Oil for Food

Paul A. Volcker gives us a short report of the findings of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nation's Oil for Food Program in today's Wall Street Journal:

We have found in each case that the procurement process was tainted, failing to follow the established rules of the organization designed to assure fairness and accountability. Perhaps not surprisingly, political considerations intruded, but in a manner that was neither transparent nor accountable.
The audit process, underfunded and undermanned, was unable to meet effectively the challenge posed by a really unique, massive and complex program of humanitarian assistance. Despite the skill and dedication of auditing professionals, the independence, the clear reporting lines and the management responsiveness critical to achieving a fully effective auditing process were lacking.
The management of Program administrative funds appears free of systematic or widespread abuse. But even there, a clear lapse from disciplined judgment has been found.
More disheartening are our findings with respect to the performance of the Executive Director in administrative charge of the Program, Benon Sevan, a long-term senior United Nations official. The evidence is conclusive that Mr. Sevan, in effectively participating in the selection of purchasers of oil under the Program, placed himself in an irreconcilable conflict of interest, in violation both of specific United Nations rules and of the broad responsibility of an international civil servant to adhere to the highest standards of trust and integrity.

One wonders how one can become a figure prominent enough to get considered for high-profile UN jobs without having substantial international interests, but the conflict of interest charge is interesting. What really is the problem here is widespread graft and corruption.

Mr. Volcker goes on to highlight the need for international organizations as evidenced by the recent tsunami disaster, but he tempers that with a warning that international organizations have to hold themselves to high standards.

A detailed report will come this summer. I'm sure we will all be curious about the billions of dollars that have disappeared, and the billions of dollars that turned into gold and luxuries for Saddam instead of food for his people.

Update: Report is here.

Josh Poulson

Posted Thursday, Feb 3 2005 08:17 AM

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