Transcript: Kofi Annan

Published March 29, 2005

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U. N. SECRETARY GENERAL KOFI ANNAN, NEWS CONFERENCE, MARCH 29, 2005

ANNAN: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

As you know, this morning I received Mr. Paul Volcker, chairman of the Independent Inquiry Committee Into the Oil-for-Food program, and his fellow members of the committee, Justice Richard Goldstone and Professor Mark Pieth. I received this second interim report this morning. Of course, he has already briefed you.

I appointed the committee a year ago to work on this investigation because I was determined to establish the full truth, without fear or favor, about the allegations of fraud and corruption in the oil-for-food program. And the committee members have clearly applied themselves to the task with all the thoroughness that one could have expected of them.

I was well aware that among the most serious allegations was the insinuation that I, myself, might have improperly influenced the process, the procurement process in favor of Cotecna Inspection Services, because that company employed my son.

But I knew that to be untrue, and I was therefore absolutely confident that a thorough inquiry would clear me of any wrongdoing.

The committee has now done so. After an exhaustive 12-month investigation, the report states clearly that there is no evidence that the selection of Cotecna in 1998 was subject to any affirmative or improper influence of the secretary general in the bidding or selection process.

After so many distressing and untrue allegations have been made against me, this exoneration by the independent inquiry obviously comes as a great relief.

While I'm gratified by that, I also note, of course, the committee does criticize me for not referring the matter to the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services or its legal office for formal investigation after I became aware that Cotecna had been awarded a contract in January 1999.

I accept that criticism.

However, I have, through my attorney, provided a comment to the committee explaining my reasons for ordering a different kind of inquiry in the light of the information available to me at that time. The steps I took were fully consistent with U.N. regulations.

The committee also makes critical findings about three of my colleagues or former colleagues in the senior management of the organization. These findings raise a different and complex issues in each case, which I need to study carefully before deciding what steps might have to be taken.

For reasons that parents everywhere will understand, the most difficult and painful moments for me personally throughout this past year have been those when it appeared that my son, Kojo, might have acted inappropriately or might not have told me the full truth about his actions.

The inquiry has now rendered its judgment on those issues.

I love my son. And I've always expected the highest standards of integrity from him. I am deeply saddened by the evidence to the contrary that has emerged and particularly by the fact that my son had failed to cooperate fully with the inquiry.

I have urged him to cooperate. And I urge him to reconsider his position and cooperate.

At his press conference today, Mr. Volcker kindly referred to the proposals that I made last week in my report in larger freedom and expressed the hope that his committee's findings would contribute to the large objective of the United Nations' reforms. And I think that hope is fully justified.

The reforms I'm proposing, particularly the improvements and the management of the secretariat, are intended, among other things, to correct the failings that the inquiry has brought to light.

While I await with great interest the inquiry's final report later this year, I'm already acting and will continue to act on these interim findings.

The member states of the United Nations and their people certainly have the right to expect that. And from now on, we in the secretariat will be more fully transparent in the way we carry out their mandates and their wishes and that managers will be held clearly accountable for their performance.

Finally, I want to thank the whole staff of the United Nations for remaining so admirably focused on their work during this past year -- a very difficult year.

It has been difficult for all of us, but despite the distractions, we have been able to make very significant contributions to the successful and historic elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, Burundi and in the Palestinian territories.

And, of course, we also coordinated the tsunami crisis.

We have been leading the world's response in that tragedy in the Indian Ocean tsunami crisis, and today again with the earthquake that we witnessed yesterday. We have been active on the ground and luckily we have assets in place to be able to assess.

Thank you very much. I will now take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, on behalf of the U.N. Correspondents' Association, welcome. And the question is concerning your son. You said you've spoken to him. When did you speak to him? What did you tell him? And what has he told you? Does he plan to comeback and cooperate with the committee?

ANNAN: I think I've said to you what I've told him. And I'm urging him to cooperate. I've always urged him to cooperate. I have urged him to cooperate, and I think from the indications I have, I hope -- I've asked him to reconsider. And I hope he's reconsidered.

QUESTION: What did he tell you?

ANNAN: I asked him to reconsider. He didn't give me an answer immediately on the phone.

QUESTION: You took the decision in October of last year to fund the investigation led by Mr. Paul Volcker from Iraqi money in the 2.2 account. Can you tell us will you be reconsidering your position on this? And on which basis have you actually decided to earmark certain funds belonging to this account for purposes unrelated to the management of oil-for-food, namely the compensation of the Iraqi victims of the U.N. bombing in Baghdad of 2003?

ANNAN: Let me say that on your first question, the 2.2 account was meant exactly to cover administrative costs related to the oil- for-food program. It was set aside for that specific purpose.

And this is auditing of that account and that process. And I think it is legitimate that it should be paid from that account.

As to those who were killed or injured in Iraq, from what I know, quite a few of them were working for the oil-for-food program, some were working for the U.N. I don't think everybody got paid out of that account. I don't have the details, but those who are working on that program, it was legitimate that the charge be billed to that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you the man to continue to lead this organization? Critics, not just in Washington but in this very building, some on your own staff, point to Benan Savan, the man who ran the Oil-For- Food program; Dileep Nair, mentioned in the report; Ruud Lubbers, sex harassment, Congo sex peacekeeper -- and you were the former peacekeeping director; your former chief of staff shredding documents; plus the decision by senior management on sending people back into Iraq. Do you feel it's time, for the good of the organization, to step down?

ANNAN: Hell, no.

(LAUGHTER)

But let me say that on the issues here you have raised, I think they have indicated that we are going to look into some of the complex issues which have been read. But I think it is also unfortunate that you keep bringing back issues which have been resolved.

The Lubbers issue was resolved, thorough investigation was made. He went through due process and he was not found guilty. But you keep bringing his name up each time you deal with this issue. I don't think it's fair to him nor to U.N. Asia nor to the system. That issue is settled. Please leave Lubbers alone.

On other issues you raised from the sexual exploitation in Congo and others, we are looking into it very energetically. We are setting up systems to ensure that this doesn't happen, not only not in Congo, but in any of our operations around the world.

And it is not unusual that institutions this size, whether it's government in this country or elsewhere or companies, that problems to arise, you deal with the problem, and you draw the lessons and move on.

I have lots of work to do it. And I'm going to go ahead and do it now. And I think you know the agenda ahead of me.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

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