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UNDP's Last Two Staff Members Become Persona Non Grata in North Korea, Documents Show

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 22 -- The last two of the UN Development Program's international staff members in Democratic People's Republic of Korea have been told to leave the country by the end of the month, a letter obtained by Inner City Press reveals.

In a letter to Ri Hung Sik, the Secretary General of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs' National Coordinating Committee for UNDP, Vineet Bhatia, UNDP's Officer in Charge for the country, recalls a meeting with Jan Chun Sik in which UNDP was informed of the DPRK Government's decision that the remaining international UNDP staff should leave DPRK by the end of April. 

Vineet Bhatia recounts that he and Paul Brewah will take the first available flight, which due to an unavailability of seats will be on May 3. UNDP will make remaining payments to the DPRK government through the World Food Program, including transfer to the DPRK government of all non-expendable assets.

The recipient of UNDP's letter, Ri Hung Sik, is also the Kim Jong Il government's liaison to the UN Environment Program, the World Food Program and UNICEF, click here to view.

North Korea's order that UNDP's last two international staff leave the country -- in essence, declaring them persona non grata in the DPKR -- comes despite a plea from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the Kim Jong Il government assist the UN auditors whom Ban had directed to perform an "urgent audit." Ban's January 19 call for an audit, narrowed in on UNDP in North Korea on January 22, followed revelations that UNDP had been paying the government in hard currency. That audit, which was supposed to be completed in 90 days, has bogged down. 

The auditors have not been allowed to enter North Korea, and have now reportedly gone back to their countries. Mr. Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas has said that the matter is now in the hands of the UN General Assembly's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. But GA spokesman Ashraf Kemal has told Inner City Press that the ACABQ has yet to receive anything from the Board of Auditors.

Who has an interest in the "urgent audit" actually being completed? On April 19, Inner City Press asked Japan's Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Takahiro Shinyo about North Korea and the audit. Mr. Shinyo emphasized UNDP's suspension of programs in North Korea. On the audit, he said, one would just have to wait, despite the 90-day deadline.

Mr. Ban and IAEA - who's PNG in the DPRK?

  In a stakeout interview on April 12, Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban, video here, from Minute 13:12 --

Inner City Press: The urgent audit that you called for of UNDP in North Korea, that was supposed to be done in 90 days, we are almost at that time and they still haven't finished the terms of reference.  So I am wondering is the time for the audit to be completed going to be extended, and also if the auditors are not allowed enter the DPRK, what will the UN system do in terms of concluding the audit?

Ban Ki-moon: It is still under investigation.  I do not have anything to tell you at this time.  Whenever I have further information I will let you know.

            Strikingly, neither Mr. Ban, his spokespeople or anyone else in the UN system made any announcement when the Kim Jong Il government declared persona non grata the last international staff members of UNDP, which is proposed to become the UN's lead agency in every country under Ban's "system-wide coherence proposal." 

When Ban Ki-moon sent his February 28 letter to North Korean officials asking that assistance (and entry) be provided to the UN auditors, the UN did not announce the letter until March 6.  At the UN's noon briefing on March 8, Inner City Press asked --

Inner City Press: on North Korea or DPRK, I heard yesterday late from Security Council diplomats that North Korea has denied or has indicated it will deny visas to auditors, so I'm wondering, it's unclear to me if the letter was written, the letter that you spoke about was dated 28 February, and it was announced here 6 March. Was this after a denial of visas? Was this in anticipation of this coming up? Have visas been denied?  Whatís the status of the auditors getting in?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the UN has not been officially informed of any visa being denied.

Inner City Press: Not to say thereís anything behind it, but what was this gap in the letter being dated 28 February and the decision to announce it here 6 March? What was the thinking behind that?

Spokesperson:  There was nothing particular behind it.

     Delaying a week in announcing a letter from the Secretary General to a member state asking assistance is one thing. But trying to delay or avoid announcing a nation's ouster of UN personnel is something else.

