Sad money tale from the United Nations

The Leckey File

Your Money

December 12, 2004|By Andrew Leckey

This holiday season provides both humorous and sad money stories.

In the midst of wondering whether we'll receive a surprise Lexus or Jaguar with a red bow on Christmas morning, or whether Santa will reward us for knowing the answer to the business-related question that Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings got wrong, it's easy to lose perspective.

There are more important considerations in the world than Donald Trump firing someone on The Apprentice television program.

The sad story is the United Nations' oil-for-food scandal unfolding this holiday season. Greed co-opted a program that was designed to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people by providing food and other humanitarian aid in exchange for oil from Saddam Hussein from 1995 through 2003.

That U.N. program disintegrated into corruption and bribes based on $100 billion in U.N.-approved contracts. What goods the impoverished did receive were overpriced from kickbacks paid by companies. Hussein pocketed $21 billion as he approved thousands of contracts to line his pockets and those of favored foreign governments and their companies.

Significant beneficiaries included Russian, Saudi, French and Chinese companies. That's why some in Congress are demanding that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan resign. This mess was on his watch, and his son, Kojo, was being paid by one of the companies that regularly turned up as low bidder.

This tragedy reignites debate over whether economic sanctions work, or whether they simply make things worse for the average citizens of a targeted country. Oil-for-food was a humanitarian gesture initiated to help people suffering because of economic sanctions placed against Iraq after the Persian Gulf war. It's a cautionary tale to remind us that many countries, companies and individuals are willing to toss ethics out the window if there's profit in it. When money is no longer part of some silly TV reality show, but affects real people, the laughter is gone.

- Andrew Leckey

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