told the New York Times that, for Kofi and Kojo Annan, the Volcker Report “will not be pleasant reading.”
But none of the thousands of news reports or congressional findings in the Oil-for-Food program over the last year have been pleasant reading. Accounts of how the program was run have only reminded impoverished Iraqis how the U.N. allowed Saddam to continue starving them while building his palaces. Daily news reports also remind American citizens their tax dollars continue subsidizing an increasingly corrupt institution.
And it is only getting worse. The first phase of the Volcker Report found Oil-for-Food administrator Benon Sevan, between 1998 and 2001, received on behalf of African Middle East Petroleum (AMEP), “several million barrels of allocations of oil” from the Iraqis that was “ethically improper” and constituted “a grave and continuing conflict of interest.”
Despite such findings, the United Nations has been paying Mr. Sevan’s legal expenses since last October. Monday, the U.N. finally ended its payments for the legal bills. The New York Sun reported those payments to be in excess of $300,000 and in violation of the U.N. normal practices.
Several weeks ago, in anticipation of the second Volcker Report, the secretary-general was asked about the implications for him and his son Kojo. “Do I look worried?” Mr. Annan arrogantly quipped. That was then. But today we’re told the secretary-general is depressed and considering stepping down.
Such a move would be welcome. Calls for Mr. Annan’s resignation, from at least five dozen members on Capitol Hill, are being sounded yet again.
Despite the lavish praise heaped on this man by his supporters, Kofi Annan is a train wreck. When he took over the U.N. from a beleaguered Boutros-Boutros Ghali, reforming the institution was among his highest priorities.
“Real reform,” Kofi Annan told the U.N. staff Jan. 9, 1997, shortly after his swearing-in, “requires an ongoing search for excellence. … In this, I will not compromise. I expect from each and every staff member, at all levels, a total commitment to excellence,” he said.
But the United Nations under Mr. Annan’s leadership has been far from excellent. The phrase “Oil-for-Food” is now synonymous with “corruption” and it is only the tip of the iceberg. Embezzlement has been reported at the World Meteorological Organization. Rape and pedophilia are rampant among U.N. peacekeepers. Last summer, the U.N. staff gave Mr. Annan a vote of no confidence and demanded his ouster.
The U.N. human rights record is a joke. Claims of sexual harassment have been leveled against a top manager. In August 2003, U.N. employees — 22 of them — were killed because of improper security measures by incompetent U.N. security personnel. In the face of terrorism and genocide, the U.N. sits on the sidelines quibbling over the proper definitions of terms. And during the Security Council debate on Iraq, Kofi Annan made the political mistake of deciding to go to the mats against the United States, the leading U.N. benefactor.
After his first year as secretary-general, Kofi Annan summed up his job: “I am a cheerleader, I am a promoter, I am a salesman, I am a debt collector, I am a father confessor and there are aspects I still have to discover.”
How long before Kofi adds to that litany, “I am unemployed”? The time is long overdue to give Kofi Annan some Prozac, a gift certificate to Ghana’s finest restaurant and send him packing.
Thomas P. Kilgannon is the president of Freedom Alliance, a foundation dedicated to preserving U.S. sovereignty.