            When Sudan's al-Bashir government declared Kofi Annan's envoy Jan Pronk persona non grata in late 2006, the UN made much of it, in press releases and media briefings. When North Korea's Kim Jong Il government, after a personal plea from Annan's successor Ban Ki-moon, declares UNDP persona non grata in the midst of Ban's urgent audit of the country, nothing is announced. What was that, again, about transparency? 

  Mr. Ban has previously been asked to let the UN Board of Auditors speak to the press about their work, which still hasn't happened. Likewise, Mr. Ban previously said he would instruct his heads of funds and programs like UNDP's Kemal Dervis to be available to the media.

   But Mr. Dervis has not held a single press conference since the Cash for Kim scandal broke. Now would seem to be the time.

    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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UNDP Accedes to Gambian President's "Spiritual" AIDS Cure, Refuses to Answer Any Questions

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 -- The UN Development Program, faced with the expulsion from Gambia of their representative for questioning Gambian president Yahya Jammeh's claim to cure AIDS without medicine, had a decision to make.

   Should UNDP stand behind its staff member Fadzai Gwaradzimba, who on AIDS had offended Gambia's strongman president? When Sudan's Omar al-Bashir expelled Kofi Annan's representative Jan Pronk in 2006, Annan kept Pronk in the post and did not replace him until his contract expired. Or should UNDP accede to Jammeh's mystification of HIV, and meekly appoint a new and more compliant representative to Gambia?

            On April 11, UNDP issued a press release, not even mentioning Fadzai Gwaradzimba or the grounds for his expulsion, only announcing the appointment of a new UNDP Officer in Charge in The Gambia, Adama Guindo. The pro-Jammeh newspaper The Point published UNDP's press release word for word, click here to view. Adama Guindo's c.v. is impressive, but it is not the issue. Where and when would UNDP explain why, unlike the Secretariat with respect to Jan Pronk, it simply gave in to Jammeh's expulsion of Fadzai Gwaradzimba for having dared voice the position of the UN's own World Health Organization and UN AIDS?

Jammeh, AIDS cure not shown

            UNDP has in the past declined to comment on or even confirm receipt of inquiries concerning such matters as the demotion of its chief of human resources, its Associate Administrator's hiring of a political ally from the Dutch Labor Party, Greenpeace's asserting that UNDP is supporting a controversial gold mine in Romania and numerous financial questions. And so on April 12, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe, at the UN's regular noon press briefing, to explain. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: It was announced that the UNís representative in Gambia, who is a UNDP representative, was thrown out for having challenged the President's claim that he could cure AIDS with no medicine, but in some other way... He was expelled from the country, and now UNDP has replaced him with another person, who presumably wonít criticize.  Can you explain why -- who made the decision in the UN system to -- unlike Jan Pronk, whom Kofi Annan stood behind to the end of his term -- to actually replace someone who was expelled for having criticized...?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You really need to address this to UNDP.  It was a UNDP representative, and it was the UNDP who I think...

Inner City Press: But he was also a UN representative.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I understand, but I think this person came back to the UNDP for consultations.  We would really have to ask the UNDP.

Inner City Press:  The Secretary-General had no role in...?

            The UN's transcript has this sentence ending in ellipsis, but the question was clear (video here), and remains. Following the noon briefing, and the Deputy Spokesperson's instructions to "ask UNDP," Inner City Press sent written questions to UNDP's spokesman as well as higher officials:

The request is for a comment on the replacement of Fadzai Gwaradzimba as representative to The Gambia, after criticism of Yahya Jammeh's claim to cure AIDS without medicine, and specifically for a comment on the comparison of this replacement by UNDP in The Gambia to Kofi Annan keeping Jan Pronk as his envoy to The Sudan even after Pronk's expulsion by President al-Bashir. Why did UNDP replace the resident representative, and what have Gambian officials and UNDP asked about Adama Guindo's views on Jammeh's claims to cure AIDS?  Did UNDP make any comment in connection with last year's elections in The Gambia, in which it was alleged that press was intimidated and non-eligible votes were brought in from outside the country? What is the status of UNDP's work with the press in The Gambia, Zimbabwe, and North Korea?

