THE latest UN-commissioned report on the Iraq oil-for-food programme points an accusing finger at Mr Benon Sevan, the senior UN official who ran the scheme, and also at a more junior procurement official, Mr Aleksandr Yakolev. The first thing to say is that if the accusations against Mr Sevan, which he has denied, are proved it will be a serious blow to the reputation of the UN organisation as a whole and to the Secretary General Kofi Annan and his senior officials who had the responsibility for overseeing Mr Sevan's role. The case against Yakolev is different and not directly connected to the oil-for-food operation; it was unearthed by the UN's own internal investigators and Yakolev has already pleaded guilty to receiving almost one million dollars in payments from companies involved in other UN contracts. By contrast the sum of money that Mr Sevan is alleged to have received is a “modest” 150'000 dollars. This week's report by the Volcker investigative panel, appointed by the Secretary General, is the third to be issued over a six-month period and there is at least one more still to come. Without questioning the substance of these reports, it has to be said that this form of piecemeal publication is unsatisfactory since the overall picture of what went wrong with the administration of the oil-for-food programme is still not available. Mr Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, may argue that to have held everything back for a single release would inevitably have led to leaks and rumours about what the report contained, and he may be right in that. However the conclusions still awaited concern the roles of Mr Annan and his office and of the Security Council, in particular Britain and the United States, in overseeing the programme. These findings are due next month and may well come out while the General Assembly of the United Nations is wrestling with the reform proposals proposed by Kofi Annan. Thus the timing could not be more awkward; it is already clear that reform of the membership of the Security Council is unlikely to be achieved and it would be a great pity if other practical and realisable reforms were to be lost because of controversy over the oil-for-food programme.


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