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In Myanmar, Local UNDP Staff Must Tithe To Get and Keep Jobs, Yangon Insiders Say

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

            While those at UN headquarters, from auditors to journalists, have treated the 2007 saga of the UN Development Program in North Korea as a one-off anachronism of compromise to do business in a totalitarian state, similar issues exist, for example in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

            At a June 6 press conference, UNDP's Associate Administrator Ad Melkert was asked by Inner City Press to address a relatively obscure media report of five staff fired in Myanmar for corruption.  Mr. Melkert was evasive, saying he "could" describe how staff in that country are recruited, but then has declined to provide any further information.

            In the beginning of what we hope to be a continuing inquiry, discussions with people knowledgeable about UN operations in Myanmar reveal a situation in which UN agencies are staffed by associates of that country's military government. As in North Korea, the payment of seeming salary is misused. One insider said, "at times, the UNDP had over 900 project staff on the various sub-projects of the HDI programs.  The majority of these were required to pay 1-2 months of their annual salaries back into UNDP national staff in order to have these jobs."

            As described, there are at least two poles (or "crime families," in one insider's account) within UNDP in Myanmar. The captains of the two networks are Mr. Tin Aung Cho and Mr. Hla Mying Hpu. It is through these pyramids of corruption that salaries are kicked-back.

Militarized Myanmar (UNDP role not shown)

            The UN's coordinator in Myanmar is Charles Petrie. When he arrived, according to insiders, he "conducted several staff meetings in which he gave the 'new sheriff in town' speech, saying past deeds would not be examined, but that he expected a clean ship while he was there.  Shortly thereafter, an unsigned memo arrived on his desk that, essentially, said that if he expected his visa to remain valid then he had better shut up. Charles has been another empty suit shilling for more funds to the country ever since."

            Petrie accompanied the UN's Ibrahim Gambari on his ceremonial trip to Myanmar in 2006, including the rare visit to Aung San Suu Kyi, a supporter of whose, Su Su Nway, was reportedly released from house arrest today, on health grounds. Insiders point out that not all arms of the UN system play the same politics in Myanmar -- but they do all play politics. UNICEF, for example, is said to employ the adult child of an Aung San Suu Kyi associate, not based on merit, but for the politics of it. It may be a less totalitarian politics, but it is still the type of employment practice for which both UNDP and UNICEF have been under scrutiny by the UN Board of Auditors and now by the General Assembly's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.

Myanmar: child soldiers

            With UNDP Executive Board meetings beginning on June 11, how the follow-on issues of Myanmar, as well as UNDP jobs-for-sale, Zimbabwe diamond mining, etc., are dealt with will be an important test of credibility for UNDP, its senior management and Board. We will follow this story, and invite input and leads, particularly but not only from those with first hand knowledge of UN operations in Myanmar and states like it. Developing.

Click here for Inner City Press' June 1 story on other UNDP questions.

    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.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540  Matthew.Lee [at]

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            Copyright 2006-07 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

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

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