The United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq: Good Intentions Gone Awry?

Clara Portela, Singapore Management University
Dileep Nair, Singapore Management University

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After the Gulf War of 1991, the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. To alleviate the crippling effects of the sanctions, the Council established the Oil-for-Food programme in 1995 that allowed Iraq to sell its oil and use the funds to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. The Office for the Iraq Programme (OIP) administered the Oil-for-Food programme. In 2000, Dileep Nair was appointed Head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) at the UN. Nair was responsible for auditing, investigating, evaluating and inspecting UN programmes, including the Oil-for-Food programme.

Nair sought to review the work of OIOS with the intention of refocusing department resources to areas of high risk. A cursory review of UN programmes identified Oil-for-Food as a major risk in terms of the potential for operational failure and damage to the UN reputation. In the absence of adequate internal resources, Nair aimed to institute a full-scale risk analysis of the programme with the help of external consultants. However, this initiative was blocked. What should he do?