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At UNDP, Evasive or No Answers on Myanmar Corruption, As Even Dervis' Location Is Secret

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 1 -- In connection with the last minute, Friday afternoon document-dumping of the limited audit of its operations in North Korea, the UN Development Program offered a rare media availability. UNDP spokesman David Morrison, rather than ignoring written questions, this time took them orally and at least had to dodge. After the briefing, various information that was promised to be sent, wasn't. But what was asked, and answered, is indicative of an agency without oversight, some say, a Programme out of control.

            Beyond questions about North Korea, Inner City Press asked about scandals surrounding UNDP in Myanmar and with diamond mining in Zimbabwe. Of the latter, Mr. Morrison said it's a "murky situation," one that the public is now supposed to believe will be cleared up by an investigation by an unidentified "Harare law firm."

            On Myanmar, Inner City Press has repeatedly asked UNDP in writing to address public reports of the firing of six UNDP staff for corruption. After ignoring the written questions, Mr. Morrison on Friday said that the press reports are not accurate. They name the wrong province, he said, without disclosing the right one. Rather than six fired, it was four staff whose contracts were not extended, and one who was demoted, for violating the terms of their contracts. But Mr. Morrison said nothing about what the violations were about.

Zimbabwe wins chair of UN Committee on Sustainable Development (UNDP and diamond mines not shown)

            After Friday's briefing, Inner City Press again asked in writing, including to UNDP's two most senior officials. Their personal spokeswoman Christina Lonigro responded that "on Myanmar, David answered this question at the briefing." But he pointedly did not say what the violations concerned, nor where they occurred. Video here, from Minute 25:44 to 33:33.

            Inner City Press asked about Ad Melkert's statements months ago that he was committed to transparency, that "you ain't seen nothing yet," and that UNDP would move to make its internal audits available at least to the countries on its Executive Board, and to implement financial disclosures at last similar to the Secretariat's.  Mr. Morrison's response made clear that the internal audits are still not being made available -- this he blamed on the need to consult with other agencies -- and that, on financial disclosure, "no one has signed yet."

            Nevertheless, in an email later on Friday, Ms. Lonigro claimed that "both Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert have filled out financial disclosure forms."  Who is to be believed? David Morrison ("no one has signed yet") or Ms. Lonigro?

            At Friday's briefing, after Inner City Press asked if UNDP's future financial disclosure regimen will include review by an outside accounting firm, as the UN Secretariat's program does, Mr. Morrison said, "We could undertake to find that out for you." But ten hours after the briefing, and after two email reminders from Inner City Press, even this simple answer was not provided. Nor were answers to longstanding questions about UNDP in Georgia and how many people UNDP employs.

            Even information as basic as the physical location of Kemal Dervis, technically the third highest official in the UN system, is not forthcoming. Inner City Press had asked for confirmation that Mr. Dervis is attending the Bilderberg Group meeting in Turkey to June 3.  Ms. Lonigro, Dervis's personal spokeswoman, despite claiming to have answered "all" the questions, left this one untouched. So who's running UNDP?

            Mr. Morrison acknowledged that UNDP gives documents to its Executive Board late, but did not respond to Inner City Press' question about UNDP's request for that its proposals to shift to "results-based budgeting" be considered only orally at the upcoming Executive Board meeting. A Board member told Inner City Press on Thursday that his colleagues on the Board do not provide sufficient oversight of UNDP. Who does?  Developing.

Click here for Inner City Press' June 1 story on the white wash (preliminary) audit of UNDP in North Korea.

    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