January 13, 2005
Washington: The Bush administration, which earlier backed Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the UN oil-for-food scandal, on Tuesday demanded he be held accountable for mismanagement in the programme.
“What we have heard, so far, is that there were serious problems inside the UN on the management of this. We’re not sure if there were criminal problems, but there were certainly management problems,” outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell told Fox News. “And the secretary-general will have to be accountable for those management problems,” he added in the television interview taped for broadcast on Wednesday.
UN internal auditors have found management lapses in the now-defunct, $64 billion programme although they found no corruption among individual United Nations officials.
The spotlight on Annan has intensified this week after Paul Volcker, the former US Federal Reserve chairman, who is conducting an independent probe of the programme, released more than 50 internal UN reports. While the Bush administration was slower than other major governments to back Annan as the scandal mushroomed last year, it has resisted echoing some calls in Washington for Annan to resign.
Powell’s criticism on Tuesday was noteworthy because it came from the Cabinet official believed to be most supportive of Annan.
Still, the top US diplomat sought to soften the blow by praising Annan and diffusing his criticism. “I think Kofi Annan is a very distinguished gentleman. He has served the cause of humanity well over the years,” he said.
“The responsibility does not rest entirely on Kofi Annan. It also rests on the membership. And especially on the Security Council and we are a member of the Security Council. It is the Security Council,” he added.
On Monday, the State Department said it would release documents to Volcker’s panel after he complained the Bush administration had balked at its requests. The programme began in December 1996 to allow Iraq to sell oil and purchase civilian goods as an effort to ease the impact on ordinary Iraqis of sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Volcker criticized the UN audits for failing to examine contracts more thoroughly for the “potential use of oil and humanitarian contracts by the former regime to gather illicit payments was a major concern.” The UN audits found three big inspection firms who looked at oil flows and incoming goods had overcharged the world body by about $5 million. But they did not probe former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s kickbacks on oil and other contracts.