Annan calls for reform in wake of report

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday he assumes responsibility for management lapses in the oil-for-food programme for Iraq, but vowed not to resign as the head of an independent probe into the scandal said member states and the Security Council must share the blame.

”The report is critical of me personally, and I accept its criticism,” Annan told the Security Council shortly after receiving an 860-page report from former US Federal Reserve board chairperson Paul Volcker, who led an 18-month investigation into the now-defunct programme.

”As chief administrative officer, I have to take responsibility for the failings revealed,” Annan said.

The Guardian on Thursday quoted Annan as saying: ”The findings in today’s report must be deeply embarrassing to us all. The inquiry committee has ripped away the curtain and shone a harsh light into the most unsightly corners of our organisation.”

He asked: ”Who among us can now claim that UN management is not a problem, or is not in need of reform?”

The findings come one week before he is to host a summit of world leaders that will consider sweeping UN reforms.

But Annan ruled out resigning over the findings.

”I don’t anticipate anyone to resign,” said Annan, whose second term as secretary general runs until the end of next year. ”We are carrying on with our work.”

Britain rallied behind the UN chief.

”Kofi Annan has already been instrumental in pushing forward that debate in the UN. I firmly support his efforts,” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London.

”I also want to put on record the very high regard which the British government as a whole, and I personally, have for Kofi Annan, in leading and the steering the UN through a period of great change in international relations,” he added.

Earlier, Volcker — noting that his mission was to look for administration failings and evidence of corruption in the $100-billion programme — told the council: ”Unhappily, we found both.”

He made it clear that member states and the Security Council must share the blame.

”The responsibility for the failures must be broadly shared, starting, we believe, with member states and the Security Council itself,” he noted.

He said the scandal underscores the need for urgent UN reform to restore the credibility and confidence of the world body, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

”We urge you and the General Assembly to set firm benchmarks for progress,” Volcker told the council. ”Quite specifically, action should be taken by the time the General Assembly completes its meetings in 2006. The opportunity for reform should not be lost.”

The report said the scandal points to the need for establishing a post of chief operating officer to handle the day-to-day management of the world body.

Annan said he will discuss the idea with member states as part of the broader UN reform package.

The UN chief also conceded that he was ”not diligent or effective enough” in pursuing a probe after he learned that the Swiss company Cotecna that employed his son Kojo had won a large contract under the oil-for-food programme.

”I deeply regret that,” he said.

The Volcker panel said ”the evidence is not reasonably sufficient to conclude that the secretary general knew that Cotecna had submitted a bid on the humanitarian inspection contract in 1998”.

Many of the key points of the Volcker report were summarised in a preview released on Tuesday, including a reference to ”serious instances of illicit, unethical and corrupt behaviour within the UN” that had been allowed to flourish because of poor administration.

For Annan, the inquiry’s findings ”underscore the vital importance of proposed management reforms, many of which are at this very moment being negotiated among member states in the General Assembly”, he said.

Straw added: ”A successful UN summit next week presents the international community with a real opportunity to secure the necessary change.”

Reacting to the release of the report, the fourth and the most detailed so far, United States ambassador to the UN John Bolton said that identifying ”those who failed to execute their responsibilities is a necessary part of the process. Prosecuting wrongdoers is equally necessary.”

Bolton told the council: ”This report unambiguously rejects the notion that ‘business as usual’ at the UN is acceptable. We need to reform the UN in a manner that will prevent another oil-for-food scandal.”

Annan’s critics, particularly in the US Congress, will see the conclusions as further ammunition in their drive to force the UN chief to resign.

Several US congressional committees are probing the scandal, and some Republican lawmakers have threatened a cut in US dues to the world body if it does not fully cooperate with the investigations.

Republican Senator Norm Coleman late on Tuesday called for Annan to resign.

The oil-for-food programme — which ran from 1996 to 2003, when US-led forces invaded Iraq to oust President Saddam Hussein — allowed Baghdad to sell oil to raise money for humanitarian goods the country lacked due to sanctions. — AFP



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Gerard Aziakou
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