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Foreign Minister and Shadow Minister welcome Secretary-General's audit of aid money sent to North Korea through UN aid programs.

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Tuesday 30 January 2007

Foreign Minister and Shadow Minister welcome Secretary-General's audit of aid money sent to North Korea through UN aid programs


TONY EASTLEY: While the AWB Oil-for-Food scandal continues to play out, there is a new foreign aid controversy involving millions of dollars of Australian money, getting new headlines.  


Acting on complaints, the United Nations is investigating the international aid money that its agencies are sending to the secretive communist state of North Korea. 


Jeff Waters reports. 


JEFF WATERS: Australia has donated $57-million in aid to North Korea through UN aid programs since 1996. 


Four million dollars is pledged for this financial year. But now the agencies which administer those funds are under scrutiny. 


The UN's new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has wasted no time in ordering an audit of UN aid going to North Korea. 


The UN spokesman in Australia, Abdullah Saleh Mbamba, says the audit was prompted after complaints that hard currency being sent to UN agencies may have been leaking into the North Korean Government's coffers. 


ABDULLAH SALEH MBAMBA: Well, this is an indication that the Secretary-General is very serious, he's very decisive, he's acting straight on top. 


The allegations came from the United States and Japan, and straightaway he took action to call on the General Assembly through the SEBQ committee to immediately begin the auditing of those funds. 


So, it is an indication that the Secretary-General is not going to waste time on these things. 


JEFF WATERS: The Federal Opposition has accused the Government of neglect over the issue. 


Labor's Foreign Spokesman, Robert McClelland compares it the AWB scandal. 


ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Australians will want to make sure that their funds are going to the people who are in desperate need in North Korea, rather than to sustain their nuclear arms program. 


In the past we've seen some very unsavoury examples of the Australian Wheat Board scenario where the Australian Government distanced itself from knowledge of what the Wheat Board was doing. 


I think the Government can be accused of neglect in terms of what has happened to the money provided by Australian taxpayers.  


JEFF WATERS: The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, says he's aware of the allegations and that he raised the issue in a recent meeting with the Secretary-General in New York. 


But he says fears Australian aid money may have been misspent are unfounded. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I'm not concerned that Australian dollars have gone to the North Korean regime, but I've followed very closely the debate about allegations of some UN money finding it's way into the North Korean regime. 


I'm very pleased that he's decided now to suspend these programs and to conduct a full audit into them. I think that's entirely appropriate. 


TONY EASTLEY: The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, ending that report from Jeff Waters.