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Oil for food: The unread reports

Le Monde, Oct 2000 

 The unread reports
A. G.
 The UNCC has not "carried out further work to evaluate the financial
 impact of the errors identified. In view of the possible impact on the
level of awards, the Board considers that the Commission should set a
 tighter, more demanding tolerance of errors that have a financial
 impact on the level of award." Translated from UN-speak this reads:
 claimants have received more than they deserve and the UNCC does
 not care. Or at least that is the conclusion of an audit commissioned by
 the UN, written by David Woodward (1) and published in 1998.
The report emphasised that much of the data used by the UNCC was
 supplied by national governments, which were responsible for
 centralising claims. It was in their interest to inflate claims as they
 were entitled to deduct up to 1.5% of the amounts awarded (3% for
categories D, E and F). Predictably some of them did precisely that.
 In addition, the authors pointed out that category A and C claims "did
 not include a requirement to provide the names and identification
 numbers of each family member covered by the claim. It was therefore
not possible for the Commission to detect multiple family claims
 submitted by individual members of the same family [...] The
 Commission was unable to detect situations in which both parents had
 submitted family claims for the same loss."
The auditors "found that there was generally a poor quality of evidence
 submitted by claimants A." For example, in a random sample of 60
 claims examined by the board :
 - Three (5%) of the claims have no supporting documentation; 26
 (81%) of the 32 claims seeking compensations for loss of personal
 property did not submit independent documentary evidence, such as
 original receipts or invoices, in support of claims;
 - 15 (59%) of the 24 claims seeking compensation for salary losses
 were not supported by independent documentary evidence such as pay
 slips or copies of employment contract.
 - 21 (91%) of the 23 claims seeking compensation for forced hiding or
 illegal detention were supported by uncorroborated personal
 This did not prevent claimants from receiving compensation. Worse
 still, the statistical data for category C claims revealed that 43% "of
 claims entered by one national government contained at least one
 discrepancy between the data on the claim and the data entered in the
 database." Another sample had "unacceptably high levels of error in the
 first instalment submitted, and resulted in approximately 40,000 out of
 a batch of 165,000 claims been reprocessed." One point that the report
 omitted was that Datamatics, the Indian company in charge of
 inputting certain data, had undertaken to deliver 99.98% error-free
 results. Despite its failure to comply with this requirement, its contract
 was extended, with the additional proviso that payments should be
 In any normal institution on the receiving end of this sort of criticism
 - probably toned down before publication - heads would have rolled.
 But do the people in charge at the UN still read the reports they
 (1) Financial report and audited financial statements for the biennium
 ended 31 December 1997 and Report of the Board of Auditors, General
 Assembly, Official Records, Fifty-third Session, Supplement N 5
 (A/53/5), United Nations, New York, 1998, pp. 44-51.
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