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UN's Spin on Africa and MDGs Launched, As UNDP Swings Axe on Brasilia, Money Sucked to NY Stars

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 6 -- The World Bank has and spends more money than the UN Secretariat and its Development Program, but the latter's comparative advantage, as Ban Ki-moon phrases it, could be in its ability to produce objective, ear-to-the-ground research.

            On Wednesday at UN Headquarters, Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro "launched," in the UN parlance, a four-page publication, "Africa and the Millennium Development Goals." The tract makes sweeping claims that all of sub-Saharan Africa is behind progress on the MDGs, without naming any countries, then proceeds with eight country-specific "success stories." The ham-handed attempt to manipulate press coverage, to trigger "there's a problem but it can be solved" stories, is clearly aimed at the G-8 meeting. But when UN correspondents asked for concrete information on the problems, specifically with regard to Zimbabwe, they were met with platitudes. Video here.

            While Ms. Migiro did not stay to take questions -- ascribed to her schedule, which some in the press corps expressed doubts about -- she left behind Francesca Perucci of DESA and Guido Schmidt-Traub of the MDG Support Team at UNDP. Inner City Press has previously written of Mr. Schmidt-Traub, in the context of the irregular insertion of the Jeffrey Sachs MDG team into UNDP's Poverty Group, the controversy around Mr. Sachs' annual $75,000 pay, which he then said is discontinued, and questions about the lack of evaluation of the MDG Project.

            To his credit, Mr. Schmidt-Traub stayed after the briefing and took several questions from Inner City Press. He said that the MDG support team consists of 20 posts, although he could not or did not say how many came along with Mr. Jeffrey Sachs. He confirmed that the MDG Support Team no longer raises any money from outside, although he ascribed this to donors' "argument" that the work is a "core part of UNDP's business" and so should be funded there.

DSG Migiro, melting bear of ice in background

            Concerns have been raised that Sachs' MDG empire -- which some in UNDP call the NY-based star system -- is sucking funds from elsewhere in UNDP; an example offered to Inner City Press by UNDP staff is what they call the slated closure of UNDP's Poverty Research Center in Brasilia. Inner City Press asked Mr. Schmidt-Traub, who said to ask Ad Melkert. This Inner City Press did, and Melkert said "we are looking at all regional centers, it is part of a review but no decisions are taken on anything."  Video here.  While that might still be true for the possible relocation of UNDP's Bratislava Center to Istanbul, UNDP sources say that the closure of the Brasilia Center is farther advanced. We'll see.

Click here for Inner City Press' June 1 story on other UNDP questions.

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

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