Hurling stones at Glasshouse
NEW YORK - The conventional wisdom is that the sins of the fathers should never be visited on the sons. But how true is the reverse? Should the father bear punishment for the son's perceived inequities?

As right-wing neo-conservatives keep gunning for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan - despite assurances by the Bush administration that it is not seeking his resignation - the charges of corruption against the world body have reached out to his son Kojo Annan who lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

At his annual year-end news conference last week, Annan was asked whether he agreed with his son who had characterized the widespread allegations as a "witch hunt" against him and his father.

"I don't agree with that," the Secretary-General responded bluntly, but did not elaborate further. However, Annan admitted to reporters last month he was "disappointed" that he was not made aware of the fact that his son continued to receive about $2,500 a month from Cotecna Inspection Services, even after he left the Swiss company.

The company was one of the contractors for the UN-supervised, now-defunct "oil-for-food" programme in Iraq, which is under investigation for mismanagement and corruption on its multi-million-dollar contracts.

Although Kojo left in December 1998, the company kept paying him through early 2004 on what is called a "non-compete" agreement.

The agreement, which is also common among US companies, ensures payment to an employee to prevent him from starting a new company in competition with the one he left. Sounds like a payoff but is still an accepted business practice.

Annan says his son is an independent businessman. "He is a grown man, and I don't get involved with his activities and he doesn't get involved in mine." But that assurance is not good enough for right-wing conservatives who keep relentlessly hammering the Secretary-General.

"Time for a Kofi break", says a sarcastic headline in the Wall Street Journal. "My Son, My Son", says William Safire in the New York Times. "Swiss Firm Suspected of Fraud Paid UN Chief's Son $50,000', says another newspaper headline.

But the Secretary-General has refused to answer most of the detailed charges because an independent committee - created by the Security Council and headed by a former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank - is already investigating the allegations.

While his silence on the oil-for-food scandal is understandable, he is probably more concerned with charges of fraud, waste, nepotism, mismanagement and sexual harassment involving UN staffers, senior managers and peacekeepers.

Last week he announced plans to create an "accountability task force" to clean up the UN system and protect whistleblowers. The UN Staff Union has already complained about the lack of transparency in an internal investigation of charges of sexual harassment against an Under-Secretary-General based in Geneva.

After an inquiry by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), Annan decided - "within the discretionary authority afforded to him" - that the allegations could not be sustained.

A second Under-Secretary-General based in New York was also exonerated, this time on charges of improper appointments. The Staff Union is seeking to reopen the investigation.

Last year the OIOS cleared a senior official in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna of charges of corruption and mismanagement. A report by the OIOS released last month catalogued a long list of corrupt practices in peacekeeping missions, mostly in Kosovo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sierra Leone and Ethiopia-Eritrea.

These cases include: abuse of authority by a senior manager: misconduct by a senior manager in creating and working for an NGO while being a staff member; unauthorised acceptance of donor contributions; and unauthorised opening of bank accounts.

Additionally, there were cases of fraudulent overcharging by a vendor for shipments of personal effects; a waste of resources in a flawed procurement exercise for the purchase of equipment that was unsuited to requirements and quickly rendered inoperable; and violations of rules and regulations by a staff member who embezzled $4.3 million.

A senior staff member in Kosovo, a former African ambassador once based in Germany, is accused of receiving a gift of a Mercedes Benz car for favouring a particular vendor on a procurement contract. The car has been stashed away in neighbouring Macedonia, away from the prying eyes of UN investigators.

At least 150 vans purchased for use by UN personnel in Kosovo were found unsuitable and dangerous for travel in winter. The transport director who approved the flawed purchase and the chief of procurement who picked the particular vehicle model were a husband-and-wife "Bonnie and Clyde" team working for the United Nations.

A slew of charges against UN peacekeepers, both civilian and uniformed personnel, also include sexual exploitation and abuse of young girls, particularly in DRC.

According to OIOS sources, there have also been cases of senior UN officials in New York routinely abusing their first class or business class airline privileges by re-routing their official travel plans to make unauthorised visits to their home capitals - all at UN expense.

The hundreds and thousands of "frequent flyer miles" accumulated by senior officials on official travel - which rightfully belong to the United Nations - are being used by family members for holiday travel. As one UN watcher puts it: "The problem with the UN is that it is surrounded by a culture of walls when what we need is a culture of windows."

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