Prague, 27 October, 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The independent panel that has been investigating corruption in the United Nations' oil-for-food program in Iraq is issuing its final report today.
The panel, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, appears to have uncovered misdeeds on a grand scale.
The 500-page report is expected to allege that more than half the 4,500 companies that took part in the program offered bribes or other inducements to the Iraqi authorities totaling almost $2 billion.
The country with the most companies involved in the oil-for-food program was Russia, followed by France.
"There must be countries that feel deeply committed to the UN that have to realize that, if they are committed to the UN and supportive of the UN, they'd better support reform or they're not going to have an organization that's strong enough to do what they want it to do." -- Volcker
The oil-for-food program ran from 1996 to 2003, and was put in place to help ordinary Iraqis cope with the international trade sanctions on Iraq and the economic disruption in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. The program allowed Iraq to sell a certain limited quantity of oil on the world market to buy food and humanitarian goods.
The documenting of corruption on such a pervasive scale in a major UN program lends weight to those seeking thorough reforms in the world body. "This only adds to the munitions which critics have for the UN to really change its ways, and to change its management style, and in this respect, I think [the Volker report] is not just another inquiry, but part of an overall, basically U.S.-led, effort to change the United Nations," international affairs analyst Peter van Hamm of the Dutch Institute of International Relations told RFE/RL.
Volker, however, has expressed doubts whether his report will fire the UN members with enough zeal to actually implement reform. What's needed, he said, is for those member states that want change to convince the other members. Volcker addressed this issue in remarks to a U.S. Senate committee last week.
"There must be countries that feel deeply committed to the UN that have to realize that, if they are committed to the UN and supportive of the UN, they'd better support reform or they're not going to have an organization that's strong enough to do what they want it to do," Volcker said. "And that point just has to be made over and over again, and I would hope there is enough core support for that principle that something can be done."
Volcker also had some words of praise for the UN, saying no other international organization can match it for integrity. But he said that integrity is meaningless if the world body is incompetent on an administrative level.
Van Hamm agrees. "Anybody who has set foot in the UN headquarters or to be frank, in many of its other organizations elsewhere, senses this, well, 'underperformance' due to the simple fact that the people in very high positions are being placed there not on their merit but just because of national quotas and so forth; the tasks they should perform therefore are just not well done," he said.
In a bold move, the panel's report will apparently name the 2,500 companies suspected of improper dealings. Volker has previously said, however, that the panel is not a law enforcement body, and it will turn over its documentation on these companies to national prosecutors for possible action.