UNITED NATIONS, Sept 7: In a most critical report issued on Wednesday the Independent Inquiry Committee faulted the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette and the UN Security Council for disastrously managed UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

Mr Annan accepted responsibility for mismanagement of the multi-billion-dollar program in Iraq in an address to the Security Council on the investigation of the program.

“The report is critical of me personally, and I accept its criticism,” he said after Paul Volcker, the head of a year-long probe, told the 15-nation council its members too shared the blame for failing to supervise the $64 billion program.

The findings are “deeply embarrassing to us all,” Mr Annan said. The inquiry committee has ripped away the curtain and shone a harsh light into the most unsightly corners of the organizations.”

The IIC report on the oil-for-food programme said those managing the program — including UN member states and the world body’s staff — failed the ideals of the United Nations, ignoring clear evidence of corruption and waste that flourished after it was created in 1996 to help ordinary Iraqis.

“The inescapable conclusion from the committee’s work is that the United Nations organization needs thorough reform — and it needs it urgently,” the report said.

The report, about 1,000 pages long, was highly critical of the almost total lack of oversight of the program by the secretary-general and Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who was the direct boss of Benon Sevan, the program’s executive director who is being investigated for allegedly accepting kickbacks.

It said lax oversight of the program allowed Saddam’s regime to pocket $1.8 billion in kickbacks in the award of contracts.

The committee also accused top UN officials and the powerful UN Security Council of turning a blind eye to the smuggling of Iraqi oil outside the oil-for-food program in violation of UN sanctions. That poured much more money — $8.4 billion — into Saddam’s coffers from 1997-2003.

The report’s conclusions and its strong urging for change came a week before world leaders gather for a summit in New York to consider a host of Annan’s own reform initiatives. Many of his proposals have stalled — including some similar to the committee’s — because of deep divisions among member states. The United States and other supporters of UN reform hope the report will provide much-needed impetus.

“This report unambiguously rejects the notion that business as usual at the United Nations is acceptable,” US Ambassador John Bolton said. “We need to reform the UN in a manner that will prevent another oil-for-food scandal. The credibility of the United Nations depends on it.”

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who headed the investigation, presented the report at a Security Council meeting attended by Annan.

“In essence, the responsibility for the failures must be broadly shared, starting, we believe, with member states and the Security Council itself,” Volcker said.

The committee said the corruption that reached the top of the $64 billion program reflected the absence of a strong institutional ethic in an organization that should exemplify the highest global standards because of its “unique and crucial role”.

But it also acknowledged that the program was partly successful, providing minimal standards of nutrition and health care for millions of Iraqis trying to cope with tough UN sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It also helped keep Saddam from obtaining weapons of mass destruction, the report said.

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