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Team Ban Memo Foretold UNDP Resumption in N. Korea A Month Before Audit Was Released

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 4 -- As questions mount about the UN's no-visit audit of programs in North Korea, on Monday Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson refused to confirm or comment on a UN memo to Mr. Ban which recommended, more than a month before the North Korea audit report was released, that the UN Development Program resume operations there. Also on Monday other audited agencies did not come forward with responses to the report.

            Inner City Press obtained a copy of the "Korea Peninsula UN Policy and Strategy Submission to the Policy Committee" memo on Thursday and in a story on the eve of the audit's release quoted the memo's recommendation that "Unless it is reversed, the UNDP program risks being terminated. Rather than being able to support the six-party talks process and international engagement with North Korea at this critical juncture, the UN will lose its unique comparative advantage in that area altogether."

   On Monday, Inner City Press asked spokesperson Marie Okabe:

Inner City Press: On the Department of Political Affairs, there’s this memo from DPA called Korean peninsula: UN policy and strategy.  It's dated April 25th and it proposed to Ban Ki-moon three proposals about how to deal with North Korea, one of which is to get the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) back involved.  Do you confirm that this document is what it is and what happened?  What happened with the policy committee?  What did they decide after this presentation?  And how does it relate to the UNDP audit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It doesn't relate.  First of all, you're talking about reports of a paper that was circulated in some news media.  I can tell you that it has nothing to do with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) audit, which you had extensive briefings on on Friday.  But what I can tell you about what you read about in these reports is that the United Nations is constantly reviewing its work in all the countries in which it is engaged and a normal part of the process involves preparing options for the consideration of the Secretary-General.  The United Nations does not comment on internal documents developed as part of its ongoing work.  And that's my response on that.

Question:  And there is a policy committee?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is a policy committee that meets frequently.  As the Secretary-General is a new Secretary-General, obviously, he is reviewing all the policies of the United Nations.

Question:  Do you know who is on the policy committee?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It's an internal setup.  I'm sure I can find out for you.  But it's composed of his senior advisers.  I think I'll leave it at that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later drew the correspondent’s attention to the Secretary-General’s bulletin (ST/SGB/2005/16) that set up the policy committee and lists its membership.]

            First, Inner City Press did not base its question on media reports about the memo, but rather on the memo itself, which it now in the interest of transparency makes available to all, click here to view in PDF format.

UN group photo -- how many of the memo's authors are pictured? See below.

            Second, the document to which Ms. Okabe referred states that the Policy Committee is made up of

"the Deputy Secretary-General, the Chef de Cabinet, the Chair of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (alternate Chair), the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, the Chair of the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs, the Chair of the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Legal Counsel, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and the Special Adviser on Africa."

            Some in the UN and its press corps wonder if Ban uber-advisor Kim Won-soo, technically the deputy to Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, is nonetheless present in the Policy Committee. Inner City Press asked for the names of those on the Policy Committee, and continues to await those names, in keeping with Mr. Ban's promises of transparency as he ran for Secretary-General. For now, speculation regarding at least the physical authorship of the memo -- the spiritual authorship, it is said, comes from at least as high as the 38th floor -- centers in DPA's Asia unit on Deputy Director Vladimir Goryayev, Senior Political Affairs Officer Aleksandr Ilitchev, Political Affairs Officer Victor Poliakov, all on the 33rd floor. The impetus comes from 38; but can't tell the players with a scorecard. By even Team Ban's logic, political appointees should be named.

            On conflicts, since the Chair of the UN Development Group is Kermal Dervis of UNDP, one wonders of recusals by him or his better half, as some quip, Ad Melkert.

Ad Melkert Disclaims Spam

            Speaking of Mr. Melkert, he emailed all UNDP staff on June 2, disclaiming some spam sent in his name:

From: Ad Melkert [at]

To: [at]

Subject: DPRK: UNDP Statement and SG Statement

Date: Sat, 2 Jun 2007 02:03:39 +0200

Dear Colleagues,

Further to the e-mail that you must have by now received entitled: "UN Auditors Find Development Program Broke Rules in Offering Aid to North Korea," I would like to clarify that this is an impersonation and the message has NOT been sent by me.

            UNICEF confirms that it has been discussing with UNDP finally providing the long-requested regular press briefings (demanded of UNDP since 2006, with as yet no change). At UNICEF's Executive Board meeting on June 4, U.S. representative William Brisben said

"The Board of Auditors released its report late last week and we would like to know when the Executive Board can expect a full  report from UNICEF... We believe that reports of the Office of Internal Audit and the Evaluation Office should be available to the Executive Board."

            UNICEF has been asked for its response. Meanwhile, having received no response at all from the UN Population Fund, also named in the North Korea audit, to a series of email questions, Inner City Press caught up with the UNFPA's Thoraya Obaid on Monday and asked, will UNFPA be making its management response to the audit public?

            "We haven't decided yet," Ms. Obaid said. "We're looking at where we are."

            Inner City Press invited Ms. Obaid to brief the UN press corps about UNFPA, and asked about its recent report on the case of Alaadin Morsy against UNFPA, which resulted in a call for an Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation by the Joint Appeals Board. Click here for that story. Ms. Obaid on Monday declined to comment. "Due process is due process," she said.

            A hallmark of due process is not making up one's mind or tipping one's hand before fact-finding is done. But Team Ban's DPA recommended clearing UNDP's name and resuming its programs in North Korea, more than a month before even the preliminary audit report was available. Due process? Developing.

    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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