Canada’s top film producers balk at new focus on gender and racial equality to win federal funds

Sophie Nélisse and Antoine Olivier Pilon star in the Yan England film 1:54. “We should not judge a program based on who benefits from it,” said Denise Robert, who produced films including The Barbarian Invasions and 1:54.

OTTAWA — Some of Canada’s biggest film producers are warning against proposed changes to a key federal funding program, saying a new politically correct focus on gender and racial equality could hamper the commercial viability of Canadian cinema.

Their concerns centre around a decision earlier this year by Telefilm Canada, a Crown corporation that finances Canadian films, to review a stream of funding known as Fast Track, which distributes money to Canadian movie producers based on past success generating box office returns or winning prestigious film awards.

The Crown corporation suspended the Fast Track stream amid COVID-19, then launched a “transparent and inclusive” industry consultation that would completely reorient Telefilm’s mandate “through a lens of diversity and inclusion in order to abolish systemic racism.”

The

National Post

spoke with six film producers who raised concerns over the consultation process, saying the move appears well intentioned from a distance, but could actually wrestle control of the allocation of funds away from the industry in favour of a small group of bureaucrats. Fast Track has for 20 years served as a crucial source of capital for some of Canada’s most successful and award-winning films, the producers said, from

Room

to

The Barbarian Invasions

to

Eastern Promises

.

Rifts between Telefilm and film producers point to deeper-lying tensions over the growing adoption of socially conscious policies, which often seek to enforce guaranteed outcomes based on race, gender, or other categories of identity. Producers worry the new mandate could effectively fail to ensure guaranteed opportunity for filmmakers, and lose sight of Telefilm’s initial mandate to create commercially viable films.

“We should not judge a program based on who benefits from it,” said Denise Robert, who produced films including

The Barbarian Invasions

and

1:54

. “I think the question should be very basic: what films have been made with this program? And are those films worthwhile?”

Robert has secured Fast Track funding for several of her movies, including

1:54

, a psychological thriller that performed well internationally, but that she says would have never gotten made without additional support from Telefilm.

“If this film would have been submitted to juries or to committees or whatever, it would not have been done,” she said.

Telefilm opened up consultations on the Fast Track stream to a number of special interest groups both inside and outside the Canadian film industry, including the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion and the Racial Equity Media Collective, among others.

Many said that the so-called “success index” under the Fast Track stream, which gauges the past successes of film producers based on past box office revenues and other numerical values, effectively created an elite club of producers who can access funds for films, while minority groups are left out. Producers who spoke to the

National Post

, some of them women, immigrants, or visible minorities, said that characterization overlooks the immensely difficult work producers inside the Fast Track stream had to put in before they could access the funds.

“There’s this notion that we’re in this very exclusive club and we want to protect our interests, but that’s not the case at all,” said Niv Fichman, producer of

The Red Violin,

which generated $15.2 million in the U.S. and Canada. “It was a hard-earned privilege,” he said.

Many producers who spoke to

National Post

said the new mandate is at risk of overlapping with the Canada Arts Council, which has a budget twice the size of Telefilm, and has explicit mandates to funnel money to underrepresented First Nations, Black or other artists. Telefilm also pledged $100,000 to the Black Screen Office earlier this year, and provides $100,000 to the Indigenous Screen Office annually.

Telefilm’s Fast Track stream, meanwhile, was created 20 years ago with the explicit goal of supporting films that would “put bums in seats,” according to then-Heritage Minister Sheila Copps.

“Telefilm is an investment agency; they’re not an arts council,” Fichman said.

Most producers who spoke with

National Post

said they support better gender parity in film, but ultimately categorized Telefilm’s new direction as an effort to seize control of more of the Crown corporations roughly $100-million budget.

“Telefilm is reinventing itself as part of a cynical exercise,” said Robert Lantos, producer of

Eastern Promises

, a well-received Russian mob drama directed by Canadian David Cronenberg. “They’re trying to reframe this as the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have-nots’, as an issue of skin colour, as an issue of gender. But that’s not the issue. It’s a false dichotomy. But it’s a dichotomy that works very well for their agenda, because their agenda is to take control of all of the funds and make all the decisions themselves.”

