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Senate Report Confirms North Korea Errors of UNDP While Letting Wider UN, Kemal Dervis and U.S. Allies Off the Hook

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

UNITED NATIONS, January 23 -- While the UN Development Program operated in North Korea, government officials monitored UNDP's communications and searched its employees' houses, according to a Senate report released Wednesday night on the eve of testimony by UNDP and other United Nations officials.

    By focusing solely on North Korea, and criticizing UNDP but not the breakdown in oversight by the wider UN system, the Report and hearing are seen as representing a missed opportunity to bring about meaningful reform. For example, while the report focuses on a past UNDP payment to a vendor asserted by the U.S. State Department to be involved in Kim Jong-Il's weapons programs, Zan Lock, it fails to mention that more recently, UNDP consciously decided to contract with a company banned from business with the UN Secretariat due to bribery, Corimec, a decision that UNDP's Administrator Kemal Dervis called a "judgment call" and essentially defended.

    Dervis is not scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing, only his spokesman and head of Asia programs. Indicating that this report and hearing may be too little, too late, Dervis in an one-hour speech at UNDP's Executive Board meeting this week did not feel it necessary to mention any of these issues. Click here for that story.

            Likewise, even in revealing how compromised UNDP's communications out of North Korea were -- whistleblower Artjon Tony Shkurtaj had to travel to China in order to email his superiors about them --  the Report and apparently the Senate have not considered that the same monitoring by national staff occurs in, among other places reported on by Inner City Press, Sudan through the UN's mission there.

    The report states that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has tried to strengthen whistleblower protections through a plan that, the report says without providing the basis, has been subject to criticism. But Ban allowed Dervis to block the UN Ethics Office's inquiry into Shkurtaj's case (after the first stage found prima facie retaliation), and Ban issued a new system in which each UN Fund and Program can make up its own Ethics Office. Since then, the UN Ethics Office's Robert Benson, who will be subject to questions, has rebuffed yet another UNDP whistleblower, Mattieu Koumoin, click here for that story.

  The report says that a forensic audit is taking place, but the UN's Board of Auditors has been blocked from going to North Korea, and UNDP itself controls what documents it has brought out of the country. UNDP brags that the report credits "a proposal that would grant routine access to UNDP Executive Board members to UNDP audit reports is currently before the UNDP Executive Board," without explaining this policy's limitations. The Senate's report should become available for download through its website. [If not, Inner City Press can be contacted for a copy, obtained from Senate sources.] UNDP has put it online, along with its response which tellingly "welcomes" the report and its limited scope.

Senators Levin and Coleman: is their report on UNDP too little, too late?

            The report, co-issued by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota of the Senate's Permananent Subcommittee on Investigations, largely confirms the charges leveled over the past year at UNDP for its North Korea programs: that UNDP paid workers' salaries directly to the government in hard currency, had only limited access to sites of projects it funded and no access to its own bank accounts, and paid a vendor asserted by the U.S. State Department to be involved in Kim Jong-Il's weapons programs. The specifics about wiretapping and unannounced searches are new, as are some of the details about the flow of UNDP's funds through Banco Delta Asia, a Macao institution later frozen as a money laundering concern.

            In places, the Senate report quietly lets UNDP off the hook, for example saying that North Korea used accounts affiliated with UNDP to transfer its own money to its diplomatic missions overseas. Earlier charges were that UNDP's funds were being diverted to North Korea's embassies, to buy real estate. While the report says that UNDP's "hybrid" delivery system in North Korea, in which it pretended that the government was implementing project over which UNDP claims to have retailed control, caused "confusion" about the volume of direct payments, the report does not directly confirm or deny previous estimates of the volume of payments, or even mention the issue, raised by whistleblowers, of larger South Korean funds having passed to the North through UNDP.

            The report goes noticeably light on the rest of the UN, and on Ban Ki-moon. If Kofi Annan were still Secretary General, one feels sure he would be held responsible for such pervasive problems in a UN program. But in this Report, the asserted independence of UNDP is emphasized, while the specifics of UNDP's non-accountability even to its own Executive Board is not adequately analyzed. Recent it was exposed that UNDP refused to show financial documents to the UK and Belgium about a procurement snafu in a Burundi program the countries funded, then hired the Belgian official who sought to pursue the matter. Likewise UNDP relocated jobs to the previous chair of its Executive Board, Denmark. Click here for that story.

    The limitation of the U.S. Senate's review to the UNDP program in North Korea, which at the time the inquiry launched was still viewed as a part of Bush's "Axis of Evil," leaves unexplored UNDP's transgressions in places like Uganda, where UNDP was involved in disarmament program that culminated in the burning of villages, and Somalia, where UNDP trained security forces which targeted civilians. That both Uganda's Museveni government and Somalia's Transitional Federal Institutions, installed by Ethiopia, are allies of the U.S. makes the need for further inquiry all the more clear. The report is, however, a start. Watch this site.

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These reports are also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  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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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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

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