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In UNDP Secrecy Plan, Even Funders Must Gives Reasons to See Audits, Board Must Be Notified, Resuming Sept. 19

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

UNITED NATIONS, September 12 -- The culture of secrecy and cover-up in the UN, at least in the UN Development Program, was on display on Friday night. The UNDP Executive Board meeting went into overtime, without translators, due to objections to even the watered-down proposal to let member states see audits of UNDP country programs while withholding them from the public. A proposal was made by UNDP's Board President to add a requirement that any requester of an audit must state the "reason / purpose of the request," and also that UNDP notify not only the "concerned country" but also the wider Executive Board before providing any documents.

    This falls far short of most Freedom of Information laws, which provide for individuals to gain access to documents whether or not they fund they underlying programs. Here, roadblocks are being erected to funders seeing audits of what they have funded. Only at the UN...

UNDP's Ad Melkert, who said "you ain't seen nothing yet." No, we haven't.

 UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis, who has contributed to this culture of secrecy by for example refusing to answer even factual questions  was not in the Board meeting to the end. Nor was  his Associate Ad Melkert, who had promised transparency and reform. Akiko Yuge was in the house, as a ten minute recess was called to consider the enhanced secrecy amendments.  The ten minutes too were extended. "Thomas of Switzerland," as the Board president called him, was called to the front to translate.  The Board president bragged that he had a very fun schedule for the weekend -- "maybe you don't" -- and so he wanted a vote on his language of more secret audits. 

   The draft he circulated also differed from what he'd read out loud, this time allowing the Executive Board as well as the concerned government to "view and comment on the report" prior to it being given to any funding member state.

Update of 8:25 p.m. -- "Ten minutes" has gone over an hour. Rationales for secrecy are offered to Inner City Press: disclosure can lead to suspension of programs as in North Korea; even if a country commits to not share an audit with the press, there is no recourse for violating the commitment. But if a program is funded by a public body like the UN, how can how the money's spend legitimately be kept confidential?

Update of 8:40 p.m. -- The president finally re-gavels the meeting to order, only to announce that no concensus was reached.  China speaks, to say this will have an impact on for example the UNICEF board, which meets next week. China "can't make position at this stage."

  Do other delegations which to take the floor? India speaks, supporting the Chinese position, requesting more time.  Pakistan says the same (Kashmir notwithstanding).  Russia "also would like to express its regret... and hope that in the meantime no negative precedent."

 The president says, we are not to wait until the next meeting in January.  An African delegate says that the issue has been focused on UNDP, not UNICEF.

Update of 9 p.m. -- the president suspends the session until next Friday. Even the most basic and constrained transparency can't fly at UNDP...

Watch this site, and this (UN) debate.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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