  Separately, I am attaching information sent to Inner City Press regarding UNDP's Philippines operation, on which your comment is requested. (As you know, no comment was ever provided on Greenpeace's assertion that UNDP supports a controversial gold mine in Romania, nor on Mr. Melkert's hiring of a second personal assistant from the Dutch Labor Party, etc -- the questions have built up, but today Marie Okabe said to ask UNDP, so I am.

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 confirm receipt of this email, and answer the outstanding questions. Thank you.

            The above was sent to UNDP's spokesman and two higher officials at 1 p.m. on Thursday. By six p.m., there had been no response, not even a confirmation of receipt of the questions. Then the UN deputy spokesperson wrote:

Subj: UNDP Statement on the Gambia
From: [Spokesperson at]
To: Matthew Russell Lee

Date: 4/12/2007 6:41:29 PM Eastern Standard Time

UNDP Statement on the Gambia

On 11 April, Mr. Adama Guindo began serving a short-term assignment as Officer-in-Charge of UNDP in The Gambia, where he will manage the organizationís operations.  The Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization currently coordinates UN system activities in The Gambia.

Mr. Guindo, a citizen of Mali, has extensive international experience, including as UNDP Resident Representative/Resident Coordinator in Liberia and Madagascar and as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNDP Resident Representative in Haiti. Prior to his arrival in Banjul, he served as Officer-in-Charge of UNDP Senegal.

            Inner City Press went and asked Ms. Okabe if this was all that would be provided, by UNDP. She nodded. Apparently this means that the other questions outstanding with UNDP will not be answered either. On this, where and when will UNDP at least explain why, unlike the Secretariat with respect to Jan Pronk, it simply gave in to Jammeh's expulsion of Fadzai Gwaradzimba for having dared voice the position of the UN's own World Health Organization and UN AIDS?

            Because UNDP refuses to respond, including on the question of Adama Guindo's view and plans on AIDS, one must look elsewhere. Online one finds this:

the new representative had reaffirmed his commitment to work with the Gambian government in the area of health and other developmental needs. The new representative must avoid countering the President's policies and aids program. The President said he careless how the UN and other agencies perceived him. He said he had found cure for aids and no one can make him change his mind on his new aids discovery. The UNDP office have two choices. One, to join the President to help cure the aids sufferers or to avoid interfering with his 'spiritual gift' to tackle aids. As we speak, he has called on his patients to stop using anti-retroviral drugs. He said such drugs shorten the lives of aids patients. He said the West just want to make money by inventing such drugs. This what he told us at a meeting,' said an official of Gambia's health Ministry.

            Perhaps UNDP will have a comment on this? In the statement provided through Ms. Okabe, there is one next fact, beyond the UNDP April 11 press release: "The Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization currently coordinates UN system activities in The Gambia."  This seems to indicate -- as noted, UNDP will not clarify -- that UNDP is no longer the UN's lead agency in The Gambia.

   This raises questions about a topic Ban Ki-moon brought up on Thursday, his proposal for "System-wide Coherence." Under this plan, also called "One-UN," which UNDP's Kemal Dervis helped devise but which the G77 and NAM are now criticizing, UNDP would become the lead UN agency. Will not only UNDP's still unresolved (and unexplained) use of hard currency and government-seconded staff in North Korea, but also not UNDP's capitulation on the issue of AIDS, and loss of lead agency status in Gambia, impact the System-wide Coherence debate and outcome?  We'll be asking. But if the past is any guide, UNDP will not be answering. And so we'll ask others.

