Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Clark sworn in as agency cops criticism

WELCOME ABOARD: Helen Clark and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon after her swearing-in yesterday as head of the development programme.

Helen Clark has been sworn in as the new United Nations Development Programme administrator.

With her left hand on the UN Charter and the other in the air, she pledged at a ceremony in New York yesterday to follow the UN ideals.

Miss Clark was thrown into official duties before being sworn in. She issued a report on tsunami recovery last week
with former US president Bill Clinton. He greeted her with the words: ''Helen, how are you, congratulations.''

Miss Clark takes over the UNDP as it faces stiff criticism. One page of its website is devoted to correcting ''inaccurate press reports'', of which there have apparently been eight this month alone.

The latest criticism includes complaints about the UNDP's procurement programmes, and its role in Zimbabwe
and North Korea.

Criticism of the UNDP is thought to be one reason why Miss Clark is taking fix-it woman and former chief of staff
Heather Simpson to New York.

Monday, April 20, 2009

U.N.D.P. fails to deliver

Agencies ignore U.S. requests to account for millions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan

Sat, Apr 18, 2009 (2:07 a.m.)

In 2003 the U.S. Agency for International Development commissioned the United Nations to build a series of infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. USAID gave the U.N. a $25 million grant for the three-year life of the project.

In a report obtained by USA Today, the USAID inspector general’s office said the U.N. misspent millions of dollars and delivered shoddy work, including a bridge at risk of collapsing. The report lays out a series of damning charges, including:

• One witness said “about $10 million of USAID grant money went to projects in other countries, to include Sudan, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Dubai.”

• A top U.N. official in Afghanistan allegedly used U.S. money to pay for a $200,000 renovation of his guesthouse and for an armored vehicle and bodyguards.

• U.N. officials dismissed the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for a $300,000 gravel runway. They instead built, for nearly $800,000, an uneven dirt runway that can’t be used when wet.

USAID inspectors didn’t get all the answers they wanted. They said they were stonewalled in their investigation — in many instances U.N. officials refused to talk to inspectors and ignored requests for documents. Federal prosecutors who worked with USAID dropped criminal and civil cases because U.N. officials have immunity.

U.S. officials have hired a collection agency to get back $7.6 million, and the inspector general recommended the agency sever ties with the U.N. agencies involved, the Office of Project Services and the Development Program.

James Bever, deputy administrator of USAID, told USA Today that the agency will scale back, but not sever, ties because there “are certain cases where working with the U.N. is the only option.”

There should be other options. The U.N. shouldn’t be allowed to get away with squandering millions of taxpayer dollars, failing to do its job and ignoring investigators’ questions. Until there is a full accounting and restitution, USAID shouldn’t give these U.N. agencies another dime for Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

U.N.D.P. Official Spent Afghanistan Development Funds on Luxury Items

A former U.N. official who oversaw reconstruction funds in Afghanistan diverted half a million dollars from roads, schools and clinics to fund his luxury lifestyle, according to a confidential internal U.N. investigation.

Colum Lynch

UNITED NATIONS: A former U.N. official who oversaw reconstruction funds in Afghanistan diverted half a million dollars from roads, schools and clinics to fund his luxury lifestyle, according to a confidential internal U.N. investigation.

The U.N. Procurement Task Force accused Gary K. Helseth, an American who headed the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, in December of using the funds for lavish purchases, including first-class flights to Las Vegas and meals in posh restaurants in Copenhagen, Dubai, Florence and New York. Helseth oversaw more than $1 billion in reconstruction funds contributed by the United States and other international donors after the fall of the Taliban.

The probe is a cautionary tale about the risks of lax U.N. financial controls in Afghanistan as the Obama administration presses for a more central role for the United Nations in coordinating rebuilding efforts there.

The task force alleged that Helseth improperly used hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for rent, a home renovation and luxury items. It also said he stole $65,000 in cash from a U.N. safe and billed the United States and other international donors more than $60,000 for entertainment, including opulent parties at his Kabul residence where guests dined on Beluga caviar, Norwegian salmon and foie gras.

"Mr. Helseth routinely treated UNOPS and project money as his own personal bank account," according to the 180-page report, which recommends that the United Nations refer the case to U.S. and Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution and that Helseth repay the United Nations around $480,000.

