Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Kofi On Oil-For-Food

So, Kofi's staff was shredding papers from his son Kojo's Cotecna years. We'll be reading more about that, I imagine, and it will probably paint a different picture than Kofi tried to paint at his brief press conference on the Volcker oil-for-food scandal interim report released today. As you read them, it's helpful to think, "Does the mythical beast of exoneration by a big-name commission of inquiry equal a vote of confidence?"

First, from Kofi's introductory statement:

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 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.

The Committee has now done so. After an exhaustive 12-month investigation, the report states clearly that “there is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the Secretary-General in the bidding or selection process”. After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the Independent Inquiry obviously comes as a great relief. ...

For reasons that parents everywhere will understand, the most difficult and painful moments for me personally, throughout this past year, have been those when it appeared that my son, Kojo, might have acted inappropriately, or might not have told me the full truth about his actions. The Inquiry has now rendered its judgment on those issues. I love my son, and I have always expected the highest standards of integrity from him. I am deeply saddened by the evidence to the contrary that has emerged, and particularly by the fact that my son had failed to cooperate fully with the Inquiry. I had urged him to cooperate and I urge him to reconsider his position and cooperate.

On to the Q&A. The first is a follow-up to the obvious question: What did you say to your son, and what did he say to you?

Q: What did he tell you?

SG: He is reconsi- -- I have asked him to reconsider. He couldn't -- he didn't give me an answer by immediately by the phone, on the phone.

That's pretty sad. You can feel Kofi's heart urging his son to do the right thing, but he has to withdraw his words and admit that Kojo's not there yet.

Q: Are you the man to continue to lead this Organization? Critics, not just in Washington but in this very building – some on your own staff – point to Benon Sevan, the man who ran the oil-for-food programme; Dilip Nair, mentioned in the report; Ruud Lubbers, sex harassment; Congo: sex, peacekeeping, you were the former peacekeeping director; your former Chief of Staff shredding documents; plus the decision by senior management on sending people back into Iraq. Do you feel it's time, for the good of the Organization, to step down?

SG: Hell, no. But let me say that, on the issues you have raised, I think that I have indicated that we are going to look into some of the complex issues which have been raised. But I think it is also unfortunate that you keep bringing back issues which have been resolved. The Lubbers issue was resolved. A thorough investigation was made. He went through due process, and he was not found guilty. But you keep bringing his name up each time we deal with these issues. I don't think it's fair to him, nor to UNHCR, nor to the system. That issue is settled. Please leave Lubbers alone.

On the other issues you raised, from the sexual exploitation in Congo and others, we are looking into it very energetically. We are setting up systems to ensure that this doesn't happen, not only not in Congo, but in any of our operations around the world. And it is not unusual that institutions this size, whether it's government in this country or elsewhere or companies, that problems do arise. You deal with the problem and draw the lessons and move on. I have lots of work to do, and I'm going to go ahead and do it. And I think you know the agenda ahead of me.

That's even sadder. It doesn't matter if a sexual harasser has been dealt with or not; it happened on your watch. It doesn't matter if you're supposedly dealing with pedophilia by your troops, because something so outrageous shouldn't be occuring under anyone's watch -- especially since it kept on occurring even after the Congo sex scandal story broke.

He should have admitted his culpability as General Secretary with a "buck stops here" statement, then said there is more to be gained by staying on than by leaving. Instead he whined about media coverage and hid behind bureaucratic processes and diplomatic pablum.

Kofi answered just four questions in all. (I didn't copy in the one about using "2.2 account" funding from oil-for-food to compensate families of UN fatalities in Iraq.) Mark Malloch Brown, his chief of staff answered another dozen or so; available at the same link.

The UN press corps, like many, does not seem to be accepting the Volcker report's exoneration of Kofi at face value. The questions to Malloch Brown after Kofi left the room included this:

[We] discovered today for the first time that the day after the Security Council approved the investigation, the Secretary-General's Chief of Staff started shredding documents from the relevant years, 1997 to 1999, precisely those years when Kofi Annan's son was involved with Cotecna.
And this

There's a context of secret payments, meetings, stunted internal investigation. How would the UN - since you speak for the UN now - publicly, declaratively and definitively say that the Secretary-General was not involved in what he was alleged to be involved with in a manner beyond simply saying that the Volcker Committee has cleared him?
And this:

The fact that you say there's no evidence – it was reported today in a newspaper that evidence, some documents, I should say, were shredded.
And this:

Whether or not the Secretary-General allowed himself to be used might have been addressed today partially satisfactorily. But why was there not more concern about the appearance of conflict of interest?
And this:

Since you keep raising the he's-no-crook defense, let me ask you about management. By now, the guy that he handpicked to run oil-for-food was found totally discredited; his Chief of Staff was cited in this latest report for doing something that the report finds not credible – his explanation is not credible; the head of OIOS was found to be lacking in his investigation of oil-for-food; his son was found to be lacking; and his relatives were found to be lacking. Is the circle closing, and is it time – is Mr. Annan indeed, as Richard asked, the man to lead this huge undertaking of reform at the UN?
Do you get the feeling the Volcker report will do very little to take the heat of Kofi? It's beginning to stink that same stink that wafted out of CBS when a certain other independent investigation of a certain other quasi-emporer came out.