Cablegate: Unicef in Burma

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. STATE 76373
C. 04 RANGOON 158

1. (SBU) Summary: UNICEF is effective in most of its core
programs in Burma, and is planning to expand and refocus its
activities in the next five years. Though some criticisms
remain, particularly dealing with UNICEF's administrative
laxness and close cooperation with the GOB, the country
director is saying the right things about tightening up the
ship and improving the quality and assessments of ongoing
efforts. Relations between the embassy and UNICEF are good.
End summary.

Plans for the Future

2. (U) Per reftel request Chief of Mission (COM) met on April
28 with UNICEF Burma country representative Carroll Long and
her deputy Elke Wisch to discuss the agency's new country
program and to clarify some embassy concerns prior to the
executive board meeting.

3. (SBU) The country rep laid out her vision for the
immediate future of UNICEF in Burma. She highlighted the
broad objective of expanding at least basic immunization
programs beyond the 61 townships in which UNICEF now operates
while at the same time improving monitoring and evaluation
and the skills of the primarily local staff tasked with
carrying out the agency's directives in remote regions.
Specifically, she mentioned the importance of auditing the
unverified operating assumption that 80 percent of Burma's
children were immunized against the "Basic Seven" childhood
diseases. Also, she stressed the importance of doing more
community-based data collection to reduce dependence on GOB
assertions and unreliable government data. On capacity
building, Ms. Long indicated UNICEF would focus on getting
more local and expatriate trainers and experts to work with
both UNICEF staff and also technical-level GOB staff. She
said that because the quality of child protection in Burma
was currently so low, this type of training was essential --
especially in rural areas. UNICEF Burma was trying to get
the budget to hire additional expatriate staff for more
remote programs.

4. (SBU) Ms. Long also pointed out a few specific new
directions UNICEF programs would take in the next five years.
Most notably, according to the country rep, is an expanded
child protection component that will focus on building a
functioning juvenile justice system (in conjunction with
ICRC), reaching out to orphans and "vulnerable children," and
fighting child exploitation (especially trafficking, child
labor, child prostitution, and child soldiers). Other
changes will be a redirecting of UNICEF's HIV/AIDs work to
deal more intensively with mother-child transmission and AIDs
orphans (both growing problems in Burma); expanding existing
childhood development programs (from the current peri-urban
focus to more remote regions); and, putting more into making
education affordable (to reduce dropouts).

Is UNICEF Too Close to the GOB?

5. (SBU) Responding to the COM's observation that some view
UNICEF as too close with the GOB (a common criticism of
UNICEF, see ref C), Ms. Long pointed out that to carry out
the type of structural changes they hope to achieve in
GOB-controlled areas like basic healthcare and education,
"you have to work with anybody who can help you get to kids,
even if they're otherwise reprehensible." She said there
have been positive results to UNICEF's efforts to build trust
in key ministries. She noted, for example, that the Ministry
of Education has refused to work with any other UN agency or
international NGO on curriculum in public schools. UNICEF,
Ms. Long pointed out, has been able to get HIV/AIDs and
domestic violence components added to school curricula in the
townships in which UNICEF operates. Ms. Long stressed that
UNICEF has a wide array of NGO partners with whom the agency
works without any GOB interference and cooperates well with
the UN Country Team.

6. (SBU) The UNICEF rep said that her agency's ties to the
GOB at the working level did not do it much good when dealing
with the designated UNICEF "focal point," the Minister for
Development and National Planning, U Soe Tha. She said that
relations with him were quite poor and it was difficult for
UNICEF to get necessary meetings with the Minister to seek
his approval for planned changes and additions to UNICEF's
mandate. This bad situation had become even worse since
former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt was ousted in October 2004.
She did not seem to think these poor ties at the policymaking
level would hurt UNICEF's new country plan, however.
Regular Ties to NLD, Improving Ties to Embassy

7. (SBU) Ms. Long volunteered that UNICEF had been taking
monthly meetings with the NLD's Central Executive Committee
(CEC) to explain the agency's activities and plans. She said
the CEC had not raised any objections to UNICEF's new country
plan and indeed had urged the agency to do as much as
possible to build the country's decrepit education system.
In the past, imprisoned NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK)
had been a vocal proponent of a particular UNICEF childhood
development project in suburban Rangoon.
8. (SBU) (Note: U Lwin, NLD Secretary and spokesman, had a
slightly different take. He told us on May 3 that UNICEF had
only met twice with a member of the CEC (once to discuss
Global Fund issues and once to describe the new country plan)
since the current country representative took office. No
UNICEF official has been to the NLD headquarters during this
time period. He also said that during the country plan
briefing the NLD had been in a "listening mode" and he did
not recall endorsing any component of the plan. He admitted
that ASSK had always been the primary point of contact with
the UN agencies, and thus NLD-UN ties have been weaker since
she was imprisoned in May 2003. End note.)

9. (SBU) COM asked if UNICEF would be amenable to more
bilateral and informal visits of embassy staff to UNICEF
project sites. Though UNICEF's regular diplomatic group
trips have been informative (ref C), UNICEF officials have
been less willing to arrange informal visits to project sites
by individual emboffs during up-country travel -- perhaps
fearing a negative GOB reaction. Ms. Long agreed with the
COM's suggestion and said she would work to set up such
visits in the future.

Comment: On the Right Track?

10. (SBU) UNICEF has been effective in many of its programs
here. There are some outstanding concerns over UNICEF's
activities here; particularly problems of oversensitivity to
GOB criticism, administrative laxness, and a lack, thus far,
of a true results-oriented assessment process. However,
while the country rep is optimistic, she is not naive in her
dealings with the GOB, and is saying the right things about
improving the quality of UNICEF's programs and the auditing
mechanism that will help ensure efficiency. Likewise, over
the last year there has been a significant changeover in the
administration in UNICEF's Burma HQ -- a change for the
better one senior UNICEF official claimed. End comment.

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