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In Nigerian Electoral Chaos, UN Hides Role of UNDP, Kemal Dervis' Boasts

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 19 -- As the chaos surrounding the Nigeria elections grows, the United Nations system's descriptions of its involvement have become contradictory. On April 17, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson, in light of reports that the first round of elections in Nigeria on April 14  was filled with fraud and should be redone, "is the United Nations in any way involved?  Has Mr. Ban made any calls?"

            The spokesperson replied that "the United Nations is not, for the time being, involved in the electoral process.... The United Nations is not officially monitoring it."

            The following day, the spokesperson repeated that the UN is not involved, saying that "ECOWAS is monitoring the election.  You have a number of other international observers accredited by the Electoral Commission.  But the UN as an institution is not.... All this depends on the request from the Member State....There was no request made, and the request went to ECOWAS."

             Inner City Press followed-up that "it was reported that UNDP was actually asked to help with some aspects of the election.  I'm not sure if they have, but that they were asked to do it.  Is that a request to the UN?  When you said the UN had no role in the election, is that just the Secretariat or the UN system as a whole?"

Spokesperson:  I would be surprised that UNDP would be asked to participate as an electoral observer.  It would be the United Nations Secretariat that would be seized of the matter, not UNDP. 

Inner City Press: You mean the observers?

Spokesperson:  I'm talking about international observers to the election.

Question:  Also, I wanted to ask you about the exhibit commemorating the Rwandan genocide... when you think it will actually be reopened, and whether the language will be shown to any missions prior to that taking place.

Spokesperson:  The language is being changed right now.  I don't know if it will be shown to anybody.  I do know that the exhibit is to open very shortly, either at the end of this week or at the beginning of next week.  [Click here for an update.]

            Following that exchange, an associate spokesperson rushed into the press room near the end of the briefing and the following was read out: " I have some additional things on UNDP and the Nigerian elections.  While the UN is not observing, as I said, the Nigerian elections, but we have been providing advisory services and technical assistance to Nigeria's Election Commission through UNDP, which is managing a basket fund of assistance from multiple donors.  So that is the role that UNDP is playing." Click here for transcript, click here for video.

            In fact, the Nigerian publication This Day / Africa News has reported that "an expert from the United Nations Development Program will monitor the elections in all the country's six geopolitical zones." Click here for that report.

UNDP partner Shell's oil flares in Nigeria - in smoke like excuses

            So in one day, the message went from "the UN is not involved in the Nigerian election" to "we have been providing advisory services and technical assistance to Nigeria's Election Commission through UNDP." Finally, there are reports of UNDP's direct involvement in "monitor[ing] the elections in all the country's six geopolitical zones."

            Why would UNDP (and the UN) be concealing its role in the Nigeria elections? Surely it is not humility. When Kemal Dervis took the helm of UNDP on August 16, 2005, UNDP put out a press release calling itself "the largest UN program," which is at "the forefront of the UNís... democratic governance efforts."

            Perhaps the more recent downplaying of UNDP's role in Nigeria springs not only from wanting to distance itself from failure, but also concern about other controversial entanglements by UNDP in Nigeria. Last August, Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups harshly criticized UNDP for partnering with Shell Petroleum, which has a long and tattered history in Nigeria, including a role in the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Also, click here for a report of "a security arrangement between a Shell Nigeria subcontractor and a criminal group in Odioma."

            In fact, UNDP used to brag about its role in Nigeria's election. The publication This Day of October 10, 2005 ran a Q&A with Kemal Dervis, including:

Q: We understand you are interested in our elections in 2007 and you mentioned good governance. Good governance is a core area of UNDP. How can governance deliver a credible elections in 2007?

Kemal Dervis: I do not have time to go into the details but we are now supporting elections around the world on average twice a month. This has become a real activity of UNDP. And of course what we are doing is making sure that the process is organized, open, there is no fraud, that the citizens can register and vote. As you know even in the richest countries in the world it is not an easy thing. In my country, election organization is not an easy thing at all. There are always controversies; itís the nature of politics. But the approach is quite clear and I think we are getting better at being good advisers on this.

       And where are the advisers now? Busy covering up their role.

            It's worth noting that current UNDP chief of staff Tegegnework Gettu was UNDP's resident representative in Nigeria when Dervis visited in October 2005 -- UNDP claims, as a show of Dervis' independence and decisiveness, that he recognized Gettu's skills and brought him to New York. UNDP insiders, on the other hand, say that Mark Malloch Brown and Gilbert Houngbo set the whole thing up. And now Dervis' UNDP conceals its role in Nigeria.

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.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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At the UN, Ban's Coherence Plan Is Critiqued, Lead Agency UNDP is Headless and Silent

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 16 -- Like several Secretaries-General before him, Ban Ki-moon has proposed for the UN system greater "coherence." But what's in a name? Monday as Mr. Ban's proposal was unveiled in the General Assembly, its structure was questioned not only from the side of the developing nations in the Group of 77, for also from the donor side.

