Oh Really? (On Claudia Rosett’s Diatribe)

In the midst of a long-winded diatribe against Secretary General Kofi Annan, Claudia Rosett manages to assert that no reforms have followed in the wake of the oil-for-food scandal. “Last year, the general hope, and Annan’s promise, was that the exposure of Oil-for-Food corruption, and a host of other U.N. scandals … would lead to genuine U.N. reform,” writes Rosett in the National Review Online. “The scandals are still with us. But there has been no major reform.” No reform? Please. In April 2004 Annan appointed a super group of internationally revered financial and criminal law experts, led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, to investigate alleged corruption in the Oil for Food program. Since then, Annan has overseen a number of internal and institutional reforms to ensure that the Secretariat will be up to the task should member states once again ask the Secretariat to administer a program as complicated as Oil for Food.

For one, Annan created a new ethics office to oversee conflict-of-interest issues and to implement new financial disclosure requirements. Like new whistle-blower protections implemented by Annan, these disclosure requirements are far more exhaustive than those required of United States government officials. Also at Annan’s urging, the 2005 Summit Outcome document included a provision to significantly strengthen the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). In December, the General Assembly voted to add 39 new positions to the OIOS’s audit and investigatory capacity.

Oversight and accountability are basic facts of life at the United Nations. Employees who have been accused of corruption now skate on thinner ice than prior to the Volcker Report. Indeed, Annan has stripped UN employees accused of corruption (like the Oil for Food programz’s former administrator, Benon Sevon) of their diplomatic immunity in anticipation of criminal trials.

To a large degree, the United Nations has behaved as a responsible bureaucracy should when accused of a scandal. Other bureaucracies accused of mismanaging funds could stand to learn from the Secretary General.