CRITICS of the United Nations, including those who write to this newspaper, often imply that corruption is endemic in the organisation.
As a former servant of the UN, these accusations make me angry because my own experience denies them; I accept that there is dishonesty in the UN, just as there is in any large organisation, but I do not believe it is endemic. The news that Secretary General Kofi Annan has been connected to the alleged Iraq oil-for-food scandal therefore comes as an unpleasant shock, even though the allegations actually concern his son Kojo who worked for the Swiss company Cotecna which was involved in inspecting the operation of the oil-for-food programme.
There are two matters concerning Kojo: one is that his association with Cotecna could have helped the company to get the lucrative UN contract in Iraq; the second relates to formerly undisclosed payments of US$2'500 a month for four years received after he left Cotecna in 1998. The company says that these were noncompete payments to prevent Kojo Annan from working for its competitors in Africa.
On Monday Kofi Annan said that he knew nothing of the payments and was very disappointed and surprised to discover that he was not aware of the full story of his son's links with Cotecna. He acknowledged that the revelations would not help the perception of conflict of interest and wrongdoing currently facing the UN over the oil-for-food programme.
The New York Times columnist William Safire, a fierce critic of the UN, has already called for Mr Annan's resignation. Yesterday the US Ambassador to the UN, John C Danforth, said that the US takes the allegations very seriously but added that there should be no rush to judgement until all the facts are in. Mr Danforth is right.