- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

NEW YORK — An outside accounting of the U.N. oil-for-food program strongly criticizes the world body for failures ranging from a lack of oversight by the Secretariat to political interference from the Security Council, which established it.

The Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) is expected to formally absolve U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the awarding of a key contract to his son’s former employer when it issues its final report today.

But a five-page preface, which became public yesterday, makes clear that the commission, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, will not spare Mr. Annan’s administration from a harsh assessment of its management capabilities.

The 1,000-page report comes only a week before world leaders gather at the United Nations for a summit devoted to strengthening and defining the organization for the 21st century.

“The committee reports reveal serious instances of illicit, unethical and corrupt behavior with the United Nations,” according to the IIC, which also finds “wholesale corruption” by companies doing business with Saddam Hussein.

The IIC was created by Mr. Annan, authorized by the Security Council, and financed with $35 million from the same aid program it is investigating.

In three previous reports, the IIC investigated the quest for kickbacks and bribes by former U.N. officials, detailed misuse of funds and document-shredding by senior officials, and chipped away at management structures that failed to catch wrongdoing.

Today’s report will examine the roles of the U.N.’s administrative staff, the Secretariat, in managing the program, and the nine primary U.N. agencies that carried out the humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq.

It also will address the political sensitivities that compromised the Security Council’s ability to make important decisions; the “grievous absence” of effective auditing and management controls; and the inability to track expenditures across agencies and programs.

“The inescapable conclusion from the committee’s work is that the U.N. organization needs thoroughgoing reform — and it needs it urgently,” the authors conclude.

The panel suggests that the secretary-general create a post of chief operating officer to oversee administration and coordination.

The Security Council, which winnowed Iraq’s shopping list and vetted contracts from vendors through a committee, comes in for plenty of criticism.

From the beginning, the council allowed Saddam’s regime too much power over the design and implementation of the program, it says. In an unusual move, diplomats were allowed to control program operations rather than just give advice.

At the end of the day, the IIC finds, neither the council nor the Secretariat was in clear control.

“When things went awry — and they surely did when troublesome conflicts arose between political objectives and administrative effectiveness — decisions were delayed, bungled or simply shunned,” the report says.

U.N. officials yesterday declined to comment on the preface. But Mr. Annan told the British Broadcasting Corp. this week that the organization had been ill-equipped to take on a project as complex as the oil-for-food program.

“I suspect that there will be lots of criticism,” Mr Annan said. “Honestly, I wish we were never given that program.”

The IIC, found that the program did, in fact, accomplish its two primary objectives — feeding ordinary Iraqis who were hurt by U.N. sanctions, and depriving Saddam of weapons of mass destruction.

But with charges of waste, inefficiency and corruption “those successes fell under an increasingly dark shadow,” the preface says.

Although the report will run close to 1,000 pages, the panel stresses that investigators from 28 countries still don’t have a complete picture.

“Constraints of time, concerns for personnel security in Iraq and lack of full cooperation by some member states and individuals means that examination of some parts of the program have been less detailed than others,” the forward says.

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