September 27, 2005

Skewed And Incomplete

Claudia Rosett has had a chance to review the Volcker commission's report, and the preeminent journalist on the Oil-For-Food beat relates some of her observations...

On September 7, Paul Volcker's inquiry into the Oil-for-Food program issued its "definitive report" on the biggest relief program--also the biggest scandal--in the history of the United Nations. The investigation alone cost $34 million, took over 16 months, and employed some 75 staff from 28 countries. Running to four volumes and totaling 847 pages, the report is hefty. But definitive it is not.

Volcker's report is at best a beginning, and a skewed and incomplete one at that. To be fair, credit is due to some of the investigators on Volcker's staff, who have conducted many interviews and toiled down many byways of the U.N. paper trail to produce such items as footnote 64, page 27, Volume III. Here we find that "kickbacks were levied on all or nearly all contracts" among the thousands of U.N.-approved deals done by Saddam Hussein, as the program, during its final years, hit its full multibillion annual stride. The investigators have also painstakingly documented such findings as the one on page 124 of Volume III. Here we find that, during Oil-for-Food, Secretary General Kofi Annan, his deputy secretary-general, Louise Fréchette, and his chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, "were all informed of the issue of kickbacks, but remained passive."

But somewhere between the Volcker committee's labors on the ground and the conclusions of the three commissioners at the top--former Fed chairman Volcker, South African justice Richard Goldstone, and Swiss lawyer Mark Pieth--a fog descends. Despite the load of detail, illuminating and deeply damning to the United Nations, the result is a patchwork of dropped leads and watered-down judgments, leading in some cases to unwarranted and even bizarre conclusions.

Do read it all.

Posted by dan at September 27, 2005 11:01 PM