At UNDP, Agit-Prop Gushes Online from Interns, Staff Survey Buried, Ad Melkert Spins

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 7 -- The UN Development Program promotes itself on it website, by issuing press releases, and by funding ostensibly independent media to sings its praises. Four months ago, Inner City Press showed UNDP to have spent over half a million dollars publishing a book to sing its praises. Now UNDP goes one step further, having staff and interns spend their work time making anonymous pro-UNDP postings on non-UN blogs and web sites. A cursory search finds sites such as full of pro-UNDP postings, some going so far as to praise by name Hafiz Pasha, UNDP's head for Asia and Pacific, currently embroiled in the North Korea hard currency and counterfeit scandals.

    A posting from "satem" gushes about "what Hafiz Pasha calls the tyranny of averages: as the average income rises for the region there is a tendency to forget those left behind." While possibly -- though only debatably -- such sycophantry might have a place on web sites clearly labeled as authored by UNDP, the implanting of this propaganda by UNDP personnel on non-UNDP web sites is questionable. Since it was not unlike involuntary dentistry to get answers from UNDP on its spending on the book "UNDP: A Better Way?" it is not clear when UNDP's propaganda budget will be disclosed. But we'll try.

            The flipside of affirmative propaganda is the burying of negative information. Sources inside UNDP question what has happened with the results of UNDP's supposedly independent Global Staff Survey. In previous years, results have been released by now. This year's survey appears to have been "buried," in the words of one UNDP insider. We'll see.

            Also spinning wildly is Ad Melkert, who was on the World Bank's board when Paul Wolfowitz' girlfriend was given raises such that she earns more than Condi Rice. Melkert, fresh from spinning about the UNDP North Korea scandals, tries to distance himself from his actions in his previous job. "'In this case, it advised management that keeping the partner within the institution would be untenable but that a possible external solution should take into account the legitimate concerns about career advancement of the partner,' the spokesman for Melkert, who is now associate administrator of the U.N. Development Program" said. We thought Christina LoNigro was the spokeswoman for both Dervis and Melkert. Is Morrison on the case? Either way, there's the beginnings of an M.O. here...

Melkert - thinking of Wolfowitz?

            Ban Ki-moon's February 12, 2007 press release / "biographical note" on his re-appointment of Ad Melkert as Associate Administrator of UNDP said that "Since November 2002, Mr. Melkert represented the Dutch constituency as an Executive Director of the World Bank, where he was a strong advocate for increased donor coordination."  Yeah -- coordination of promotions and raises for Wolfowitz's girlfriend...

   On the absurd tip, reflective of UNDP's blithe engagement with regimes like Karimov's in Uzbekistan, of Feb. 21, 2007 "reported" on the "creation of educational blogs, composing plans on integration and usage of modern technologies in teaching process... The seminar organized within UNDP project "Capacity building for Internet development." Great.....

   A point here is that the same "satem" on Friday, April 6 posted as "intern" that UNDP is supporting democracy - click here to view. And who is it, exactly, that pays for and posts to Whatever the ethics, it should be disclosed.

            On the flip side, on this anniversary of the beginning of the slaughter in Rwanda in 1994, on a blog not infiltrated by UNDP's plants, the following was written --

"met the UNDP crowd and spent yesterday hanging out in air conditioned cars with people who can't say hello in Kinyarwabda who are effectively running the country. Weird."

  Weird indeed....

UNDP Officials are "Collaborating with Federal Investigators," Romanian Gold Mine Charges Unanswered

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 --  On Tuesday, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson if Mr. Ban would withdraw immunity from any UN Development Program official who declined "voluntary" invitation to be deposed at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York on the North Korea scandal(s).

            The spokesperson replied, "From what I know, they are collaborating with the Federal investigation." Video here, from Minute 10:05. Because it has been reported, first by Inner City Press, that 13 UNDP officials have been summoned "voluntarily" to the SDNY, the spokesperson's answer was interpreted to mean that all 13 will agree to be deposed. We'll see. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: If UNDP officials decline to speak on a voluntary basis with prosecutors about the counterfeit matter at UNDP, would Ban Ki-moon consider lifting immunity?