Helseth acknowledged that USAID funds had been improperly used for some expenses but denied stealing the money, according to a 72-page rebuttal that his lawyer, Paul K. Charlton, presented to the task force in November. Helseth says he spent liberally to entertain potential donors and to boost staff morale in a place where U.N. workers were frequently targeted by terrorists, according to the document.

Helseth maintains that the investigators did not appreciate the challenges of running a massive reconstruction operation in a war-wracked country that lacked a modern banking system. "Mr. Helseth is not guilty of fraud or embezzlement," the response said. "The allegations the task force is investigating are at the least factually unsupported, and in large part are materially false and based on false assumptions."

Helseth, through his lawyer, declined a request for an interview, citing the confidential nature of the investigation.

The Helseth report was intended to be the first stage in a three-part investigation that would examine the "severe lack of accountability and oversight" of the money he managed. The task force was also probing whether an American security company, United States Protection and Investigations, inflated charges for services by as much as $1 million.

But sources say the probe has stalled since the task force was dissolved Dec. 31. The United Nations, meanwhile, has blocked the unit's chairman, Robert M. Appleton, from taking up an appointment as chief of the U.N. investigations division, which is supposed to inherit the task force's caseload.

Top U.N the job.. officials applauded Appleton's work but cited the lack of female or non-U.S. candidates on the short list for Appleton, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment on the investigation.

UNOPS Deputy Executive Director Vitaly Vanshelboim acknowledged "serious issues in the past in terms of our financial performance and internal controls" in Afghanistan. Vanshelboim, who reined in Helseth's spending, said his agency has sought to "strengthen those financial controls dramatically."

The task force alleged that Helseth improperly used hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for rent, a home renovation and luxury items. It also said he stole $65,000 in cash from a U.N. safe and billed the United States and other international donors more than $60,000 for entertainment, including opulent parties at his Kabul residence where guests dined on Beluga caviar, Norwegian salmon and foie gras.
The Washington Post, March 27, 2009

Helseth arrived in Afghanistan in May 2002, six months after the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban. The son of a former U.S. diplomat who served in Afghanistan, Helseth was quickly promoted to head UNOPS's Afghan operations and opened a regional headquarters office in Dubai.

By the time he stepped down in 2006, Helseth had secured more than $850 million in USAID, World Bank and U.N. projects and had overseen more than 800 international staff members and thousands of local workers.

The task force report credits Helseth with helping to carry out vital road projects, including a $360 million USAID effort to rebuild secondary roads, and Afghanistan's landmark national and parliamentary elections, including the 2004 election of President Hamid Karzai.

But the operation was plagued by "record keeping [that] did not comply with even the most basic standards of international financial accounting," the task force said. By 2005, Helseth's office was distributing more than $1 million a day in cash and spending freely on such luxury items as $7,500 for Ethiopian furniture, nearly $10,000 for silk Afghan carpets and more than $2,200 for floral arrangements in Burma.

The most serious allegations stem from a rented Kabul house that Helseth renovated to make it suitable for entertaining foreign dignitaries and to provide secure accommodations for other U.N. employees. The task force alleged that Helseth improperly billed USAID and other donors $120,000 for the construction of additional living quarters -- including a $20,00 kitchen renovation charged to a U.S.-funded program to build women's dormitories at Kabul University. The money was never returned, the report said.

The task force said Helseth instructed a subordinate to take $65,000 in cash for him from a U.N. safe and fabricated a bogus lease indicating the money was paid to the property's landlord.

Helseth said the money was reimbursement for a personal investment in the home renovation, which he said benefited the United Nations.

He also charged USAID for more than $66,000 in sports equipment and billed that agency and the United Nations $30,000 for a Lexus. "Certainly USAID project money was never intended to be used to support a luxury car for Mr. Helseth or to furnish his office with extravagant items," the task force said. USAID did not respond to a request for comment.

Helseth disagreed. "The type of car a man drives says a lot about who he is and what he can accomplish," his response said.

He conceded that it was inappropriate to use USAID funds to pay for the gym equipment, the car and many other expenses. He blamed U.N. financial specialists for the lapse, adding that the organization's financial systems were "in such a state of disarray" that it would have been "impossible" to strictly comply with U.N. rules.

