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Afghan Inaction on UN Death as UNICEF Hired Karzai Insiders, UN in Kabul

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 17 -- The UN system's comprised relations with powers in Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan are exhibited both by the UN's failure to push for accountability for the killing of UN staff member Louis Maxwell by Afghan national forces and UNICEF's hiring of Kabul insiders, to keep Karzai and his ministers happy, sources say.

  For months Inner City Press has asked the UN about the death of Louis Maxwell at the hands of Afghan national forces. A UN board of inquiry, referring to friendly fire, should have led to an Afghan investigation and prosecution.

When Inner City Press asked top UN Security official Gregory Starr why nothing had been done, he talked about turmoil in the Karzai government, adding that with so many Afghans killed, it was hard to push about the death of a particular individual like Louis Maxwell. Rank and file UN Security staff expressed shock at this answer, and surmised that the UN didn't want to ruffle any feathers in the Karzai administration, wanting to remain in the country in parallel with the ongoing US led occupation.

  Weeks ago, a variety of sources told and confirmed to Inner City Press that the UN's children's agency likewise was hiring “cronies” of Karzai and his ministers, in order to curry favor with the government and ministries.

  Inner City Press asked UNICEF about some of these connections. For days, UNICEF did not provide answers to these Afghanistan questions, while exhibiting fast turn around about its operations in other countries. Inner City Press was admonished not to go forward with a story based on “unverified” names and connections. Then UNICEF ultimately confirmed the names and hirings, while providing a different explanation:

our work in Afghanistan is undertaken under very difficult circumstances, and we are often obliged to adjust time frames for the achievement of objectives to reflect changing circumstances. There have been instances where UNICEF has felt that the work its consultants are undertaking in support of Government capacity-building has drifted away from our objectives and our mandate. In these cases considerable additional effort is put into ensuring that their activities are refocused.”

  Here in fairness to UNICEF is the full Q&A with the agency's spokesman, followed by Inner City Press' November 16 inquiry about accountability for the murder of UN staff member Louis Maxwell:

Subject: Qs re Afghanistan Catherine Mbegune / Najibullah Mujudidi etc
To: "Matthew Russell Lee" [at]
From: Christopher de Bono [at]

Hi Matthew, Here are my answers.

1. Please confirm or deny that UNICEF provided Karzai associate Najibullah Mujudidi with a retainer or other payment, and unless deny, please comment on how this is appropriate, and what services were rendered;

Dr. Mojadidi, a former World Health Organization official, has worked as a UNICEF local consultant in Afghanistan. He was paid a standard consultants’ rate. The terms of reference for the consultancy involved providing policy and strategic advice on the implementation of social sector programmes, including overseeing the implementation of a polio initiative, and preparing briefs for UNICEF on donor and national development strategies. Normal assessments were done upon completion of the assignments, and these indicate that the terms of reference were met to the satisfaction of UNICEF. At the time of his consultancies with UNICEF, Dr. Mojadidi was not a member of the Government of Afghanistan or a government official.

UN's Ban and Karzai, action on Maxwell murder & UNICEF hiring not shown

2. Please confirm or deny that UNICEF's Catherine Mbegune signed a blank travel authorization for Najibullah Mujudidi and unless deny, please comment on how this is appropriate;

During Catherine Mbengue’s time as UNICEF representative in Afghanistan she signed two (2) only travel authorizations for Dr Mojididi to undertake travel on behalf of UNICEF. These travel authorizations contain the standard specific details about the reason for travel, dates and destination, and are in accordance with our regulations. We should note that a travel authorization, whether blank or completed, is not a voucher and could not be used for “unlimited travel”. It is an administrative procedure that facilitates a specific trip undertaken on UNICEF’s behalf.

3. Please describe UNICEF's Catherine Mbegune's practices with respect to sole source (or “no bid”) contracts and, separately, that one such sole source contract was to be to an affiliate of a university in the US where the Head of Health section (acting deputy Rep) Brandao Co got his scholarship and degree.

While competitive bidding is the norm for UNICEF contracts, we have no option in some circumstances but to enter into single source contracts, particularly when the specific expertise that we require, as a consequence of external circumstances, is only available from one provider or when security or emergency circumstances mean that the usual competitive review cannot be completed in time to provide the help that we need. Representatives in difficult environments, like Afghanistan was at that time, often have legitimate recourse to single source contracts and Ms. Mbengue was no exception.

During Ms. Mbengue’s tenure as Representative, UNICEF Afghanistan was considering commissioning a nutrition survey of certain areas of Afghanistan, because we were concerned about a lack of useful data and the impact of poor nutrition on the health and well-being of children. Discussions took place around the possibility of hiring of Johns Hopkins University to undertake this survey. Johns Hopkins University (with which UNICEF often works) had previously demonstrated its capacity to undertake surveys in the same area of Afghanistan, including by successfully completing the only recent credible survey on infant mortality in the area. The basis of the preliminary discussion was the capacity of this university to undertake such a proper study in a region prone to serious travel, communications and security problems. Ultimately UNICEF did not commission the nutrition survey and no agreement with Johns Hopkins was entered into. The fact that a UNICEF staff member had attended that university was not a consideration.

