The publication earlier today of the final report of the Volcker independent inquiry in the running of the so-called Oil-for-Food program set up by the UN Security Council has undoubtedly thrown the organisation into a crisis just before its scheduled summit meeting.
I have not yet had the time to read the report in full, but will certainly do so in the next few days.
Paul Volcker rightly notes, that the program was ”a compact with the devil, and the devil had means for manipulating the programme to his ends.”
In a sense, the entire program played into the hands of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and that in more ways than I believe is covered by the Volcker report.
No one who has worked in the UN system will deny that a major overhaul of its managment system would be more than welcome. In many ways it is a tragedy that this could not be done during the otherwise succesful years of Kofi Annan, given not the least the fact that he personally knew every corner of the organisation better than most.
But it’s much too simple to just point at the Secretary-General or some other individuals. The powers of the Secretariat are often severly restricted by the political authority of the Security Council and the budgetary authority of the General Assembly. This was to a degree beyond the normal the case in the Oil-for-Food program.
Now, we’ll have to see what effect the Volcker report has. Clearly, it will focus the attention of the upcoming General Assembly and the summit meeting on the needed managment reforms. But there will be severe opposition against these important issues crowding out other important issues, not the least those concerning the Millennium Development Goals.
And over the discussions will of course be hanging the question of the future of Kofi Annan. Can he stay his term out, with a successor elected a year from now, or will there be calls for a speedier transition to a new leadership of the organisation?
The question will be hanging there. It is certainly unfair to the legacy of one of the most succesful Secretary-Generals in the history of the organisation.
But it’s nevertheless a reality after the report today.