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VOLCKER ERODING HIS OWN CREDIBILITY

15 November 2004

Sometimes wrong things happen to good people. Sometimes a public man's worst enemy is his own declarations. With the best of interpretations, Paul Volcker is not helping himself much by what he says to the press. First he indicates that his Oil for Food enquiry is way behind schedule, the closest date of anything substantive being sometime next year. Then he pontificates about U.N. structure and decision-making process, giving the impression that he is more inclined to blame greedy governments while obsolving a "helpless" Secretariat. Then he asks that Secretariat for $30 million and a prolonged mandate; which he gets, raising questions about potential conflict of interest. How could he report objectively about those who had appointed him, given him funds unavailable to other pressing developmental programs and tacitly guaranteed him a long-term international post in the limelight. He admonished a critical reporter (the persistently diligent Claudia Rossette) when she raised Kojo's case, though not denying it -- and not shedding any light on any work plans. He also criticized the publication in The Wall Street Journal of a story that Kojo remained on COTECNA payroll, but could not deny the report written by a solid reporter.

Alarm bells started ringing when the Secretary General issued a statement after meeting Volcker, saying: "The Secretary General is ENCOURAGED that the Volcker Committee is working diligently on the enquiry and looks forward to receive its final report." What diligence? Six months already and no sign of real life, no information, and no clue as to where he is heading. It could be understood if he threw a blanket of silence on grounds of confidentiality, promising full disclosure within a certain period. But talking generalities which are certainly open to interpretations at a time when the U.N. is getting savaged by this scandal, neither helps him, nor the U.N., not even the individuals whom he may wish to nicely accomodate. Insisting on keeping all relevant documents and not sharing them with other investigating groups could hold water if he intends to issue a quick report. However, with nothing to show, he is opening himself up to probably unfair accusations that he is merely going along to get along.

The sooner that case is out in the open, the better. If it is not possible to "get to the bottom of it," then at least Mr. Volcker could scratch the surface. That in itself will be an accomplishment -- if one is really desired.