            Sweden's Minister Counselor on Development Issues Harald Fries noted that "many agencies are concerned about the neutrality of the resident representative system managed by UNDP," the UN Development Program. Following a question from Inner City Press about how long the General Assembly process on Ban's "system-wide coherence" proposal might take, Mr. Fries said "in the next several months, or half-year, or year."

            Inner City Press asked if within the Group of 77 there is a split between the poorest nations, who favored consolidation of UN funding into a single source, and the moderate income countries, which dispute Ban's plan's "narrow" focus on the structure of UN development programs in countries, without trying to bring democratic or populist control to the World Bank and IMF.

            From the South Center, a Geneva think-tank closely associated with the Group of 77, Vicente Paulo Yu acknowledged that in Geneva, he has heard least developed countries "looking at the positives" of the plan, that is would reduce the "load of reporting" required of them. South Center is, Mr. Yu said Monday, skeptical about the proposal, which would make the UN "just another developer" like the World Bank, rather than an advocate, a norm-maker, a global governance institution with a universal membership.  The chairman of South Center's board of directors is Tanzania's ex-president Benjamin Mkapa, who was on the panel that drew up the plan. (The timing makes this less of a conflict, or less ironic, than might appear, Mr. Yu argues.)  The South Center will be releasing a critique of the proposal next week, which Inner City Press has requested and will be reviewed on this site.

            Earlier on Monday, Ban Ki-moon spoke in the Economic and Social Council chamber, in a "special high-level meeting with the Bretton Woods institutions" -- that is, the IMF and the World Bank. On his way in, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban is he had any advise for embattled World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz. "I have no comment at all," Mr. Ban answered, not without a smile.

High Level Troika Re World Bank - GA President, S-G, President of ECOSOC: coherent?

            Smiling more openly was Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. Asked by Inner City Press for his views in the hall outside the General Assembly before a 4:30 debate on Ban's coherence if not coherent plan, Amb. Churkin laughed. "System-wide coherence, oh yes," he said. The rest of the UN press corps, and the ambassadors of the Permanent Five nations on the Security Council, were focused on the day's meeting about Darfur in Sudan, click here for Inner City Press' story. But as Ban said last week,

"I am going to propose again my own  recommendations on system wide coherence next Monday.  I hope this will receive a good debate among the Member States so that the United Nations can work and deliver service as one United Nations.  This will be one of the important reform agendas for me in the coming few months."

            Good luck. Mr. Ban has also said that he will ensure that under his watch, the heads of UN funds and programs will be accessible to the media and will answer questions. Thus far with UNDP, this has not been the case. UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis has not held or attended a press conference in the more than 100 days of the Ban administration. On Monday, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's spokesperson, video here:

Inner City Press: We've heard that UNDP people -- Kemal Dervis, and Ad Melkert -- are away.  If so, we'd like to know where and who runs UNDP in their absence? 

Spokesperson:  Why don't you talk to UNDPís public information people?

Question:  You know why?  Because last week while you were away I was referred to them on a very simple question about Mr. Melkertís hiring of a Dutch Labor Party official and they never sent me any response at all.  That's why I'm asking you if you could just get an answer.  If the two are away, and if so, who's running UNDP this week?

Spokesperson:  I would suggest you talk to them again.  You call them again.

            Particularly in light of the calls for "One UN" and of Mr. Ban's statements that the heads of UN funds and programs will be available to the media, this referral to the Kafka-esque echo chamber of UNDP is disconcerting. Even so, Inner City Press immediately reiterated its questions in writing to UNDP:

Subj: Unanswered UNDP questions: Philippines, Mr Keij, retaliation, where are #1 & #2  
Date: 4/16/2007 12:53:03 PM Eastern Standard Time
To: david.morrison [at] undp.org, ad.melkert [at] undp.org, kemal.dervis [at] undp.org  CC:  [Spokesperson at] un.org,
 From: Inner City Press

Messrs. Morrison, Melkert and Dervis, and Michele via cc --

   The simple March 25 question regarding UNDP's hiring of Eelco  Keij, NY secretary of the Dutch Labor Party of which Mr. Melkert was leader,  reiterated to you on April 12, has still not been answered. Nor have other 3/25  questions...

Additionally, here is a simple factual question, also on deadline for today--

-is UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis out of New York? If so, where and doing  what? Direct question: medical leave?

-is UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert out of New York? If so, where  and doing what? Given Mr. Melkert's granting of a quote to the FT about Paul  Wolfowitz, and since-released documents, where and when will Mr. Melkert respond  to questions on this important UN system matter?

-if both are out of New York, who is in charge of UNDP?

  There are other questions which UNDP has not answered or even  acknowledged [including]

An update on the status of the urgent  audit of UNDP's North  Korean operations is needed, and is requested. As  the Secretary-General was asked earlier today, is the 90-day time line being  extended? Is UNDP aware if the auditors will be able to enter North Korea? Did  Timo Pakkala and Mr. Povenzano speak with the U.S. Attorney's office / SDNY? Did  anyone else at UNDP?

