Annan survives fire over oil-for-food scam
NEW YORK-- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on conflict resolution Lakhdar Brahimi is quoted as saying that the United Nations has no plans to replace the Norwegians as peace makers in Sri Lanka.
At least Brahimi knows the UN's limitations. It has done such a politically-lousy job both in Afghanistan and Iraq that its dented reputation remains to be salvaged.

The UN flag no longer commands respect in both war zones, and UN staffers are sitting ducks targeted by rebel forces. In Iraq, the UN has been holding all its talks with Iraqi political leaders inside the "green zone" which is heavily fortified by US military forces. The talks are virtually under US supervision.

The UN's strong point, however, has always been in the field of humanitarian assistance -- not in conflict resolution or peacekeeping. The exceptions are few. The UN has had limited successes, including its peacekeeping missions in Mozambique, El Salvador and more recently in East Timor, but it is currently on the defensive in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both Western Sahara and Somalia are stuck in political quagmires.

The UN Secretariat is not without an unblemished reputation either. Over the years, the Secretariat has routinely faced charges of inefficency, mismanagement, nepotism and corruption.

But unfortunately, all that has exploded into the public limelight under the administration of the present Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The charges may be mostly valid but the reasons for the current witch-hunt are primarily political. Annan has remained a target, specifically by right wing neo-conservatives in the US, ever since he made a statement that the US war on Iraq was "illegal". None of the previous administrations — be it under former secretaries-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Javier Perez de Cuellar or Kurt Waldheim — were free of nepotism or mismanagement.
But they all escaped the wrath of the neocons in the US who are out to nail Annan for parochial political reasons.

Last week did not bring any good news either. A committee appointed to probe the inner workings of the $64 billion now-defunct Iraqi oil-for-food-programme run by the Secretariat, which Annan administers, released a voluminous report accusing the administration of malfeasance and mismanagement.

But still, a beleaguered Secretary-General stood his ground despite widespread rumours that he may step down. Asked if there would be any resignations even from within the Organisation over the strictures, Annan told reporters last week: ''I don't anticipate anyone to resign. We are carrying on with our work.''

Positive success
The charges against the Secretariat were spelled out by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), chaired by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, which criticised the Secretariat, and faulted the 15-member Security Council mandated to oversee the politically-flawed programme.
"Our assignment has been to look for mis- or maladministration in the oil-for-food programme and for evidence of corruption within the UN organisation and by contractors. Unhappily, we found both," Volcker told the Security Council.

The programme was originally meant to provide humanitarian assistance and alleviate the sufferings of more than 25 million sanctions-hit Iraqis.
"Clearly, there is another side to the story,'' Volcker said, "one of positive success” because the programme averted "the clear and present danger of malnutrition and a further collapse of (Iraq's) medical services".

Still, the main conclusions are unambiguous, he argued, pointing out that the United Nations "requires strong executive leadership, thorough going administrative reform, and more reliable controls and auditing". Annan's administration, obviously, had failed in all three departments. However, Annan said he was glad the committee had also reaffirmed an earlier conclusion that he did not personally influence or attempt to influence the procurement process in the multi-billion programme.

Deep regret
But Annan admitted he was "not diligent or effective enough" in pursuing an investigation after the fact, when he learned the Swiss company which employed his son Kojo Annan had won an inspection contract under the oil-for-food programme. "I deeply regret that," he told reporters.

Still, Annan refused to be drawn into a debate over criticisms of his son who, according one published report, had purchased a luxury vehicle using his father's name to enjoy tax-free privileges of a diplomat, and transferred it to a third country duty-free.

Asked if there is legal recourse the UN can seek against someone who falsely claims diplomatic immunity — as is alleged against his son – the secretary-general said: "I think that is something for the law enforcement people to look into it."

However, Annan said the evidence of actual corruption among a small number of UN staff was "profoundly disappointing for all of us who work for this Organisation."

In criticising the Security Council, Volcker said the programme left too much initiative with Iraq. As one former member of the Council put it, "it was a compact with the devil, and the devil had the means for manipulating the programme to his ends.

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