An entire chapter of the Volcker committee’s interim report is dedicated to a review and analysis of the U.N.’s internal auditors (IAD) and their work on the Oil for Food program. The findings were unsurprising:
“The Committee finds that the resources committed to audit the Programme were inadequate. … The Committee finds that several important aspects of the Programme were not reviewed by IAD. These include many elements of the oil and humanitarian contracts, including price and quality of goods. The Committee finds that the view held by IAD staff that the contracts were beyond their purview was erroneous. IAD had the means and duty to examine these contracts… A thorough audit of these aspects could have uncovered or confirmed the various kickback schemes employed by the Government of Iraq in relations to the Programme.”
More broadly, the investigation found that the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and its Internal Audit Division were not sufficiently independent, did not have an adequate line of communication with senior or independent officials, and were not sufficiently forthcoming with its findings.
OIOS and IAD are supposed to be the U.N.’s watchdogs. To the extent that there is any accountability or oversight of the world body’s operations, OIOS and IAD must provide it. The Volcker committee’s report makes it clear that in the case of Oil for Food, they utterly failed to detect the major problems that plagued the program.
There is no reason to believe that the same sorts of failures that beset the oversight of the Oil for Food program are not also handicapping audits of other U.N. operations and programs. Could the whole United Nations be overwhelmed by the same sort of corruption and mismanagement that plagued Oil for Food? Given the apparent condition of OIOS and IAD, we’ll probably never know.
The bottom line is simple: OIOS was only created in response to the demands of the United States for better oversight of the U.N. bureaucracy. It seems that it’s time for the United States to demand that OIOS be given the resources and independence its needs to do the job for real. After Oil for Food, the world is no longer blind, and a wink and nod can no longer be allowed.February 10, 2005