Response to US House Foreign Committee Chairman on UNDP

May 2, 2011

Dear Madame Chairman:

The statement issued from your office last week about the U.N. Development Programme’s activities in Syria was apparently based on incomplete and inaccurate media reports. In light of developments in Syria, UNDP leadership had already decided to defer consideration of a new program pending further review. That decision was taken to ensure that the new program addresses the evolving development needs of the Syrian people.

The 2012-2017 draft Syria Country Program, prepared prior to the recent crisis, was scheduled to be submitted for review in mid-June by UNDP’s governing body, the Executive Board—which is comprised of 36 Member States, including the United States. As events have unfolded in Syria, UNDP determined that deferral of that submission was necessary.

UNDP core funding of its current 2006-2011 country program in Syria is less than $1 million per year. In a middle-income country such as Syria, the host government and international donors meet the majority of additional program costs. UNDP’s programs in Syria have covered five areas: promoting economic growth; enhancing institutional, administrative, and legal frameworks; strengthening environmental management; improving disaster prevention and management; and fighting HIV/AIDS. UNDP interacts with civilian departments such as the Planning Commission, and with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Economy & Trade, Communications, Local Administration, Tourism, Justice, Social Affairs & Labor, Health, Transport, Electricity, and Environment. Programs are based on agreed work plans which include monitoring and evaluation of each project to ensure that funds are used for the intended purposes. All initiatives fall within the country program approved by the Executive Board.

Although the United States provides a voluntary contribution to UNDP’s core budget, which amounts to roughly 10% of the total, Syria is one of the countries designated by the United States as ineligible to receive U.S. funding. Nevertheless, U.S. government officials, including staff members from key congressional committees, exercise close scrutiny of UNDP programs in countries of critical interest, including frequent requests for detailed information and regular access to internal audits. Along with all other UN agencies and members of the international community working in Syria, UNDP is closely monitoring the situation in the country and will take whatever additional corrective steps may be necessary to adapt its programs and presence to fast-moving events on the ground.

The reference in your statement to a “Cash for Kim” scandal in North Korea reflects a misrepresentation of facts by several witnesses before your Committee earlier this year. Two exhaustive investigations of UNDP’s program in North Korea, one of them by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, initiated by former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), found no basis to conclude that significant funds were diverted by the government. In short, “Cash for Kim,” as alleged by those witnesses, never occurred.

Nor is it a fair summary of UNDP’s track record to suggest that we have mismanaged programs in Afghanistan or Burma. In Afghanistan, UNDP is implementing programs critical to the overall multilateral effort, including providing support to national electoral institutions, helping to reintegrate former combatants, and strengthening local government capacity. All UNDP programs there have been subjected to intense oversight by U.S. and other coalition officials. In Burma (Myanmar), UNDP’s program is limited to local community development—unaffiliated with the government and closely monitored by both executive and congressional officials in the U.S. government. In fact, UNDP’s presence in the poorest and most remote areas of Burma enabled the international community to quickly mobilize and provide humanitarian support to tens of thousands of victims in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. UNDP has long experience operating in difficult conditions and in making sure that programs and funds are applied to defined and constructive purposes approved by the donors.

As always, we stand ready to respond to requests from your staff for information or clarifications, and to provide specialized briefings whenever these would be useful to you and your colleagues.

Frederick S. Tipson
Director, Washington Office
U.N. Development Programme

UNDP Around the world