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UNDP's Silence on No Audit Help from N. Korea Broken By Barcena, Diamond Questions Multiply

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 16 -- The 90-day "urgent audit" of the North Korea operations of the UN Development Program which Ban Ki-moon called for 117 days ago "has been finalized and sent to the principles, France, the Philippines and South Africa," Under Secretary General for Management Alicia Barcena said on Wednesday.

            Inner City Press asked Ms. Barcena to explain how this audit can have credibility without any visit to North Korea to see how and where the money was spent. Ms. Barcena replied that the decision "not to solicit a visa" was made by the Board of Auditors, which is by Pierre Brodeur of France and includes Ms. Odette Anthoo of South Africa, Mr. Dioni Abalos of the Philippines and Ms. Martine Latare, also of France.

            Ms. Barcena said that whether this decision by the Board of Auditors can be judged "next week," when she said the audit will go to the UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). But Ms. Barcena also said that if the Secretariat -- for which she and Controller Warren Sach are the point people on the issue -- had decided that visiting North Korea was essential to the audit, they would have "helped them pursue" the visas.

DPRK (neither UNDP nor auditors shown)

            Inner City Press asked about a May 4 UNDP document which recites that March 26, the Kim Jong Il government "informed UNDP that while the audit exercise could be held in DPRK for other UN agencies, UNDP could not expect Government to agree to an audit of UNDP programs." Ms. Barcena said, "Yes there was this communication." Video here, from Minute 58:10.

            Ms. Barcena's response Wednesday was more candid, or at least more affirmative, than the Spokesperson's referral Tuesday to merely ask UNDP (again) about it. From the transcript:

Inner City Press:  Also, youíve got this document where UNDPís Bureau for Asia and the Pacific states that the North Korean Government told them on 26 March that UNDP could not expect the Government to agree to an audit of UNDP programs.  This is a letter the UNDP circulated to its own Executive Board.  How does this relate to the idea that if they wanted to go they could go?  This seems to make pretty clear that UNDP was told by the Government that they wouldn't "agree to" an audit.

Spokesperson:  This should be addressed to UNDP.

Inner City Press: I have a question pending there for eight days.  Thatís why Iím asking you.

            And still no response, including on Inner City Press' question from May 11 about the UN Secretariat's second-highest legal officer's reported letter confirming an investigation into UNDP in Zimbabwe. Inner City Press asked UNDP in writing:

  Also, as arose at the UN's noon briefing on Friday, please describe any investigation of UNDP's role in the diamond industry and diamond smuggling in Zimbabwe, and 

Please confirm, yes or no, has the UN (through a UNDP-funded entity called AMSCO or any other entity), provided any financial or in-kind support to the "River Ranch Limited" diamond mine in Zimbabwe, one of whose directors one of whose directors is on a sanctions list? 


   UNDP has not responded. Nor did the Spokesperson say anything more about this, after Inner City Press asked about it on May 11, until it arose again on
May 16 at the noon briefing:

Question:  ...with regard to the letter leaked, written by Larry Johnson, Legal Counsel, over allegations over Zimbabwe and diamond smuggling and so forth.  Do you have a comment on the status of that investigation?  Thatís not for UNDP to comment on.  UNDP doesn't want to comment on that, since itís not their investigation, itís a Secretariat thing, as I understand, but maybe I'm wrong.  But would you please clarify what the situation is with that investigation?

Spokesperson:  I can only say that we are aware of these allegations regarding to the letter sent by the Deputy Legal Counsel, Larry Johnson.  As you know, he thanked the sender for bringing the allegations to the attention of the United Nations, and he said it is being followed up.  We have nothing new about this investigation.

Question:  Okay, maybe you have nothing new, but can you explain, what is the status of this investigation?  Can you treat me as if I know nothing about this, which I almost do?  So what is the status of what Larry Johnson is doing?

Spokesperson:  There were allegations that were made and these allegations are being looked into, first by UNDP itself.  And there will be a decision on whether to go beyond that.

Question:  But, Larry Johnson doesnít work for UNDP.

Spokesperson:  No.  He's the Deputy Legal Counsel who received the letter and answered.

Question:  So his letter is saying that UNDP is looking into the matter?  I'm sorry, I'm totally confused.  Why is somebody working for the Secretariat writing about what UNDP is doing?  I thought they were separate.

Spokesperson:  Because he received the letter.  You know, UNDP is not separate.

Question:  Well, every time we ask a question about UNDP in here we're referred to go to UNDP, so that suggests that there is the suggestion that you treat yourselves as separate.

Spokesperson:  But in this case, the allegations were transmitted to Mr. Johnson, so that's why he answered them.

Question:  So, just to clarify.  Thereís nothing happening at the Secretariat level in terms of this investigation.  It's purely, only, a UNDP affair right now.  Is that correct?

Spokesperson:  At this point, yes...

Question:  Is the allegation basically that UNDP vehicles were used to get diamonds out of Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson:  These were the original allegations, but they have not been verified.

Inner City Press: This is also on Zimbabwe.  It's been reported that, although Larry Johnson said there was an investigation, the Resident Rep of UNDP in Zimbabwe said there was no investigation.  Thatís one of the reasons I asked you on Friday, and frankly, I was surprised I never got an answer to that until today.  But UNDP on the ground said thereís no investigation.  Larry Johnson says there is.  This is why the question of whoís doing the investigation if UNDP says there is none.

Spokesperson:  Okay, so we can check a little more on that. 

            UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis has not held a press conference to answer questions since December 2006, and not for more than a year before that. Associate Administrator Ad Melkert has not come to speak since late January, even as he has used UNDP's communications office to issue statements about the World Bank president (regarding whom, without in any way defending, consider not only Melkert's hiring of a Dutch Labor Party activist but now also this UN analogy).

   Even UNDP's David Morrison has not come to do a briefing on this, despite requests from a number of correspondents that UNDP come and answer questions at least weekly. This is the agency that is proposed to be made the central point of the UN's presence in countries all over the world, under the "One-UN" or "System-wide Coherence" proposal. The wisdom of that proposal, as relates to UNDP, becomes more dubious by the day.

    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