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Inner City Press Podcast --

As N. Korea Audit Looms, Memo of Mr. Ban's DPA Foreshadows the White Wash of UNDP

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

UNITED NATIONS, May 31 -- In the next "three to four days," the UN should finally release the 90-day "urgent audit" of the UN Development Program's operations, starting in North Korea, that Ban Ki-moon ordered 132 days ago. This Mr. Ban's spokesperson said publicly on Thursday.

            Privately, UN documents just obtained by Inner City Press foreshadow the contents of the superficial audit, whose authors did not even travel to North Korea. A memo from Ban Ki-moon's Department of Political Affairs entitled "Korean Peninsula: UN Policy and Strategy," contains a pre-discussion of the audit, along with hand-wringing about the suspension of UNDP's "economic management" programs.

            "Unless it is reversed," Mr. Ban's DPA wrote, "the UNDP program risks being terminated. Rather than being able to support the six-party talks process and international engagement with North Korea at this critical juncture, the UN will lose its unique comparative advantage in that area altogether."

            A number of diplomats at the UN, not only from Japan and the U.S., which are cited in the memo as UNDP's main critics, have expressed concern at Mr. Ban's DPA's focus on the UN's "unique comparative advantage." UNDP's Executive Committee voted, unanimously, to limit the organization's programs in North Korea, which had involved flying officials of the Kim Jong Il government around in the name of capacity building.  More than a week ago, Inner City Press asked UNDP to describe its "biodiversity" programs in North Korea; so far, not a single program or even act has been described. Some say that UNDP's "unique comparative advantage" is its ability to hand out diplomatic passports, G-4 visas and laissez-passers, and to avoid both taxes and financial oversight.

Messrs. Ban and Pascoe, memo not yet shown

            The memo by the UN's Department of Political Affairs, headed by American Lynn B. Pascoe, compares the U.S.'s and Japan's UNDP concerns, finding the latter more problematic:

"While U.S. concerns over UNDP financial transactions, and other alleged irregularities in the DPRK, should be met through the coming external audit and the necessary corrective action resulting from it, it is the Board's decision to cancel the economic management part of the country program, at Japan's insistence, that represents the biggest challenge."

            This prediction that concerns about financial and other irregularities will be met by the audit is dubious or self-fulfilling. The auditors did not even travel to North Korea, and what was described as a two week "initial phase" ended up being the whole audit. Head auditor P. Brodeur has left his job.

            Japan's "insistence" on oversight of and limitation on UNDP's programs is presented in Ban's DPA's memo as being counter-productive or without foundation. Missiles have been lobbed at Japan, and it is known that UNDP and other UN agencies were blocked from access to their programs and spending in provinces, three in particular, with dual military use.

            Speaking of launching, the memo concludes by promoting, rather than the "status quo approach," that Ban's UN appoint a Korean Peninsula Coordinator or "launch a Korean Peninsula Initiative." The latter is called more difficult for now, since "the unresolved controversy over the UNDP's activities in the DPRK with the risk of UNDP's possible termination of its operations there will make constructive engagement by the Secretary-General with the country even more difficult."  Again, despite the UN's oft-claimed status as an inter-governmental organization, UNDP's Executive Committee's decision to limit operation in North Korea is presented only as constraining Mr. Ban from more constructive engagement.

            In the end, the memo (which Inner City Press will continue to analyze and report on) recommends publicizing and "raising the effectiveness of the UN's work in" North Korea.  Analysts read into this that the fix was and is in on the audit of UNDP-North Korea: anything that would further call into question "the effectiveness of the UN's work" in North Korea is portrayed as weakening the Secretary-General. And the UN, including its Board of Auditors, is not in that business. Developing...

    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