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While Dodging Africa Questions, UNDP Builds Breakaway Ethics Regime, Conceals Audits

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

UNITED NATIONS, October 16 -- Kemal Dervis, the Administrator of the UN Development Program, is a man in a hurry. Tuesday he came to his first sit-down press conference at UN headquarters in ten months, but said he had to leave after only a half-dozen questions. The topic or trigger of the press conference was his just-completed ten day trip through Africa. But two weeks ago, when Rwanda's Ambassador to the UN asked how UNDP will "resolve the problem of funding, which is the basic problem?" Dervis said only, "I look forward to being in your country next week." Tuesday no update was given on that, nor, until Inner City Press asked, on the controversy surrounding UNDP's blocking of a whistleblower protection inquiry by the UN's Ethics Office.

            Given statements by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his advisors, most observers were assuming that by this time, UNDP would have acceded to the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office. But instead, UNDP announced its own self-administered regime, already criticized by such groups as the Government Accountability Project, and has now put out an ad to hire its own purported Ethics Advisor, with the applications process open through November 9. Thus, even prior to the UN Chief Executive Board meetings to begin in ten days, UNDP has already decided to try to continue to police itself, with its own already-criticized purported protection policy, its own Ethics Advisor, and even its own supposedly independent auditors, who were selected by Kemal Dervis.

            At Tuesday press conference, Inner City Press asked about the case of UNDP - Senegal whistleblower Mattieu Koumoin, and about what Dervis will be proposed at the CEB meetings, on not only accepting UN Ethics Office jurisdiction over UNDP, but also UNDP showing its audits to Member States, which fund it. Dervis did not answer the second question. On the Ethics Office, he spoke rather opaquely about needing to "harmonize" the system while leaving UNDP independent, because it is "in the field" (as supposedly the rest of the UN is not). He did again imply that there should be some appellate role for the UN Ethics Office, without spelling it out. Video here, from Minute 54:14. We will cover the CEB meetings, having been encouraged to seek copies of minutes which will supposedly show that UNDP is, counter-intuitively, a leader on issues of transparency. For now for counter-veiling positive covered we cite back to UNDP's presentation of an expert on Afghan law, in an event which the timing of which we have been asked to clarify was attributable to President Karzai, and not UNDP. Duly noted.

Kemal Dervis talks harmony, audits not shown

            On the question of audits, which Mr. Dervis did not answer, UNDP's Africa director Gilbert Houngbo said that UNDP's Executive Board was not united in wanting audits to be available, and therefore UNDP does not have to or even cannot make audits available. He referred, rather appositely some thought, to the UN Oil for Food scandal. Video here, from Minute 1:08:50. He called the presentation at the most recent Executive Board meeting by the U.S. representative "misleading," and said that beyond UNDP's "trusts funds" and "cost sharing" funding streams, there is a "third dimension" which UNDP manages money for governments. We'll have more on that, as well as on UNDP's long-delayed responses on its involvement in a diamond mine in Zimbabwe in which an ownership stake is held by the husband of Robert Mugabe's vice president. We have been led to believe that henceforth, responses from UNDP to factual questions may actually be forthcoming. Watch this site.

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

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540