Thursday, February 17, 2005

The Big Picture

Keeping things in perspective is a sound approach. The current uproar about Mr Benon Sevan is a good example. Mr Sevan, who was in charge of the UN Oil For Food programme (pronounced ‘One-OFF’), stands accused of illegally receiving about $6 million in frequent shopper oil coupons from Saddam Hussein as a part of a $20-odd billion scheme to evade the rules. Mr Sevan denies all wrong doing. Regarding the $160,000 that he is charged with accepting as a bribe, the money was actually a gift from his aunt. It is unclear how four cash deliveries totalling 160k were brought through US customs but perhaps the drug dogs were on duty those days at JFK instead of the currency dogs. When asked about the payments, Mr Sevan’s aunt (a retired civil servant for the Government of Cyprus) took a familiar position: ‘no comment’. Her backup position was prone as she died after falling down an elevator shaft prior to the interview. However the case is nearing closure. Mr Sevan will apparently be severely disciplined for violating UN standards. Anyone who can only chisel 160 grand out of a 64 billion dollar pot is clearly not up to the job. Boutros-Boutros Ghali, former Secretary General of the UN is also suspected of bid rigging in the selection of the bank to handle the UNOFF finances. Apparently little Boutros was always late for dinner and after years of his mother calling him to the table, the name Boutros-Boutros stuck. As B-B is retired and probably suffering from Unfair Nickname Syndrome, it’s unlikely he will be prosecuted. However, this story should be kept in perspective.

The real issue that should be capturing the headlines is Darfur. In its latest report, the UN accuses the Government of Sudan of some really nasty activity. 200,000 people have been killed and 2.4 million refugees have been ‘ethnically cleansed’ by the Boys From Khartoum and their allies, the Janjaweed. The report mentions killings, mass rape, torture and levelling of villages. It should be time to get tough – except the UN has decided that Sudan ‘has not pursued a policy of genocide’. So, rather than worry about the corruption of UNOFF or the worst crime against humanity of this young century, the real story here is the battle of the dictionaries. Webster has one version: ‘genocide - the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group’. The Sudan Pocket Dictionary has another: ‘genocide - mass extermination that happens in places like Iceland or Liechtenstein, but not in Sudan’. Without a Gen-o-Meter to measure what is happening, the UN has a real challenge. The UN Human Rights Commission is on the case however. Its members are Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, Hungary and the Netherlands. Although early exit polling is notoriously unreliable, current predictions for the result are: Sudan Pocket Dictionary 3 – Webster 2. However, it’s not something that should occupy the evening news reports; there’s a far more worrying story to put into perspective.

Thousands of pages of Secretary General Kofi Annan’s files, emails, and phone records are being examined to see if he exerted undue influence to get his son, Kojo, a job with Cotecna, a Swiss company hired to participate in – you guessed it – UNOFF. Cotecna inspected the goods that went into Iraq that were paid for by the oil that went out of Iraq. Is it possible that the entire UNOFF programme was one huge Shell (or BP) game? If Benon was cooking the books on the way out and Kojo was mangling the manifests on the way in, is the UN itself under a dark cloud? However, let’s keep some perspective.

Anonymous sources in the UN have disclosed that Andorra, the Faroe Islands and Belize are planning to form an ‘Axis of Geography Questions’. The plot is to lower high school test scores across the planet. The UN is requesting $83 billion to respond to the threat and has asked Somalia to head the new Commission. Now that’s real news.


Blogger Africanuck said...

Yes, Servan was obviously a duffer. They should have given the job to Paul Bremer instead.

7:05 AM  
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