Tags: Congress | Might | Block | U.N. | Budget | Over | Oil-for-Food

Congress Might Block U.N. Budget Over Oil-for-Food Probe

Tuesday, 07 December 2004 12:00 AM

H.R. 4284 would withhold 10 percent of the U.S. contribution to the U.N.'s general operating budget, "until the president certifies that the United Nations is cooperating in the investigation of the United Nations oil-for-food program."

The percentage of funding withheld would increase in subsequent years, but the penalty would not reduce the amount of money the U.S. contributes to UNICEF, humanitarian aid or "peacekeeping" operations.

Originally introduced in May 2004, the bill now has 77 co-sponsors, and companion legislation in the Senate by Republican John Ensign of Nevada has 18 co-sponsors.

An investigation by the U.S. General Accounting Office originally determined that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had illegally siphoned more than $10 billion from the program, which was intended to meet only food, clothing, shelter and medical needs for the Iraqi people.

Subsequent probes have placed the number at more than $21 billion, including cash Hussein allegedly received for oil smuggled out of Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions.

Flake traveled to Iraq earlier this year with fellow House International Relations Committee members, Reps. Dan Burton and Mike Pence, both Indiana Republicans.

"[We] visited some of those palaces that were built with a lot of the oil-for-food money," Flake said, "and let me tell you, it makes you sick to see what the money was bled off to."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to lead the internal investigation into the missing money.

New Jersey Republican Congressman Scott Garrett praises Volcker but doubts his panel can conduct a complete investigation.

"They set it up in such a way that the chairman does not have the ability to do what his commission is charged with," Garrett said. "He lacks subpoena power, and he lacks the power of contempt to force people to do what they have to do."

Many critics, including Congressman Burton, say no objective inquiry can take place while Annan is still in charge.

"Kofi Annan must go. There's just no question about it," Burton exclaimed. "There has to be a change. The confidence that the United States has had in the United Nations is waning right now, and the only way that's going to change is if there is a change in leadership."

Annan has denied any wrongdoing and has insisted that he will not resign.

Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., believes Annan should step down. He noted similarities between the oil-for-food program and recent financial scandals at some publicly traded companies in the U.S., where a handful of corporate executives were accused of bilking investors of millions.

"Not only did they have to resign, but Congress reacted and implemented laws to ensure good governance at the corporate level," Fossella said. "The same standard, really, should apply to the United Nations, and nothing less."

Garrett is taking the call for Annan's resignation a step farther.

"To me the question should not be whether Kofi Annan should remain in charge. To me, the larger question is whether he should be in jail," Garrett said. "If this were to occur in any corporate scandal in the United States, you would be hearing cries from both sides of the aisle, at this point in time, for his immediate resignation and, also, for his arrest."

Flake dismisses critics who speculate that the congressmen are acting not because of alleged impropriety in the oil-for-food program but because of their disagreements with U.N. policies.

"There are documents there. There is information," Flake concluded. "And we need to see what it is. That's what this effort is about."

Volcker has refused to give U.S. investigators access to documents pertaining to his investigation until he has completed his work. Annan also has been accused of ordering contractors for the oil-for-food program not to cooperate with a U.S. government probe.

Though Flake understands his colleagues' desire to remove Annan as a potential hindrance to the U.S. government's investigation, he cautions against that becoming the goal of congressional efforts.

"I'd be surprised if anybody could survive at the top of an organization having this kind of scandal beneath him," Flake said. "Having said that, I hope that the calls for his ouster don't bring an end to a call for full investigation of the oil-for-food scandal, and that's my fear, that we'll focus on Kofi Annan.

"It's much deeper than Kofi Annan," Flake concluded.



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H.R. 4284 would withhold 10 percent of the U.S. contribution to the U.N.'s general operating budget, "until the president certifies that the United Nations is cooperating in the investigation of the United Nations oil-for-food program." The percentage of funding withheld...
Tuesday, 07 December 2004 12:00 AM
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