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Hardliners Attack UNDP Aid to North Korea
Allegations of corruption seen as attempt to undermine engagement
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-02-07 12:49 (KST)   
"We didn't give them any money to squander," explains Ghulam Faruq Achikzad, who worked as the resident representative for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in North Korea from 1993 to 1996. Though the program that Achikzad worked in differs from the current program, his description of his experience is helpful in understanding the nature of the UNDP country program in North Korea.

The responsibility for the integrity of the program rests with the resident coordinator, says Achikzad. Working for the U.N., he saw himself as an international civil servant who was responsible for the funds for the program and would not let them be used for anything else.

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On Jan. 19, The Wall Street Journal(1) and Fox News published articles containing a series of unsubstantiated allegations about mismanagement and abuse of UNDP funds by the North Korean government. The allegations in the two articles repeated allegations made in letters made available by the U.S. mission to the U.N. in New York. Fox News provided a link [PDF] to a letter from a Deputy Ambassador at the U.S. mission to the U.N., Mark Wallace, to the UNDP. Wallace's letter claimed that "at least since 1998 the UNDP DPRK program has been systematically perverted for the benefit of the Kim Jong Il regime." In his letter, Wallace further alleged that "the UNDP DPRK program has for years operated in blatant violation of U.N. rules, served as a steady and large source of hard currency and other resources for the DPRK government with minimal or no assurance that UNDP funds and resources are utilized for legitimate development activities." No actual evidence was offered to support the allegations.

Achikzad explains that while he was in North Korea, there was no abuse of the UNDP program. The program utilized relatively little money, approximately $5 million a year. The money was mostly aimed at technical assistance and training. The North Koreans needed foreign exchange so he helped them to understand that it was important for them to learn about international trade. When they expressed their reluctance because they didn't want to be capitalist, he would advise them that they didn't have to be capitalist to be involved in foreign trade, but they needed knowledge about it to be able to participate. Achikzad even arranged a training session for them with people from the World Bank so they could learn about the operations of the World Bank.

The programs while he was there had to do with international economics, energy, and modernization of agricultural. Also Achikzad explains that there was no abuse of foreign currency going to North Korea when he was in charge of the program. Much of the program involved bringing in people from outside of North Korea to provide training and education.

Neither The Wall Street Journal nor Fox News provided support for their charges, other than Wallace's letter containing the allegations. Neither these articles, nor most of the articles that appeared in the days that followed in the U.S. press, provided any consideration of the allegations to try to determine if they were well founded. The UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert, and David Morrison, the Director of Communications of UNDP, responded [RM file] to the charges of illegality in the Wallace letter, but their explanations were in general ignored by much of the media.

Melkert said that the accusation that the UNDP operated "in blatant violation of UN rules" was not true. Under UNDP financial regulations, he explained, the authority to decide the practices to follow was delegated to the resident coordinator in a country. Also misleading was the accusation that the UNDP program was providing hard currency to be misused by the North Korean government. As long as the UNDP operates a program in a country where the currency is not exchangeable outside of the country, there is a need to buy the currency of the country from the central bank. It is not possible to have a program in such a country without buying currency from the bank.

While press reports in the U.S. often just repeated or exaggerated the original allegations, a few other publications provided a different perspective. For example, the Korean newspaper "Voice of the People" pointed out that the allegations of UNDP mismanagement appeared just as the North Korean and U.S. representatives had had productive negotiations in Berlin. The "Voice of the People" asked why the U.S. Mission to the U.N. was raising these issues "at this time."

"Despite the totally unfounded allegation by the hawks," the editors write, "it has a political effect for freezing (the)bilateral relationship between Washington and Pyongyang."

In response to similar allegations by the Heritage Foundation about a program between South Korea and North Korea, the South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung responded,"this criticism is based on unidentified assumptions (rather) than on firm ground." He went on to point out that the economic cooperation that South Korean aid to North Korea funds "is a short cut to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula."

In summing up the lessons from his experience in the UNDP program, Achikzad emphasized that just as it is important that the resident coordinator in charge of the country program for the UNDP be chosen carefully, it is similarly important that the U.N. continue to conduct programs in North Korea and other countries because the U.N. he explained is "a neutral institution. It's an institution belonging to all of us, not one powerful country."

(1) Melanie Kirkpatrick, "United Nations Dictator's Program" WSJ, Jan. 19, 2007. The article says: "The hard currency supplied by the UNDP almost certainly goes into one big pot marked 'Dear Leader' which Kim can use for whatever he wants, including his weapons programs."
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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