One million dollars embezzled from Kabul hospital project?

Another expert who also wished to remain anonymous estimated the project cost to be 776,280 USD with 1,423,720 USD unaccounted for.

Note: Kamran Mir Hazar prepared this report, including evidence, two years ago when he was the head of the News Department at Radio Kleed in Kabul. Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s Office of Afghanistan has done nothing yet to arrest or question the accused people. They have been contacted repeatedly and been provided with documents and other evidence.

Mr. Gary K. Helseth, General Director of the 600 million USD-a-year United Nations Office of Project Services-Afghanistan(UNOPS) who had worked in Afghanistan for over 20 years, left the country two months after this report was first published. His U.N. e-mail addresses are not functional, and so far, we have been unable to contact him for additional information.

The Project

In 2002, the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan asked UNOPS to add 50 more beds to the 52 bed Khairkhana Hospital. UNOPS accepted the project. The Italian Government Foreign Office then committed funding up to 2,200,000 USD for this project.

After the funds were delivered to UNOPS- Afghanistan, they were released to the global Italian aid organization, Intersos— less 270,000 USD of the original amount, which apparently was taken by UNOPS. Intersos is a corporation that operates as an NGO in Afghanistan and has an office in Shahr-e-Now, Kabul. It was organized primarily by the Italian Trade Union Confederation in 1992, and has a current annual budget of approximately 30,000,000 USD.

Afghan Government Investigation

The hospital project was overseen by Intersos, but what was the result and how much of the 2,200,000 USD was actually spent on the project? In this regard Mr. Samadi, Director of Criminal Investigation Department of Attorney General Office says:

Afghans say corruption is worse now than at any time in the past nearly 30 years, including under Taliban and Soviet rule. About 60 per cent of 1,250 Afghans questioned for the survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan thought his administration was more corrupt than any since 1970s. Around 93 per cent believed more than half the public services required a bribe.

Zee News, Mar.19, 2007The Intersos Corporation did not work on the project but signed a contract with another Afghan Corporation called Ahyaye Mojadad Char Dehi, led by Engineer Amin for 920,000 USD. Where did the balance of 1,010,000 USD go?

Mr. Samadi adds, "we asked the hospital personnel and the employees of the Afghan Corporation who worked on the project with the Intersos organization, and eventually found that this Afghan Corporation had some collusion and arrangements with Intersos. Based on our evaluation and inventory, they did not spend more than 250,000 to 300,000 USD on the project."

The Attorney General’s Office claims that they have found some concrete evidence and documents for this project. They are looking for Engineer Amin who they suspect may have embezzled some funds, but he cannot be found. Mr. Samadi says that Engineer Amin once phoned the Attorney General’s Office and threatened them not to investigate this case.

Mr. Samadi, stated that Intersos allocated 80,000 USD just for the demolition of two old rooms at the main gate of the hospital. When I asked him why he did not summon and investigate the foreign people involved in the project, he answered:

The Legal and Consulting Board of the Office of President sent us a letter in which it indicated that it is within our jurisdiction to make a claim against Intersos in an Afghan court. We then contacted the Italian Embassy and said that if they refused to assist us with this case, we would take it to the World Court in The Hague through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UN. This was too great of an amount of money for poor Afghanistan to let just go missing, and possibly embezzled.

No Prosecution

The question remains: Why is the Attorney General’s Office, despite its legal jurisdiction and separation of judicial power from the executive, still under the influence the Office of the President. Do the foreign people involved in this project deserve political immunity from prosecution? It is clear that the Attorney General can prosecute foreigners based on domestic laws. Only Ambassadors, Diplomats and C and D grade foreign officials of the UN have political immunity, so in this case all of the Intersos people involved in this project may be legally prosecuted.

While the Attorney General’s office did not know Intersos’ Kabul address, I found it in Shar-e -Now (New City) Kabul. I visited the office and found a Mr. Marco Rotelli, who did not answer my simple questions but refered me to UNOPS. I tried to contact the responsible persons at UNFPA and UNOPS in Afghanistan. Eventually, I made an appointment with the spokesperson and the Director of UNFPA.

Interview with Gary K. Helseth

Mr. Gary K. Helseth firmly rejected the possibility for any kind of embezzlement in this project. He said that the project was very successful and they were satisfied with its completion. He added that they had employed an Afghan Engineer and a foreign engineer for this project and all the contracts had been already signed in New York.

