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At UNDP, Poverty Group Head Rolls, Contractors Double-Dip, Mizsei to Moldova

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

UNITED NATIONS, March 1, updated March 2, 1 pm -- The head of the Poverty Group of the UN Development Program, Nora Lustig, will no longer have her UNDP job on March 30, less than a year after Administrator Kemal Dervis installed her in the post. A memorable moment in her tenure involved Ms. Lustig screaming at Lynn Macdonald, a staffer seconded from the UK, in front of Rachel Beaven of the UK's aid agency DFID. The resulting complaints may explain the now-beginning search for a new head of the Poverty Group.

            Inner City Press was told of Ms. Lustig's leaving and sought confirmation in an email message to Ms. Lustig, Associate Administrator Ad Melkert, and Communications Office staff. This message also reiterated previous questions that UNDP continues to leave unanswered. The Lustig-Is-Leaving confirmation came from Christina LoNigro, spokeswoman for Messrs. Dervis and Melkert, who offered an explanation from Ms. Lustig. Because as a professional UN staff member she could not retain her visa status as a permanent resident, sometimes called a green card, and tying it to the March 29 expiration date of her contact, Ms. Lustig has decided to "not seek renewal" of her contact with UNDP.

            Ms. LoNigro also said that the UNDP resident representative recently expelled from The Gambia will not take any questions.

[Update of March 2, 1 p.m. -- At Friday's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked the spokesperson if the Secretariat has met or had communications about the expulsion from The Gambia, and was promised an answer. Also during the noon briefing, a "for the record" statement came in, added here in full:

"Nora Lustig has decided not to seek the renewal of her contract to continue as Director of the Poverty Group in UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy because of the implications it would have for her visa status in the United States. Current regulations do not allow regular UN staff to keep their US permanent resident status. After careful consideration, Ms. Lustig concluded that renouncing her residence status was not in her family’s best interest. Her current contract will expire on 29 March."]

            Inner City Press asked Ms. LoNigro is Ms. Lustig will, as suspected, seek to continue with UNPD as a consultant. On Thursday, Ms. LoNigro said she didn't know. Sources in UNDP have linked Ms. Lustig to another Dervis hire, Pippa Norris. One similarity is that both have used UNDP for their own advancement. Ms. Norris, it is said, uses her position in UNDP to coerce some to write chapters for a book she hopes will promote her career.

            Ms. Lustig's time as head of the Poverty Group is described by some close observers as an unmitigated disaster; she is described as "a crony appointee who was too much trouble to keep in place." It began with her selection, which was counter to a purportedly open, competitive process which was held. She brought in Darryl McLeod, who apparently will stay, at least for a time. She argued with those she was supposed to supervise, she essentially used UNDP for her own purposes, these sources say. And now it is over, although despite Ms. LoNigro's "I don't know" answer, it may continue on a consultant basis.

Nora Lustig- an earlier farewell (World Bank days)

            Another UNDP consultant into whose apparently double-dipping contacts Inner City Press has inquired with UNDP for more than three week is Richard Flaman. UNDP payment records show for example that Flaman was paid over $10,000 on June 23, 2006, for work for UNDP in New York, while being paid $5,600 on July 3, 2006, for work for UNDP in Albania. The records show for further example that Flaman was paid over $19,000 on September 22, 2006, for work for UNDP in New York, while being paid $4,130 on September 27, 2006, for work for UNDP in Albania.

            On February 10, Inner City Press posed to UNDP that "it appears that Richard Flaman and his company, Flaman Management Partners Ltd have been getting paid, in the same time frame, in Albania and in New York by UNDP. Can you explain or justify this, and explain the outputs of the projects?" Receiving no response, Inner City Press sent reminders on February 16 and on the morning of March 1.  The lack of explanation is unfathomable.

            On February 15, Inner City Press asked Associate Administrator Ad Melkert to at least ensure reasonably timely responses to questions that do not involve North Korea. (UNDP has taken the position that it will not answer any questions about North Korea until the urgent audit which Ban Ki-moon called for on January 19 is completed. Mr. Ban's spokesperson has said that 90-day clock is already ticking.) Mr. Melkert said that UNDP was going to try to respond more quickly, even "instantaneously." Two weeks later, questions that were pending even before February 15 have still not been answered.

            We can, however, provide this update on Kalman Mizsei, a particularly colorful ex-UNDP official. Some within UNDP have argued to Inner City Press that yes, Mr. Mizsei was among other things a serial sexual harasser, but that it is to UNDP's credit that they made him leave in September 2006. But by sweeping the Mizsei issues under the rug, UNDP is foreseeably creating more danger and risk. It has now been announced that Kalman Mizsei will be the representative of the EU to Moldova. And UNDP's legacy lives on...

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UNDP 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 UNDP and many of its 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]

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At UNDP, Audit Is Said to Have Started, While Oversight Still Lacks, Says G-77

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 20 -- A month after Ban Ki-moon called for "urgent" audits, beginning with the UN Development Program in North Korea, his spokesperson was asked if the audits have begun. While the spokeswoman said she wasn't entirely sure, she said unequivocally that Ban Ki-moon's 90-day clock, for the audits to be reported on to the General Assembly, has begun. Click here for video, and transcript below.

            Meanwhile Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram told Inner City Press that he and the Group of 77 feel that "there is an issue of how well we are able to have oversight over the funds and programs" like UNDP, and whether the Executive Boards are effective. Inner City Press had asked about the G-77's call for at least two UNDP reports to be withdrawn, for lack of consultation with the Executive Board and the General Assembly. Could there be a relation between these two problems -- the behavior by UNDP in North Korea which Ban Ki-moon called on to audit, and lack of oversight of UNDP -- and what can be done about it? Amb. Akram referred to the development cooperation forum of the UN's ECOSOC. Video here, Minutes 29:48 through 31:28.

