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At UNDP, Secretive Empowerment of the Poor, Whistleblower Publicly Trashed, Melkert's Misdirection

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 10 -- Beyond the scandals in which it is embroiled, the opacity of the UN Development Program is sometimes defended as concealing the agency's quiet work of "empowering" the poor. UNDP's resident representative in what he himself calls a totalitarian nation recent said that empowerment is taking place, without telling the host country or anyone else about it.

            But why should the generic topic of Empowerment of the Poor be confidential? There is a discussion of this topic slated for July 12 in New York City, promoted through an office of UNDP, regarding which Inner City Press has been told it cannot attend, and nothing can be reported:

Subj: RE: Madeleine Albright and Hernando de Soto ["Legal Empowerment of the Poor in the Context of Global Economics and Markets"]

From: [Event organizer at]

To: Inner City Press

Date: 7/10/2007 9:42:07 AM Eastern Standard Time

We actually met - in passing - at the UNDP panel back in January. The dinner on Thursday is hosted by the Foreign Policy Association and Baker & McKenzie at the Harvard Club -- which has a strict no-media policy. It is meant to be a closed-door discussion between those groups. Despite the space limitations, we were able to invite three journalists to the event -- with the intention that nothing said at the dinner would be printed or broadcast. Given your work as a daily reporter, this event may not be of much professional interest to you -- as the discussion will focus more on globalization issues than UNDP's role in development.

            The statement is ironic on many levels, but one is that the law firm of Baker & McKenzie has put out press releases trumpeting its involvement with UNDP for the poor, click here for one. Regarding the secret discussion of globalization by elite institutions, we'll let other opine.

     But another irony is UNDP's strange approach to discretion. On July 6, UNDP's spokesman David Morrison gave a press conference to, in essence, denounce a single individual, who has filed a whistleblower's complaint against UNDP with the UN Ethics Office. UNDP's denunciation was on the record. But its discussion of "Empowerment of the Poor" is confidential? What an agency.

Ms. Albright, who like UNDP now want secrecy (Rwanda not shown)

            Tuesday Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about the processing of the whistleblower's complaint. From the transcript:

Inner City Press: the previous USG for Management say[s] that the UNDP whistleblower approached in mid-2006 with information about North Korea and UNDP and that he's now informed the Head of the Ethics Office.  So Iím wondering -- he's given his consent.  The whistleblower has consented to the UN speaking about his case.  Can you confirm that Mr. Benson has received this from Mr. Burnham and, if so, what's taking so long in terms of making a decision if he is a whistleblower and providing him with protection?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know the issue of whether he's a whistleblower or not is in the hands of the Ethics [Office] and I cannot second-guess them.  They will be answering on the status...

Inner City Press: No, I understand that.  Are they going to make that decision within 45 days of I think, 5 June, he filed his materials with them.  There's some concern that, even while it's pending, some retaliation took place.  Thatís why I'm asking.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can check on that for you, but as far as I know, they have the 45 days to decide.

            The 45 days is drawing to a close. Following the June 5 filing with the Ethics Office, the filer's photograph was placed in the UN Department of Safety and Security's photo array of individuals not to be allowed on UN property. Now it's said that the photo, and the UNDP presentation that supposedly justified it, have both been removed. Did, as security sources say, UNDP's Associate Administrator Ad Melkert say he felt threatened? While such a statement -- we understand it was in writing -- as to the whistleblower was self-serving, Mr. Melkert might want to look closer, much closer, from the threat to his continued tenure at UNDP. To be continued tomorrow.

Click here for Inner City Press' coverage of the UN Security Council's July 10 press statement on Guinea-Bissau

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

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