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At UN, Nigeria Gives Myanmar $500,000, Bypassing UN Programs, Also UN-Transparent

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 25 -- Two days before Christmas, Myanmar's mission to the UN got a gift with no strings attached. In the dimly-lit Indonesia Lounge next to the General Assembly chamber, Nigeria's Permanent Representative Joy Ogwu handed her counterpart from Myanmar Kyaw Tint Swe a check for $500,000. This was Nigeria's response to the UN's plea for funds to continue to respond to Cyclone Nargis, which hit in May.

   The UN has been exposed, first by Inner City Press, for allowing the military government of Myanmar to take 25% of aid funds through currency exchange. Nigeria gave its money directly, in U.S. dollars, and apparently with no requirement to report back on how the funds are used. This is the type of hard currency for which Senior General Than Shwe is desperate.

  Later on December 23, Inner City Press asked a South Asian diplomat active on the UN budget why he thought Nigeria gave direct. "You make more friends that way," he said. "If you give through the UN, you don't know how your money's used. If you give it direct, you can ask for reports if you want. And if you don't want, that's fine to. You just have a new friend."

   There are at least two possible explanations of Nigeria's direct "south to south" contribution. One is that there's a lack of confidence in the UN system as a transmitter of funds. For example, the UN has not even committed to disclosing, in the Consolidated Appeals that it issues, how much it loses in government-required currency exchange. The second is that Nigeria wants a friend in Myanmar, perhaps even a piece of the resources for which China and India, along firms such as Total and even Lloyds, and South Korea's Daewoo, are competing.

  Ambassador Ogwu's statement, a copy of which Inner City Press obtained and puts online here, professes Nigeria's "unflinching support for the government" of Myanmar.

Kyaw Tint Swe and Joy Ogwu, check in foreground, oversight not shown (c) M.Lee

  In the half-light on December 23, there were only two reporters present. Inner City Press asked Ambassador Ogwu if the UN's envoy to Myanmar, fellow Nigerian Ibrahim Gambari, had played any role in this donation. No, she insisted. She had previous told Inner City Press that her government had invited Gambari to try to mediate the Niger Delta conflict not as a UN official -- that would "internationalize" the conflict, she said -- but rather as a Nigerian personality.

   The Myanmar government, too, opposes internationalization, not only in the form of UN peacekeepers, but even election monitors. Ban Ki-moon was told to leave the country when voting in the run-up to the controversial elections, which exclude Aung San Suu Kyi, was held.

  The other reporter asked a aide to Kyaw Tint Swe how much the check was for. "None of your business," he replied. Hardly an auspicious beginning to transparency in aid use.

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

Click here for Inner City Press Nov. 7 debate on the war in Congo

Watch this site, and this Oct. 2 debate, on UN, bailout, MDGs

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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