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Restricted Access in N. Korea is Downplayed by WFP's Sheeran Shiner, Silent on Audits

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 24 -- On access to how aid is spent in North Korea, as the World Food Program's Executive Board meets in Rome, the stories told in public and behind the scenes are quite different. WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran Shiner loudly proclaims that "we will only provide food in areas where we can assess needs and monitor distribution," an October 19 memo by WFP staff in Pyongyang, obtained by Inner City Press and now online here, tells a different story. Contrary to Ms. Sheeran Shiner's claims, the Pyongyang memo states that "considering the restricted access to the field and the limited availability of quality information, it is also very difficult for external parties to accurately assess the food security situation in the DPRK."

            This "restricted access to the field" is imposed by the Kim Jong-il government, which Pyongyang sources say has become more defiant of any oversight or audits as its discussions with South Korea, the United States, China and others proceed.  The WFP memo notes "delays in arrivals of food stocks by rail from China due to a hold-up relating to DPRKís failure to return empty rail wagons." At Tuesday's noon press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York, when asked if there has been any progress in getting UN auditors into North Korea as part of the inquiry Ban Ki-moon called for back on January 19, Ban's spokesperson said "I donít have any further information on this since you had that briefing by the head of UNDP." But UNDP head Kemal Dervis, who left the referenced briefing after taking very few questions, had no progress to report on that either. It was said that auditors would travel to North Korea to verify UN system spending, but that is not taking place. Still WFP pushes forward, without publicly releasing any information about even the preliminary audit that it has purportedly carried out, albeit significantly later than the other UN funds and programs.

WFP's Josette Sheeran Shiner with Mr. Ban, auditor access not shown

   At a press conference Monday describing the General Assembly's work on "Financing for Development", Inner City Press asked whether the issues raised by North Korea's continued refusal to allow in UN auditors to verify the use of UN Development Program funds would be debated. A General Assembly speechwriter and development expert argued that UNDP's budget in North Korea was small. But what does it say about transparency when auditors can't get visas? The press conference moderator stepped in to say that North Korea and UNDP were not the topics. Video here. The point here is that providing support, without access or transparency, to the Kim Jong-il regime may not be in the (North Korean) public's interest. 

News analysis: sources tell Inner City Press that WFP's Josette Sheeran Shiner, whose selection for the post was spiced by testy attempts to downplay her at least twenty year membership in Rev. Sun Myung Moon's organizations, has on Koreans issues been in close touch with the UN's 38th floor, which has an interest in the matter. And what are Ms. Sheeran Shiner's and WFP's positions on the issues of the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office over WFP, and of the availability of audits to member states, the press and public? Answers will be sought at the upcoming Chief Executives Board meetings. Developing.

* * *

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.

Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent 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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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

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