Spokesperson:  I'm sorry.  Your "if" is a big "if."  From what I know, they're collaborating with federal investigators.  So there are no "ifs" here. If you have further questions about UNDP and the situation of the fake money, then you can talk to David Morrison. And further to your recent questions about the work being done in auditing UN activities in the Democratic Peopleís Republic of Korea, we have been informed by the Audit Operations Committee of the UN Board of Auditors that last week, the Committee completed the preparatory portion of the DPRK assignment, which was being done here at Headquarters as you know.  A scoping report, which would determine the parameters of what is being audited, is currently being drafted for further consideration by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).  That was in answer to your question yesterday.

Question:  Will that be made public?

Spokesperson:  You have to wait for it to be over first.

            That further questions can be directed to UNDP's David Morrison -- he was not in the briefing, and has not responded to Inner City Press's emailed questions from weeks ago. Beyond North Korea, these questions included a request for UNDP's comment on Greenpeace's and others' assertion that UNDP is supporting a gold mine in Rosia Montana in Romania. Three weeks ago Inner City Press supplied Mr. Morrison and then another UNDP spokesman with a copy of Greenpeace's letter to UNDP's Bratislava director, Ben Slay, and asked for a response. None has been forthcoming.

Here is Greenpeace's letter:

UNDP RBEC Bratislava Regional Center, Director

Grosslingova 35, 811 09 Bratislava, Slovak Republic                                                

In June 2006 UNDP Romania and members of BRC came to Rosia Montana/ Romania. Here Canadian Gabriel Resources wishes to develop Europe's largest open cast cyanide leach gold mine. At Rosia Montana the UN mission met with members of Alburnus Maior, a local NGO which was told that the purpose of this visit was to evaluate for Romania's minister of the Environment development possibilities in the event that the proposed open cast gold was not given the go-ahead. The UNDP website indicates several reports about this UNDP mission that are inaccessible to the public and even written prior the mission's actual visit to Rosia Montana.

It has come to our attention from Hungarian mass-media that Gabriel Resources is interested to form a partnership with UNDP Romania and BRC. Whilst we strongly oppose such partnership which would only tarnish UNDP's reputation, we would for the sake of transparency like to receive concrete answers to the following questions:    

1. Is UNDP-UNEP working on a sustainable development project at Rosia Montana? If yes, what is the nature of this project?

2. According to the Hungarian press (Saturday, 24 February, Nepszabadsag), an UNDP-UNEP team is considering a 20 million USD partnership with Gabriel Resources. Is this accurate?

3. What is negotiated/desired partnership/collaboration between UNDP-UNEP and Gabriel Resources? Is there co-financing involved/ considered? If yes, from whom?

            But these are the type of questions that, in Inner City Press' experience, the current UNDP is most resistant to answering. In the three weeks since Inner City Press posed the above and other questions to UNDP, without response, it has been reported that

House Speaker Barbara Prammer presented an award to CEO-President of Gabriel Resources, Alan Hill, on March 27.... the mine plans to use an environmentally hazardous cyanide leaching technology to extract at least 330 tonnes of gold and 1,600 tonnes of silver. The project has triggered strong protest among Hungarians who keenly remember that another Romanian gold mine using a similar technology near Baia Mare in NW Romania caused an environmental disaster, wiping out wildlife along Hungary's eastern waterways in 2000. Speaking over the phone at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Germany, [Hungary's Foreign Affairs Spokesman Viktor] Polgar said that the honor had been proposed by the Romanian Meridian trade union along with the UN's development agency UNDP and forwarded by Austria's GPA-DJP trade union to the country's parliament. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry will request details about the issue from the Austrian ambassador to Hungary early next week, Polgar said, adding that the ministry hoped the award would be retracted.

            If the award is retracted, it will not have been with UNDP's help. There are other UNDP mining forays, from Zimbabwe to Haiti. To be continued.

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

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