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In UNDP, Questions of Money Wasted, Neutrality Trampled, Russian Office Audits Withheld and Sachs Expenses

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

UNITED NATIONS, December 6 --  As information continues flowing in following the Roshomon-like demotion of the UN Development Program's head of Human Resources Brian Gleeson on November 29, a picture of UNDP is emerging in which the agency makes recruitment and hiring decisions to placate or in a quid-pro-quo with donor nations. UNDP shows staff tables by nationality to the donors, and makes sure to promote to D and upper P rank those from donor nations.

            A snapshot from the Mark Malloch Brown era offered by staff involves expenditure of millions on a "re-branding" campaign, with a new logo and statement and even web site templates. Within months the campaign and templates were forgotten. One staff complained of the waste of "money meant for addressing poverty issues on the ground." Well said.

            It was not possible to ask Mark Malloch Brown, not yet at least, about these UNDP staff members' concerns. On Monday, Mr. Malloch Brown responded to a question from Inner City Press about the re-assignment of Brian Gleeson and other matters by saying, "You are a jerk. You are the most irresponsible journalist I have ever seen," and walking away.  This matter came up at Wednesday's noon briefing, and it appears will be addressed on Thursday. Until it is addressed, it is difficult to understand how to ask questions of Mr. Malloch Brown, who in any event remained Wednesday in Washington. Another question that has arisen concerning the purpose and specifics of his recent trip to not one but two political parties' conventions in England. Some have predicted that Mr. Malloch Brown aims to return to London for a lordship and to be a minister of the government under Gordon Brown. Some allude to a sort of private UNDP, probably to be funded by George Soros and others. A request has been made to UNDP for documents regarding assistance provided by UNDP to the various Soros initiatives, particularly in Central Asia.

            Some in UNDP question the propriety and relevance, for example, of UNDP's joint venture with Mr. Soros for the "provision of salary supplements to a high-profile group of Georgian civil servants," as described UNDP's Bratislava Center's "Governance Reform Program for Georgia 2004 - 2006." Even this document acknowledges that "normally UNDP does not engage in supplementing salaries for government officials," but goes on to say such is allowed in this case due to "the added value of UNDP's neutrality and its significant accountability record."

            On neutrality, Inner City Press has now asked UNDP for information regarding, for example, its funding during the campaigns in Liberia leading to the election of ex-UNDP staffer Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. While many in the UN System, not without basis, applaud her election, given UNDP's required claims of neutrality, it is imperative that candidates be treated equally, a sentiment reportedly not shared by Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf's soccer playing opponent. When UNDP provides its responses, they will be published on this site.

            UNDP has delayed in providing any information about investigations and audits of its Russia office, in which multiple sources have described to Inner City Press a range of improprieties, from phony billing to strong-arming to get UNDP to sign up for the EU-funded planetarium project to, it is reported, misuse of country office funds by the ubiquitous Kalman Mizsei. Given UNDP's delay in providing any information about the investigation and audits of the Russia office, even prior to today's questions being delivered to UNDP, it is reported here that knowledgeable UNDP sources describe irregularities and audits among others the Honduras office and in the Private Sector Unit of the Bureau of Resources and Strategic Partnerships (which plays a role in the Trust Fund for Iraq), involving credit card fraud. Inner City Press has now formally requested these and other audits.

            Inner City Press has also asked:

Please describe the sequence and basis for promotion(s) given to Casper Sonesson and Lena Sinha (who sources say was recruited under Mark Malloch Brown and has reportedly jumped from P3 in 2002 to D1 status in 2005 with, some of her peers complain, no country office experience).

UNDP: Telling Tales

            In terms of the responses that UNDP has provided, the request to publish their messages in full has been supplemented with a request to also "integrate them into your stories." It seems clear: one or the other. For today, UNDP's December 6 response is provided online in full here, and the response on the Millennium Project-related hiring and compensation questions is also hereby, then analyzed and supplemented with documentary evidence obtained by Inner City Press:

From: cassandra.waldon [at] undp.org
To: Inner City Press
Sent: Wed, 6 Dec 2006 6:27 PM
Subject: RE: Additional Qs re UNDP, response to your Q re deadlines, thank you in advance

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for posting the full text of our note to you of 5 December. We would encourage you to integrate our points into your stories as well, as we believe doing so would present a more balanced picture of UNDP.

We hope the below addresses some of your outstanding concerns. On the Millennium Project:

The Millennium Project was set up in 2002 as an independent advisory body to the Secretary-General, charged with proposing the best strategies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It is funded by donors on a voluntary basis and administered by UNDP (contracts, human resources policies, etc.). It has been led since the outset by Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Guido Schmidt-Traub is its Associate Director.

