Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
FEC/Burma Shave series - 1st (June 26), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, last
UNITED NATIONS, July 25 -- As news of the currency exchange losses the UN accepted in Myanmar belatedly spreads, legislators in many donor countries which responded to the UN's appeals for Cyclone Nargis humanitarian assistance are preparing a demand that the "stolen" aid money be returned by the Than Shwe government. Meanwhile, the UN cannot or will not provide basic information about how much of the donated money it exchanged into devalued Foreign Exchange Certificates. Two weeks ago, Inner City Press requested this figure from the UN Development Program, which handles UN system finances, but beyond an admission that UNDP buys FECs through the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank, no dollar figure has provided.
Nor has the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance provided any figures. Rather, OCHA's acting spokesperson called Inner City Press to insist that OCHA's John Holmes admitted a loss, but not an "extraordinary" loss, as DPA reported in a story noting Inner City Press' work for the last month on the issue. Inner City Press at OCHA's request dropped "extraordinary" from the quote, despite not receiving any proof. The UN's Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Dan Baker, who previously on camera told Inner City Press that there are few to no losses, now admits there are some -- but claims that some unquantified percentage of material is bought outside of Myanmar. Where are the numbers?
At Friday's noon briefing at the UN in New York, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Michele Montas for the second straight day for numbers of how much the UN converted into FECs, and how much was lost. Video here. Ms. Montas again deferred until a July 28 appearance by OCHA's John Holmes. Since OCHA asked for $200 million and then $300 million for Myanmar, and has been asked about this issue by Inner City Press for more than two weeks, not having basic numbers now is inexplicable. Expect this, too, to be raised by legislators from donor and neighboring countries.
Even before Cyclone Nargis, much of the UN system in Myanmar was accepting a 15% loss in converting dollars to FECs. But word has reached Inner City Press, and UNDP has as noted refused to respond, that UNDP in its so-called micro-finance program accepted an even worse exchange rate. Back on June 26, Inner City Press reported that the UN through UNDP "paid dollars to Myanmar's government, and got local currency back at an artificially low official exchange rate." UNDP has still not provide information about how much money it converted through FECs, and at what rate. On July 25, Inner City Press put the question directly to UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, who responded that "I don't answer questions in the hallway" and that he might hold a press conference at the end of summer. Far too late, most would think. Watch this site. And this --