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At UNDP, Melkert's Spin Machine Shoots at Khalilzad, Somalia Secrets

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 15 -- The UN Development Program on Friday afternoon issued a combative press statement firing back at U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, whose June 14 letter to UNDP Inner City Press reported on yesterday.

    UNDP denies that Ad Melkert, its "Associate Administrator in any way threatened 'retaliation' against a State Department official," namely Amb. Mark Wallace. UNDP in great detail points out the while Amb. Wallace was to meet with UNDP at 2 p.m. on June 13, the meeting was cancelled "at 1:45 p.m.." Not said is that Amb. Wallace reportedly has a sickness in the family. Also not mentioned in UNDP's press statement is the word "audit," which is at the root of this heating-up dispute.

            Let's start with the basics. In late 2006, the U.S. mission to the UN asked to see the audits of the UN Development Program's operations in North Korea. UNDP said no. Months later, on June 6, UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert told the press that UNDP is "committed" to making its internal audits available to Member States, as the UN Secretariat does.

            But in a June 13 presentation to the UNDP executive board, Mr. Melkert switched "commit" to "consider," and add the word "future" before "internal audits," meaning that the internal audits of UNDP's now-shut North Korea programs would never be released. Mr. Melkert also presented the UN Board of Auditors' preliminary report as fully exonerating UNDP, a conscious misreading of the report which implies that there is no fix on the horizon for problems with UNDP's operations in Myanmar and elsewhere.

            Now in the face of new concerns raised by the U.S., in a briefing to Congress, UNDP's Ad Melkert has said he was "surprised to learn that apparently Members of Congress have been briefed on these issues before verification from UNDP was even sought." Leaving aside UNDP's due process rights before the legislatures of its donor nations, speculation has grown about Melkert's strategy. Some opine that he knows that as the public face of UNDP during this scandal, he will be the first to go, and that he is trying to create a paper trail or impression that his ouster will be for political reasons, not corruption or arrogance.

            Others see Melkert's strategy, again, as surfing the distrust widespread in the UN of the current U.S. administration, of by analogy likening the now-concealable irregularities in UNDP's North Korea program to the WMD sought by ;the IAEA and UNMOVIC. Whatever the underlying strategy, it was deployed in full effect on Friday, in an attempt to win the spin war for at least one news cycle.

            Monday at 10 a.m., the man ultimately in charge of UNDP, Kemal Dervis, is scheduled to (have to) speak before the whole UNDP executive board in the basement of UN Headquarters. If Melkert's speech on Wednesday was a taste-test or trial balloon, count on Dervis re-writes.

UNDP brags of its support to Somali TFG police (dead civilians and amount of funding now shown)

     UNDP, despite Melkert's claims in February 2007 that the agency would start responding to requests for information in a reasonable time, is apparently on strike from answering questions, including about public reports of corruption in its Myanmar operations. So Inner City Press directed its questions about UNDP's support of the police force of the Somali "Transitional Federal Government," which is accused of shelling civilian neighborhoods and of war crimes, to the Secretariat's spokesperson, who Friday answered:

Subject: Your question on Somalia
From: [OSSG at]
To: matthew.lee [at]
Sent: Fri, 15 Jun 2007 4:09 pm

You asked... at noon about what kind of financial assistance the UN is providing to the transitional federal government of Somalia. The answer is that the UN does not directly provide any financial assistance to the TFG. Instead, donor nations channel their aid to the TFG through UNDP. So UNDP is a conduit for funding by donors; the UN provides no unique assistance.

   But it's a simple question, now re-posed -- how much money has passed through UNDP to the military and police forces in Somalia? Since, although UNDP seems to forget it, all of "its" money comes from donors, the distinction between its funds and those of donors is false. While this Somalia question is not one that the U.S. mission would pose, the principle is the same: accountability and transparency. We will pursue this. Stay tuned.

    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.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540  Matthew.Lee [at]

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540