Report slams Clark's UN programme

DEVASTATING REPORT: A review of the UN's anti-poverty agency, headed by Helen Clark, sees not much impact in its work.
DEVASTATING REPORT: A review of the UN's anti-poverty agency, headed by Helen Clark, sees not much impact in its work.

Former prime minister Helen Clark has been hit with a devastating critique of her United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in an official report saying much of its annual US$5.7 billion (NZ$6.8 billion) budget is only remotely connected to ending global poverty.

The densely worded report by the UNDP's executive board - Clark's bosses since she became secretary-general in April 2009 - amounts to a stinging performance review.

US media reports say she is leading a counter-attack claiming the study misses the point behind its work.

But the report paints a striking picture of a confused organisation seemingly unable to bring significant change to the world's 1.3 billion poor people despite spending US$8.5 billion on fighting poverty between 2004 and 2011.

"Even when UNDP undertakes activities with an explicit poverty orientation, the approach often lacks a pro-poor bias and tends to rely instead on the trickle-down process," the report said.

The problem was not that trickle-down processes may or may not work, but that the UNDP appeared satisfied with that as the only gain possible against poverty, it said.

"Its priority demands that it should seek to maximise the gains for the poor by explicitly trying to impart a distinct pro-poor bias to whatever it does.

The key issue was "the limited ability of UNDP to demonstrate whether its poverty reduction activities have contributed to any significant change in the lives of the people it is trying to help".

The anti-poverty programmes in 162 countries were "disconnected" and "seriously compromised" by lack of follow-up work," the report said.

‘‘(Findings) point to the fact that poor are often not the direct beneficiaries or only loosely indirect.’’

The report said it was hard to work out what is actually spent on fighting poverty because the body's "programming devoted to poverty reduction becomes even more blurred when projects, reported as contributing to poverty reduction, are not designed to do so.’’

There was a rapid turnover of staff "causing loss of institutional memory".

"Many UNDP country programmes include a subset of activities that have very remote connection with poverty, if at all," the report said.

"For an organisation that has been entrusted with the task of poverty reduction as its top priority, this raises concerns about how resources are directed."

The board ordered the review in 2009 as Clark joined the organisation and it examines the work carried out in 2011 and 2012.

Its full report will not be released until February 1 but the UN has released a 13-page executive summary.

It points to much of the blame for the failure to deal with poverty as the way in which the UNDP has spread itself across a range of issues including trade promotion and border management.

The conservative Fox News says UNDP's top management, including Clark, are angry with the report and will seek to rebut it with a 17-page management report to be presented on January 28.

That report quotes Clark as saying that UNDP's goal "is to support transformational change which brings about real improvement in people's lives’’.

The report said at times "some committed individuals have tried to make a difference" but the deeply ingrained culture in the UNDP means it cannot be left to individuals.