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Stages Skipped in UN North Korea Audit, UNDP Gets First Dibs on the White Wash, Sources Say

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, May 7 -- "The auditors are ready to submit their final report," Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson told Inner City Press on Monday, in response to a request for confirmation that the 90-day "urgent audit" Mr. Ban called for 108 days ago was on Friday shown to UNDP's Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert.

            The issue's no longer the timing, however, but credibility of the audit. There was a two-week process in the second half of March, which UNDP's David Morrison pointedly told Inner City Press was not the real audit, but only a preparatory phase. The press corps was told that this preliminary scope-of-work would be presented to the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which would okay the funding and specifics of the "real" audit, which it seemed clear had to involve visits to North Korea.

            Then something changed, and the "preliminary scope of work" was deemed to be enough to constitute the audit, and no country visit was apparently even requested.  What is it, then, that changed?

            Close observers interviewed by Inner City Press, both inside and outside of UNDP, offer competing but not inconsistent theories. These include the rather obvious point that as the Six Party Talks with North Korea progressed, the UN's interest in conducting an objective, on-site audit waned.  Others point at and theorized about Mr. Ban's near-immediate backing away from the full-scope independent audit demanded on January 19, to the January 22 announcement of more limited -- but still not carried out -- audit focused on UNDP in North Korea.

    Inner City Press at the time asked without response who had reached out to Mr. Ban in the intervening weekend. Now an insider tells Inner City Press that the Assistant Secretary General for (among other things) Mandate Review  was involved, somewhat like "Mister Brown with the candlestick in the drawing room," in the old board game Clue. We'll have more on this.

Messrs. Hill and Ban: full on-site audit became inconvenient?

   For now, the party whose position has changed the most in recent months is the United States. Even two weeks ago, after Inner City Press obtained and published a copy of UNDP's April 20 memo about being thrown out of North Korea, the U.S. Mission told Inner City Press, through its deputy spokesman Benjamin Chang, "Where's the independent audit the UN promised?  If the DPRK and UN aren't willing to conduct an independent review of foreign aid in DPRK, then what are they hiding...".

    But as the clock ticked past even Ban's 90 day deadline, and as it became clear that there would be no auditors' visit to North Korea, the U.S. Mission has had nothing to say. New Ambassador Khalilzad has, as previously noted, declined to hold the "program of work" press conference that all other Security Council presidents hold, while arranging several by-invitation-only media availabilities outside of the UN. Does he have anything to say on this issue? If so, he'd better hurry up, informed sources says.

            Here was the exchange at Monday's UN noon briefing, first Inner City Press and then a Sunny correspondent, responded to by spokesperson Michele Montas, video here, transcript here --

Inner City Press: Th[is] has to do with the North Korea audit.  We've heard, and I wonder if you could confirm, that the Board of Auditors presented a draft of the final audit to Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert on Friday.  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don't know at this point.  I do know that the Board of Auditors is planning very soon to give the report to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Inner City Press: But I just wanted to ask, I thought the report they were giving to them was this preliminary, two-week scope of work report.  But now, we're told, at least I've heard, that what was shown to Dervis and Melkert is the final report.  Which is it?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that it is the final report.  I will let you know when I find out.  But I do know that the auditors are ready to submit their final report...

Question:  To follow on Matthew, actually... Is it fair to say that the final report may be handed down without the team ever visiting North Korea?

Spokesperson:  It could happen, if they had all the information they needed.

Question:  How could they have all the information they needed without visiting the country in which this operation was taking place?  I mean, part of the issue, as I understand it, is that there were projects that did not, according to some allegations, were not even real projects.  They were like (inaudible).  The question is, without looking at those projects, how would you know? 

Spokesperson:  Well, I think those are pretty... you said they were not projects.  I think all the projects that took place were projects.  Whether you might disagree on the way the projects were handled is another story, but they were bona fide projects that took place over a number of years.

Question:  Well, the question is:  how do you know without auditors even visiting the country to see...

Spokesperson:  Well, Iím sure as soon as the final report is in, you can have answers to your questions.

Inner City Press: One example that comes to mind is the Chicago Tribune reported that 300 computers were delivered to North Korea and 298 of them disappeared and were unaccounted for.  That seemed to be the kind of thing that could not be proved or disproved from outside, without going to actually see.

Spokesperson:  Let's wait to see what the report will say. 

