Friday, September 5, 2008

UNDP Admits Herfkens Broke Rules, Dodges on Currency Exchange Losses

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press

UNITED NATIONS, September 4 -- Poverty was the subject of a September 4 press conference at the UN, featuring Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Development Program Associate Administrator Ad Melkert. Ban left before any questions could be asked. When Inner City Press asked Melkert about the scandal of the UN Millennium Campaign director Eveline Herfkens refusing to return any of the $280,000 she wrongfully took from the Dutch government while ostensibly working only for the UN, Ban's Spokesperson cut in and said that, first, other "substantive questions" would be taken.

While the director of the UN's anti-poverty campaign taking money for luxury housing in violation of UN rules seems substantive, Inner City Press also asked if the UN study being launched took into account aid and barter flows from non-Western countries. Not really, the study's author Robert Vos answered. He said that in the future the UN's Economic and Social Council will better coordinate review of these flows. Video here, from Minute 12:10.

On another issue that UNDP has been delaying answering on, the loss of aid and development funds to government-dictated currency exchange schemes as exposed and admitted in Myanmar, Melkert said would be discussed at the upcoming UNDP Executive Board meeting and, if the Board votes for UNDP to return to North Korea, will be a "point of departure for any further dialogue with North Korea." Video here, from Minute 32:10.

Ban Ki-moon, Rob Vos and Ad Melkert, answers on For-Ex not shown

UNDP left North Korea after a whistleblower who was its operations manager in the country complained of financial irregularities. Recently, the UN Ethics Office recommended that UNDP pay the whistleblower back-salary for having violated his due process rights. Inner City Press asked Melkert if UNDP is going to follow the UN Ethics Office's recommendation. Melkert said, reading from notes, that the individual has initiated a proceeding with the UN's internal justice system and "we are waiting from that outcome to make a decision." Video here, from Minute 31.

Inner City Press asked, so the UN Ethics Office recommendation does not have to be followed, or even considered, until this other process is finished? "No I don't think I said that," Melkert replied, insisting he'd referred to "due UN process." But it is precisely a violation of due process found by the UN Ethics Office that led to the recommendation that back-salary be paid.

It is alleged by sources who've been close to UNDP's North Korea operation that UNDP is moving to reopen the office and program even before the Executive Board considers it. Inner City Press asked UNDP Spokesman Stephane Dujarric about these allegation and Mr. Dujarric replied

"There is absolutely no truth to the reports regarding Mr. Bhatia's presence in the DPRK or other purported UNDP activities in that country. Vineet Bhatia has been in New York since December 2007, and there are no plans for UNDP to return to the DPRK without an explicit green-light from our Executive Board."

There is circulating, however, a print out from UNDP's computer system of UNDP staff apparently already in North Korea. We'll have more on this.

Finally, at the tail-end of the press conference, Melkert purported to respond about Eveline Herfkens, and whether her UNDP-accepted offer to work for one dollar a year -- plus UN Daily Subsistence Allowance of over $300 a day -- makes up for not returning the $280,000 that she wrongfully took. Video here, from Minute 44:53.

While Melkert admitted that the payments "did not comply with UN rules," he called the violations "unwitting" and said that whether she should return the money is between her and the Dutch government. He offered to translate for Inner City Press a letter from the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has said that he didn't think a court case could be won against Ms. Herfkens. Inner City Press asked about a quote

from a Liberal Member of Parliament that "the man in the street who gets too much subsidy has to pay back every cent with interest." Melkert declined to comment on that. The press conference ended with another reporter asking UNDP doesn't have Ms. Herfkens repay the money to the poor. Melker said, "I cannot speak on that." Video here from Minute 47:15.

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