Reraked Muck on UNDP in North Korea

In January, Dispatch reported on inflated allegations that United Nations Development Program funds were being converted widely into hard currency to the benefit of the North Korean government. In response to these allegations UNDP moved swiftly, responsibly, and comprehensively to review the concerns expressed by member states. Ultimately, these efforts led to the suspension of certain operations in North Korea.

UNDP’s handling of the situation has been widely praised, but that hasn’t stopped some from reraking the muck in an attempt to discredit the agency.On March 11, an article written by Bay Fang in the Chicago Tribune (picked up by Redstate, Right Wing Nut House, and Reject the U.N.) and containing quotes from a number of anonymous sources insinuated that the UNDP “quietly suspended operations in North Korea,” because “it could not operate under guidelines imposed by its executive board in January.” Moreover, it suggests that the action was taken to “hamstring” an external audit that was initiated by the Secretary-General. It is laughable to say that UNDP quietly suspended operations, given global press coverage. In fact, UNDP announced publicly that it had suspended its operations because the North Korean government was unwilling to meet the new terms imposed by the UNDP, including the suspension of the use of hard currency. Fang’s article also claims that the amount of hard currency in question could reach as much as $150 million, despite the fact that the total amount spent by the UNDP in North Korea over the past decade doesn’t even reach $48 million.

There are other misstatements and inaccurate insinuations in the article, but what’s truly problematic is that it suggests that, in response to concerns by member states, the UNDP hasn’t done exactly what member states should want it to do. In December 2006, the U.S. raised concerns about the UNDP’s operations in North Korea, in response to which the UNDP immediately stopped hard currency payments and the acceptance of staffers sent by North Korea. At a meeting in January, the UNDP Executive Board, which includes the U.S., initiated a set of conditions that had to be met for the UNDP to continue its mission in North Korea. When it became evident that those conditions wouldn’t be met, the UNDP suspended its mission. The results of the external audit are still yet to be seen, but the UNDP’s response from the announcement of concerns to this point appears to be exactly what it should have been — swift and substantial.