April 01, 2005,
There was once a political rule of thumb laying down that the king could do no evil; only the ministers advising him could. It was a most useful principle: Whenever something went wrong, a scapegoat would be found, saving the king from embarrassment. All very Shakespearean, but times have changed, and democratic leaders now accept responsibility for their failures, and failings. It's a different story at the U.N., of course, where Kofi Annan more resembles Richard II than Richard Nixon.
The second interim report of the Volcker Committee is of a piece. Annan is but lightly reproved, almost as an afterthought or as a formality, while the blame for the Oil-for-Food fiasco as well as other malfunctions at the organization that have been brought to light is shouldered by his subordinates. Annan, as he put it at a news conference, believes himself to be "exonerated" by the report, though if anything he was let off owing to lack of evidence. Asked whether he would be resigning, Annan replied, "Hell, no. I've got lots of work to do, and I'm going to go ahead and do it."
That's doubtful. His term is up at the end of 2006, and few after the mess he's caused take him seriously. He may have a lot of "work" he'd like to do, but he won't be permitted to do it. All around Annan is the wreckage of the U.N.'s spirit of high-level cronyism.
Annan's former chief-of-staff, Iqbal Riza of Pakistan (removed from that position, conveniently, since December), has been found to have destroyed computer files for key years of the Oil-for-Food administration, while Dileep Nair, the head of the U.N.'s internal watchdog, used Iraqi oil funds to hire a friend whose work had little to do with the oil program. Nair is due to retire in April. Then there's Benon Sevan also retired the disgraceful former chief of the Oil-for-Food program thought to have profited from it. And let us not forget the role played by Annan's son, Kojo, who has refused to co-operate with investigators.
Other officials caught up in scandal lately have been Joseph Stephanides, once in charge of the U.N.'s sanctions branch and then the Security Council Affairs Division, who's been suspended for violating procurement regulations; Carina Perilli, head of the U.N.'s Electoral Assistance Division, who's being investigated for misuse of funds and general abuse of office; and Ruud Lubbers, the former head of the refugee agency, who was accused of sexual harassment and has stepped down. There has also lately been a raft of pending personnel resignations none, apparently, related to misconduct such as Catherine Bertini, who supervises the U.N. department of management; Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, the comptroller; Kieran Prendergast, Annan's senior political adviser; Fred Eckhard, his long-suffering spokesman; and Peter Hansen, head of Palestinian refugee operations.
of the U.N. seems
Mark Malloch Brown, the former, and sensible, head of the U.N. Development Program, has been appointed to the post of Annan's chief of staff, which is a glimmer of good news. He seems keener to clean house than his boss, but any fundamental reform of the U.N. seems impossible. It is the institution itself that is the problem, as is evident in its on-going list of disgraces, from Rwanda to the Balkans to Iraq to Congo to Sudan.
So it shouldn't surprise that no one has been punished for the Oil-for-Food debacle, that no one is accepting any responsibility, and that the blame for the U.N.'s inadequacies is being carefully diffused among Annan's "ministers" so that no one becomes the sole scapegoat. This has all happened on Annan's lethargic, inept watch. If the U.N. is to maintain any claim on credibility however slight Annan should stop bragging about his "exoneration" and accept responsibility for his mismanagement, lack of leadership, and moral laxness. It is time for the king to go.