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UNDP Won't Say How It Chose As Partner Fortis, Reported Funder of Pipeline and Myanmar

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 5 -- As the UN Development Program prepares to present itself as increasingly reformed and transparent, it currently is neither, even in connection with a program it chose to announce itself on June 5, in the run-up to the G-8 meeting.

            UNDP put out a press release, without dateline, announcing it is "teaming up with Fortis [the] banking and insurance giant" which UNDP has designated as "the financial services provider for UNDP's MDG Carbon Facility."

            The press release listed a contact at Fortis, Wilfried Remans, to whom Inner City Press directed a request

"for Fortis' comment on two issues: how was it selected for the MDG Carbon Facility: was it a competitive  process, how many other companies bid and what were the criteria, specifically, did the criteria include human rights? what is Fortis' response to public criticism of its investments in Myanmar  and, separately, in the Trans Thai-Malaysia pipeline?"

            Fortis responded with a request to hold off on the story:

Subj: Press questions re Fortis' selection for MDG Carbon Facility and re investment in Myanmar, Trans Thai-Malaysia pipeline

From: melanie.dunn [at]

To: matthew.lee [at]

Date: 6/5/2007 12:01:10 PM Eastern Standard Time

Dear Matthew, Many thanks for your questions to Fortis. We are endeavoring to get all the answers for you this evening, as you requested. However, as it may be tomorrow morning before we can provide you with reactions to all the points raised in your questions, I just wanted to clarify immediately that Fortis has no investments in Myanmar. Could you please confirm that tomorrow morning (European time) would be acceptable for your deadline?

            This seemed strange since Fortis, along with UNDP, had prepared and put out the press release about the designation. Fortis followed up with a referral to UNDP:

"To get back to you on your first point - we were selected via a Request for Proposal. I suggest you contact the UNDP for the details of the number of participants etc."

            Since it would seem that transparency in selecting and praising a "banking and insurance giant" is just the sort of best practice that UNDP claims, and preaches to others, Inner City Press immediately sent not only Fortis but also two separate UNDP press contacts, in New York and in London, the following:

Can you state which firms responded to the RFP and what criteria were used for selection?

Ms. Dunn, does your response below mean that Fortis contests / contested public reports at the time (click here to view)?  Please respond, as it would seem Fortis would have at the time, to the material in that report, which is also online on the Amnesty International business and human rights site.

            In the ten hours that followed, on the day that UNDP and Fortis had loudly announced their partnership, not a single of these questions was answered. Fortis did not respond to the report, nor on the pipeline; we note that Fortis appears to also fund oil tankers, click here for that. 

The road to global warming, funded by Fortis, UNDP's partner

   UNDP did not state how many institutions responded to the supposed RFP, nor what criteria it used, not what it reviewed. 

            And on Wednesday UNDP's Assistance Administrator is now slated to proclaim yet again to the media how transparent UNDP has become, "you ain't seen nothing yet."

            No, we sure ain't seen nothing... Early on May 29, Inner City Press asked UNDP about a report that six of its staff in Myanmar have been fired in a corruption probe.  After ignoring the written questions, UNDP's spokesman David Morrison on June 1 said that the press reports are not accurate. They name the wrong province, he said, without disclosing the right one. Rather than six fired, it was four staff whose contracts were not extended, and one who was demoted, for violating the terms of their contracts. But Mr. Morrison said nothing about what the violations were about.

            After Friday's briefing, Inner City Press again asked in writing, including to UNDP's two most senior officials. Their personal spokeswoman Christina Lonigro responded that "on Myanmar, David answered this question at the briefing." But he pointedly did not say what the violations concerned, nor where they occurred. Video here, from Minute 25:44 to 33:33.

            Inner City Press asked about Ad Melkert's statements months ago that he was committed to transparency, that "you ain't seen nothing yet," and that UNDP would move to make its internal audits available at least to the countries on its Executive Board, and to implement financial disclosures at last similar to the Secretariat's.  Mr. Morrison's response made clear that the internal audits are still not being made available -- this he blamed on the need to consult with other agencies -- and that, on financial disclosure, "no one has signed yet."

            Nevertheless, in an email later on June 1, Ms. Lonigro claimed that "both Kemal Dervis and Ad Melkert have filled out financial disclosure forms."  Who is to be believed? David Morrison ("no one has signed yet") or Ms. Lonigro?

            At the June 1 briefing, after Inner City Press asked if UNDP's future financial disclosure regimen will include review by an outside accounting firm, as the UN Secretariat's program does, Mr. Morrison said, "We could undertake to find that out for you." But four days after the briefing, and after two email reminders from Inner City Press, even this simple answer has not been provided. Nor have answers to longstanding questions about UNDP in Georgia and how many people UNDP employs.  Following UNDP's last press conference about the environment, UNDP has declined to provide any description of its claimed "Biodiversity" program in North Korea.

            We ain't seen nothing yet...

    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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            Copyright 2007 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] - phone: (718) 716-3540