Amb. Akram, '04

            On February 15, Inner City Press had the opportunity to ask UNDP's Ad Melkert to release at least the already-finalized numbers reflecting expenditures in North Korea. Mr. Melkert said that it is important to distinguish between money spent for UNDP, and that spend by UNDP for other agencies. Certainly. But what is the number? On other, non-North Korea matters, Mr. Melkert indicated that an attempt will be made to provide responses on a more timely basis. We'll see.

            While awaiting this new information-providing regime at UNDP, and while awaiting a number of long-delayed responses from UNDP, the rest of today's UNDP column, we'll devote to a letter to the editor from inside UNDP, handwritten but on substantive issues. It begins with praise, which we're suckers for.

"My dear friend, you are going an incredible job. Now ask UNDP and its board members, why Pippa Norris and Nora Lustig, the two new managers appointed by Kemal Dervis, have changed policies previously approved by the Board, without consultation? Why is Norris allowed to neglect important areas of work for UNDP - human rights, gender, decentralization? Why is Norris making of UNDP an institution concerned only with economic governance and Central Bank regulation, when this is typically a task of the World Bank and IMF? These are hobby areas for Kemal. Why is Norris using UNDP's (and taxpayers') money to finance her participation in academic meetings that have nothing to do with UNDP's work? Why UNDP as a UN neutral agency is providing financial assistance to political parties? Why is UNDP abandoning its work on governance as in the past, as approved by the Board, to focus no on parliaments, elections?"

   Click here for Inner City Press' story from last week about Liberia. We've left it to the absolute end of this report to note an employment move which we've known of for some weeks, but were told about by other journalists today, triggering this brief update. Former Spokesman for the S-G Stephane Dujarric, after a brief sojourn in the Dag Hammarskjold Library, is now "helping out" at UNDP. They certainly could use the help. Might it possibly result in more timely answers to simple questions to UNDP, as projected on February 15 by UNDP Number Two Ad Melkert? Here's hoping.

From  transcript of Feb. 20, 2007, UN noon briefing:

Inner City Press: Does the 90 days -- because he said it should be done in 90 days -- does the 90 days run from when he announced that the audits would begin or from when they actually began?

Spokesperson: Actually…

Question: Have they begun?

Spokesperson: Actually, I know that -- yes, they have started it.

Question: Which ones have started?

Spokesperson: The external auditors have started on the process.

Question: But could you specify? I mean, there’s a lot of agencies to be audited.

Spokesperson: As you know, they’re starting with the UNDP and the specific case of --

Question: You say they have started. You mean the one in North Korea?

Spokesperson: Yes.

Question: The clock is running?

Spokesperson: Yes.

At UNDP, Melkert Hides Behind Audit and Sharapova, Dervis on 1st Ave. and Still No N. Korea Numbers

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

UNITED NATIONS, February 14 -- Even as the UN Development Program held a press conference with Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova on Wednesday, questions were asked and left unanswered about the "scandals" at UNDP. Ms. Sharapova was asked if she was aware of the "scandals," and she said, "Yes, I am aware, but I'll let them talk" on the issue, gesturing at Associate Administrator Ad Melkert and Communications director David Morrison.

            But Mr. Melkert declined to provide the requested figure, of how much UNDP spent in North Korea including on behalf of the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund, the Food and Agricultural Organization and others. Inner City Press asked Kemal Dervis for this number on February 1, and has reiterated it in writing to UNDP several times since. On Tuesday, February 13, seeing Mr. Dervis on Ban Ki-moon's schedule at 3 p.m., Inner City Press asked if Mr. Dervis could take questions after that meeting.  While the spokesperson said she would check into it, her office later said that Mr. Dervis had said no.

            On First Avenue at 2:55 p.m., as Mr. Dervis and two associates including spokeswoman Christina LoNigro strode, as it were, toward the Secretariat building, Inner City Press greeted Mr. Dervis and said, "There are some requests that you take questions after your meeting with the Secretary-General."

            Mr. Dervis replied that he had another appointment after Ban Ki-moon, shrugging, apparently apologetically.

Melkert: Dollar figures not shown

            And so on Wednesday, the question was posed to Ad Melkert, for the simple number, how much UNDP expended in North Korea in 2005 and 2006. Inner City Press apologized for having to ask it, due to the previous non-responses, during the tennis-heavy press conference. Mr. Melkert, who previously had spoken of transparency, said "You can ask, that is not a problem... It seems to me logical to wait for results of that audit and then look into all questions that may still be outstanding then... including answers to your questions." Video here, from Minute 16:37.

            Inner City Press noted that a simple number should be available without waiting another 90 days. Particularly as to 2005, for which UNDP's vaunted computer has long ago closed the books and the General Ledger. If UNDP is not confident in these numbers, there is a major problem. Or perhaps UNDP sees the audit as a blessing in disguise, as providing a rationale to no-comment the issue for at least three months. We'll see. As noted, there are non-North Korea questions which are not getting answered, either.

            Time did not permit questions about UNDP's programs in Russia, which have included attempts to bypass tax and other rules for a French chemical company, and the rehabilitation of the Moscow planetarium with plush leather seats. These and similar projects, as well as UNDP's approach to Chernobyl, were cooked up during the madcap RBEC regime of Kalman Mizsei. The poorest of the poor, as was said on Wednesday. The press package included some seven month old "Fast Facts," including an enumeration of 5,382 UN Volunteers serving worldwide. So UNDP can give numbers, when they want to...

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

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

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