What are you thinking, Kofi?
The words, “Hell, no,” can hardly be described as diplomatic, but they’re exactly the words which recently came from Kofi Annan’s mouth.Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, needs a new Public Relations manager to prevent him from making the continual mistakes that are affecting his credibility and stature as a world leader. His, “Hell, no,” response came when asked if he was thinking of resigning in the light of all the revelations about mismanagement of the Oil for Food Program. After the release of the second interim report of inquiry, led by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, Annan summoned the media to announce that “after so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the independent inquiry comes as a great relief.”But this “relief” may be short-lived, as Annan has by no means been exonerated of gross mismanagement of the program, even though the inquiry may not so far have proved any wrongdoing with respect to Annan’s involvement in the UN’s awarding a highly lucrative contract to a company that employed his son Kojo. “I thought we criticized [Mr. Annan] rather severely,” Mr. Volcker said, “I would not call that an exoneration.”One of the reports criticisms was aimed at Annan’s former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, for ordering the shredding of three years of key confidential files in spite of the fact that Riza himself had instructed UN staff to maintain all documents relating to the Oil for Food Program. But instead of taking the criticisms seriously, Annan has shown his contempt for the report in a April 19 letter to Mr. Riza: “While those actions were careless, I do not believe they can be construed as deliberate attempts to impede the work of the independent inquiry committee I accept your apology and assure you that I still have great faith in your professionalism.”This dismissal of poor judgment by a senior official is, unfortunately, in line with Annan’s record of dealing with issues that embarrass the organization. Annan claimed in April, 2004 that, “Transparency is the only way to deal with allegations, and by far the best way to prevent corruption from happening in the first place. That, I believe, will be one of the main lessons we have to learn from this affair, whatever the outcome of the inquiry.” But, his actions have not always been consistent with this statement.Transparency requires a full, prompt, open investigation into allegations, but there have been a series of cases where all that has taken place is a short, secret review that has resulted in dismissal of complaints. The UN Staff Union has made an issue of this, in particular about failure to take prompt action on complaints against senior officials. But Annan has only acted after a delay, and only after being subject to considerable adverse press publicity. Thus, his initial dismissal of complaints against a senior official accused of sexual harassment was eventually followed, after many months of press coverage of staff protests, by a resignation.And we have only just seen the departure of UN auditor Dileep Nair, accused by the UN Staff Union of a wide range of allegations including corrupt practices and violating UN Staff Regulations in hiring staff. These allegations against Mr. Nair, dismissed by Annan at the time, were subsequently the subject of pointed criticism in the interim Volcker report.Now, the credibility of the Volcker report itself is being questioned. Last week it appeared that two investigators resigned from the Volcker inquiry on the grounds that this latest report was too soft on Secretary-General Kofi Annan and failed to include damaging testimony by some witnesses.Senator Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, chairs the Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations that has been probing the Oil for Food scandal for some time. Last week Senator Coleman said he told Mr. Volcker in a phone conversation of his “grave and growing concerns about the credibility and independence” of the Volcker inquiry and indicated that he wished to subpoena the two investigators. Mr. Volcker has in turn invoked confidentiality agreements signed by the two investigators and said that they are covered by the UN’s diplomatic immunity agreements and so cannot testify.It is unfortunate that Mr. Volcker is hiding behind claims of UN immunity. The two investigators have already resigned and no one is accusing them of any wrongdoing. Diplomatic immunity is designed to enable UN officials to carry out their work without fear of interference by the governments of countries in which they are posted. It can hardly be applicable to two US citizens who are former staff members of an outside inquiry into the UN. If Secretary-General Kofi Annan is really committed to transparency and has nothing to hide or to be ashamed of, then he should immediately agree to lift this diplomatic immunity and say that he is prepared to respond fully to any and all allegations that may arise from the Senate investigation. VTPeter Leslie is a former CFO of the United Nations Development Program, now living in Vail. His comments on UN issues are on the web site of the Foreign Policy Association and his column appears periodically in The Vail Trail.
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