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Inner City Press Podcast --

UN's "Partnership for Democratic Governance" Vaguely Launched, Rwanda's Questions Unanswered

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 1 -- There are not infrequently at the UN projects announced with very few details, questions about which are not answered. Usually this results in no news coverage. But sometimes the lack of information itself may be the news. On Monday UN Development Program administrator Kemal Dervis, accompanied by his counterpart at the OECD and the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, announced the beginning of something called the Partnership for Democratic Governance. Many of the eleven founding countries spoke; the Ambassador of one presumptive recipient country, Rwanda, asked the only direct question allowed at the event: "how will the Partnership for Democratic Governance resolve the problem of funding, which is the basic problem?"

            UNDP's Dervis said in response, "I look forward to being in your country next week." Then the microphone was passed to another founding member.

            Afterwards, Inner City Press interviewed Rwanda's Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana, beginning by asking him if he felt his question was answered. "No," he said with a laugh. What about the controversy surrounding UNDP's Human Development Report saying that Rwanda spends too much on its military? "We need to be protected, to develop," said Amb. Nsengimana. One is left with a profile of an organization which tells Rwanda it is mis-spending its money on defense, after facing a genocide, while not answering Rwanda's questions about a program which will purportedly benefit Rwanda and countries like it.

    Two speakers, from Australia and Turkey, said their countries have already made financial contributions; another, from Brazil, said it will be contributing, as it has to Guinea-Bissau and the UN Peacekeeping mission in Haiti. As to Denmark and others, there is no indication of funding or of their role as founding members.

            Inner City Press asked UNDP staff what the criteria for being a founder was. Signing on to the statement of principles, was the response, and no minimum donation. But the principles, at least as provided, are vague. How does this differ from the mission of the UN's Department of Political Affairs? The representative of Japan mentioned that the PDG could work together with the UN Peace-building Commission (PBC). But in a world of overlapping acronyms, how will the PDG differ from the PBC?

Kemal Dervis signs UNDP agreement with S. Africa, no answers there or at PDG

   There certainly was enough lead-time to get some specifics together. As far back as April 2007, Secretary of State Rice told members of the Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion that

"I know that Steve Krasner came and talked to you about the Partnership for Democratic Governance which we are trying to work with UNDP and OECD. We think there's a good chance that that's going to get embedded. It's the sort of thing we'd like to do more, if we have an idea like that, not to try to run it out of Washington, but rather to embed it in multilateral institutions."

            Steve Krasner was present at Monday's event, saying that the point is not just to "parachute in for a few years." But what then about the promise (or "principle") of a "well-defined exit strategy"?

            The event as organized by UNDP had no question and answer session with the press, although the press was invited. One wire service reporter walked out, saying, "There is no news here." A TV reporter said, "I'm sure it's laudable what they're doing, I'm just not sure what it is." Another stayed to eat some of the cubes of cheese that were on offer. ("A very cheesy event," this wag quipped.) It is unclear why UNDP virtually never takes questions. Or perhaps it is clear -- for example, despite Kemal Dervis' statement on September 11 that he would be raising and even resolving the incongruous non-coverage of UNDP by the UN's Ethics Office in a September 21 meeting, no update has been given, and no questions taken or answered on the topic. There are, however, indications that the long-pending questions about UNDP's involvement in diamond mining and even smuggling in Zimbabwe will be answered tomorrow. Watch this space.

  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