Global perspective Human stories

UN development agency secures DPR Korea records as last staff prepare to depart

UN development agency secures DPR Korea records as last staff prepare to depart

As auditors comb through the records of United Nations activities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) following on a request from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN Development Programme (UNDP) documents are being secured ahead of the impending departure of the agency’s last two staff members, an official said today.

David Morrison, Communications Director of UNDP, said he had been asked to clarify aspects of the suspension of its activities in the country following the announcement earlier this week that the staff members would depart.

The internal audit was triggered by press reports suggesting that the agency’s own audits raised concerns about payments being channelled to the Government, which is under Security Council sanctions because of its proclaimed nuclear test. UNDP announced the suspension last month, and said it would withdraw all but two of its international staff over the failure to implement conditions set up following reports that UN funds improperly went to the Government.

These conditions included ending all hard currency payments and discontinuing sub-contracting of national staff via Government recruitment as of 1 March, as well as adjusting the content of current programmes to support sustainable human development goals.

Mr. Morrison told journalists in New York that UNDP’s country-office assets, such as computers, records and vehicles – “the equipment that we need to do our job” – have been safeguarded and transported to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) country office in Pyongyang. These are all “fully accessible to the auditors,” he added.

Regarding so-called “project assets,” which are purchased as part of programme activities, he noted that some came from projects which were operationally finished and required only paperwork to wind down. In those cases, as was standard practice, the assets were transferred to the DPRK authorities, he said.

Mr. Morrison recalled that in late January, the UNDP Executive Board had called for the agency to narrow the scope of its activities in DPRK to those that directly benefited the country’s people, rather than to build the capacity of Government. In response, 15 projects were cancelled. “Anything that was already in the possession of the DPRK authorities they were given title to, and anything that had not yet been transferred was simply interrupted.”

The remaining projects were put on hold in accordance with UNDP’s decision to suspend its activities in DPRK, not end them. “To implement the suspension, what we did was simply ask the DPRK authorities to sign notes of custody for the fiscal assets that they already had in their possession, and that’s what they’ve done so we can account for exactly where the projects were as we interrupted them,” he said.

“The future of those projects will depend on guidance we receive from the Executive Board as this plays out, and obviously the audit will figure into that.”

In all cases mentioned, physical assets were already possessed by the DPRK authorities, “There have been no cases when we’ve gone and transferred something new to the DPRK authorities,” he said.

To questions that have been raised about Timo Pakkala, the UNDP Resident Coordinator in DPRK, Mr. Morrison said, “he remains the designated Resident Coordinator in DPRK – there’s been no transference of that function to any other agency.”

Mr. Pakkala left the country on 15 March, travelled to New York where he was made available to the auditors, and then proceeded to join his family. “My understanding is that he is now with his family on special leave with pay in Europe, and he is fully available to continue assisting with the audit or any other measures relating to DPRK,” Mr. Morrison said.

On the withdrawal of staff, Mr. Morrison said that on 26 March at a meeting in Pyongyang, the DPRK authorities “told us that given that we were soon not to have any more programmatic activities, we should withdraw our final two staff by the 30th of April, so we are in the process of doing so.”

He expressed confidence that “everything that needs to be prepared for the audit has been prepared and that everything that needs to have been done to wind down the programme has been done.”

Any Executive Board decision on the future of UNDP would be informed by the results of the audit, he said.

Responding to questions, he said an interim audit was being prepared and would be submitted to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) – a powerful UN budget watchdog – but added that he had no time frame on when that would happen.

After the issue came to light in January, the Secretary-General promised an external, system-wide probe of UN activities in the field, targeting as his first priority countries where hard currency transactions, independence of staff hiring and access to review local projects were an issue and beginning with the DPRK.