Saturday, October 22, 2005

Corruption Breeds Incompetence

That corruption breeds incompetence is nicely illustrated by the UN's clumsy editing-out of Syrian leaders from its report on the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister.

The MS Word Track Changes feature is useful whenever a group develops a document - e.g. a contract. It shows all changes (deletions scored through, additions highlighted), you can mail it to and fro and the different parties can make their edits. You can see who made a change, and when, by hovering over it - the information pops up in a tooltip. You can hide all this editing when you want to see a clean copy, and then go back to seeing the edits. But it's essential that when the document is complete, you click Accept Changes - otherwise recipients can see what edits were made, who applied them, and when.

Salesmen and it turns out journalists, routinely switch on Show Changes when they receive a sensitive Word document, just in case the author forgot the Accept Changes step.

So it was with the UN:

UN office doctored report on murder of Hariri

THE United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.

The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.


The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.

The final, edited version quoted a witness as saying that the plot to kill Mr Hariri was hatched by unnamed “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials”. But the undoctored version named those officials as “Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamal al-Sayyed”.

It gets worse!

Mr Annan had pledged repeatedly through his chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, that he would not change a word of the report by Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor.

But computer tracking showed that the final edit began at about 11.38am on Thursday — a minute after Herr Mehlis began a meeting with Mr Annan to present his report. The names of Maher al-Assad, General Shawkat and the others were apparently removed at 11.55am, after the meeting ended.

At a press conference yesterday Herr Mehlis insisted that Mr Annan had not pressurised him into making changes.

Oh yeah! Either way, UN officers - probably Annan and Mehlis in concert - were seeking to hide crucial information from the Security Council, their governing body.

As previously observed, the UN is inherently corrupt, since it represents its mostly corrupt members. What this little story shows is how corruption destroys competence. Honest people expect criticism and make sure they have their act together, whereas the corrupt think they can suppress anything they want. Sadly for them, in our un-corrupt societies, they cannot.

To paraphrase Oscar W, one must have a heart of stone not to laugh.