Regarding the amount of 2,200,000 USD, he said that Intersos Corporation received 2,000,000 for the project, and 200,000 USD was spent on travel expenses and salaries of experts and employees. He said that the Intersos Corporation had been introduced to UNOPS by the Italian Government.

When I asked Mr. Helseth why Intersos did not do the project itself but instead signed a contract with Ahyaye Mojadad Char Dehi, he answered, "It is not true!" He added that Intersos signed a contract with a different corporation, and the money was spent by that corporation. He said they have documents that show that this project was done well.

Regarding a question of the term of the warranty for the constructed building, Mr. Helseth said that this project was guaranteed for one year . “A few years ago we could not guarantee a project for even a year. Most projects in Afghanistan are guaranteed for just three or four months.” He agreed that the amount of 80,000 USD was too much for the demolition of two old rooms in the hospital and said he would check the documents.

"Mr. Helseth, please count and check this project penny by penny and kindly give me the documents to see when ready," I said and he agreed to do so.

A few days later, I received a call from Mr. Helseth. He happily said that he had some ten kilos of documents on this project showing that it was completed successfully, and added that I could come pick them up at his office. When I arrived, he was photocopying the documents, so we agreed that he would send them to my office in Radio Kaleed.

After they arrived, I looked for some experts regarding these documents.

Experts Disagree With UNOPS Findings

The experts who accepted my request did want me to reveal their names. One of them still works with the USAID and has completed many projects with that organization. He said, the total cost of this project is 646,900 USD Compared to the budget of 2,200,000USD about 1,550,100 USD is unaccounted for. This expert emphasized that the budget belonged to 2002 and currently it must be more because costs are higher.

Another expert who also wished to remain anonymous estimated the project cost to be 776,280 USD with 1,423,720 USD unaccounted for. He emphasized that for an amount of 776,280 USD “we can build a hospital of about 2,587 square meter (20,000 sq. ft.) to a global standard.” This is the amount of space required by the Intersos and UNOPS Khairkhana Hospital project. He added that “even if we ignore the real amount spent, the maximum amount showed in the reports of the project is still 1,035,000 USD which shows the possible embezzlement of more than one million USD on this single project.”

"The luxurious houses and buildings either belong to government staff or members of parliament...there is deceit, misuse and playing with this land" Karzai told a meeting of village elders in Kabul.

Reuters, Nov.13, 2007Now we should ask Mr. Gary Helseth, former Director of UNOPS in Afghanistan how he defends his organization and Intersos in this project.

Claims of Shoddy Construction at Khairkhana Hospital

When I was making this report, I went to Khairkhana Hospital and met some of the patients. Asked if this hospital met global standards, Mr. Mohibullah Nejat the Director said; " The main problem of the new constructed building is its plumbing system, which was to some extent repaired by the coalition forces about four months ago, and is a bit better now.

“The building that was built by Intersos does not have a ventilation system or a medical waste system, which are required for a medical complex. Medical complexes need special engineers, who know about these things,” he added.

Unfortunately when evaluating completed projects in Afghanistan more carefully, we discover even greater numbers of possible embezzlement. It is the responsibility of the government to oversee the operations of the NGOs and corporations. The Attorney General’s Office also has a legal duty and responsibility to prosecute the people who steal from society.

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XINHUA: UN/UNDP investigates itself over allegations of fraud in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS, April 14 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is "clearly disturbed" over allegations that it has refused to cooperate with investigations into squandered grant money from a U.S. aid agency to be used in Afghanistan reconstruction projects, UNDP spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters here on Tuesday.

    "The UNDP is angry over any misconduct," Dujarric told a press conference here, adding that the United Nations was conducting an audit and an investigation of its own.

    A recent investigation conducted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) acquired by U.S. newspaper USA Today through the Freedom of Information Act depicted a scene of gross mismanagement of USAID funds by the UNDP under the Quick Impact Projects (QIP), a 25.6 million U.S. dollars cooperative agreement to generate jobs in reconstruction infrastructure projects throughout Afghanistan.

    The UNDP subcontracted QIP projects to the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which then subcontracted the projects to local contractors, in what has been called "ill conceived from the beginning," according to one unnamed USAID contractor.

