The Moving Finger Writes
The Volcker Report and Congress
By M.V. Kamath
So much has been written about the Volcker Report?known as the report of the ?Independent Inquiry Committee? and its repercussions in India that many tend to forget why the Inquiry Committee was set up in the first place and under what circumstances.
For years, relations between the United States and Iraq had seen many ups and downs. Washington had no problem whatsoever in supporting Iraq under Saddam Hussein when he engaged himself in a needless but bloody conflict with Iran. The United States cheerfully supplied Saddam with some deadly weapons. That is common knowledge.
Saddam had no pretensions to being a democratic leader. He was plain and simply a dictator and a tyrant, but the US had no compunction in supporting him when it thought that served American interests. America has happily supported dictators whether in the Middle East or in Latin America or even in Pakistan, when that suited its purpose. It was when Saddam attacked Kuwait that the US decided that he was an evil man who had to be thrown out.
Iraq claimed that it had a legitimate claim on Kuwait but conceding such a claim was not in western interests. The US quickly ?liberated? Kuwait and hit back at Iraq viciously. Iraq paid a very heavy price for its adventurism. Sanctions were imposed on Iraq, at US insistence. They were the most brutal ever sanctioned against a sovereign country. Iraq was prohibited from selling oil or trading in goods or even purchasing medicine and other essential commodities.
The result was that in about 12 years, from 1990 onwards, some 500,000 children died and according to one report, in all the sanctions were responsible for the untimely death of between 1.5 and 2 million Iraqis. This is cruelty of the highest order. World opinion was deeply stirred and to meet this, the UN Security Council passed a resolution in April 1995 allowing the sale of oil to import humanitarian goods, but it was left to the UN office for Iraq to decide how much oil could be sold.
If the issue is one of morality, then the US had no business in waging war against South Korea, Vietnam and later Iraq.
The Iraqi government was not allowed to act responsibly towards its own people. The money raised by selling oil went?shockingly enough?to a UN designated account. That money was subsequently transferred to what came to be known as Development Fund for Iraq. The fund was operated by the US and part of the money was spent on a ?Reconstruction Programme? contracts mainly given to American companies. These companies quietly made millions and there has been no inquiry into this. All this was intended to humiliate Saddam Hussein who was then still in power.
When, in 1998, the US allowed the terms for further sale of oil to be relaxed, Saddam Hussein used the opportunity to contact companies and organisations in various countries that had in the past been friendly towards him. And what is wrong with that? Saddam simultaneously tried to generate funds for his own government by levying surcharges on the oil contracts and inland transport charges and after sales service charges.
According to the former petroleum minister in the NDA government, Shri Ram Naik, Iraq was ready to offer India crude oil at $ 2 less per barrel than the international market rates, provided India paid $ 0.50 per barrel as commission. Shri Naik declined to accept the offer, but that was for him to decide.
Apparently some 134 Indian companies were willing to pay the commission. May it be remembered that the commission was sought by a sovereign nation, not by a third party. Besides, as many as 2,553 companies apparently sold ?humanitarian goods? to Iraq and paid its government in all about $ 1.55 billion under the heads of ?After Sales Service Charges? and ?Inland Transportation Charges?. Was this ?illicit??
According to Tata International Ltd, one of the involved Indian companies which did business with Iraq, the Oil For Food Programme (OFFP) was fully aware of the Inland Transportation Fees (ITF) and the After Sales Service Fees (ASSF) that it had to pay on all contracts it signed. Nothing was done behind the scene. Every payment was above board. How then can it be called a ?bribe??
According to a spokesman of Tata International, it had ?no reason to believe there was anything illegal or illicit in such payments?. All contracts had been duly approved by the Iraqi Government. If that is the case, can payments made under signed contracts be called ?kickbacks?? Is the Government of India going to charge 134 Indian companies which did business with Iraq with indulging in corruption? Incidentally, has anybody in India made any attempt to find out how much commission various business bodies in the country pay to ministers for getting orders on various counts? Who is fooling whom? If a government?any government?openly demands a pay-back, that is par for the course. If the United States had not sought to depose Saddam Hussein?a man, once upon a time, after its own heart?would the occasion have arisen for the Iraqi government to try to raise funds for itself on the sly? What ?business? did the US have in invading Iraq on false grounds? If the issue is one of morality, then the US had no business in waging war against South Korea, Vietnam and later Iraq. The United States was totally in the wrong when it intervened militarily in Granada in 1983, in Panama in 1989 and when the US jointly with Britain attacked Libya on their own in 1986. Apparently, the United States and Britain can do no wrong. If American companies looted Iraqi funds supposedly in pursuit of reconstruction activities, nobody raises his voice. But let non-American companies sign legal contracts with the Iraqi government on the latter'sterms, then they are charged with paying ?kickbacks?.
Let this be said: The United States (and United Kingdom) had no business to attack Iraq. They did so on false grounds. No one ever found any weapons of mass destruction within Iraqi territory, try as hard as they could. But just because the United States suspected Iraq of accumulating such weapons, ? wrongly, as it turned out?the Iraqi people have been made to suffer grievously.
Why can'tthe world hold Washington accountable for perpetrating a heinous crime against the Iraqi people? And why do we have to accept Paul Volcker'sinterpretation of an official Iraqi government'scontract order?
Are American hands clean? The Volcker Report is meant to detract the attention of the world from crimes committed by America. Washington'spretence at high morality need to be exposed. In the past it has been guilty of even greater crimes than many nations would openly like to admit. Why are we afraid to say that the Emperor has no clothes?
Why are we constantly beating our breasts and telling the world that our companies have sinned, when the biggest sinner is the United States of America, as has been seen time and again?