Wednesday, April 15, 2009

UNDP scandal in Afghanistan - diverted millions of US Taxpayers money to the gulf states

Briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Director of Communications, UNDP

Good afternoon.

I think a number of you may have seen the article which appeared today in a newspaper here in the States regarding a report from the USAID ‑‑ the US Agency for International Development ‑‑ from their Inspector-General on UN reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.  While we at UNDP have yet to receive an official copy of the report, I thought it would be useful to come here today.  I have a few words to say and then answer any questions you might have.

Just a short word on the background of the project.  In 2003, USAID in Afghanistan approached the UN Development Programme and asked UNDP to take over their Provincial Reconstruction Team Quick Impact Programme, otherwise known as QIPS, which had experienced certain difficulties.  USAID also asked UNDP to use UNOPS, the UN Office Project Services agency, as the implementing agency in the QIPS project.  QIPS was intended as an urgent initiative to provide jobs for Afghans mainly in rural, remote and often inaccessible and insecure areas.  The emphasis was on the rapid creation of employment opportunities as much as on the completion and repair of infrastructure and provision of much-needed services to improve the well-being of the local communities in Taliban strongholds.  Much of the work involved repairs of roads, bridges, wells and clinics and not new construction, as such.  The vast majority of these projects were successfully completed.

Now, as mentioned, we’ve just now, just this morning, seen a copy of the Inspector-General’s report because it was published in the press.  We have not yet been given an official copy by USAID, it was never shared with us by USAID.  That being said, we are just now reviewing it and studying it carefully, and we’re clearly very disturbed by the issues that it raises.

But I do want to make few points very clear.  Regarding the monies that USAID has issued a bill of collection for, there have already been a number of meetings, including at the highest level of UNDP and USAID, to work through this matter.  We will be going through the vouchers with USAID to ensure that they are satisfied as to the validity of the expenses.  Again, any money that remains in dispute at the end of this process will be refunded by UNDP to USAID.  Our expectations are that this will not amount to more than $1.5 million.

No one is hiding behind any legal immunity as it has been implied.  Our relationships with our donors is our lifeblood.  If there are disputes, they are resolved amicably to the donor’s satisfaction.

After a quick read of the Inspector-General’s report, we recognize the lapses in the timing and quality of certain reports back to USAID, but we have been working for months to resolve any disputes with UNOPS and USAID and we expect to fully resolve these matters very soon.

On oversight, while this project was monitored regularly, UNDP’s Acting Administrator has begun an internal audit of this project to ensure we explore all of the allegations and, just as important, to make sure that any reporting or communications procedures with donors are strengthened where they can be strengthened.  UNDP is as angry as anyone about the reported misbehaviour of UNOPS or other employees in Afghanistan during the period of 2003-2006, and we fully support UN action against any individuals involved.

UNDP is committed to improving the lives of people in Afghanistan and has a good and close working relationship with the US Government and agencies such as USAID.  We’ve been implementing significant programmes in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, including, often under very difficult circumstances, preparations for the Loya Jirga, the elections that took place in 2004, and preparations for the elections that are going on now.  To this day, USAID and the State Department have supported UNDP programmes in Afghanistan with contributions of close to $336 million over the past seven years, with no major disputes or difficulties.

And as Afghanistan moves closer to a another landmark election this August, where UNDP is providing support to voter registration ‑‑ I think we’ve already registered close to 5 million voters as of last month ‑‑ and other electoral systems support we’re providing, it is important that the US Government and all of our donors receives the level of accountability and transparency they expect and deserve from UNDP.

That’s it for what I was going to have to say.  If there are any questions I will take them.  Yes, sir.

Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] in USA Today said that some of the money that was earmarked for Afghanistan projects was used to fund projects in Dubai, among other places.  Do you know if this is true?  Is it being investigated?  Do you know what project this might have been?

Mr. Dujarric:  As far as UNDP is concerned, when money is given by a donor for a specific project, it is used for that project in the country which it was intended for.  I think if others in the UN system, or if there has been malfeasance, these things have been investigated.  But UNDP policy is extremely strict and when money is given for a certain project it is used for that project.

Question:  So, if the money was used in Dubai that was fraudulent use of it?

Mr. Dujarric:  That would be a fraudulent use.  But I have no information that any UNDP monies were used in that case.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, Stéphane.  The report, the actual Inspector-General report goes through... doesn’t limit it to 2006.  I mean, they’re talking about March 2008 requests made to UNDP for information, no information provided, and the inability to go forward because none was provided.  So, are the people named in this report, how many of them and which of them are still employed by UNDP and what’s their excuse for...  You just said that UNDP works with its donors...

Mr. Dujarric:  I have to say from...

Question:  Why didn’t [inaudible]... for these others?  Why didn’t they answer the question?

Mr. Dujarric:  ...from March, I think for the whole period following closure of the programme, there have been numerous exchanges between USAID, UNDP and UNOPS on the ground, in Kabul and lately at Headquarters.  So, you know, we take these allegations very seriously.  We do feel that there was a lot of back and forth between UNDP and USAID, including with the Inspector-General.  We recognize that there were some lapses, perhaps in responding to those requests.  We’re closely looking at the time line.  We have been and will continue to cooperate with USAID to get the matter settled.  And as I mentioned, one of the initiatives taken by the Acting Administrator is to review all the lines of communication in reporting to see what can be strengthened.  But we’re clearly now looking back at the lines of communications.  But we do feel that there was quite a lot of exchanges between the Inspector-General and between USAID on the ground.  Clearly, you know, as I said, we have not fully seen the report.  We saw it like you did this morning.  We do need to study it carefully.  But we value the relationship and we want to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

Question:  What was UNDP’s role, I guess, in overseeing, like, this guy Mr. Orvia (?), the UNOPS guy there?  There was a previous discussion here of him using UN funds to build a guest house for himself, other things.  What was, when UNDP takes a fee for a project, what is its role in overseeing the work that’s done and how much of fees were charged in this case?

Mr. Dujarric:  I think each programme is a little different.  This particular project, as I mentioned, USAID asked us to use UNOPS, which we did.  The money is passed through us.  That clearly invokes a high level of responsibility, of fiduciary responsibility, on our part, which we take seriously and we’re looking into this matter now.  The projects, as the project document states, the projects were to be, the completion were to be certified by USAID, as well as by UNOPS.  So the implementation of the project was done by UNOPS, again at the request of USAID.

Question:  What’s the standard fee, though, that the UNDP takes for the pass-through, and why didn’t USAID just pay UNOPS directly...?

Mr. Dujarric:  Well, I think that’s a question that you’re welcome to ask the USAID; I don’t speak for them.  The fee, I believe, is around 7 per cent.  Yes, sir.

Question:  If you find fraudulent activity, what is the process?  Who’s got jurisdiction in these types of cases, and what would you pursue if you do find... [inaudible]?

Mr. Dujarric:  As always with the UN system, should fraudulent behaviour be found, the case can then be brought to court in either the jurisdiction where it took place, which could be Afghanistan, or it could be brought in the jurisdiction of the Headquarters of the UN office, which is New York.  I think a number of, you know, cases in the past, procurement-related cases have gone to court in New York.  So we would have to then file papers with a national jurisdiction.  Clearly there have been cases of UNOPS employees raised in the press, being accused of behaving in a fraudulent manner.  We would very much hope that anyone that is found to have worked in that manner is brought to justice by the UN system.  But the issue of immunity is one that can be lifted by the Secretary-General alone.

Great.  Thank you very much.

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