Executives at Telefilm Canada reject claims that their new mandate will exclude the perspectives of successful mainstream producers in favour of special interest groups. The updated mandate simply aims to elevate underrepresented voices in the Canadian film industry, rather than downplay existing voices, they said.

“The industry has changed, and we need to adapt. It’s as simple as that,” said Christa Dickenson, executive director of Telefilm Canada.

She added that the current mandate had not been updated in a decade, and needed a “modernized” approach to account for gender and racial disparities.

Telefilm’s mandate is “beyond just the financial return on an investment,” said René Bourdages, senior director of cultural portfolio management at Telefilm.

The allocation of the Fast Track stream was initially created with 50-50 input between civil servants and industry members, but that was later cut back to 35 per cent input from industry. The industry side of the stream, which is allocated via the success index, accounted for $24 million in funding in 2019-20, according to Telefilm’s annual report. The Crown corporation recoups roughly $5 million per year from films that generate positive returns, Telefilm executives said.

Bourdages said special interest groups and other representatives in the consultations said that there was an overemphasis on commercial scoring that took precedence over all other considerations.

“Most conversations that we had with producers were around their score, and not necessarily around the creative or the strength of their project,” he said.

Industry insiders now worry the success index could either be permanently scrapped or have its goal posts adjusted. In a summary of an Oct. 14 consultation over the success index, posted on Telefilm’s website, participants said that the success of gay and lesbian films, for example, should be gauged on a separate scale than that of mainstream films because they target smaller audiences.

“Ditto for genres, target audiences, diverse creators, etc. – consider the impact on the target (don’t compare with mass appeal products),” one recommendation said.

Producers were in agreement with Telefilm, however, on the narrower topic of funding. Several producers and theatre representatives wrote Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault in September, calling for a $50-million increase to the Telefilm budget. The current $100-million budget hasn’t risen with inflation, producers said, which has left fewer funds to be distributed among a growing pool of movie makers.

“I think what’s going on is there is clearly not enough funding at Telefilm and they’ve chosen to pit certain producers against others,” said David Gross, producer of Room, which received four Oscar nominations in 2016 and won Best Actress. The critically-acclaimed film secured $3 million in Fast Track funding and eventually grossed $35 million at the box office.

Gross, like others, supports the general bid by Telefilm to make movies more equal, but said removing or adjusting the Fast Track stream could simply worsen the problem by making Canadian films less competitive.

“I don’t believe diversity and commercial success are mutually exclusive goals.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

RCMP gets $238 million to fund body cameras for officers across the country

There are currently two RCMP officers on each shift in the force’s detachment in Iqaluit wearing body cameras.

OTTAWA – The federal Liberals are ponying up nearly $240 million to equip RCMP officers across the country with body-worn video cameras in a bid to improve police accountability, but there are more big tickets asks coming from rank and file Mounties.

The new funding was announced in Monday’s fiscal update and includes $238.5 million spread over six years to buy the cameras and set up a system for collecting video, with an additional $50 million a year for maintaining the system when it is complete.

Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said they believe the cameras will help the police force connect with the communities they serve.

“This program will strengthen public trust in the RCMP, increase transparency and accountability, and build on our commitment to strengthen trust and relationships with racialized and Indigenous communities,” she said in an email.

She said as of Monday, there are currently two RCMP officers on each shift in the force’s detachment in Iqaluit wearing body cameras, with the plan to expand it to the whole detachment by early next year.

“We will grow the number of officers equipped with these cameras. Data from this pilot will inform our strategy for a broader rollout of these cameras.”

The RCMP currently has approximately 18,500 officers working across the country, though not all in front-line roles.

Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, the RCMP’s new union, said they welcome the cameras and are glad the RCMP won’t be forced to cut other programs to pay for them.

“Our members, by and large, want to see body worn cameras,” he said. “Obviously the devil is in the details as to how they roll out, when they get to be turned on, when they get to be turned off, all the privacy implications of Canadians as well as our members.”

Sauvé and his members also have other demands for the government and he said he hopes to see them rolled out in the spring budget.

In addition to funding the cameras, the federation has called for the government to spend $190 million to increase capacity at the force’s training academy and to accelerate plans to replace officers’ pistols at a cost of $40 million.

