UN staff must ‘step out boldly’ in recovering from Oil-for-Food report – Annan

8 September 2005

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has a sent a letter to all United Nations staff calling for renewed dedication to the ideals embodied by the world organization after the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) into the Iraq Oil-for-Food Programme found both misadministration and evidence of corruption.

“The fallout from the Oil-for-Food scandal has dogged all our lives for the last year, often giving us the feeling that we were on an inexorable downward slope,” Mr. Annan wrote of the $64 billion programme under which the sanctions-bound regime of Saddam Hussein was allowed to sell oil to buy food, medicine and other essential supplies.

“Now that this report has been delivered, with all its painful lessons, I hope we can step out boldly on the road of recovery, with renewed confidence in the Organization we all serve and renewed dedication to the ideals it embodies.”

In the letter Mr. Annan repeated many of the points he made in his address yesterday to the Security Council on receiving the IIC’s final report, during which he stressed the vital importance of enacting management reforms and accepted responsibility both for criticism of him personally and in his role as chief UN administrative officer.

Noting that the Inquiry found “isolated instances of corruption” among UN staff, Mr. Annan wrote that he took this as confirming what he has always believed - that the vast majority of his colleagues are honest, and indeed idealistic servants of the international community.

“But even one instance is too many, and the Inquiry found that these instances ‘extended to the top of the Programme administration.’ That is shameful indeed,” he wrote.

He said it was “especially painful” to read the report’s conclusions that the lapses signal the absence of a sufficiently strong organizational ethic and that the General Assembly, Security Council and Secretariat management had been insufficiently conscious of the need to seize the UN’s unique opportunity to exemplify and encourage the highest standards of conduct.

“We cannot brush these statements aside,” he wrote. “Indeed, they reflect many of your own views, as expressed in response to our Integrity Survey last year. I am making institutional changes to strengthen our ethical culture, such as the creation of an Ethics Office.

“But institutional changes can at best only be part of the answer. In the last resort, ethics are a matter of the individual conscience. All of us, at every level of the Organization, must ask ourselves whether we have become too lax in the standards of integrity we expect, both from others and from ourselves.

“For my part, I intend to do whatever I can to ensure that in future we all have the highest expectations of each other, and that we actually meet them,” he added.

As he did in his address yesterday, Mr. Annan said it was “good to see” that the report confirmed that the Oil-for-Food Programme did achieve its primary objective of restoring and maintaining minimum health and nutrition standards in Iraq, “but very painful to read how unsuccessful we were in preventing abuses.”