            While the spokeswoman still has the audit will go to ACABQ, which resumes meeting on May 14, some now say that since the purpose of ACABQ review would be to recommend funding for a full audit, now it may be bypassed, and go straight to the 38th floor of the UN, to the office of Ban Ki-moon.

            Inner City Press is told that the report is so craven as to praise UNDP finance chief Darshak Shaw by name. Some say that this singling out is not unrelated to the solidarity of one of the three auditors. What was called the preliminary phase of the audit was one week late in beginning, ostensibly due to the health of one of the three auditors. After a mere two weeks of work, now the auditors have all left, the Resident Representative Timo Pakkala is reportedly in Palmas de Mayorca, having left Mozambique where no interviews have been possible, and the white wash is being prepared...

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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UN Auditors Without Access, UNDP's Audi Without a Driver As N. Korea Recalls Visas

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 26 -- In late 2006 in Pyongyang the UN's Resident Coordinator for North Korea, Timo Pakkala of the UN Development Program, wanted a new car. He had been driving a six year old Volvo S-80 with some 40,000 miles on it. He wanted to trade up to an Audi A6, navy blue like the Volvo, but brand new and costing $45,481. Such a ride is by definition a luxury good, and sanctions of such items were in the air like Kim Jong Il's missiles. So Timo ordered the Audi from China, and upon arrival affixed the United Nations' blue flag to it. Even in a repressive country like North Korea, it's good to be resident coordinator.

            Now, four months into 2007, Timo Pakkala is on leave from UNDP. His second in command Vineet Bhatia was on March 26 ordered to leave North Korea by May 3. Click here for that letter. At UN Headquarters on April 26, UNDP spokesman David Morrison said of Bhatia and Paul Brewah, the last UNDP international staff in North Korea, "They are not persona non grata. Their visas have not been cancelled." Video here, from Minute 31:30.

            To the contrary, inside sources point to an April 21 e-mail from one of the two staff members being expelled, Vineet Bhatia, stating that the National Coordinating Committee had ordered the return of all Ministry of Foreign Affairs identification cards and all visas, from all UNDP staff.

            Mr. Bhatia, who was left in charge after the departure from North Korea of UN Resident Coordinator Timo Pakkala in mid-March, e-mailed a plea to those who had left with any documents to return them to Pyongyang, by courier "DHL, as soon as possible."

            Those UNDP staff already in China, where Mr. Bhatia and Paul Brewah are headed on May 3, were directed to give any and all documents to the Beijing office for return to the North Korea government.

            Five days later, UNDP's spokesperson told reporters that "their visas have not been cancelled." He went on to say that "the [North Korean] authorities have taken the view that as we don't have any ongoing activities in the country, that once they had finished what we asked them to do -- which was to prepare for the audit and to wind down the programs -- that they should depart the country."

            But that at the time North Korea ordered UNDP to leave, on March 26, the UN auditors had yet to finish even their first round of their work. Ban Ki-moon's 90 day deadline for the audit to be completed has come and gone, and still the auditors have had no access to North Korea. Knowledgeable sources who have themselves left North Korea tell Inner City Press they are amazed at attempts to characterize these ejected UNDP staff as somehow invited back.

Cars in North Korea, Timo's Audi A6 not shown

            Thursday Inner City Press asked about how Timo Pakkala can remain UN resident coordinator for North Korea if he is not in the country, and is on leave. UNDP's David Morrison answered that no new resident coordinator has been designated because there are no substantial UN-affiliated development programs remaining in North Korea. But UNICEF, the World Food Program and others have characterized their programs as development-related. Earlier, North Korea expelled the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, saying that it did not want or need charity, but rather development.

            By contrast to UNDP, which Thursday sought to justify turning over computer servers and other assets to the same North Korean government that is expelling it, when OCHA was told to leave, it gave its equipment not to the government but to other UN agencies, including UNDP.

            When asked on Thursday who made the decision for UNDP to give equipment to the Kim Jong Il government, Mr. Morrison referred to a task force, later specifying it is chaired by Hafiz Pasha, UNDP's chief for Asia and the Pacific. Unlike his subordinate David Lockwood, Mr. Pasha was not sent a copy of the Board of Auditors March 1 memo. Now that UNDP's last two international staff are being expelled from North Korea and are having their visas cancelled, contrary to UNDP's representations, how likely is it that North Korea will accede to Ban Ki-moon's February 28 letter asking that UN auditors be allowed into North Korea?

