It has been almost six months since
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the
appointment of the U.N.'s commission of inquiry, headed by Paul
Volcker, into the Oil-for-Food scandal. So far, few details have
emerged regarding the Commission's modus operandi, its
staff, or its overall effectiveness. The Commission's operations
are shrouded in secrecy, with little transparency or external
oversight. For a commission designed to unearth corruption and
malpractice on a huge scale, it is strikingly opaque. Its spartan
official website contains little information of value, not even a
Commission is likely to issue its report in a year's time (though
no firm deadline has been set). Its investigation could cost $30
million in all.
The Commission bears all the hallmarks of a toothless paper tiger,
with no subpoena power, and is clearly open to U.N. manipulation.
It bears no enforcement authority (such as contempt) to compel
compliance with its requests for information and has no authority
to discipline or punish any wrongdoing it discovers.
Who Is Staffing the
Inquiry Committee into the U.N. Oil-for-Food Program," as it is
officially termed, is top-heavy with distinguished luminaries but
short on detail regarding its actual workforce.
Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker heads a three-person committee, which
includes South African judge Richard Goldstone and Mark Pieth, a
professor from the University of Basel in Switzerland. So far, the
names of ten senior staff have been released, including Reid
Morden, former Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence
Service, and Swiss magistrate Laurent Kasper-Ansermet.
details have thus far been released regarding the remaining staff
(currently around 40 in number, and likely to rise further) that
will actually be doing the investigating and handling the huge
volumes of documents. The key questions remain: How many U.N. staff
and former staff are involved with the Commission? What assurances
are there that U.N. officials implicated in the Oil-for-Food
scandal will not interfere with or unduly influence this supposedly
independent investigation? A truly independent inquiry into U.N.
corruption should not be staffed by U.N. employees, former U.N.
employees, or those with any significant ties to the U.N.
It is therefore
surprising to discover that the official spokesman for the
Commission, Anna Di Lellio, is a former United Nations official.
Moreover, Ms. Di Lellio, who is Director of Communications for Paul
Volcker, has publicly expressed contempt for the U.S. president. In
an interview with the London newspaper The Guardian on the
first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Ms. Di
Lellio launched into a vicious tirade against the U.S. and Italian
governments, implicitly comparing President George W. Bush and key
U.S. ally Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to Osama bin Laden:
What I do feel is
a sense of powerlessness against the changes which are potentially
lethal for our civilization. But I see the major threats coming
from ourselves, rather than the east. I find deeply unsettling both
the ascendance of George Bush and his puppeteers to the U.S.
government, and the mix of self-serving hypocrisy and incompetence
prevailing in European governments.
I don't like it
that the two nations whose citizenship I hold, Italy and the U.S.,
have leased their institutions to a couple of families. With
defenders like W and Berlusconi, largely unchecked by a sycophantic
media, who needs Bin Laden to destroy culture, personal freedom,
respect for other human beings, integrity, and the rule of law-all
the things that make our lives worthwhile?
opinions do not sit well with the Volcker Commission's claim to
impartiality and will impede the establishment of a constructive
relationship between the Commission, the U.S. Congress, and the
executive branch of the United States.
Anna Di Lellio's
appointment brings into question the judgment of the Volcker
Commission in hiring its staff. It casts a shadow of doubt over the
Commission's ability to provide what Mr. Volcker refers to as "the
truly definitive report on the administration of the Oil-for-Food
program." Di Lellio's appointment raises serious questions
regarding the role of current and former U.N. officials in an
inquiry that is purported to be completely free of influence from
the U.N. It also strongly suggests that the U.N. is, in effect,
controlling the message being communicated by the Volcker
Commission to the world media.
Volcker's Refusal to
Cooperate with Congressional and Federal Investigations
In meetings on
Capitol Hill on July 13, Paul Volcker "rejected requests from
members of Congress for access to review documents and to interview
United Nations officials being scrutinized by his panel," reports
the New York Times.
Congressional sources have confirmed that the Volcker Commission
refuses to grant access to internal reports on the Oil-for-Food
program produced by the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight
Services and is unwilling to share documentation that it holds in
Baghdad. It also refuses to guarantee that it will release
documents relating to the Oil-for-Food program even after it has
filed its final report. This hostile approach seriously undermines
the credibility of the Independent Inquiry Committee.
entities are investigating the U.N.'s administration of the
Oil-for-Food program: the Senate Subcommittee on Government Affairs
(chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman), the House Subcommittee on
Government Reform (chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays), the House
International Relations Committee (chaired by Rep. Henry Hyde), and
the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (chaired by Rep. Joe
Barton). In addition, there are three federal investigations
underway: by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the Department of
Justice, and the U.S. Treasury. The Volcker Commission
has so far refused to cooperate significantly with any of these
What Congress Should
Congress has a
vital role to play in forcing the Volcker Commission to operate in
an open, transparent manner. Moreover, it is likely that
Congressional and federal investigations will be far more effective
ultimately than the U.N.'s own commission of inquiry. Congressional
leaders and the Bush Administration should demand:
to all U.N. documents relating to Oil for Food.
There should be no monopoly over documentation held by the U.N.
The U.N. should also provide a full list of documents currently in
its possession that relate to Oil for Food.
interview U.N. officials implicated in the scandal.
Federal and Congressional investigators should be able to
question U.N. officials under investigation by the Volcker
list of names of all staff working on the Volcker Commission.
The Volcker Commission should be completely independent of the
U.N., and there should be no conflicts of interest involving its
oversight of the workings of the Volcker Commission.
The Commission should be open to public scrutiny and should
include third-party representatives seconded from bodies such as
the FBI and Interpol.
progress reports from the Volcker Commission to Security Council
All members of the U.N. Security Council should be furnished
with regular updates on the investigation.
A firm date
for publication of the Volcker Report.
The final date of publication must not be open to political
manipulation by the U.N. in an attempt to limit potential
Commission's refusal to share documentation with congressional
investigators demonstrates not only breathtaking arrogance but also
complete disrespect for Congress and the American public that helps
fund the Commission through the United Nations. If it is to be
treated seriously and respected as something other than an
elaborate but costly whitewash exercise, the Commission will need
to implement major changes, both in its operations and in its
approach. Above all, transparency and accountability will be needed
if the Independent Commission is to avoid becoming yet another
example of mutual back scratching at the U.N.
Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and
James A. Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs, at
The Heritage Foundation.