4. Please confirm or deny that UNICEF paid associates / advisers of Riz Izan for MRRD, Wadek for Education and the minister for health and unless deny, please comment on how this is appropriate, responding to the assertion that these were at least in part payments for “keeping the Ministers happy".

As part of its country programme UNICEF Afghanistan has provided consultants who give technical advice to the Ministries, including the Ministry of Education. This is consistent with global practice and part of our efforts to achieve our mandate to build capacity within the government and thereby improve the education of children in Afghanistan. The consultants are based at the Ministry, although the UNICEF office is in regular contact with them. In addition, the Ministry provides UNICEF with regular reports, including quarterly updates, on the activities the consultants undertake, which UNICEF uses as one source to determine whether the agreed results are being achieved.

Your readers may wish to note that our work in Afghanistan is undertaken under very difficult circumstances, and we are often obliged to adjust time frames for the achievement of objectives to reflect changing circumstances. There have been instances where UNICEF has felt that the work its consultants are undertaking in support of Government capacity-building has drifted away from our objectives and our mandate. In these cases considerable additional effort is put into ensuring that their activities are refocused so was can be confident they are in line with our programmatic objectives.

The characterization you provide in quotes (although not attributed to anybody) is inaccurate. In order to be sustainable, UNICEF’s initiatives to improve education and health in many countries often include support to improve government capacity. This is one example of such a project.

Chris de Bono

Here is the pertinent portion of the UN's transcript of its November 16 noon briefing, about any Afghan investigation into the murder of UN staff member Louis Maxwell:

Inner City Press: I want to ask about Afghanistan and the UN staff member Louis Maxwell that died there in the compound... what has the UN done to ensure that its recommendation to the Afghan Government that they investigate who killed Louis Maxwell and the circumstances of his death actually be done? Has there been any progress since Mr. [Gregory] Starr’s visit there? What can you say about that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haz: I don’t have anything further to report to you since Mr. Starr’s visit. As you know, that visit by Gregory Starr was part of our effort to ensure that there is follow-up, and we will continue to press the Afghan authorities. Ultimately, the onus for follow-up action is on them.

More than a day later, no information about any follow-up has been provided. Watch this site.

* * *

In Cambodia, As UN Ban Silent on Evictions, UNICEF Denies It Funds Prey Speu

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 3 -- When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in Cambodia, people facing mass eviction tried to get a letter to him. This resulted in police beating Suong Sophorn unconscious.

  On November 3, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky what follow up, if any, the UN had done on the issue. Nesirky replied that the letter had gotten to the Deputy High Commission for Human Rights, and would be analyzed in Geneva.

  Also on November 3, the new chief of UN - HABITAT Joan Clos took questions from the Press. Inner City Press asked him about the Cambodia mass evictions. Such evictions violate human rights, Clos said. But he added that all the UN and HABITAT can do is give advice to governments. Video here.

  In this case, the evictions are being done for a development by a company controlled by a government official, Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin. So much for advice.

UN Ban and the King: Prey Speu not shown

  As Ban approached Cambodia, Inner City Press is told by sources, homeless and street children were swept up to the Prey Speu camp, described as an internment camp where rapes and killings take place. Ban never spoke about this camp, and now UNICEF has sent Inner City Press this further washing of hands:

Subject: Re: Answers re Cambodia/Prey Speu AND Choam Chao
From: Christopher de Bono>
Date: Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 8:04 AM
To: "Matthew R. Lee" at Inner City Press

The UNICEF Cambodia Country Office strictly complies with UNICEF's financial requirements as they relate to the disbursement and tracking of cash assistance expenditures, including the assistance provided to the MoSA. It is a UNICEF requirement that all UNICEF partners, including governments, must file reports on the funds they receive. UNICEF also employs a system of assurance activities to guarantee that the funds disbursed to partners are used for the purpose intended and based on the approved work plans. This system includes field visits, spot checks, financial liquidation accompanied by receipts, activity reports certified by partners, quarterly performance discussions and coordination meetings with partners and relevant NGOs (not all of which are UNICEF partners). As previously stated, none of UNICEF's resources have been used to fund the Prey Speu centre.

[Inner City Press Q] - Also, confirm that UNICEF did fund the Choam Chao center (closed in July), and, re the above, provide any documentation to show UNICEF money is not used for Prey Speu.

As previously advised, we did not withdraw funding from Choam Chao centre but engaged the Government to change its strategy, which it did. This resulted in the subsequent closure of the centre.

While UNICEF provided this answer in less than 24 hours, it has now sat for five days on questions about UNICEF corruption elsewhere in the world. Watch this site.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

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

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

* * *

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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