UN DESA's Centers May be Discontinued, As Nagoya
Center Funding Disappears, Sources Say
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, June
19 -- As questions have grown around the far-flung centers of the UN's
Department of Social and Economic Affairs,
departing DESA head Jose Antonio Ocampo has
agreed to launch an internal investigation to assign blame for at least one of
the centers, that in Thessaloniki, from which the donor, Greece's government,
demanded $5 million back.
press conference Tuesday that was, at least initially, about the
ageing of the world's
population, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ocampo about the status of audits of the
Thessaloniki Center, and about discrepancies that have arisen about DESA's
Center on Regional Development, based in Nagoya, Japan.
Nagoya Center has satellite offices in Bogota and in Nairobi, for "training-cum-research
activities." Based on concerns
raised to Inner City Press, a request was made to disclose the budget, over time, of
the Nagoya Center. DESA staff, saying that DESA does not have its own
communications office, sent their answer to the Office of the Spokesperson for
Ban Ki-moon, from which this arrived:
Subj: DESA fwd, Policy Committee, thanks
From: [Deputy Spokesperson at] un.org
To: Inner City Press
Date: 6/5/2007 5:06:28 PM Eastern Standard
DESA response: Regarding the United
Nations Centre on Regional Development: It was established in 1971 under an
agreement between the Government of Japan and the United Nations. The purpose of
the Centre is to promote training, research, advisory services and technical
assistance in the exchange of practical experience in regional development. and
related fields. The Centre is funded through voluntary contributions by the
Government of Japan, who have contributed on average $3.5 million annually
during the past 6 years.
informed sources tell Inner City Press that the Japanese government's funding
for the Center has fallen from $6 million in 2002 to $3 million in 2006. Not
only is the $3.5 million average not accurate, these sources say, it also
obscures the basis for the declining funding: a loss of faith in the UN Center
due, among other things, to what these sources say was a "disappearance" of $1.5
million in Center funds.
run-up to Tuesday's "Development in an Ageing World" press conference, Inner
City Press sent Mr. Ocampo and another DESA staffer the following questions:
In an investigative inquiry following-up
on the referral to OIOS of DESA's Thessaloniki Center, sources have told us that
the government of Japan's annual contribution to the Center has declined from $6
million in 2002 down to $3 million now -- please confirm or deny. This is also a
request for your comment on your awareness of staff / employment complaints
regarding Kazunobu Onogawa as well as his predecessor... Sources have described
an amount of money that went missing -- this is a request on deadline that you
confirm or deny and state your knowledge.
context of the questions was Mr. Ocampo's non-appearance at the last press
conference he had been scheduled to give on
and his associates' promise that he would however launch this ageing report in
person. Just before the press conference began, a staff member said, "Questions
only about the report." But Mr. Ocampo, to his credit, said he would be willing
to take some questions "as well [on] some of the weaknesses we have shown over
these years." Video
from Minute 23:40.
"Development in an Ageing World"
report, Inner City
Press asked about its projection of rising fertility rates in developed
countries. The response came not from Mr. Ocampo but from the chief of DESA's
Mortality Section, John Wilmoth, who said the increase was speculative, based on
incentives some governments have begun to offer to increase their "native-born"
birthrates. (Russia comes to mind.) Mr. Ocampo said that in keeping with the
"Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing," adopted five years ago, the
report's ideas about pension plans will be promoted through, among others, the
UN Development Group.
was he? Relatively, no. J.A. Ocampo taking questions, June 19, 2007
matters," along with requesting an update on the Thessaloniki Center
investigations, Inner City Press asked, more vaguely than in writing due to the
venue and Mr. Ocampo's approach, whether he could confirm a decline in funding
for the Nagoya Center and state the reason and any awareness of irregularities
in the Center's operations. Video
from Minute 42:40.
Ocampo delivered a three minute response about Thessaloniki, saying that the
UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services has made four recommendations, three
of which have been agreed to. He would not disclose the recommendations,
although he mentioned that OIOS is contesting two contracts as unnecessary. Due
to the poor management of the Center, Mr. Ocampo said, he had decided that the
contracts had to be entered into from New York, to "maintain a minimum level of
be that it is a better solution to keep a limited number of these centers, or
not have these centers... Discuss with my successor," said Mr. Ocampo, referring
to Sha Zukang of China, who begins on July 1.
of the outstanding Nagoya Center questions, Mr. Ocampo referred to "initial
enthusiasm... that tends to decline," indirectly confirming the decline in
funding which has been reported to Inner City Press (but which was obscured by
the first formal response, above, which provided only an annual average of
funding). Mr. Ocampo's reference to "no mal-performance" at the Nagoya Center
does not jibe with what informed sources have been saying. Well-placed sources
say that the disappearance of funds was not pursued, nor were complaints, on
which we intend to report further, against UNCRD director Kazunobu Onogawa as
well as his predecessor. Those knowledgeable about the missing-funds incident
include the UN's former Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs and certain of his "proteges."
These questions will continue to be pursued, as well the case of an individual
not come up at Tuesday's press conference:
who is reportedly preparing to cash out his pension, before the Thessaloniki and
other investigations are complete. He will still apparently preside over the
seemingly surreal "Building
Trust in Government" conference slated later this month for Vienna, although
it is no longer clear if Ban Ki-moon will attend. The brochure distributed at
Tuesday's press conference no longer lists Mr. Ban, but does have a photograph
of the UN Development Program's Hafiz Pasha, presiding most recently over the
hard currency and seconded staff scandal surrounding UNDP in North Korea, and
run-up to the tenure of Amb. Sha Zukang as Mr. Ocampo's successor, a description
is emerging in which the UN, particularly through DESA, accepts funding from the
host country of its Centers, then allows the host country to dominate and even
"freelance" with the Center and the UN powers it brings, in exchange for funding
some of which, at least in this case, reported "disappeared."
the arrangements breakdown publicly, as with the UN Thessaloniki Center,
regarding which the Greek government has demanded to get its money back. (In
that case, DESA had formed a competing "partnership" with the Italian
government, resulting in a Naples Center that undermined the questionable work
of the Thessaloniki Center. But who, sources ask, would compete with Nagoya?)
Sometimes, as with the UN Center on Regional Development in Nagoya, disputes
appear to be swept under the carpet, quid pro quo style. Developing...
Again, because a number of Inner City Press'
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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