Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A Light At the End of the Tunnel 

In my last two posts, I was very critical of the UN's Oil for Food program for its rampart corruption, but it seems that at last something that is very overdue is coming up in the UN. The Community of Democracies which was first proposed in the Clinton Administration, and the Bushies, are continuing the push, may see the light of day soon. It is the hope that instead of having to go through the UN and the undemocratic countries to do something, someone can go to the Community of Democracies to get something done. The UN Human Rights Commission is nothing short of a debacle. Many of the countries on the commission are in charge of world wide human rights, but if one looks at those countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Cuba, China, etc, what are they doing there? They repress human rights in their own countries so why are they allowed to represent human rights world wide? The problem being is that the UN doesn't want to talk the truth and declare that democracies are far supper than dictatorships, which is most likely why the moral equivalency crowd is all for the UN. A country such as Saudi Arabia can declare that it is illegal to practice Christianity in their country, and be held up as a defender of human rights. Cuba is a straight up police state. How often do we hear about people escaping into Cuba? Why don't we hear about independent journalists and librarians jailed in Cuba? Why does Cuba have a seat on the Human Rights Commission? More countries of the world are democratic, but in the UN totalitarian countries have the same say as democracies. I've been toying with the idea of doing a series of posts about the failure of the League of Nations, the UN and how the UN has lost its way with Israel. I think posts of that nature will be coming up in the next two weeks. The UN has lost its purpose to support and defend democracy throughout the world. If the UN doesn't repair itself, then the Community of Democracies need to be prepared to defend democracy and human rights across the world.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Another Through the Gates of Hell 

I was going to do a post on this, but it's been done enough throughout the blogosphere, so I'm going to direct you here. Just a random thought, are the displaced Arabs going to revenge themselves on the bullets of Israeli machine guns?

The UN Corrupt? No... pt 2 

Maybe I missed it totally, or maybe the Leftstream media is avoiding the story. I just checked out the ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN websites, and there was no mention of the Oil For Food investigation. The only Leftstream media outlet that is allowed into my home, The Detroit Free Press also had no mention of the scandal. The only place where I saw it, was on Fox News. I would say that this is curious, but by now, we should all know that the Leftstream media establishment see the UN as the question, answer, and only solution. As before, this article come from The Center For Security Policy and was originally in the Opinion Journal.

In the growing scandal over the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, which from 1996-2003 supervised relief to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and his staff have excused themselves from any responsibility for the massive corruption involving billions in bribes and kickbacks that went on via more than $100 billion in U.N.-approved contracts for Saddam to sell oil and buy humanitarian supplies. U.N. Officials have denied that this tidal wave of graft in any way seeped into their own shop, or that they even had time to notice it was out there. They were too busy making the world a better place.

Maybe, I'm out on a limb here, but wouldn't trying to make the world a better place include making sure that Iraqi civilians received badly needed relief? What it comes down to though, is what was the UN doing to make the world a better place? Pass resolutions to condom Israel's defense of itself? Why can't they cite specific instances of making the world better?

That's fascinating, not least given the ties of Annan's own son, Kojo Annan, to the Switzerland-based firm, Cotecna, which from 1999 onward worked on contract for the U.N. monitoring the shipments of Oil-for-food supplies into Iraq. These were the same supplies sent in under terms of those tens of billions of dollars worth of U.N.-approved contracts in which the U.N. says it failed to notice Saddam Hussein's widespread arrangements to overpay contractors who then shipped overpriced goods to the impoverished people of Iraq and kicked back part of their profits to Saddam's regime.

To paraphrase the Harpy Queen (D-NY) I want to know what Kofi Annan knew, and when he knew it. This seems to be one of those coincidences that cause crimes to be solved. Item Kofi Annan said that Saddam was some "he could do business with." Item Saddam somehow was able to take approximately $10 billion, yes, billion with a B from the program. If the UN monitored the program (this was supposed to be a humanitarian operation) this would not have happened, or if the UN was not on the take, this would not have happened. Either way, Kofi Annan will name an independent investigator. That's a good first step, but Annan most likely has something to hide about the program himself, and I won't trust the findings of someone he appoints. The only solution I see is for Congress to do it's own investigation, and then require the people involved to give their bribes to the Iraqi people who they stole it from in the first place.

Cotecna was hired by the U.N. on December 31, 1998. Shortly afterward, press reports surfaced that Kojo was a partner in a private consulting firm doing work for Cotecna, and that just 13 months previously he had occupied a senior slot on Cotecna's own staff. Asked about this in 1999 by the London Telegraph, a U.N. spokesman, John Mills, replied that the U.N. had not been aware of the connection, and that "The tender by Cotecna was the lowest by a significant margin."

