Few people on earth have not heard the influential name Kofi Annan; from the cover of Time Magazine to the Nobel Peace prize, it was not so long ago that the world was completely enamored by this former World Health Organization budget officer from Ghana. Which is exactly why allegations against the United Nations Secretary General of mishandling of the U.N. Oil-for-Food program have become so publicly engaging.
In the midst of a rather tumultuous past year for the United Nations in which several scandals were allegedly uncovered including a pornography ring involving U.N. Peacekeeping troops in various parts of the world, rumors of scandal among the Oil-for-Food Program turned into a full blown congressional probe.
“The honeymoon has ended rather brutally,” said Shashi Tharoor to the Washington Post. Tharoor is a senior U.N. official who has served with Annan for more than a decade and along with other Annan supporters says the secretary general’s legacy will ultimately eclipse the current controversy.
Annan, along with three other top U.N. officials, is being examined by six congressional panels for allegedly influencing the Iraq Oil-for-Food program in which former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein pocketed an estimated $10 billion. Annan himself has called for an “independent” inquiry into the matter which is headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, with South African Judge Richard Goldstone and Swiss lawyer Mark Pieth as the other two members.
Last Thursday in response to the allegations, Annan attempted to shed more light on the dilemma by altering some of the blame. He said that most of the money appropriated by Hussein “came out of smuggling outside the oil-for-food program, and it was on the American and British watch.”
Annan’s comments were met with harsh criticism from British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell, “We took vigorous actions at all times to ensure that the sanctions regime was not undermined. [Annan’s] interim report actually makes criticisms of the UN management system and not of national governments,” Rammell said. “Now I think the UN needs to learn those lessons.”
The Oil-for-Food scandal has been an ongoing matter of concern for the U.N. with Annan’s own son, businessman Kojo Annan, often in the limelight for receiving payments much larger than originally specified. So far arrested in conjunction with the matter are Texas oil man David Chalmers and Bulgarian national Ludmil Dionissiev who were arrested in Texas earlier Thursday in connection with oil-for-food kickbacks.
The U.N. and the rest of the world awaits the official outcome of the series of panels and investigations but will undoubtedly have to repair a severely damaged reputation no matter the legal results. Many believe Annan has begun doing just that by making a noted point to accommodate the United States in their war against terrorism; a big turnaround from the U.N.’s original failure to support Saddam Hussein’s removal from power.