Please explain the sudden retirement (party) for Luis  Gomez-Echerverri;

 Please confirm or deny that Nora Lustig is now in line for a consulting  contract with UNDP, including as related to immigration laws;

Please  confirm or deny that senior UNDP officials discussion with the Slovak foreign  minister in late February possible movement of jobs from (or in the alternative  to) Bratislava, and separately whether there is consideration of moving regional  centre from Bratislava to another city, possible (and specifically confirm or  deny) Istanbul;

Question asked Feb. 1 -- someone gave me a copy of an  advertisement in  the  Weekly Pakistan Express of September 15,  2006, for a UNDP  fundraiser held Sept. 24, 2006, with the  involvement of Pakistani president  Musharaf, with Grand  invitations for two costing $10,000.  Can it  be said how much  money was  raised, and the purpose and use of the  money?

            One would think that the UN agency proposed by the Secretary-General to take on new powers would be able, in two and a half months, to answer simple questions about its fundraising. But if you thought that, at this time, you'd be wrong. Despite all of the question above and more having been reiterated to UNDP on Monday at 1 p.m., by 9 p.m. only part of one question was answered:

Subj: Answer to question in noon briefing 

From: [Press Officer to the Administrator at] undp.org

To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 4/16/2007 5:46:07 PM Eastern Standard Time

Mr. Dervis is on official business in Washington today and tomorrow. Ad Melkert is in Europe.

Whenever both of them are outside of the country, an officer in charge is designated.

            But even the identify of this "officer in charge" is not provided, nor the nature of Mr. Dervis' "official business" in DC, nor Mr. Melkert's presumably non-official business in Europe, right in the midst of the scandal of the World Bank, whose "ethics committee" Melkert chaired until he came to UNDP.

            UNDP refuses to answer any of the other written questions, only (part of) the one asked during the UN's noon briefing. In the spirit of coherence and "One UN," to get questions answered, putting them in writing to UNDP apparently does not suffice. Is this coherence from UNDP?

On Darfur, Sudan and UN Speak Two Different Hybrid Languages, Arguing in the Hall

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 16 -- Following an afternoon of meetings about Darfur, the head of UN Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno stood before the cameras with Sudan's Permanent Representative to the UN, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem.

   Mr. Guehenno made everything sound fine. The so-called "Heavy Support Package" had been agreed to, and he implied that Sudan will accept non-African peacekeeping troops if not enough Africans can be found.

            But minutes earlier, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem had told reporters that it is Sudan's position that the Darfur Peace Agreement that it has signed prohibits the introduction of non-African Union peacekeepers. Speaking exclusively to Inner City Press by the espresso bar of the UN's Vienna Cafe, Amb. Abdalhaleem complained that Sudan's experience with the UN has been "bureaucratic and unforthcoming." Asked if the purpose of his letter to Ban Ki-moon was only to trigger funding, Amb. Abdalhaleem said that the Security Council has to come forth with funding "or we will withdraw our offer."

            Having heard this real politik, it was not surprising when the meeting and interviews broken up that Amb. Abdalhaleem and Jean-Marie Guehenno were opening arguing as they walked in the hallway from the Vienna Cafe to the UN's Conference Building. The happy talk of earlier in the day gave way to acrimony. UN insiders tell Inner City Press that Ban Ki-moon so much wants to declare success in Darfur that he convinces himself, and than others, that Sudan's commitments and motives are not what they are. For his part, Sudanese Amb. Abdalhaleem accused some reporters who asked, as Inner City Press did, "who will fly the helicopters" that have been agreed to purportedly without strings, of only looking for problems, of trying to cast Sudan in a negative light. Under the camera lights after the meeting, it was the UN that tried to hold to two positions at once, a balancing act that broken down later in the hallways when it was thought no reporters were around. But we are everywhere...         

            Ban Ki-moon had praised Amb. Abdalhaleem's letter, telling reporters:

"This morning, I have received an official communication from the Sudanese Government through their Permanent Representative in New York, informing me that they agreed on the heavy support package in its entirety, including the helicopter component. This is a very positive sign, and I and the African Union intend to move quickly to prepare for the deployment of the heavy support package and the hybrid force."

            But Permanent Representative Abdalhaleem said again and again that given Sudan's position that the Darfur Peace Agreement prohibits UN peacekeepers, a force would be hybrid only in that the UN could provide a "backstop," and funding.

Peacekeepers: still in the bullpen, still on ice

   African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare, speaking in French, told reporters that the AU peacekeepers have been doing their job, they are just underfunded.  When Inner City Press tried to ask Jean-Marie Guehenno what has happened on Senegal's threat to pull its troops from Darfur, Mr. Guehenno said, "I think I'll stop answering now." Minutes later, he was arguing in the hallway with Amb. Abdalhaleem. Heavy Support Package indeed...

Other Inner City Press reports are available in the ProQuest service and some are archived on www.InnerCityPress.com --

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] innercitypress.com - phone: (718) 716-3540