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UNDP Leases Ten Room for Tony For $1.3 Million, Cash From Norway and DFID Not In Hand

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 30 -- To rent ten rooms in Jerusalem for Quartet envoy Tony Blair, the UN Development Program spent $1.3 million that it did not have commitments for, and signed a lease before any internal review procedure, and without considering comparable prices. The lease, a copy of which Inner City Press has obtained -- first page online here, with room number redacted -- was dated August 27, for the signature of Roberto Valent, the Special Representative of UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. Nine days later, when the lease was reviewed in a so-called ACP meeting, numerous irregularities were found: that no comparable rates had been provided, that the UK has chosen the hotel but had UNDP sign that lease, that the even then speculative financing, from Norway and UK DFID, came to less than the $1.3 million cost of the lease. The funds used were from the Administrator's discretionary fund -- essentially, a slush fund, a black box of funding which was previously used, for example, to pay $700,000 for a book praising UNDP.  It is by providing such flexibility that UNDP asks to be left outside the standards applicable to the UN Secretariat, and exempt from the UN Ethics Office.

 Back on August 24, Inner City Press asked the UN spokesperson, who is funding Blair's office as envoy of the Quartet? From the noon briefing transcript of August 24:

Inner City Press: On Tony Blair's office as the Envoy of the Quartet -- what is going to be the UN's role in paying the cost of that office?  Is it going to pay a quarter, is it paying all, is it paying none?  Where does that stand?

Spokesperson:  I'll try to find out for you -- I don't have that information.

  The UN Spokesperson never provided the information, so Inner City Press on August 29 asked the UN's then-outgoing Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Michael Williams, at the stakeout beside the Security Council.

            "It's out of some trust fund," Williams said.

            Inner City Press asked, "Administered by the UN Department of Political Affairs?"

            Mr. Williams looked off-camera and asked a staffer. The answer? UNDP.

            UNDP is not a part of, or party to, the Quartet. Blair's rent was charged to a project called PAL 10-57773, in UNDP's "Program of Assistance to the Palestinian People." It does not appear that this use of funds was ever presented to UNDP's Executive Board.

Tony Blair: UNDP aims to please, with or without cash or mandate

            In the more than two months since the lease was signed, Tony Blair has been there only a few days. Sources say that others have used the rooms, including most notably a group of female volleyball players. Fitness appears to be a theme: other residents of the American Colony Hotel, in which Blair's lair is on the fourth floor, have complained about the appropriation to that floor of one of the hotel's two treadmill running machines.

            The lease envisions UNDP -- on behalf of the so-called "Quartet Blair Mission" -- making alterations and improvements to the ten-room spread, including the installation of security film on the windows. (The reference here is to the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, a UN mission destroyed by a truck bomb in 2003, with most deaths caused by flying glass from filmless windows.)  The lease also provides for the eventuality of the "total destruction" of the hotel. As may be significant, the Quartet Blair Mission is not allowed to sublet the space. So who, informed sources want to know, gave access to the volleyball team? Developing.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  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 Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540