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UNDP's Melkert Remembered As Apparatchik by Dutch Media and UNDP Staff

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

UNITED NATIONS, July 25 -- With "Melkert versus the whistleblower" all the rage in Holland, it may be time to compare Ad Melkert's past as a Dutch politician with his precarious present at the Number Two man at the UN Development Program.

            We start with a short video, on the ubiquitous You Tube. Click here to view. In the debate, from 2002, Melkert sneers tiredly, like a bureaucrat, at a soon-to-be-dead challenged. The moderator asks Melkert what he thinks of the debate. Not very enthusiastic, Melkert says, but it comes with job. That's at Minute 1:13.

    But soon after this arrogant performance, Melkert stepped down from his post in the Dutch Labor Party. "He's an apparatchik," one Dutch political observer told Inner City Press on Wednesday. "He's done this before."

            The more recent example is with Melkert at UNDP. He had competed with Kemal Dervis to head the agency, and lost out. Later he came in, quietly, as the Number Two man. It's said he was told that Dervis might be leaving, either as a dark horse (make that, long shot) candidate for Secretary General, or back to Turkey for a political post. So Melkert got busy.

            At first, Melkert tried to come off as a reformer. In the face of reports of UNDP wrong-doing, including Inner City Press' series about UNDP's involvement with disarmament programs in Uganda that spiraled off into village-burning, Melkert said the agency would become more transparent. "You ain't seen nothing yet," he said.

            And it's true, we ain't seen nothing. After Melkert promised that audits would be made available, he didn't even recommend it to UNDP's Executive Board. UNDP's already lax Communications Group was informed to stop answering questions. Melkert has taken the same tack.

Inspector Melkert, I presume?

            The side of Melkert that the old You Tube clip only hints at, however, is the vindictive, retaliating side. Interviewed Wednesday by Inner City Press, whistleblower Tony Shkurtaj made an analogy to Melkert's Dutch career, saying that Melkert's enemies come to no good end. Shkurtaj muses that the reason UNDP kept quiet about the counterfeit dollars in its Pyongyang safe was that to turn in this currency would have outed, years ago, Kim Jong-il as a counterfeiter. Shkurtaj said the money was left hidden until he found and reported it, pursuant to UNDP's policies.

            Melkert and the whistleblower makes clear that far from being progressive, Melkert can be the boss from hell, cracking down on any employee who dares cross him. Shkurtaj says he fears for his safety.

            Others note that those now in charge at the UN also may have an interest in every groundball not being run out in North Korea. When the whistleblower was named, publicly, it put him at risk, he says, from all of these forces. This is the work of Ad Melkert. And here is summary, and here a translation:

Article in Vrij Nederland, written and translated by Freke Vuijst, "Ad Melkert and the whistleblower"

Is Ad Melkert the victim of an unjustified attack by conservative Americans? Nonsense, says the whistleblower who stood at the birth of Melkert-gate.... In September last year, long before his contract in North Korea would have ended, Shkurtaj was called back. In an interview now with Vrij Nederland, Shkurtaj tells: "I was ordered back to New York. Management told me: 'You're rocking the boat.'" Some months later he was denied access to the internal computer system of UNDP and then he was told that his contract would not be renewed. UNDP gave his name and photo to the security of the United Nations. He landed on a watch list of crazies and terrorists. "Can you imagine," says Shkurtaj, "all of a sudden I am a dangerous person whose admission to the UN buildings is to be denied. That is revenge." A UNDP spokesman, answering questions about the role of the whistleblower from the Press, describes him as "a short-term consultant." Shkurtaj is deeply hurt. After all he worked thirteen years for the United Nations in functions varying from "head of finances" to "head of IT."

What was it that Tony Shkurtaj found when he arrived in Pyongyang? ...When Shkurtaj wanted to send a confidential report to headquarters, he had to go the German embassy. And then there was the curious issue of money. In other countries UNDP pays salaries of local staff and bills from local suppliers with the local currency of the country it operates in. That was different in North Korea. All transactions were in euros. A driver brought checks to the bank and came back with euro’s. Then the money was given out in cash to North-Koreans. No receipts were signed.

Shkurtaj's descriptions of how the UNDP's office in North Korea operated was confirmed in a special audit report. When the "cash-for-Kim" scandal broke in January in the American press, the news secretary-general of the United Nations, the South Korean Ban Ki-moon, ordered an investigation... The auditor's report had barely rolled from the printer the end of May or Ad Melkert very happily maintained that the investigation had vindicated him: the American accusations were grossly exaggerated...

Tony Shkurtaj was doubtful about the inspections. He himself had done them twice. Once he found computers that UNDP had ordered for the university of Pyongyang not on campus, but in a warehouse. He was allowed only to open one box. Another time the found GPS-devices, procured by UNDP for an agricultural project, in a completely empty building... "Melkert knew that the North Korean government would not issue visa’s to the auditors once UNDP had withdrawn from North Korea. What is it that Ad Melkert is hiding, I wonder." That questions is not answered by Melkert. After repeated requests from Vrij Nederland to Ad Melkert himself, his spokesman reacted with an email that "Ad is not giving interviews right now."

Last year Ad Melkert promised the journalist Matthew Russell Lee, one of the few journalists who cover UNDP, that UNDP would be an open and transparent organization. "You ain't seen nothing yet," said Melkert to the left-wing journalist who has for months been covering UNDP scandals in Russia, Burma, Uganda and Zimbabwe for the internet publication Inner City Press. That promise Melkert has not kept, even though he wrote on an internal UNDP-blog that Vrij Nederland saw (dated February 9): "Changing our culture is crucial for maintaining confidence and support from our stakeholders-ranging from board members to media, national parliamentarians and civil society."

 For Tony Shkurtaj these are empty words.... "The Netherlands should, as one of the largest donors to UNDP, not stand behind Melkert. He terrorizes people. He hurts the reputation of  the Netherlands and gives Dutch employees at the UN a bad name. Ad Melkert should not resign. He should be fired."

Next week Tony Shkurtaj will hear if he get the official protection of a whistleblower. His case is a test case for the reforms at the UN.

            And right now the test is... decidedly incomplete.

   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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