Can anyone say "Conflict of interests?" Dick Cheney runs one of the largest firms in the country, and whenever that company gets a government contract, everyone screams that Haliburton is running the White House, but the same people think that nothing can be done without the approval of the UN. Cotecna was able to "come up with" the lowest bid. The question is, did Kojo Annan get some inside information allowing his company to get the contract? In the interest of integrity, shouldn't Kofi Annan have notified the UN that there was a conflict of interest question when Cotecna made their bid? This scandal goes to the top.

It seems there's a lot the U.N. managed not to be aware of. But the information that Cotecna - while employing Kofi's son in any capacity - put in the lowest bid by far for the job of authenticating Saddam's Oil-for-Food imports, is not necessarily reassuring. Cotecna, which got paid roughly $6 million for its services during that first year (the U.N. will not release figures on Cotecna's fees over the following years) was bidding on work that empowered its staff to inspect tens of billions worth of supplies inbound to a regime much interested in smuggling, and evidently accustomed to dealing in bribes and kickbacks as a routine part of business. The issue was never solely whether the monitors were cheap, but whether they were trustworthy.

If the UN has nothing to hide, they should release any and all information relating to their dealings with Cotecna, but because it's difficult to see how this went on with at least the silent approval of Kofi Annan, we won't know anything until Congress votes to do an independent investigation. Does anyone believe that the UN will investigate itself, and find any wrongdoing?

The whole setup raises disturbing questions. But this is a subject on which neither the U.N. nor Cotecna has been willing to offer illumination. Asked for details, both have stonewalled. The U.N. spokesman Mills, who fielded the question in 1999, is now deceased. A query to the U.N. Oil-for-Food elicits from a spokesman only the information that the five-year-old response by the late Mills "stands, as provided by the U.N." A recent query to Cotecna, asking for at least some detail on ties to Kojo Annan, elicits nothing beyond the reply that: "There is nothing else to add."

Why are they stonewalling? If they have nothing to hide, they would come clean.

It is possible of course, that Kojo Annan had nothing to do with the Iraq program per se, as he told the Telegraph back in 1999: "I would never play any role in anything that involves the United Nations for obvious reasons." Though at the same time, in a comment that suggested at least nodding acquaintance with the Oil-for-Food program, Kojo added "The decision is made by the contracts committee, not by Kofi Annan."

It's possible, but unlikely that he nothing to do with it. There are too many coincidences to ignore everything, but for all I know a true investigation will find that he had nothing to do with it.

Then why the reluctance from the U.N., or Cotecna, for that matter, to provide any further details whatsoever? Beyond that, it is disingenuous to suggest Annan had no responsibility for the contracts. Oil-for-Food was run out of the U.N. Secretariat, reporting directly to Annan, who regularly signed off on the six-month phases of the program. Without his approval, the contracts would not have gone forward.

That is the reason there would be questions on any investigators that Kofi Annan appoints.

Even if we assume that everyone on the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food staff, as well as Kofi Annan himself, was indeed ignorant of Kojo Annan's involvement with Cotecna, it is hard to buy the argument that Kofi, while signing off regularly on the program's workings, was simply oblivious to the details. Not only was Kofi Annan the boss, but he was directly involved from the beginning. Kofi Annan's official U.N. biography notes that shortly before his promotion to Secretary-General "he led the first United Nations team negotiating with Iraq on the sale of oil to fund purchases of humanitarian aid."

Puts a whole new meaning to Annan saying that he could do business with Saddam. Where does the buck stop again?

It was Annan, who in October 1997 brought in as Oil-for-Food's executive director Benon Sevan, reporting directly to the Secretary-General, to consolidate Oil-for-Food's operations into the Office of Iraq Program. And it was shortly after Sevan took charge that Oil-for-Food, set up by Kofi Annan's predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, with at least some transparency on individual deals, began treating as confidential such vital information as the names of specific contractors, quantities of goods, and prices paid.

Why the secrecy, was there something to hide?

U.N. staff, such as Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor in a letter last month to the Wall Street Journal, have argued that the U.N. was not responsible for Saddam's misdeeds, and that U.N. staff were not concerned with such kickback-relevant matters as business terms of Saddam's contracts. The disturbing implication is that the U.N. - while collecting a commission of more than $1 billion on Saddam's oil sales to cover its own overhead in administering Oil-for-Food - was indifferent to Saddam's short-changing the Iraqi people, whose relief was supposed to be the entire point of the program.

Well said, it cuts to the heart of the issue. The UN destroys their own credibility by saying they are not responsible for a humanitarian program run by them.