            Following Mr. Morrison's press conference on Thursday, concerns about security were expressed by sources with knowledge of ongoing UN operations in North Korea. The head of UN security in each country, called the Designated Officer, is the resident coordinator. Since Timo Pakkala has retained that title despite being out of the country and on leave, the dozens of UN personnel still in North Korea are, in these sources view, being compromised by UN / UNDP politics. These sources also say that while on "Special Leave," Timo Pakkala is not allowed to perform any duties for UNDP, much less coordinate UN security in a country he no longer has access to.

             And to come full circle, an item that may be of concern to him is the $45,000 Audi. It was left in UNDP's parking lot. A person knowledgeable about the Audi opines that perhaps the World Food Program, as de facto coordinator without formal security responsibilities, will start the engine from time to time. Who will drive Pakkala's Audi? 

  Auditors without access, Audi left driver-less by hard currency, cover-ups and missiles. To be continued.

UNDP Downplays N. Korea's Order that Two Staff Leave, Melkert's Hiring, Zimbabwe and Gambia

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 25 -- Thirty days after the UN Development Program was told by the Kim Jong Il government that its final two international staff had to leave North Korea, UNDP's spokesman David Morrison finally came to the UN press briefing room to provide his agency's version of events.

    Mr. Morrison said that the two staff members, Vineet Bhatia and Paul Brewah, were not declared "persona non grata," since North Korea did not revoke their visas. But the UNDP letter which Inner City Press obtained and uploaded on April 22 states that "in a meeting with Mr. Jan Chun Sik on 26 March, we have been informed of the Government decision that the remaining international UNDP staff should leave DPRK by the end of April." So, they were told they had to leave. Why did UNDP not announce it? This question was asked -- video here, from Minute 31:30 -- but still has not been answered.

   Mr. Morrison passed out a half-page statement concerning UNDP's "the transfer of the titles for assets already being used by the DPRK authorities in UNDP-supported projects." One reporter asked, so you just gave the equipment to them, even though they're throwing you out of the country? The answer is yes. The unanswered question is whether the computers so given, for example, have on them information necessary for the "urgent audit" to be completed in 90 days which Ban Ki-moon called for 96 days ago.

    Mr. Morrison said it is not clear if the audit will be done by UNDP's next Executive Board meeting in June, or even the one after that, in September. So the 90 day audit may still be incomplete after 140 days, or 230 days. Mr. Morrison said that since UNDP is the agency that is the subject of the audit, they cannot answer as to the timing. But who can, then? The three auditors, Inner City Press is informed, have gone back to their countries. General Assembly president spokesman Ashraf Kamal has said that the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, the ACABQ, has yet to receive anything from the auditors.

    Mr. Morrison did specify that the first phase of the audit took place between "March 19 and March 29." He also downplayed the significance of the DPRK's March 26 order that UNDP's two remaining international staff leave the country by saying that they had "finished preparing for the audit." But how as of March 26, when the DPRK issued the order for them to leave, and while even the first phase of the audit still had three days to run, could UNDP in North Korea have "finished preparing for the audit"? This has not been explained. Nor have at least four questions on which Mr. Morrison said he would return with information:

-a question about a registry of gifts to UNDP and UNDP officials;

-whether any UNDP program involved flying North Korean scientists to Iran;

-whether UNDP is reconsidering its involvement with the Robert Mugabe government Human Rights Commission, if Zimbabwe's National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations is not longer "inviting" UNDP to be involved, as UNDP claims; and

-whether UNDP checked with the government of Gambia, about the new acting resident representative and his views on HIV/AIDS, before assigning him to replace on an acting basis the last UNDP resident representative, who was expelled for questioning Gambia's president's position that he can cure AIDS without medicine.  (Click here for that story.) There is an additional question of whether that expulsion constitutes, in UNDP's definition, being declared persona non grata.

   On the question of UNDP's involvement with the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe, Mr. Morrison referred to yesterday's story and said that it is the type of issue that will be discussed at the UNDP meeting this week in Brazzaville. Both Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert are "in Central Africa," Mr. Morrison said. Dervis (and perhaps Melkert) spokeswoman Christina LoNigro disclosed, just prior to the noon press briefing, that for now the Officer in Charge of UNDP is Bruce Jenks, the director of UNDP's Bureau for Resources and Strategic Partnerships.

  In response to Inner City Press' questions regarding UNDP's own audit function, with previous director Jessie Rose Mabutas gone and the number two slot empty, Mr. Morrison said that the officer of charge of audit is one Antoine Khoury.

