No single nation can match UN; credibility must be restored, says Volcker

Chairman Paul Volcker addresses Council

7 September 2005 – In presenting his final report on the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme to the United Nations Security Council today, Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) Chairman Paul Volcker criticized the Secretariat, spread blame widely among Member States and the Council and stressed the urgency of restoring the credibility of a unique organization.

“A United Nations programme carries with it – should carry with it – a strong sense of international legitimacy,” Mr. Volcker, a former United States Federal Reserve Chairman, said. “No single nation or group of nations can match that potential quality.”

But its credibility and confidence had been challenged by the travails of the $64 billion programme under which the sanctions-bound regime of Saddam Hussein was allowed to sell oil to buy food, medicines and other essential supplies, and to some degree the UN had been weakened.

That was why reform was so urgent. Therefore he urged the Council and the General Assembly to set firm benchmarks for progress. “Quite specifically, action should be taken by the time the General Assembly completes its meeting in 2006. The opportunity for reform should not, in my view must not, be lost,” he said.

The IIC’s assignment had been to look for mis- or maladministration and for evidence of corruption within the UN and by contractors. “Unhappily, we found both,” he said, adding that it was not the details, but the broad conclusions and recommendations the Committee had reached that he wished to emphasize today.

“In essence, the responsibility for the failures must be broadly shared, starting we believe with Member States and the Security Council itself,” he said. The programme left too much initiative with Iraq – a “compact with the Devil.”

That basic difficulty had been compounded by a failure to clearly define the complex administrative responsibilities, shared between the Council’s “661 Committee” and the Secretariat, and by continuing political difficulties, with the result that “no one seemed clearly in command.”

He said the administrative structure and practices of the Secretariat and some agencies clearly were not up to the extraordinary challenge presented by the programme.

“Sadly, those weaknesses were aggravated by unethical and corrupt behaviour at key points – at the top of the Office of the Iraq Programme and in the purchasing department.”

Among the findings of mismanagement or corruption, the IIC concluded that the former Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, Benon Sevan, “corruptly benefited” from his role in the programme and accused former procurement officer Alexander Yakovlev of soliciting kickbacks.

There had also been a pervasive absence of effective auditing, characterized by “weak planning, sorely inadequate funding, and too few professional staff,” Mr. Volcker said. The absence of truly independent status for the auditing and control functions had been a critical deficiency. Furthermore, close cooperation among various UN organs “apparently goes against the grain,” he added.

“Clearly, there is another side to the story – one of positive success,” Mr. Volcker said. The programme had averted the clear and present danger of malnutrition and a further collapse of medical services. That was no small achievement, especially when combined with the support the programme provided for maintaining the basic sanctions against Iraq and its inability to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

But its negative conclusions could not be dismissed as “simply reporting aberrations in one programme, or something that can be smoothed over with patchwork changes,” he declared. The problems were symptomatic of deep-seated systemic issues, arising in an Organization designed 60 years ago for a simpler time, an Organization then without “large and complex operational challenges alongside its political and diplomatic responsibilities.”

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