Scrutinise UNDP work - An Open Letter to Ministers Sarath Amunugama & Lakshman Kadiragamar

Somaweera Sirisinghe writing from New Zealand

Hon Ministers,

The Resident Co-ordinator of the UN System in Sri Lanka is in the spot light earning not only displeasure from the Sri Lankan civil society but facing serious allegations of partisan activity in a country ridden by a prolonged and costly conflict between two communities. Needless to say that even the slightest predilection shown towards one of the parties to the conflict at this particular time could gravely jeopardise the role of the United Nations.

On one hand it is grossly unfair by the country because the United Nations System is being called upon to play a major role after the devastation suffered from the natural disaster of historic proportions. Various international donors - bi-lateral and multi lateral have the natural tendency to turn to the UN System to channel their humanitarian aid and expect them to conduct impartial monitoring and supervision of aid utilization.

On the other hand it is detrimental to the UN System itself when the world is witnessing the UN imploding from within by acts such as recently reported rampant sexual crimes committed by its staff in Congo and by the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal.

Therefore it is fair by all concerned to initiate a scrutiny of UNDP's activities in the recent past to ensure that no predilection was engineered within the confines of the UN compound in Colombo.

Such a scrutiny is not only appropriate but also possible. The responsibility lies with the Ministry of Finance (Department of External resources) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Contrary to the general belief harboured by a mostly subservient state bureaucracy (which is greatly fuelled by the UN technocrat's overt and covert acts to perpetuate that misbelief) UN personnel are not Masters of their own. Their mandate is to assist and collaborate with the host country on "agreed" programmes of work.

How does the "agreed" programmes come into being? The UN's Development Programme (UNDP) through extensive consultations with the government prepares the programme and obtains agreement. The current programme is founded in two documents. UN Development Assistance Frame work (UNDAF) 2002-2006 and the Second UNDP Country Co-operation Framework - 2002-2006. These two documents set out the agreed programme and one would assume that devious deviations to favour a particular community is not possible within the water-tight parameters of these frameworks.

Hon Ministers, Sadly it is not so. After the cease-fire in February 2002, the then Prime Minister requested the UN to play a central role in the socio-economic recovery and re-construction and an Inter-agency Need Assessment Team visited Sri Lanka and recommended that the "the UN System shifts gear in response to new space opened up". (Sirs, Pardon me for using "UNDP-speak"!)

Accordingly a revised programme emphasised the commitment of the UN System to assist Sri Lanka by
a) Providing humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected areas and people by restoring economic livelihoods of adversely affected persons and providing support for the efforts that contribute to the establishment of peace and harmony.
b) Reducing poverty through promoting improved accessibility to basic services and the creation of economic opportunities and supporting governance reforms aimed at promoting people centred development.

How did the UNDP define "conflict-affected areas"? Did they confine it to areas populated only by Tamil or Muslims? Did they include any areas with Sinhala population that also suffered from the conflict? Who were benefited by micro-finance projects? How many of those are from the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala communities?

What kinds of assistance were extended as "contributions to the establishment of peace and harmony"? Who were the beneficiaries of the sub-project for Strengthening Information capacity for the Peace Process?

How many "UN Logistics Centres" were established and what is their role? What improved accesses to basic services that they provide?

Who were the Programme staff at UNDP Colombo Office that handled these projects? Were they in a position to influence project delivery to suit their personal ethnic background?

How did the UNDP define "supporting governance reforms aimed at promoting people centred development"? Did they take into account that this could be used to strengthen an administration set up by a separatist terrorist movement fighting against a sovereign member nation of the UN?

These are valid questions that Sri Lanka government is accountable to answer to the nation.

Hon Ministers, In the light of the above please initiate early action to scrutinise UN Resident Co-ordinator's actions under the above initiatives as well as his work during the aftermath of the Tsunami disaster in order to remove any doubt cast on the UN System operating in Sri Lanka for favouring one party to a national conflict.

Yours faithfully

Somaweera Sirisinghe



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