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Scandal-ridden United Nations needs new leader

Bob Tippee

The question is not whether Kofi Annan should resign as secretary general of the United Nations. The question is why he hasn't done so already.

The world—inclined to warfare, plagued by poverty, and littered with dysfunctional nations—needs the UN. But it needs the UN to work, which it can't with Annan as its leader.

Scandal grows over the UN's Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq. The US Government Accountability Office initially estimated the amount of program funds diverted to illicit use at $10 billion. More recently, a US Senate committee put the figure at $21 billion.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), chairman of the committee, has called for Annan's resignation. It shouldn't have come to that.

Allegations hit close to Annan. The man he picked to oversee the program is suspected of having profited from the allocation scheme with which former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein bought friends. And Annan's son Kojo worked for Cotecna SA, the Geneva firm hired to inspect the humanitarian goods that were supposed to be the program's purpose, and received monthly payments from the outfit after his employment ended in 1997.

These are allegations. The facts, as they say, are not all in. But will they ever be?

The senior Annan set up an investigative committee led by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. But the group has no prosecutorial authority. Congressional investigators complain that UN officials have been uncooperative.

This reeks. Nothing less than total disclosure by the UN will suffice. The organization's legitimacy is at stake. It's more important than any one person's job.

The best that can happen for the UN—and it's a long shot—would be for investigations to prove that there was no graft, that Saddam got $21 billion by some sort of colossal mistake. Then, instead of looking monumentally corrupt, the organization would look monumentally incompetent.

Either way, the UN has been compromised to the point of incapacity. It can't function while questions remain about this fiasco.

With Annan in office, answers will be suspect. The UN's descent happened while he was in charge. He's responsible. What's he waiting for?

(Author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)


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