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Inner City Press Global Inner Cities Report - March 9, 2006

Humanitarian Aid:  From Davos to Darfur, the Numbers Don't Add Up

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press U.N. Correspondent

   UNITED NATIONS, March 9 -- Jan Egeland, who for many became a poster boy for the UN in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, on Thursday launched a major post-tsunami humanitarian mechanism, the Central Emergency Response Fund or CERF. The fund's goal is $500 million, to allow for more rapid responses to crises. At a press briefing at the UN in New York, Mr. Egeland said that so far $256 million has been pledged. He was accompanied by Dr. Keith Mitchell, the prime minister of Grenada, a nation to which previously-pledged disaster support "never materialized," according to Dr. Mitchell.

   Mr. Egeland spoke about the Darfur region of Sudan, for which UNHCR had earlier reduced its budget by 44 percent, citing the ongoing lack of security for its personnel. One wonders if the reduction is meant to send a message (or be symbolic, see below) to the African Union meeting on March 10, at which possible changes to the peacekeeping force in Darfur will be discussed.

    Mr. Egeland reported that the 14,000 humanitarian workers in and around Darfur are now in retreat, and that the situation is not improving, despite the inclusion of the SLA from South Sudan in the government. (Relatedly, the UN's Jan Pronk speaking from Paris earlier on March 9 reiterated that in Sudan, oil revenues are available but the capacity to deliver remains low. Mr. Pronk has stated he is awaiting from the International Monetary Fund specifics about oil and revenue in Sudan; Inner City Press submitted this Sudan question in writing to the IMF at its March 9 briefing but it has yet to be answered.)

At the 3/9/06 briefing      Darfur

    Whether corporations are or will be involved in the CERF was asked, by Inner City Press. Mr. Egeland cited the two non (central) governmental contributions listed in a prior press release: $850,211 from Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, and $10,000 from the Disaster Resource Network, which Mr. Egeland specified is a project of the World Economic Forum. The WEF, known for its annual confab in Davos, lists among its industry partners such financial institutions as Citigroup, Barclays, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, UBS and JP Morgan Chase -- at which, the press release notes, CERF has its bank account. Mr. Egeland specified that $77 million of the $256 million has been banked, and characterized the joint $10,000 contribution as "symbolic." (Symbolic of what, wondered one wag.)

  Not on WEF's list of industry partners is the French conglomerate AXA, which as previously reported has been awarded a $930,000 drought insurance contract by the UN's World Food Programme. Since Inner City Press' last report, the WFP in Rome has answered Inner City Press' question

"on why the payout on the insurance contract from AXA was lower than predicted, the answer is that our original estimate was based on a premium of US $2 million for an estimated payout of $20 million. WFP is a voluntarily funded agency, and since we only received $930,000 in donations for the premium, the best offer (from AXA) was for a payout of $7.1 million... Potential suppliers register with the UN Global Market, and are screened by a vendor selection committee according to their ability to provide the goods/services WFP requires as well as to ensure they meet UN standards (e.g. they do not produce landmines, do not use child labor and are not included on the Security Council's list of known terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda/Taliban suspects)."

   Inner City Press is inquiring further into the standards of the UN Global Market; in the interim, this WFP publication, "How To Do Business With WFP," provides some description. We'll have more on these topics; watch this space.

UN Reform: Transparency Later, Not Now -- At Least Not for AXA - WFP Insurance Contract

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press U.N. Correspondent

  UNITED NATIONS, March 7 -- A plan for management reform of the United Nations system was presented Tuesday to the General Assembly, including a proposal for outsourcing of work and improvement procurement procedures. A senior UN official who asked not to be named emphasized that the UN currently spends only $20,000 a year to train its 70 procurement staffers; the proposal would raise that figure to $10,00,000. It's unclear whether that training would extend to entities like the UN's World Food Programme, which on March 6 announced a $930,000 contract with the French financial services company AXA Re, to insure against drought in Ethiopia.

   At an on-the-record briefing Tuesday afternoon, Inner City Press asked how AXA had been selected for this contract. It has been reported that there were four other bidders, left unnamed.  Inner City Press was referred to WFP's New York based spokesman, who said he didn't know who else bid for the contract, and said that "if you are suggesting that there's something inappropriate, you're barking up the wrong tree."