    On Wednesday, when UNDP did not come to the briefing, Inner City Press asked spokesperson Michele Montas who is the UN's resident coordinator in North Korea, since UNDP has been ordered to leave. "WFP," she said: the World Food Program.

UN Photo: UNDP's David Morrison as UN's Michele Montas reflects

   But WFP's spokeswoman on Thursday told Inner City Press that "all questions on resident coordinator should go to UNDP/UNDG." So on Thursday morning, Inner City Press asked UNDP:

"who at which agency will be the resident coordinator for DPR Korea?

Also before noon -- has any UNDP official at D1 and above filed a new financial disclosure form, and have they turned these into the UN's Ethics Office for review?"

   Does UNDP fall under the UN's Whistleblower protection policy?  Is a person who comes forward with information about violations of rules or regulations in UNDP have the same protection against retaliation that is afforded to Secretariat staff?

  And the Eelco Keij / Melkert, the Romania gold mine and the Philippines questions, which I have emailed to you a number of times now -- please answer them."

    Some of these questions have now been answered. During the noon briefing, Mr. Morrison stated that steps are being taken to bring UNDP's whistleblower protection policies in line with those of the UN Secretariat, and that consideration is being given to moving UNDP's ethics unit out of the Office of Human Resources -- the downshifting of whose director in late November 2006 gave rise to Inner City Press' ongoing UNDP series -- and to make it independent. The timeline, according to Mr. Morrison, is in the last two quarters of 2007.

   On financial disclosure, which is required of all senior officials in the UN Secretariat (and which has been made public by Ban Ki-moon), Mr. Morrison said that moves are afoot to require financial disclosure at UNDP from those at the D-1 level and up, as early as this summer. Clearly this means that financial disclosures do not yet take place, which is puzzling since UNPD's ethics unit was describes as already being involved in financial disclosure, video here, from Minute 40:22.  Still, more answers were given on Thursday than has heretofore been the case. Finally, just before noon, the "Eelco Keij / Melkert" question was responded to:

Subject: RE: Simple questions, several to be answered before or at noon
From: [Administrator's Spokeswoman at]
To: Matthew Russell Lee
Sent: Thu, 26 Apr 2007 11:34 AM

...Eelco Keij was recruited on a six-month external consultant contract in February 2007 in full compliance with UNDPís procurement guidelines to provide additional support to the Executive Office of UNDP. The terms of reference for the consultancy were submitted to the Office of Human Resources with a request to identify qualified candidates for the assignment. Four candidates were considered for the consultancy and a desk review was completed in accordance with procedure. Prior to working for the Executive Office Eelco Keij had been working for the Partnerships Bureau in UNDP from April - November 2006. Eelco was an intern for Gertjan Van Oven, a Member of Parliament in 1998 when Ad Melkert was the Leader of the Dutch Labour Party. There was no formal or informal contact between Eelco and Ad Melkert.

   While appreciative of the belated response, it's worth noting that Eelco's connections with Melkert's Dutch Labor Party did not end in 1998 -- Eelco is still the Party's secretary in New York, and has a blog on the Party's site, even while working for UNDP's Partnerships Bureau. We note that in Armenia, UNDP is firing a staffer reportedly for his blogging activities in other-than-work-hours, click here. We'll have more on this.

  The alluded to Philippines and Romania goldmine questions have still not been answered, but moves are afoot, including through other UN channels.

    At Thursday's noon briefing, contrary to the statement from the same rostrum of the day before, it was stated that Timo Pakkala remains the UN's resident coordinator in North Korea, even while on special leave with full pay -- Mr. Morrison says in Europe, while sources tell Inner City Press it's Mozambique, where Mr. Pakkala's wife works for UNICEF, but who's counting. Inner City Press asked, given that the UN system-wide coherence proposal would make of UNDP the resident coordinator, how can Mr. Pakkala coordinate other UN agencies if he is on leave?

   Mr. Morrison answered that the UN no longer has any substantial development programs in the DPRK, so for the time being there has been no need to shift responsibilities. Mr. Morrison urged that the press not link UNDP's proposed role in system-wide coherence with these events in North Korea.

   It was requested that UNDP from now on hold at least a weekly press briefing. Mr. Morrison replied that although he has been at UNDP for two years, there has only been a demand since December 2006. (See above.) And so we can expect a weekly briefing? Mr. Morrison said that Kemal Dervis, as well as Ad Melkert, are "eager to speak with you." We'll see.

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

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