Ban orders audit of U.N. in N. Korea
NEW YORK — U.N. SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 22 orderedathoroughauditoftheU.N.Development Program’s operation in North Korea, the first in a sweeping assessmentofallU.N.agencies,funds and programs.
The audit will specifically look at hard-currency transactions, the independenceoflocallyhiredstaff,and the agency’s ability to monitor ongoing projects. UNDP, which spends about $3.6 million annually on a dozen projects inside the repressive country, welcomed the audit and promised to cooperate.
Mr. Ban said he wants the UNDP auditcompletedwithinthreemonths, the first phase in an ambitious accounting that could take years and millions of dollars to complete. U.N. officials could not say how much the effort would eventually cost.
The United States — which funds 11 percent of UNDP’s annual budget but does not contribute to the North Korea program — has raised serious concerns that hard currency from UNDP may be finding its way into the government’s nuclear weapons program.
An editorial in Jan. 19 editions of the Wall Street Journal suggested that hundreds of millions of dollars had been diverted by the government from UNDP programs, and said the agency was undermined by permitting the Pyongyang governmenttochooselocalpersonnelforits programs.
David Morrison, UNDP director of communications, told a small group of reporters on Jan. 22 that the program has four international staffers in North Korea. Those staffers have been able to visit 10 out of 11 projects in the country and have few concerns over access and monitoring issues, he said.
He rejected comparisons to the Iraq oil-for-food program, which Saddam Hussein was able to manipulate to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars into private pockets.
“Working in [North] Korea is a tough job,” he said. “We always have to be wary of the possibility of any kindofmisrepresentationofactivities in any country in the world.”
Mr. Morrison noted that UNDP long ago switched to using euros ratherthandollarsastheconvertible currency in North Korea, in part because of U.S. concerns about counterfeiting and partly because Pyongyang prefers it for political reasons.
U.N. officials routinely refused to publicly criticize the governments of countries where they are running development or humanitarian work, saying that would will only make life more difficult for international staff on the ground, and possibly draw new restrictions on their efforts.
Many of these issues have been identified in UNDP’s three internal audits of the North Korea program, in 1999, 2001 and 2004; a fourth will be under way shortly.
Those audits are not made public or even shared with the 36 nations that serve on UNDP’s Executive Board, which met to discuss the North Korea program on Jan. 25. Instead, the reports are reviewed by an external auditor, then distilled further and presented to the executive committee.
Spreading his wings: Falconer Ivo van Lanen holds his eagle “Igor” on Jan. 24 on the fair grounds in Essen, western Germany, to promote the fair “Jagd und Hund” (Hunt and Dog). More than 570 exhibitors from 29 countries will present their range of goods and services related to hunting and fishing during the fair, which runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4.