WASHINGTON – Two Republican lawmakers suggested Wednesday that U.S. money for the United Nations could be tied to reforms in the wake of the Oil-for-Food (search) scandal and allegations of corruption in other U.N. programs.
The United Nations "suffers from crippling questions about its effectiveness," the lawmakers wrote Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search).
Legislation authorizing spending for U.N. programs "will address vital changes in the organization's procurement, finance, personnel and auditing functions," according to the letter. It was sent by Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde (search), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, and California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (search), chairman of the investigations subcommittee.
The letter went out as Annan's new chief of staff, Mark Malloch Brown (search), was meeting with members of Congress to discuss U.N. plans for reforms.
Many lawmakers have been skeptical of Annan's leadership. Several congressional committees are investigating allegations of kickbacks and bribes in the Oil-for-Food program. The program allowed Saddam Hussein's government to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods.
Concerns about Annan's leadership deepened with the release of an report last week by a three-member panel investigating the program. The panel criticized U.N. management of the program and accused its former director of conflicts of interest in soliciting oil allocations from the Iraqi government.
As part of its own investigation, Hyde's committee said it issued subpoenas Wednesday seeking documents from the French bank BNP Paribas, where the program had its account; Cotecna Inspection SA, the Swiss company that certified deals for humanitarian supplies imported by Iraq under the program; and David Chalmers, head of Texas-based Bayoil, which participated in oil deals through the program.
In a statement issued in New York, the U.N. spokesman's office said Malloch Brown told the members of Congress that the United Nations is eager to get to the bottom of the Oil-for-Food scandal and is undertaking management and administrative reforms.
From all sides, he heard "strong baseline support for the United Nations" and a willingness to work with Annan, the U.N. statement said.
Responding to concerns over a lack of access for congressional investigators to U.N. documents and staff, Malloch Brown said the United Nations is cooperating with the three-member panel headed by Paul Volcker (search) and once that investigation is completed "the United Nations will be available to answer any questions that remain," the U.N. statement said.
In the letter and at a hearing of his subcommittee Wednesday, Rohrabacher said Congress' concerns went beyond the Oil-for-Food program. He cited allegations that a former employee of the World Meteorological Organization (search), the U.N. weather agency, is suspected of embezzling up to $3 million. Details were first reported Wednesday in the New York Times.
Rohrabacher also noted allegations of sexual harassment against U.N. staff and investigations of sexual abuses by U.N. peacekeepers in Africa.
"We get a sense of an organization that is badly in need of scrutiny and badly in need of reform, from top to bottom," he said.