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Retaliation Found at UNDP, While Dervis Is Focused on Turkey, In Two Weeks Will Take Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN - 6th in a Series  

UNITED NATIONS, December 5, edited on Jan. 15, 2007, with after-arising UNDP comment -- While people with knowledge of hiring favoritism and corruption within the UN Development Program continuing coming forward on day six of this series, today's column will be devoted to UNDP's responses. First, however, two points on which to focus. UNDP has a $5 billion budget, which is supposed to help the poor. Its chief executive Kemal Dervis has not held a press conference in 14 months.

[Note: UNDP has requested a correction of "[UNDPís] chief executive Kemal Dervis has not held a press conference in 14 months," stating that "For the record, Kemal Dervis has held several full press conferences and met scores of journalists across the globe during this time." Mr. Dervis did not hold a press conference in UN Headquarters from August 2005 through December 21, 2006 -- at which time he described, for example, a lengthy meeting with the editorial board of the Financial Times, which we note. Mr. Dervis also at the press conference projected when he would return, and said he would endeavor to release budgets of the Administrator's discretionary spending.

            Despite or perhaps due to Mr. Dervis' silence, UNDP has demanded that the written responses it provides, sometimes six paragraphs in length in answer to a three-line question, should be published in full. That is not, cannot and will not the practice, not only at Inner City Press but at nearly any other independent publication. However, the substance of responses, when timely received, are clearly relevant. And in this case, we will publish UNDP's self-described "on the record" message on a separate, perhaps ongoing page, "UNDPemails," click here to view. Due to the request that emails be presented in full, also included is an email from outgoing Communications deputy William Orme, who is moving on with some irony to encourage independent journalism.

            In an about-face after 14 months, in response to a question at the UN's noon briefing on Tuesday, it was announced the UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, who had not held a press conference in UN Headquarters or at UNDP in New York since August of 2005, will now hold one, "on December 18 or 19." Since Kofi Annan's regular press conference is on the 19th, some suggest the 18th for Mr. Dervis. And that the length, as Mr. Annan's are, be for at least one hour.

            In the lead point of the UNDP email we are publishing today, UNDP states that publishing what its employees say, particularly if they are critical of higher officials in UNDP, is "reprehensible." UNDP claims that it "has been a leader in establishing channels through which staff can air their grievances or report misconduct without fear of retaliation."

            One of the difficulties in reporting on UNDP, which nearly everyone acknowledges that few reporters do, is that employees of the agency are afraid of retaliation. This fear has been expressed over and over again to Inner City Press, and is one of the reasons that some aspects of this series have proceeded with sources not identified. UNDP then claims that these sources, with their detailed knowledge of UNDP's operations, may not work for UNDP. But on the issue of retaliation, consider the report earlier this year of the Office of the UNDP / UNFPA / UNOPS Ombudsperson, stating that when UNDP

"management has known of a visit in advance, retaliatory action has sometimes been taken the members of staff have been warned about the consequences of saying certain things to the Ombudsperson -- a term that has been dubbed 'pretaliation.' There are also many cases of staff being primed as to what to say to the Ombudsperson."

            As is relevant to Inner City Press' reporting so far in this series, the UNDP Ombudsman also found that

"Most disturbing of all is when a visit from the Ombudsperson which throws light on abusive behavior actually makes the situation worse for those members of staff in an already vulnerable position. An abusive manager will sometimes use intimidation or try to discover by a process of questioning and elimination the names of those who have consulted the Ombudsperson. When no effective action has been taken after the visit of the Ombudsperson to remedy the situation, there are instances of where the abusive behavior has intensified, renewed attempts have been made by the abuser to find out who spoke to the Ombudsperson and retaliatory action has been taken against anyone suspected of doing so."

            These are findings of the UNDP Ombudsman, earlier this year. Now Inner City Press is told by UNDP sources that after work began on this series, UNDP's Associate Administrator Ad Melkert met with Poverty Group staff to try to short circuit internal dissent at the violation of recruitment and hiring rules to accommodate some in the winding-down UN Millennium Project. UNDP sources tell Inner City Press that Ad Melkert told staff not to complain as rules are broken. One of the still unanswered questions involves Guido Schmidt-Traub, who sources tell Inner City Press has already been given a UNDP job even while the purported recruitment process for the position is still open. Inner City Press' question to UNDP about Mr. Schmidt-Traub's position remain unanswered.

            Now UNDP seeks to problematize the process of asking questions, even by email, by trying to turn the tables on the questioner and by demanding that the entirety of their verbose responses be used. UNDP seeks to evade reporters, as it did regarding its funding of disarmament in Uganda that led to civilian deaths. Then if reporters persist, UNDP tries to threat them and bog them down, such that other UN news, including about poverty, cannot be covered. But no publication that covers the UN System -- except perhaps those paid for by UNDP itself -- grants an agency the right to dictate what is published and whether or not employees can be quoted.  In fact, the UN Secretariat has a policy that "As a matter of principle, every member of the Secretariat may speak to the press, within limits: 1) Speak only within your area of competence and responsibility; 2) Provide facts, not opinions or comment; and 3) Leave sensitive issues to officials who are specifically authorized to speak on them."

            It has been made clear to Inner City Press by numerous sources inside UNDP that UNDP does not abide by this policy. Secondarily, one wonders if the matters of the until-last-week head of the Office of Human Resources and of the "UNDP: A Better Way?" book deal have formally been deemed "sensitive issues."

            Perhaps UNDP feels free to tell its employees to whom they can speak. But UNDP cannot dictate to the media how they must be covered. For example, while Inner City Press has been giving UNDP the courtesy of asking for the agency's response, and sometimes waiting two or more weeks for it, this is not required. Take, for example, this news analysis

S-G in Turkey, Nov. 2006 -- Dervis to follow?

   News analysis: Nexis searches show current UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis' inordinate focus on his native Turkey: being quoted on accession to the European Union and even on controversial questions about Cyprus. These quotes are not related to, and in fact may not assist, UNDP's work. But one can surmise that Dervis, having had his attempt to be taken seriously as a candidate for UN Secretary-General rebuffed, is aiming for a position in Turkey. In this view, Dervis is using UNDP money to further his own goals.

            Must one seek UNDP's comment on this news analysis, and wait two weeks to get it? While the answer is "no," even if it were "yes" Inner City Press eight days ago sought to ask Mr. Dervis a question, only to be told that he doesn't answer questions in this fashion, in the General Assembly hallway, coming out of meetings. It must be noted that Kofi Annan does take such questions, with aplomb. His deputy, most recently, less so.

            Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UNDP 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 second installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of UNDP and many of its staff. As they used to say on TV game shows, 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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