by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- After a 12-month investigation, a three-member independent committee has cleared UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan of any wrongdoing in the multi-million-dollar, now defunct oil-for-food program in Iraq.
But the committee did fault his son Kojo Annan and three senior UN officials -- Iqbal Riza, Joseph Connor and Dileep Nair -- for acting improperly, or at least failing to take appropriate action to protect the integrity of the world body.
Asked whether he would consider resigning in the context of a rash of controversies continuing to plague the beleaguered organization -- including mismanagement, sexual harassment and nepotism -- Annan bluntly told reporters: "Hell, no."
Addressing a press conference just hours after the committee released its report Tuesday, Annan said: "I was well aware that among the most serious allegations was the insinuation that I myself might have improperly influenced the procurement process in favour of (the Swiss company) Cotecna Inspection Services, because that company employed my son."
"But I knew that to be untrue, and I was therefore absolutely confident that a thorough inquiry would clear me of any wrongdoing," he told reporters.
Annan, who addressed a packed news conference, refused to take more than three questions -- unusual by UN standards, given the nature of the crucial issues involved.
But Annan's chief of staff Mark Malloch Brown, who briefed reporters later, justified Annan's terseness by pointing out that the secretary-general had undergone several hours of cross-examination by the committee over the last few months.
"He will not be subjected to a further trial" by UN correspondents, Malloch Brown added. He said the committee has dismissed all accusations of corruption and criminality against the secretary-general and concluded that Annan "is not a crook."
"It is time to move on," Malloch Brown said. "The committee has concluded there is no story."
But the committee, chaired by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, perhaps thinks otherwise.
Riza, Annan's former chief of staff, has been accused of giving the green light to shred documents relevant to the committee's investigations
Nair, head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, has been accused of authorising the use of funds from the oil-for-food program to create a new post for a fellow countryman from Singapore who performed only minimal program-related functions.
Connor, a former head of the department of management and administration, has been criticized for his failure to take action against Cotecna Inspection Company, which had a history of making illegal payments on other contracts.
The report said Connor did not take any action beyond a one-day inquiry concerning the truth of the allegations against Cotecna and their ongoing impact on the fitness of the company to remain as a UN contractor in the oil-for-food program.
The secretary-general's son Kojo is accused of "actively" participating in efforts by Cotecna to conceal the true of nature of its continuing relationship with him.
"Kojo Annan also intentionally deceived the secretary-general about this continuing financial relationship" with Cotecna, which continued pay him a retainer even after he left the company.
Speaking just before the report was released, former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday told IPS: "As I have stated before, the secretary-general should have offered his resignation when (U.S. President George W.) Bush determined to use force to invade Iraq without a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7, Article 42 of the UN charter.
"I would have applauded that. But now it is too late," he said.
And in the best interests of the United Nations and its future, Annan cannot be seen to allow Washington to force his resignation now.
Halliday said no secretary-general should resign if found innocent of any significant wrongdoing.
"Were he to do so, the credibility of the United Nations around the world, and in the South, would be severely damaged," said Halliday, himself a former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq (1997-1998).
"We need to remember that charges against staff members without evidence or proof remain small stuff in the real world of genocide, illegal invasion or even (the corruption scandals surrounding U.S. companies such as) Enron and WorldCom," he added.
Former Assistant Secretary-General Hans von Sponeck, who was the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq during the last 1990s, told IPS that unless there is unexpected evidence of the secretary-general's direct involvement in Cotecna, "there is absolutely no reason why Kofi Annan and the United Nations should give in to pressures from the anti-UN lobby in the United States."
"This lobby is regrettably part of the political reality of the present-day United States. It will make itself felt whether it is justified or not," said von Sponeck.
He also pointed out that it is this same lobby that has consistently overlooked the evidence of phenomenal wrongdoing of U.S. civilian and military institutions in Iraq.
"This double standard makes it a despicable player that is internationally not acceptable," he added.
Halliday said he expects the Volcker report to generate "screaming headlines" once again on the so-called "oil-for-food scandal."
But the real scandal, he said, was the UN sanctions on Iraq, which continued for some 13 years and resulted in the deaths of about one million people, the majority of them children.
Halliday said the UN's decision to divert some $20 billion in oil-for-food revenues as war reparations to Kuwait was equally scandalous -- particularly at a time when Iraqi children were dying for lack of funding for restoration of water supplies..
"While the United States was threatening (the U.S. relief agency) American Voices in the Wilderness with fines and jail sentences for sending teddy bears and food to Iraq, Washington was helping (then Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein to export oil/products to Jordan and Turkey and thereby provide him with some $8-10 billion in direct revenue despite UN sanctions," he added.
He also said: "Whereas we cannot hold Kofi Annan responsible for the misdeeds of his adult son Kojo, it is still hard to believe the father was so ill-informed as to what his son was doing for Cotecna in taking advantage of the family name and connections for his own interests and that of his company."
Still, he said, it is not the time for Annan to resign unless he was directly involved in Cotecna or the misdeeds of the son.
The committee report has proven otherwise. "Annan should remain on board and endeavour to get approval for as much of the reform package he is presenting to the General Assembly."
The reform proposals, which call for a radical restructuring of the United Nations, can be implemented only if approved by the 191-member General Assembly.
Annan has said that two of his major goals before he completes his second five-year term in December 2006 is to ensure the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- including the reduction of poverty and disease by 2015 -- and to change the structure of the world body to meet the needs of the 21st century.
March 29, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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