The Millennium Project was designed from the beginning as a time-bound exercise. Its mandate expires at the end of 2006. In order to bolster progress towards the Goals, we have decided to merge the work of the Millennium Project into UNDP. To this end, UNDP has set up a new sub-unit in our poverty group, which will consist of some 20 positions.

To complete the integration by the end of the year, UNDP management is using an expedited competitive recruiting process for five lead positions. These five positions have been advertised and are in the process of being filled.

Five other positions do not require a competitive process under UNDP recruitment procedures and will be filled with people currently working for the Millennium Project.

All other positions will be recruited according to standard UNDP recruitment procedures, and this process is on-going.

For the record, Jeffrey Sachs will continue to be involved with the UNís effort on the Millennium Development Goals. As of 1 January, he will serve as Special Adviser to UNDP on the Millennium Development Goals. His salary will continue to be $75,000 per year.

            Working backwards through this 250-word statement, it must be noted that beyond the surprise of some UNDP staff members that "Dollar-a-Year" Jeff is in fact charging $75,000, this figure does not include travel and other expenses, called Daily Subsistence Allowance. While Inner City Press has now asked for the more complete numbers, it has obtained a document entitled "The MDG Support  Project for MDG-Based National Development Strategies," initially dated October 20, 2006, and revised November 9. Therein, the budget for Senior Advisors is $224,000. The total budget is presented as $6,059,000, with $2,889,000 coming from UNDP's core budget and $3,170,000 called "non-core."  It says that

"The integration of the UN Millennium Project staff into UNDP including the continuation of the country MDGS coordinators and the contributions to the Nairobi and Bamako-based teams are funded through corporate resources. RBA is contributing $350,000 out of its allocation from unused WSSD Trust Fund resources...The unspent balance (about $3.50 million) of the World Summit on Social Development (WSSD) Trust Fund has been and will be used to kick-start the roll-out of the initiative in compliance with the signed WSSD Trust Fund Agreement."

   Inner City Press has requested a number of Trust Fund Agreements from UNDP. The above-quoted document is signed and will ostensibly be directed by Selim Jahan, described as the deputy to the UNDP Poverty Group's Nora Lustig. On Ms. Lustig, while UNDP on December 5 stated that "Ms. Lustig was hired in April 2006 to Head UNDPís Poverty Group following a transparent and competitive recruitment process.  All staff hired into the Poverty Group since Ms. Lustigís arrival have been recruited via UNDPís standard procedures."

  UNDP's above-quoted December 6 response speaks of "an expedited competitive recruiting process" -- only dubiously "UNDP's standard procedures." Staff at the Poverty Group answer the question if Guido Schmidt-Traub is already working there with one word: "Yes." So why hold a competition if the job has already been awarded?

            As to Ms. Lustig, Inner City Press has now asked when her position was advertised, whether Ms. Lustig was a candidate, and whether she was "on the short list." Inner City Press has been told that Ms. Lustig was "head-hunted" by Kemal Dervis *after* the selection group had held a process, and contrary to the panel's recommendation. Is *this* UNDP's standard procedure? Similar questions have been asked regarding job(s) awarded to one Ligia Elizondo. And some of the other questions asked:

Re "UNDP: A Better Way?" please state the source of funds expended in connection with the book, core or other, whether any fundraising was done for the book (and if so, who made the fundraising outreach, to whom, and with what results). When copies of the book are sold, what happens with the money? And to what specific multilateral institutions and books were referred to in the statement that UNDP's expenses are in line with other multilateral institutions?

From the book, including because UNDP is the copyright holder, please answer these [ ] initial questions:

Page 336 of the book recounts some of the actions of "UNDP's east European bureau chief, Kalman Mizsei." Please provide a complete copy of and background to any 2002-03 letter by Mr. Kalman Mizsei praising UNDP's Russia office for its "resource mobilization" and please provide all information about and background to Mr. Mizsei leaving UNDP earlier this year.

Given that page 303 of the book refers to Mark Malloch Brown "turn[ing] to Brian Gleeson," please provide information on [the] events of November 29 with regard to Mr. Gleeson.

Please explain and document the report at the top of page 304 (of the softbound edition) that "In one country, 'there was a guy running a sex Internet business from his office' but his Res Rep defended him, "'Come on, he's been here sixteen years and has children, I can't get rid of him." Within a few months... both he and the Res Rep were gone."

Please state as quickly as possible the background for [ ] being sent from New York  to UNDP Uganda, and separately whether any complaints were filed against [ ] while Resident Representative in Uganda.

            And so the questions continue, and the series will go on.

 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.

Feedback: Editorial [at] innercitypress.com

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

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