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At UNDP, Audit Access Gets Loophole, "Commitment" Becomes "Considering," Melkert on the Run

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- The illusory nature of even the few reforms the UN Development Program  has announced in the face of scandals surrounding UNDP's involvements with North Korea's Kim Jong Il regime, and in Myanmar, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, became more apparent on Wednesday.

            UNDP's  Associate Administrator Ad Melkert, who a week previously had told the press that UNDP has "committed" to making internal audits available to member states, Wednesday told his Executive Board that the change is only "considered," and then only for "future internal audits," not those currently in controversy.

            Afterwards, when asked about this discrepancy, Ad Melkert rushed away, and finally said only, "I don't know, you have to ask those who are experts in decision-making."

            On June 6, Melkert said that

"The Administrator and I feel very strongly on this issue. It is for this reason that we are committed to make the findings of internal audits available to Member States for perusal at UNDP HQ, upon written request to the Administrator." (UNDP written statement)

            This sounded straight-forward: UNDP would make internal audits available to Member States, just as the UN Secretariat does. But at Wednesday's meeting of the UNDP Executive Board, Melkert read out a statement that has some of the identical phrases from the June 6 statement to the press, but notable differences:

"The Administrator and I feel very strongly on this issue. It is for this reason that we have considered to make the findings of future internal audits available to Member States." (UNDP written testimony, emphasis added)

            The word to the press, "committed," has been changed to "considered;" in the later version, access is limited to future internal audits, putting all findings about currently scandals not only in North Korea, but also in Myanmar, Zimbabwe and elsewhere off-limits to Member States.

Melkert in happier times, word-games and press-fleeing not shown

            Mr. Melkert read out his statement, then mostly sat on the rostrum while UNOPS and UNFPA's representatives spoke. (Notably, to the speakers, Melkert left the room for some time, during both UNOPS and UNFPA's presentations.) The UNFPA representative said that his agency feels that any change in access to internal audits would have to be approved by the Executive Board. Since despite its June 6 "commitment," UNDP now says that it must only increase access "in consultation with the Chief Executives Board membership including our sister agencies," this is another loophole. UNDP could blame its deviation from its June 6 commitment on UNFPA, or even now a CEB member which is doesn't consider a "sister agency."

            When the meeting adjourned, Inner City Press went to ask  Ad Melkert about these inconsistencies. In the UN, diplomats and Under Secretaries General such as John Holmes, Lynn Pascoe, Ibrahim Gambari and Alicia Barcena routinely slow down to answer questions from reporters in the hall.  But Mr. Melkert pointedly rushed by. Then UNDP staffers surrounded him, as he passed the Vienna Cafe and up the stairs to the Delegate's Entrance (and exit). Inner City Press asked about the discrepancies, including "Is this all that you are saying about audits? Does the change you committed to require a vote by the Board?"

            Melkert turned and said, "I don't know, you have to ask those who are experts in decision-making." We will, but note that more and more people are asking, can Ad Melkert be believed? He changes his position from week to week. He ignores and then investigates whistleblowers, then denies it. He previously promised transparency, and now runs away from the press. Even UNDP supporters have begun to ask: is it time for Ad Melkert to go? He is already in a rush...

    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