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Volcker action at UN

New York, Dec. 18: The Volcker Committee report which brought down Natwar Singh may no longer be making daily headlines in India, but here at the UN, it is turning from a tropical storm into a cyclone.

Last week, to the surprise of many of the UN’s 191 members, Costa Rica, of all countries, forced the UN General Assembly to include “Follow-up to the recommendations of the independent inquiry committee into the UN oil-for-food programme” as an agenda item in its ongoing session.

What this means is that the report will be discussed in the coming months by the Assembly. India’s suspected dirty linen will be washed during that debate because Singh’s exit is clearly the most high-profile fallout so far of the Volcker report.

Even if it is not, it will loom large as a shadow over the debate.

At the Assembly’s general committee, which is like the business advisory committee of Parliament, India fought hard to restrict the language of the inscription of the Volcker report as an agenda item in the Assembly.

India’s permanent representative to the UN, Nirupam Sen, said he could go along with a decision to recommend inclusion of the item on the agenda as long as the text reinforced “administrative management and internal oversight” measures at the UN as a follow-up to the Volcker report.

At Sen’s insistence, the Assembly is now likely to concentrate on improving oversight and auditing of programmes such as the Iraqi relief and less on headline-making fallouts of the report, such as Singh’s ignominy.

Yet, it is highly probable that there will at least be innuendos on the reaction in India to Volcker’s findings, if only to argue that the UN should take the report in dead earnest.

India could not oppose the Costa Rican demand in the general committee because not even one of the 21 countries on the committee was against the idea that the Assembly should be seized of the findings about the oil-for-food scam.

It was a telling reflection of the predicament in which the allegations against Singh have placed “emerging” India that all it could do was to make the best of a bad situation.

India was also not in a position to oppose the Costa Rican proposal because it highlights the present inequities at the UN with a Security Council that does not reflect UN membership and needs reform.

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