    Dujarric told reporters that the vast majority (of QIP projects)were completed successfully despite that the USAID investigation claimed projects worked on by UNOPS "were not completed as claimed" and had "defects and warranty issues that UNDP refuses to address."

    Even with design errors, missing equipment and materials, and shoddy repairs, investigators found that UNDP withdrew 6.7 million dollars from a U.S. line of credit without permission in 2007, several months after the project had officially ended. The report says the UNDP has failed to disclose where the money went.

    "Any money that is in dispute will be refunded to USAID," said Dujarric, adding that it would be "no more" than 1.5 million dollars.

    According to USA Today, USAID hired a collection agency seeking7.6 million dollars from the UNDP.

    About 10 million dollars of USAID grant money was siphoned to projects in other countries, including Sudan, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Dubai, according to a UN employee questioned during the investigation.

    The UN acting administrator is currently conducting an audit of the grant money spent, said Dujarric, as the QIP contract only allowed for UN audits.

    The USAID investigation raised concerns that UN envoys enjoy broad immunity, but Dujarric said that if investigations find "fraudulent" acts were committed, suspect parties would be held accountable in a court of law either in Afghanistan or in New York.

    "No one is hiding," Dujarric said and stressed that UNDP's relationships with donors are its "lifeblood."

    The 14-page report from the USAID investigation highlights several QIP projects that were labeled "complete" but were later deemed unsatisfactory by the USAID's inspector general investigation including:

    An unnamed employee, who worked for UNOPS for less than one year, called an airstrip in the southern town of Qalat "shocking," as it was little more than a dirt strip. The project cost 749 million dollars despite an original price tag of approximately 300million dollars.

    A central bank, which cost 375 million dollars to rebuild, lacked electricity or plumbing, and the basement flooded every time a tree outside was watered, destroying stacks of local currency. "The bank's manager built a clay dam at the base of the stairs in an unsuccessful attempt to stop this," said the report.

    A Dec. 31, 2006 UNOPS update mailed to the USAID/Kabul Mission, called the 250,000 dollars Tamak River Bridge "100 percent completed" by Dec. 31, 2005. But the USAID investigation found that "it was clear that significant work still needed to be done to make this bridge safe." 

AP: - UNDP concedes rebuilding blunders in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Development Program acknowledged Tuesday that contractor abuses occurred during its oversight of $25.6 million in American-funded rebuilding projects in Afghanistan, as charged in a U.S. government report.

The criticism by the U.S. Agency for International Development came last June but wasn't disclosed publicly until USA Today reported on it Tuesday.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UNDP, the United Nations' main anti-poverty program, said the agency expected to repay no more than $1.5 million provided by USAID for rebuilding Afghan infrastructure.

All of the U.S.-funded "Quick Impact Projects" taken on by UNDP were subcontracted to the scandal-plagued U.N. Office for Project Services. The office, known as UNOPS, in turn hired local contractors to do the work in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban.

Dujarric said the idea was to urgently repair roads, bridges, wells and clinics while creating jobs for Afghans in remote and often "insecure" areas.

"The vast majority of these projects were completed successfully," he said. "UNDP is as angry as anyone about the reported misbehavior of UNOPS or any other U.N. employee in Afghanistan, during the period 2003 to 2006, and we fully support U.N. action against any individuals involved."

He said USAID and the State Department provided UNDP with nearly $336 million over the past seven years with "no major disputes or difficulties."

Last year's report by the USAID inspector general listed numerous shortcomings in UNDP's handling of the $25.6 million in Afghan projects, including the agency drawing $7 million from its USAID letter of credit and then refusing to provide an explanation.

"Projects worked by UNOPS were not completed as claimed and others have defects and warranty issues that UNDP refuses to address," said the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

"There were numerous design errors, neglected repairs and uninstalled equipment and materials — all of which was billed as complete," it said. "Some incomplete work includes life-threatening oversights on a bridge and several buildings. Building parts are missing from some sites."

Among its examples:

_Qalat Airstrip, budgeted at $300,000 but cost $749,000 and was still "unpaved, and little more than a dirt strip; the USAID design had been ignored." The U.S. military decided the airstrip was unsuitable, requiring equipment to be flown to Kandahar and driven overland 125 miles to Qalat.

