Politics & Policy

Keeping The Heat On … and Higher

Everyone from President Bush to Kofi Annan agrees that the U.N. is in dire need of reform. The more controversial–and important–question is how to go about changing that vast and inept bureaucracy.

Last week, a bipartisan congressional task force led by former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell released a report making a number of sensible reform proposals. Especially noteworthy are the report’s suggested management-structure reforms, intended to increase accountability and transparency. For example, the task force recommends the creation of an independent oversight board that will function as a corporate audit committee, to ensure that U.N. audits and investigations are independent. It calls for the appointment of a chief operating officer to manage the U.N.’s daily operations. And it argues that management capability (are you listening, Mr. Annan?) should be a fundamental criterion in selecting the next secretary-general.

Also among the task force’s recommendations are the abolition of the Human Rights Commission, the creation of a new human-rights council composed of rights-respecting democracies, and the development of a menu of penalties for countries that violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Annan was among the first to endorse the report, and the New York Times wasn’t far behind. Both surely liked one of the committee’s most glaring omissions: Unlike U.N. reform legislation introduced in the House by Republican Henry Hyde (Ill.), the committee does not advocate withholding American dues as a means of guaranteeing its proposals are adopted. As a result, of course, the report lacks teeth. As three committee members pointed out in a joint press release after the report was made public: “The U.N. has made it clear throughout its existence that meaningful reform will not take place without sustained and legitimate pressure from the U.S.”

The Hyde bill, which passed the House on Friday, calls on the State Department to verify each year that the U.N. has implemented a significant number of reforms. If the U.N. fails, the United States would halve its contributions to the body’s general budget, of which the U.S. currently pays about 22 percent.

The Bush administration has rejected the Hyde bill, saying some of its provisions infringe on the president’s power. This is to be expected, and the administration is justified in wanting to maintain flexibility. But the threat of withholding dues should remain in the president’s arsenal as the best way to pressure the U.N. Moreover, while the Hyde bill is unlikely to find a direct counterpart in the Senate, it may help induce the Senate to adopt a more aggressive stance than it would otherwise.

“The threat of withholding dues

should remain in the president’s arsenal

as the best way to pressure the U.N.”

Meanwhile, a document that surfaced last week has further implicated Kofi Annan in the ever-growing scandal that is Oil-for-Food. The Volcker committee is now investigating a memo apparently written by one of Kojo Annan’s closest associates at the Swiss-based company Cotecna; at the time, the company was bidding on a U.N. contract to oversee Saddam’s Oil-for-Food imports. The memo refers to “brief discussions with the SG [secretary-general] and his entourage” in Paris and concludes that Cotecna “could count on their support.” As the indefatigable Claudia Rosett has pointed out, the memo and related evidence throw into doubt Kofi Annan’s previous statements denying a conflict of interest involving his son’s work for the company.

In addition, Rosett and George Russell have uncovered for Fox News another possible father-son conflict of interest, this one involving longtime U.N. staffer Alexander Yakovlev, who handled millions of dollars in contracts through the U.N.’s procurement department. The latest news not only points out the inadequacy so far of the Volcker investigation into Oil-for-Food–which, for example, relied heavily on Yakovlev’s testimony–but also confirms the need for more far-reaching investigations into U.N. cronyism generally.

Annan has vigorously denied any plan to resign, and perhaps hopes his stated support for U.N. reform will buy the world’s forgiveness whatever his past mistakes. Yet in light of the secretary-general’s track record of evasion and denial, Hyde and others are right to want more than professed good intentions as a guarantee of change at Turtle Bay.

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