            To ask for information about a near-million dollar contract is not to suggest anything. Among the questions: while it was initially said that the selected insurer would pay out $15 to $20 million in the event of drought, the AXA contract calls for a $7.1 payment. To ask for an explanation of the difference is not to cast aspersions. But there is a climate of paranoia and defensiveness these days at the UN, at least in New York. Inner City Press immediately emailed written questions to the WFP in Rome and to Richard Wilcox, the WFP's Business Planning Director, who was asked what screening procedures the WFP uses in procurement. (As simply one example or question, AXA founder Claude Bebear and its CEO Henri de Castries have been caught up in a money laundering investigation, the point being not the outcome but the WFP's procedures).  At press time, only the following was received:

-----Original Message-----

From: Senior Public Affairs Officer, World Food Programme


Sent: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 20:08:05 +0100

Subject: Re: Press inquiry

"AXA won the contract with WFP through a competitive international tender. Five re-insurance companies bid for the contract, and AXA was chosen on the basis of price and technical competence. I'm afraid I don't have the details of the other four bidders, and while we publish the winners of tenders, we don't make the bids themselves public."

            Not even the names of the bidders? The Secretary General's March 7 reform proposal states, at page 28, that "in May 2006, I shall submit... a detailed policy proposal containing new and clear rules on public access to United Nations documentation." That will or would be not a moment too soon.

            Also at the UN headquarters on Tuesday, ex-Knicks player John Starks spoke in advance of a March 15 event scheduled Madison Square Garden, Dunk Malaria. The sponsor is Hedge Funds Versus Malaria, whose founder Lance Laifer also spoke, along with the UN's Djibril Diallo (himself a malaria survivor, from Senegal). When asked by Inner City Press which hedge funds are involved, Mr. Laifer mentioned several including his own (Hilltop Partners), and Seneca Capital. He agreed that recruiting the area's other (more winning) team, the (Bed) Nets, makes sense. A Knicks representative said that the wider NBA will be involved, and that the NBA wanted to attend but was focused Tuesday on the first sporting event in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. The press release, reiterated by public address system five minutes before the event, said Alan Houston would be there. John Starks filled in ably, even joking that he'd better dunk carefully, given his shooting percentage...

In the Sudanese Crisis, Oil Revenue Goes Missing, UN Says

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press U.N. Correspondent

    UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 28 – The UN’s Jan Pronk, briefing reporters on Tuesday about developments in Sudan, said that his mission is underfunded and that as regards Sudan’s oil sales, there is no transparency and little benefit to the Sudanese people. In the North –South conflict, according to Mr. Pronk, the North claims to have forwarded $700 million in oil revenues to the South, as a sort of peace dividend. But the South says the money has not been received. Mr. Pronk said, “Where is the oil? How much is there? How much is being produced? What is the reference price?”  Mr. Pronk said he is awaiting information from the International Monetary Fund. “There is no transparency,” he said.

     When asked by Inner City Press if he could, within the bounds of diplomacy, provide guidance to countries which are economically engaged with Sudan, Mr. Pronk declined, limiting his response to the Security Council’s consideration of a list of responsible individuals (but not corporations). Unstated at the briefing was the well documented engagement in Sudanese oil by Security Council member China.

  Mr. Pronk also spoke of Chad, into which the conflict has spread, and where the government recently reneged on its previous commitments that the revenue from the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, run by ExxonMobil, would be devoted to social welfare programs. Mr. Pronk stated that Chad is blocking action on cease-fire and other issues in the Abuja process.

  Mr. Pronk referred several times to Al Qaeda. On the one hand he stated that a force from the UN, rather than NATO, would be less likely to “set off a jihad.” On the other hand he referred to death threats in letters – not against him, he said, but unnamed others. This is based on intelligence, he said.

   Interviewed after the briefing by Inner City Press, Mr. Pronk elaborated on his earlier comment that NATO has “boots on the ground” in Darfur. Asked about press reports that NATO has been providing air support to the African Union force in Darfur, Mr. Pronk shook his head. “They have a few helicopters,” he said. “But nothing more than that.”

 Logistically, while Mr. Pronk had planned to meet with the African Union at a meeting about Darfur on March 3, that meeting has been postponed for a week. Mr. Pronk will be in Paris on that day at what he called “his” Consortium meeting, but said that “we” will be represented at the Feb. 10 AU meeting. We’ll see…

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

In Locked Down Iraq, Oil Flows Unmetered While Questions Run in Circles

What is the Sound of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War at UN

Kosovo: Of Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of Ferronikeli Mines

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia, Even Terror’s Haven

Post-Tsunami Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives

Halliburton Repays $9 Million, While Iraq’s Oil Remains Unmetered

Darfur on the Margins: Slovenia’s President Drnovsek’s Quixotic Call for Action Ignored

Who Pays for the Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN

Citigroup Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

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