Voicing deep concern at the latest report by the independent commission probing the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme for Iraq, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today waived the immunity of a former procurement officer accused of soliciting kickbacks, said he would do the same for another official implicated in the case and pledged to act quickly to strengthen controls over the procurement process.
In an opening statement read at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan's Chef de Cabinet, Mark Malloch Brown, said the Secretary-General would waive the immunity for the former Executive Director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, Benon Sevan, as soon as he receives any properly supported request from an appropriate law enforcement authority.
Mr. Malloch Brown told the press that after being contacted by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Secretary-General had already lifted the immunity for a second official, Alexander Yakovlev, who was reported to be in custody.
Mr. Malloch Brown added that the UN had been closely cooperating with law-enforcement officials in recent weeks. "We brought the case of Mr. Yavovlev to the attention of the District Attorney for the Southern District more than a month ago, and have already been sharing information we have collected with his office," he said. "So it's not just the waiving of immunity; it's active collaboration."
Addressing the press only hours after Mr. Annan received the Third Interim Report of the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) headed by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Mr. Malloch Brown stressed that there remained "a real need for serious, deep-rooted management reform of our organization, and that does not seem to be yet fully accepted by all Member States."
"Maybe Mr. Volcker can give us what's needed to lift this issue above politics, to say that this UN that we all believe in badly needs the strengthening of its management systems and his report will be an eloquent demonstration and might help to key up the Summit," he said, referring to the High-level Plenary Meeting that would be held at the start of the sixtieth session of the UN General Assembly in September.
Mr. Malloch Brown emphasized that the UN had recently commissioned from the United States National Institute of Governmental Purchasing an independent review of procurement practices and that the world body's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) will soon recommend further reforms, particularly regarding strengthened supervision and controls over individual procurement officers.
"The Secretary-General intends to act expeditiously to implement those recommendations," Mr. Malloch Brown said.
At the same time, he paid tribute to the great successes the Oil-for-Food Programme had achieved in sustaining the Iraqi people and noted that in regard to alleged misconduct people had focused too narrowly on individuals, "on the little black dot," rather than on the "extraordinary network of companies," decision-makers and even countries.
Mr. Malloch Brown added that the Secretary-General looked forward to the IIC's comprehensive report in early September that would include recommendations for action, an overall assessment of the Oil for Food programme and specific conclusions about the role of Security Council, the UN Secretariat and the Secretary-General and UN agencies.
"He very much looks forward to that report, not least in the strong expectation that it will clear up any remaining questions concerning his own conduct," Mr. Malloch Brown said in reference to allegations over the award of a contract to a firm that employed the Secretary-General's son, Kojo. In that context, he said it was a pity that the latter issue was raised in the interim report, instead of waiting for the final document in which the answers were provided along with the questions, so "the matter can be cleared up once and for all."