ONCE AGAIN the independent investigators into the United Nations' oil-for-food scandal have pulled no punches. Their latest report has not, as critics feared, shied away from criticizing the behavior of powerful U.N. officials. On the contrary, it has examined in detail the behavior of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as that of his son. Kojo Annan worked for Cotecna Inspection S.A., a company that won a contract to inspect goods coming into Iraq under the oil-for-food program. While the investigators found that Kojo Annan misled the secretary general about the length of his employment, and while it seems all too clear that he intended to profit from his U.N. connections, the probe did not find any evidence that Cotecna won its U.N. contract thanks to Kofi Annan's intervention. Nevertheless, the report does not, as Mr. Annan claimed this week, amount to an "exoneration."
For while Mr. Annan was not found guilty of direct corruption, the portrait of the secretary general's office, as it emerges from the report, is not attractive. Mr. Annan's former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, is found to have authorized the destruction of three years' worth of documents -- a procedure that began, perhaps not coincidentally, right after the investigation was launched. The head of the United Nations' office of internal oversight, Dileep Nair, is also found to have paid the salary of a staff member using money that had been designated for the administration of the oil-for-food program. This is particularly disturbing, given that Mr. Nair was the person responsible for monitoring U.N. management systems and the staff member was employed to design an anti-corruption program. These new revelations, when added to the portrait of dicey procurement practices outlined in the previous oil-for-food investigation report, don't exactly make the United Nations look like a model of efficiency.
For many at the United Nations, the publication of these reports, along with other recent revelations -- trafficking among peacekeepers, sexual harassment scandals among U.N. bureaucrats -- have created a real sense of crisis. And rightly so: Unless the organization undergoes serious, deep and immediate reforms, it will lose what remaining credibility it retains. The United Nations and its agencies perform many vital functions, from global health monitoring to crisis coordination. It is critical that the institution be prepared to meet these challenges and that the employees' behavior matches the institution's rhetoric.
There are many signs to indicate that the current leadership understands this. In recent days Mr. Annan has proposed a series of reforms, not only calling for the elimination of some of the United Nations' outmoded institutions, such as the discredited High Commission on Human Rights, but also reform of the secretariat itself. He has proposed a one-time senior employee buyout to "refresh and realign staff to meet current needs," a euphemistic way of saying that he understands that the organization is top-heavy with political appointees. His staff promises that more practical proposals -- protection for whistle-blowers, greater rules about transparency and accountability -- are in the works. Mr. Annan has indeed been personally damaged by the oil-for-food scandal, but many of the United Nations' problems predate his arrival and will continue after he leaves unless they are addressed. And that, in the end, is precisely why he should stay on in the job: Both he and his staff should now have the motivation to carry out an ambitious, vital program of reform.