Wednesday, February 16, 2005

UN "Unprepared" For OFF Program

A UN official is saying that they weren't prepared to handle the tasks required under the Oil-for-Food program.

::::::::U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette said the United Nations was unprepared for the mammoth task of providing humanitarian relief for 24 million Iraqis and hoped it would never be given a job like the oil-for-food program again.::::::::

Well, there's 2 things we agree on.

::::::::"We certainly have taken pride in the fact that the program has served to feed and provide basic necessities to people and that their own personal faith improved over the life of the program," Frechette said on Tuesday. "But we have also seen that the program has revealed some basic weaknesses in our own internal systems."::::::::

Considering the situation the Iraqis were in while under the auspices of OFF, I'm not sure that pride is warranted. Actually, scratch that. I'm real sure it's not warranted. And I suppose if you consider rampant corruption in the guise of graft, blatant conflict of interest, and willful dereliction of responsibility as "basic weaknesses" in the UN's internal systems, then I guess we can agree that OFF showed those off pretty well. I might term them something other than "basic weaknesses", but I'm willing to let that slide for the moment.

::::::::In order to ensure that action is taken on recommendations of internal and external audit and oversight bodies, the United Nations is setting up an internal oversight committee that would constantly monitor management responses and implementation, she said.

"We expect to have this committee in place shortly," she said, adding that it would have at least one non-U.N. member "to ensure that we have the benefit of an outsider's view on how well our management teams are doing."

Volcker's report also found "convincing and uncontested evidence" that selection of three U.N. contractors for the oil-for-food program — Banque Nationale de Paris, Saybolt Eastern Hemisphere BV, and Lloyd's Register Inspection Limited — did not meet established financial and competitive bidding rules.

I found myself chuckling a bit at the announcement that the UN, faced with a corruption scandal larger than any other ever seen in modern times, springs into action by (drumroll, please) forming a committee. Amusing, perhaps, but it's actually one part of the proper response, so I'm glad to see that they're doing this. I would be happier if they also made absolutely certain that no officials from any country who was involved in skimming the money is on that committee. This remains to be seen whether they'll do that, of course, but it's my sincere recommendation. That last little bit of the quote is very telling for those people who have been claiming that this investigation was all just a VRWC &trade plot to smear the UN.

I have to wonder, in the light of this report and the UN's admissions that the corruption was absolutely there, whether there's a more basic issue at work here. Bear in mind that the OFF program was born of the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam's Iraq. What we basically had there was an attempt to win a war without winning. To defeat a foe and yet leave him in place. Knowing that we couldn't trust him to not build up his forces for another try, we slapped sanctions on him. (Sanctions that were undercut by some of the most powerful members of the UN who, incidentally, were supposed to be some of our closest allies.) Somehow, the onus for what would happen to his people as a result of his decision to invade Kuwait became our problem, not his. It became a duty of those of us who had ejected his forces from Kuwait to see to it that his people were fed, had medicines, and were able to get what they needed to survive and thrive. Recall that we couldn't trust him to do this on his own. How, then, did we find him trustworthy to do it so long as we were the ones handing him the money?

History now shows us that we couldn't trust him and he did not use the money to handle his people's needs. So the more basic question that needs to be answered before we ever consider starting up such a program again is this: if a leader provokes other nations into taking military action against him so as to halt him from making or continuing an unprovoked invasion, do we leave him in that leadership position? Should we ever again simply try to push him back over his own fence and not take the battle to him in earnest? These are serious questions on serious matters. They deserve serious thought and serious discussion.