_Tarnak River Bridge, costing $250,000, had to be rebuilt by other contractors but still is unsafe because it "is poorly sited and was designed too small." The bridge is as an important link between the Baghran Valley and nearby commerce centers.

_Headquarters for Da Afghan Bank, Afghanistan's central bank, was built for $375,000 but left without electricity and plumbing. Due to poor drainage "stacks of local currency have been ruined from the water" in a basement vault.

U.S. investigators said questions remained because the United Nations generally refused to cooperate with an outside audit. An anonymous caller sparked the investigation on Aug. 1, 2007, by contacting USAID's regional inspector general's office in Manila, Philippines.

Dujarric said UNDP and USAID would jointly go through project vouchers to agree on what should be repaid to the United States.

"Any money that remains in dispute at the end of this process will be refunded by UNDP to USAID," he said. "Our expectation is that this will not amount to more than $1.5 million."

UNOPS said last month it would repay the U.S. and other donors for a former U.N. official's alleged misappropriation of least $480,000 from a fund for rebuilding Afghanistan between 2002 and 2006.

Reuters: U.N.D.P. seeks to settle Afghan project problems with U.S.


By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday it was working to resolve quickly a row with the U.S. government's aid agency over infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and would refund any money in dispute.

The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) admitted to "lapses" in its reports back to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on how it was carrying out the projects and wanted anyone involved in fraud to be disciplined.

The agency was reacting to an article in the newspaper USA Today on a USAID report alleging that several construction projects entrusted to the United Nations were shoddily carried out and that there were irregularities in U.N. accounting.

The newspaper's website carried a link to the USAID report, which was dated last June and marked "sensitive but unclassified."

The dispute centres on a $25.6 million (17.1 million pounds) agreement USAID reached with UNDP to build small "quick impact" projects from 2003-2006 and provide jobs in remote areas of Afghanistan where Taliban influence was strong. UNDP subcontracted the work to another agency, the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

The report alleged faults in some of the projects including "life-threatening oversights" in a bridge, drainage problems at an airstrip that made it unusable in the rain, and a failure to provide electricity or plumbing for a bank building.

It also complained of a failure to get adequate accounting from UNDP and UNOPS of how money was being spent, and quoted witnesses as saying some funds were diverted to U.N. projects in other countries such as Sudan, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Dubai.

UNDP spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that while most of the projects were completed successfully, the agency was "very disturbed" by issues raised in the report.

He said UNDP and USAID had met several times to discuss money for which he said the U.S. agency had issued a bill of collection.

"We will be going through the vouchers with USAID to ensure that they are satisfied as to the validity of the expenses," Dujarric said. "Any money that remains in dispute at the end of this process will be refunded by UNDP to USAID."

He said this was expected to amount to a maximum of $1.5 million.

"We recognise the lapses in the timing and quality of certain reports back to USAID, but we have been working for months to resolve any disputes ... and we expect to fully resolve these matters very soon," Dujarric added.

He said UNDP hoped anyone found to have acted fraudulently would be dealt with by the U.N. system, but that such a case could also come to court in Afghanistan or in New York.

(Editing by Eric Beech)

Another U.N.D.P scandal

What does the U.S. Agency for International Development get for a $25 million grant to two United Nations agencies working in Afghanistan? How about “a central bank without electricity and a bridge at risk of ‘life threatening’ collapse”? According to a USA Today story on the USAID inspector general report, “The U.N. delivered shoddy work, diverted money to other countries and then stonewalled U.S. efforts to figure out what happened.” Unsurprisingly, one of the two UN agencies involved in the scandal is the UN Development Program (the other culprit in this case is UN Office for Project Services or UNOPS) whichconclusively violated UN rules and regulations in North Korea.

According to the USAID report, “Due to the refusal of the United Nations to cooperate with this investigation, questions remain unanswered.” No wonder! The USAID report is a litany of mismanagement, corruption, willful violation of contracted obligations, and refusal to cooperate and provide documentary evidence.

