Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press
May 12, 2012
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 — While the UN continues to deny that it introduced cholera to Haiti, or claims that “it doesn’t matter” who introduced it, today’s New York Times in an unsigned editorial states flatly that “the UN bears heavy responsibility for the outbreak: its own peacekeepers introduced the disease through sewage leaks at one of their encampments.”
We’ll see if the UN continues to reflexively send denial letters to the editor (below, there’s the UN system’s response to a finding of its corruption in Afghanistan, defending its 10-seater sofa set and $800 shredder).
But the Times editorial on Haiti goes on to recite that the “CDC estimates that adequate water and sanitation systems will cost $800 million.”
The editorial doesn’t directly say, but Inner City Press has reported, that this is the annual budget the UN spends on soldiers in Haiti, which has not seen a war for years.
Back on April 10, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman about this:
Inner City Press: yesterday, there was a press conference across the street by Haitian activists, including human rights activists and those who filed the claim for compensation with MINUSTAH and the Secretary-General. And, among other things, they said that they have heard nothing back from this UN, at any level, since December…. Since it has been four months and there have been new developments, is there a time line? What’s the UN’s thinking about this issue, because they are saying that it is hurting the credibility of the UN with Haitians and others?
Spokesperson Martin Nesirky: Two things, Matthew. One is that, as we have repeatedly said, a claim has been received and it is being studied. There is nothing unusual in the time frame for studying a claim of this nature. The second point is that the focus is on what we can do to help the Haitian people now, and, of course, in the run-up to the rainy season, which is to come. So, I think that the focus is rightly on the need to help people now and to ensure that sanitation measures are put in place before the rainy season and during the rainy season. On the first part of the question, the answer remains the same.
Inner City Press: Mario Joseph, a very widely respected Haitian human rights lawyer, makes this comparison of the $800 million a year they say is spent on MINUSTAH peacekeeping, they say if this money was actually devoted to water purification, it would change Haitians’ lives. Is that the real number? Is there some way to get a comparison of what the UN spends in Haiti on just what you are saying, sanitation, water and forward-looking preventative measures as opposed to this peacekeeping force?
Spokesperson Nesirky: I think that we’ll be in a position to provide you and others with an overview of precisely the kind of measures that are being taken, and have been taken since the outbreak began. And obviously that is our focus. Progress has been made in reducing the number of cases, but there is a long way to go and that is precisely why the focus needs to be there. Let’s see if we can come up with something that gives you a good snapshot of where we are. Other questions, please?
And more than a month later, still no response to the formal claim on cholera.
Question: On Afghanistan? There is a report that the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, the Afghan Government, and the international donors have said that the UN system’s role in funding the Afghan national police may involve false receipts, what is the UN system’s response? Does it believe that there are problems with the program or that everything is running well?
Spokesperson: Seen the story; speak to UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]. Thanks very much.
And here’s from the response UNDP put out, and the UN sent to Inner City Press:
UNDP has a zero tolerance policy towards any form of mismanagement or corruption for its entire country program in Afghanistan. Your article refers to the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA), which is part of our program and helps increase security by training the Afghan National Police—including through payment of salaries. It is audited every year by a globally respected and independent third party auditing firm.
A financial audit recently conducted by KPMG of the 2011 project’s expenditure concluded that there were no financial irregularities. In addition, a comprehensive evaluation of the previous LOTFA phase, also conducted by an external evaluation firm, found no cause for concern.
UNDP notes with concern a statement in your report, which describes a “pattern of bad behavior” at LOTFA – comments you have attributed to an anti-corruption body set up by the Afghan government, the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. However, their report was released the day before your article was published and makes no reference to “bad behavior”. It does recommend improved oversight and monitoring and UNDP is committed to diligently following up on this.
Moreover, we would like to set the record straight on the following additional allegations in your piece:
1/ For example, a 10-seater sofa set and four tables costing $6,000 — which the article refers to as “luxury furniture” that might not even have been purchased – were procured with full procedural checks and are still being used by the head of the Afghan Border Police.
2/ The purchase order of a paper shredder, mentioned in your report, matched its $800 price. The purchase was in line with our procurement policy and was only approved after the project justified its need for a more robust product..
Yours truly, Satinder Bindra, Director of Communications – UNDP
So why the long — if factually challenged — response to the WSJ about Afghanistan, including 10-seater sofa set and “robust” $800 shredder? Especially when compared with the still total silence from the UN on the Haiti cholera claim and belated NYT story and editorial?
A range of possibilities, call them multiple choice:
a) The UN cares more about, or is more afraid of exposure of its misdeeds in, Afghanistan than Haiti because the US and other powers cares about Afghanistan. (The NYT on Haiti references a Congressional move to direct Susan Rice to act, but the UN’s responsibility for cholera introduction has yet to be acted on.)
b) The UN is more worried about the WSJ than the NYT, which it views as a liberal paper tiger.
c) UNDP is more media savvy than Ban Ki-moon’s Secretariat.