Press conference on suspension of UNDP - Activities in DPR Korea

Addressing correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, David Morrison, Communications Director for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), made clear that former UNDP assets, now in the possession of the authorities of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, did not contain United Nations financial data or other information that might be needed for an upcoming audit of UNDP operations in that country.

Mr. Morrison recalled that, in early March, 15 development projects in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had been cancelled by UNDP and 9 had been suspended, after the Government had announced it would not agree to certain requests by the UNDP Executive Board. [Those stipulations concerned staff payment and hiring practices, including discontinuing the practice of allowing the Government to recruit national staff.] At the time, six additional projects had been completed and were awaiting the requisite paperwork.

Consequently, the Board had "stipulated that UNDP narrow the scope of its programmatic activity in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, essentially towards activities designed to directly benefit the people, rather than to build the capacities of the Government", said Mr. Morrison, explaining that a "fairly significant" economic management component to the Programme's work was ended outright, as a result.

He said the Programme had been in "constant contact" with counterparts in Pyongyang to implement the suspension of its operations, including to transfer ownership of equipment and other assets used in projects, which had been completed or cancelled, and to sign notes of custody for assets being used in the nine projects placed on hold.

Indeed, following standard UNDP procedure, authorities in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had been given ownership over equipment, such as rice husk removers and mini-tractors, used in some rural projects; and plotters, used to produce maps for environmental monitoring. Legal titles for personal computers and printers had been transferred to local project counterparts, such as academic institutions involved in the economic management projects. Transferring the title for assets to local partners was standard procedure wherever UNDP operated, said Mr. Morrison.

The decision to suspend operations in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea had interrupted nine ongoing projects that had neither been completed nor cancelled, and had raised questions of what to do with assets from those projects. In a written statement circulated by Mr. Morrison at the press conference, correspondents learned that those assets were being transferred to the custody of Government counterparts "until a final determination on the future of the programme is reached by UNDP's Executive Board". But a formal title for those assets would still rest with UNDP.

Replying to a query about what was stored in the computers being held by local counterparts, he explained that they did not contain United Nations data. "The information on those computers is what the Democratic People's Republic of Korea authorities put onto the computers," he said.

Meanwhile, UNDP financial and personnel records, site visit records and computer assets had been transferred to the World Food Programme (WFP) for safekeeping, and would be readily available for the eventual audit, correspondents were told. An inventory of all assets -- whether held by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or WFP -- would be completed by the two remaining UNDP staff before they left the country on 3 May. Already, $452,000 of assets had been accounted for.

Non-essential staff had been pulled out of the country in March, leaving the Deputy Resident Coordinator and one other officer to complete the paperwork needed to "wind down" a project and to pave the way for the audit. No discussion had been held regarding when UNDP would resume its work, and Mr. Morrison said he did not expect the issue to be discussed at the Board's upcoming meeting in June.

"I do not expect the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to be discussed formally by our Executive Board until the full audit report is in," he said, adding: "The next time that this is all likely to become a Board issue is uncertain, frankly, because of the uncertain length of the audit."

The UNDP Executive Board, comprised of representatives of 18 donor countries and 18 project countries, including the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, was expected to meet in June and September, said Mr. Morrison. With few development-oriented activities left as a result of UNDP's suspension, Timo Pakkala, Resident Coordinator for that country, had been on paid leave since 15 March and was currently with his family in Europe. He had appeared before the Board of Auditors in New York during the first phase of the audit, which had taken place from 19 to 29 March, added Mr. Morrison.

Asked by one correspondent to discuss what the Programme was doing to increase accountability in the use of funds, Mr. Morrison explained that UNDP might create an independent ethics office similar to the one at United Nations Headquarters, in line with plans by Ad Melkert, UNDP Associate Administrator, to strengthen transparency and accountability. The Programme was also seeking to create a financial disclosure mechanism for high-ranking officers at the D-1 level and higher.

At the press conference, Mr. Morrison also fielded questions on UNDP activities in Zimbabwe, in particular its efforts to facilitate a dialogue on human rights. He said UNDP was working with Zimbabwean civil society on a proposed national human rights commission, at their request.

For information media - not an official record