Of course, now that the issue has reached the press, Ad Melkert, UNDP’s acting administrator, has “pledged UNDP’s full cooperation with USAID in reforming UNDP’s project management practices, improving financial accountability and in recovering any missing funds.” This should be a matter of course and it is a travesty that only exceptional problems elicit this type of cooperation. Congress should immediately demand that all U.N. bodies or activities receiving U.S. funds agree to fully cooperate with any U.S. inspector general inquiry or face of losing U.S. contributions.

Report: U.N.D.P. spent U.S. funds on shoddy projects

WASHINGTON — Two United Nations agencies spent millions in U.S. money on substandard Afghanistan construction projects, including a central bank without electricity and a bridge at risk of "life threatening" collapse, according to an investigation by U.S. federal agents.

The U.N. ran a "quick impact" infrastructure program from 2003 to 2006 under a $25 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The U.N. delivered shoddy work, diverted money to other countries and then stonewalled U.S. efforts to figure out what happened, according to a report by USAID's inspector general obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Due to the refusal of the United Nations to cooperate with this investigation, questions remain unanswered," the report says.

Federal prosecutors in New York City were forced to drop criminal and civil cases because the U.N. officials have immunity, according to the report. USAID has scaled back its dealings with the U.N. and hired a collection agency to seek $7.6 million back, Deputy Administrator James Bever said. The aid agency hasn't heeded its inspector general's request to sever all ties.

"There are certain cases where working with the U.N. is the only option available," Bever said in an e-mail.

The quick-impact program was designed to demonstrate results and promote confidence in the reconstruction effort, but the report suggests it did the opposite.

One U.N. employee told investigators that "about $10 million of USAID grant money went to projects in other countries, to include Sudan, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Dubai." That witness said the Afghanistan country director for the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which served as the contractor on the project for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), spent about $200,000 in U.S. money to renovate his guesthouse. Witness names were withheld by USAID.

The development program hired UNOPS to do the work and kept a 7% management fee, the report says. The finances were "out of control," an unnamed project services manager told investigators.

An unnamed USAID contractor told investigators that the program was "ill conceived from the beginning. This was a political idea to do quick impact projects that would look good," the report said.

Investigators found that projects reported as "complete" were actually so shoddily built that they were unusable, the report said. For example:

•A bridge near Kandahar cost $250,000, had to be overhauled by other contractors and still was not safe. The U.N. claimed the bridge was damaged by flood, but a colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told investigators that "falls between absolute incompetence and a lie; the project was improperly constructed."

•An airstrip in the southern town of Qalat, originally budgeted at $300,000, cost $749,000 and could not accommodate military planes.

•A $375,000 headquarters for Afghanistan's central bank lacked electricity or plumbing, and basement flooding destroyed stacks of local currency.

Investigators found that UNDP withdrew $6.7 million from a U.S. line of credit without permission in 2007, months after the project had ended. UNDP has yet to explain what happened to that money, the report says.

"This is a disturbing report and an egregious example of the kind of fraud and waste that needs to be fixed," said Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. "The U.S. is committed to making the U.N. more accountable."

Vitaly Vanshelboim, UNOPS deputy executive director, did not dispute that some of his agency's work was substandard and that money was improperly diverted. He said UNOPS had overhauled itself dramatically since then. An internal U.N. investigation found serious irregularities by one former official that have since been addressed through management reforms, he said.

UNDP spokesman Stéphane Dujarric called the report "disturbing." Both officials denied that their agencies failed to cooperate with investigators.

"We are continuing to work closely with USAID to get to the bottom of all of the issues they have raised," he said in an e-mail.

USAID's inspector general, Donald Gambatesa told the Commission on Wartime Contracting during a February public hearing that he was "concerned" that his agency was continuing to do business with the U.N.

Commissioner Dov Zakheim, a former Pentagon controller, asked Gambatesa whether the agencies have immunity "if they siphon (their U.S. grants) all off into Swiss banks? Is that accurate? They will be totally immune, no matter what they do with the money?"

"My understanding is, yes," Gambatesa replied.

On Monday, Alonzo Fulgham, USAID's acting administrator, met in in New York to discuss the matter with Ad Melkert, the development program's acting administrator, USAID said in a statement.

"Mr. Melkert pledged UNDP's full cooperation with USAID in reforming UNDP's project management practices, improving financial accountability and in recovering any missing funds," the statement said.


