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Volcker report spreads blame for UN's oil-for-food failures

NEW YORK

bbling Security Council members eager for national advantage were as responsible for the failures of the United Nation's oil-for-food program as a weak UN administration and corruption, an investigative committee has concluded.

The panel, headed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, said that the UN urgently needs to be reformed so that it can undertake future humanitarian assignments without the taint of corruption or political gamesmanship.

The Volcker committee released its preface to its main report yesterday, while the full report is to be tabled today after 17 months of investigations and damning interim reports.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been badly bruised by the scandal, is criticized for failing to properly manage the program, but the committee concludes there is no persuasive evidence linking him to an oil-for-food contract awarded to a Swiss company that employed his son, Kojo, an official told The Associated Press.

Critics of the UN say the mismanagement of the oil-for-food program was typical of a culture of corruption that pervades the international organization, while its defenders have argued the members of the Security Council themselves were largely responsible for the gaping flaws in the humanitarian effort.

Mr. Volcker's panel gives support for both sides, slamming the Security Council's oversight of the program, while noting that the internal corruption -- while "isolated" -- as also "egregious" and reflected "the absence of a sufficiently strong organizational ethic."

In previous reports, the panel has concluded that key UN staffers benefited personally from the $64-billion program, including its director, Benon Sevan.

In the current volume, the Volcker committee broadened its focus to the failure of the Security Council members to provide a clear, consistent and effective mandate to the UN secretariat, which was charged with administering the program.

The divisive political climate surrounding the unprecedented humanitarian program allowed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to turn the program to his advantage, it said in the preface.

"Differences among member states impeded decision-making, tolerated large-scale smuggling and aided and abetted grievous weaknesses in the administrative practices in the Secretariat," the panel said.

The full report is expected to go into greater detail about how Security Council members, particularly Russia and France, fought to preserve their national advantage in Iraq, where both countries had large oil and other investments. At the same time, all Security Council members, including the United States and Britain, were aware of large-scale smuggling by the Iraqi regime but did nothing to stop it.

The panel also concluded that the UN program, despite its problems, achieved two notable objectives: it raised health and nutritionlevels among Iraqi civilians. And in doing so, it helped maintain international support for sanctions aimed at depriving the Iraqi regime of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Still, the Volcker committee said the UN reform is urgently needed in order to maintain international political support for its institutions.

The UN's 191 member-states are currently negotiating over a wide-ranging reform package that includes proposals for more professional management, accounting and auditing.

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