Beyond that, the U.N., during the final months of Oil-for-Food, gave every indication of knowing just where the problems lay. Last May, shortly after the fall of Saddam's regime, the U.N. Security Council voted to end the Oil-for-Food program and gave the U.N. Secretariat six months to tie-up loose ends before handing over any outstanding import contracts to the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority. With Saddam's regime gone as a contracting party, the U.N. began a frenzied process of "renegotiating" billions in contracts, basically winnowing out the graft component that Oil-for-Food had previously approved.

Sounds like they are trying to hide evidence when the writing on the wall appears.

By the end of this sudden housecleaning, the U.N. had scrapped more than 25 percent of the contracts for which, under Saddam, it had already agreed to release funding from the U.N.-controlled Oil-for-Food bank accounts. Uncharacteristically, the U.N. on its website has posted explanatory notes next to some of the dropped contracts. These do not suggest a U.N. that was living in ignorance of Saddam's 10-percent-overpricing-and-kickback scheme. For instance, in the U.N.'s own footnotes, there is reference to the welding-machine contractor from Lebanon, "unwilling to accept the 10% deduction"; likewise the Belgian and Jordanian suppliers of medicine, both refusing a "10% reduction." In other cases there is a vaguer note, such as the Russian backhoe supplier, who "refused to accept extra fee deduction." Or the supplier of "fork lift and spares" from Belarus who "stated that the supply of remaining parts cannot be cost effective under the current circumstances." Asked to further explain these notations, an Oil-for-Food spokesman offers no comment except that all available information is already posted on the U.N. website

So, countries that support the UN's position happened to be countries opposed to the liberation of Iraq. I would say that sounds suspicious, but I after reading about the abuses of the Iraqi people under this program no conclusions need to be drawn, the proof is right there in front of us.

Altogether, according to U.N. records, 728 previously approved and funded deals were "removed from the list of amendable contracts," a few because the supplies had already been delivered, but many because the contractors appear to have run for the hills. For instance, there's the Jordanian supplier of school furniture, whose contract was dropped during the U.N.'s post-Saddam frenzy of "prioritization" because the "Company does not exist and the person in charge moved to Egypt." Or the Russian supplier of "vehicle spare parts," who "could not be contacted despite all efforts." Or the Algerian seller of "adult milk" who "has no interest in renegotiation"; the Egyptian seller of "generator" for educational purposes, who "is not enthusiastic about proceeding with the amendment"; the Syrian seller of "laboratory equipment" who is "not possible to contact."

Now the question comes into play, what were these people selling that made them disappear, and to repeat, what did the UN know?

Another 762 contracts set aside indefinitely by the U.N., post-Saddam because of their "questionable utility" were deals for goods that sound handy and humanitarian enough on the generic U.N. face of it. These include medicine from China; sugar and ambulances from Egypt; laboratory materials and medical equipment from France; educational materials from Pakistan; wheat, medical equipment, and ambulances from Russia; and yet more wheat, from Saudi Arabia. One has to wonder if the revised assessment of utility lay in the nature of the goods described, or in the actual terms of the contracts previously blessed by the U.N.

It almost sounds like this was run for the express benefit of Saddam. If the UN didn't know what was going on, it's time to dissolve it permanently.

t's commendable that the U.N., facing imminent handover of the program, tried to clean up the remaining contracts. It is plausible, perhaps, that no one at the U.N. knew of the links between Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, and the firm monitoring Iraq's U.N.-approved imports, Cotecna, and that these ties had no bearing on a massively corrupt program. It is possible that only after Saddam fell did anyone among the 1,000 or so U.N. international staff administering Oil-for-Food, or Sevan, or Kofi Annan, notice that they'd been approving Saddam's deals with suppliers that were, in various combinations, paying kickbacks, hard to contact, or even, as in the case of the Jordanian school-furniture contractor, nonexistent.

Anything's possible, but given the massive corruption across the program somebody knew something, and that someone was most likely high up in the UN.

But what has to be clear by now is that the U.N. itself was either corrupt, or so stunningly incompetent as to require total overhaul. There are by now enough questions, there has been enough secrecy, stonewalling, and rising evidence of graft all around the U.N. program in Iraq, so that it is surely worth an independent investigation into the U.N. itself - and Annan's role in supervising this program. If Kofi Annan will not exercise his authority to set a truly independent inquiry in motion, it is way past time for the U.S., whose taxpayers supply about a quarter of the U.N. budget, to call the U.N. itself to account for Oil-for-Food - in dollar terms the biggest relief operation it has ever run, and by many signs, one of the dirtiest.

If the UN doesn't come absolutely clean on this, it could very possible cause people to lose faith in the UN totally, and in my hopes cause support for Rep. Ron Paul's (R-TX) yearly withdrawal from the UN resolution to pass. The Leftstream media also needs to investigate and quit being useful idiots for the UN, but that might be too much to hope for.

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