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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

UN's Draft Tepid Response to N. Korean Missile Portends Rights Worsening

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

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 -- A week after North Korea shot its missile over Japan, the UN Security Council is poised to adopt a tepid Presidential Statement calling the "launch" a "contravention" -- and not violation -- of a 2006 Council resolution. Japan had said it could live with no less than a resolution, but it is not getting one, following Japan's back-down during Taro Aso's meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone talks with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi Saturday in Pattaya, Thailand. 

  Even with these compromises, it's reported as of Sunday that while China having shown its power is on board, Libya might still abstain if not vote again and thus kibosh the presidential statement. Inner City Press has obtained a copy of the compromise draft and puts it online, here.

  Not mentioned in the draft or negotiations is the state of human rights in North Korea. Not mentioned within the UN is any reconsideration of the UN Development Program's decision to go back into the country. But now of record is Chinese President Hu Jintao's congratulations to Kim Jong-il on his 're-election," that "I believe that the fraternal Korean people will surely register steady fresh successes in the construction of Korean-style socialism... under the leadership... headed by you."

Across from UN on April 12, lone figure in Afghan-style burka, 
(c) M.Lee

   From Pyongyang come two indicative screeds, againstSouth Korea and the U.S.. Without a trace of irony, Kim Jong-il's official Korean Central News Agency KCNA states that "from the legal viewpoint, it is strictly prohibited to use a serious torture on a suspect in a bid to ascertain any criminal fact."

  Of South Korea, it syndicates that "If the Lee group persists in such reckless moves against the DPRK as now, it will be forced to follow in the disgraceful footsteps of traitor Kim Young Sam who was thrown into the dustbin of history... Minju Joson says that to do harm to the DPRK through the 'human rights' racket against it is a foolish and stupid act which can never be realized. The Lee group should bear in mind that the said racket is as adventurous an act as lifting the axe to drop it on its own foot."

   The watering down of the Council's response to the missile firing is hardly likely to lead to improvements in human rights and civil liberties performance.

Looking up First Avenue, burka-ed figure with back to UN, (c) M.Lee

    Sunday in front of the UN, a figure dressed in a light blue, Afghan - style burka stood across First Avenue. Tourists took pictures. The building was near empty, Ban Ki-moon nowhere in sight. The meeting to adopt the draft so tepid on Taepodong -- Tepidong -- is slated for Monday afternoon.

  Meanwhile, after UN spokesperson Michele Montas on Thursday answered Inner City Press' question of the previous day, whether North Korea had made any filings under the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. No, Ms. Montas said, no filings by North Korea.

  Click here for a new YouTube video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Monday, April 13, 2009

UNDP funds Maoist-Communist Liberation Army in Nepal with Rs 1 Million



  • Each disqualified PLA combatant to get Rs 800,000* to one million
  • Disqualified combatants including minors to be released in next one month
KATHMANDU, April 4: The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has proposed an attractive economic package of Rs 800,000 to one million for each disqualified PLA combatant, besides other alternatives, for getting them to leave the camps. 

A highly-placed government source said UNDP, as requested by the Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction, has also proposed vocational training, offer of foreign jobs and education to the disqualified combatants of the Maoist People´s Liberation Army (PLA).

Some 5,000 PLA combatants including at least 2,000 minors, who were disqualified by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in its verification process, have been living in the PLA’s 28 camps since 2006.

Despite strong pressure from national and international rights bodies including the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) to release the disqualified PLA combatants including minors from the camps, the Maoist leadership hasn’t yet taken any serious initiative in this regard.

The PLA commanders in a meeting with Maoist Chairman and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the second week of March urged the latter to immediately take the initiative for releasing the disqualified combatants. They had warned the prime minister that they couldn’t bear the cost of accommodating the disqualified combatants any more. The PLA commanders, however, urged the Maoist leadership to arrange better alternatives for the disqualified combatants before releasing them from the camps.

Each of the 19,602 PLA combatants receives Rs. 5,000 from state coffers.

Prime Minister Dahal, during UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Nepal last October, assured the latter that the disqualified PLA combatants would be released soon.

A PLA deputy commander said the disqualified combatants will be released in the next one month if the government okays the UNDP proposal.

“The release of disqualified combatants is very important for proceeding with the integration process for Maoist combatants,” said the deputy commander, preferring to remain unnamed.