Sauvé said the force is graduating roughly 1,000 officers a year, but is losing nearly as many to retirement and attrition. He argued the country needs to double that number to get more officers into the communities that need the additional help.

“The resources on the ground are overworked already, the mandate continues to expand and …. we probably need to focus some more federal police officers into border integrity,” he said. “We only have a net gain of about 100 to 150 cops per year and that’s just not enough.”

The National Police Federation formally became the first union to represent Mounties just last year and has yet to negotiate its first contract with the government.

Sauvé said they believe that higher compensation negotiated in that first deal will serve as a recruitment tool to bring more people into the RCMP and said the force could even look abroad to recruit new officers from other commonwealth nations.

Sauvé said the other desperate area for improvement is with the RCMP’s service pistol, a decades-old weapon, which he argues needs to be replaced.

“We’re in a position now where the manufacturers, Smith and Wesson, does not make replacement parts anymore. They’ve been contracted out to third parties,” he said.

He said officers in the field have so far not dealt with weapons that jam or misfire, but the weapons are old and they have to be replaced well before that becomes a possibility.

“We have not had any challenges in the field in service, but there have been challenges in training,” he said. “You don’t need a paperweight when you need a gun.”

He said he is not concerned the government chose to fund the body cameras first and he is optimistic the other items will be included in the budget this spring.

He said it is probably too early for the finance minister to include funding for salary increases for officers, because those talks have a way to go.

“Negotiations are ongoing and they might be ongoing for quite a while.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards killed by airstrike in Syria, days after top nuclear scientist killed

A handout picture provided by Iran's Defence Ministry on November 30, 2020 shows members of Iranian forces carrying the coffin of slain top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during his funeral ceremony in Tehran.

An airstrike killed a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards at the Iraq-Syria border sometime between Saturday and Sunday, Iraqi security and local militia officials said on Monday.

The commander was killed alongside three other men traveling in a vehicle with him.

The Daily Mail

and other outlets have named him as Muslim Shahdan. Citing the Anadolu Agency, the Mail reported that the attack happened in Deir ez-Zor province, Syria.

The vehicle the men were in was carrying weapons across the Iraqi border and was hit after it had entered Syrian territory, two Iraqi security officials separately said.

Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups helped retrieve the bodies, the two officials said, without elaborating or giving the exact time of the incident.

Local military and militia sources confirmed the account, although Reuters was unable to verify independently that an Iranian commander had been killed.

Iran-backed Iraqi militias are still reeling from the U.S. assassination of Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in January and their Iraqi leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and have vowed revenge against the United States.

Israel launched air raids against what it called a wide range of Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria last week, signalling that it will pursue its policy of striking Iranian targets in the region as U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to leave office. Iraqi officials fear a conflagration ahead of President-elect Joe Biden taking office because he is viewed as less confrontational with Iran than the Trump administration.

The new incident came just days after Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in Tehran in a killing that Iran has blamed on Israel.

Israel assassinated the top Iranian nuclear scientist with a remotely controlled device, the head of Iran’s national security council said on Monday, appearing to contradict earlier official accounts of a roadside ambush.

“The enemy used a completely new, professional and specialized method and technique,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

“The operation was very complex and used electronic devices, and no one was present at the scene.”

Officials had originally said that Fakhrizadeh was killed outside Tehran on Friday in a bomb and gun attack.

State-run Press TV reported on Monday that “the remains” of a weapon collected from the site “bear the logo and specifications of the Israeli military industry.” It cited an unidentified person and didn’t provide any evidence to back up the claim.

Fakhrizadeh was buried in northern Tehran on Monday next to the grave of Majid Shahriari, a nuclear scientist who was assassinated in a 2010 operation Iran also blamed on Israel.

— with files from National Post Staff

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Ethicists debate whether anti-mask protestors should forfeit COVID-19 medical care

An anti-mask demonstration in Canmore, Alta., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. Ethicists disagree on whether people who flout public health measures should accept prompt care should they contract the virus.

This past weekend, hundreds of Albertans rallied against masking orders, demonstrators gathered outside a house in Montreal’s posh Westmount neighbourhood they thought, mistakenly, belonged to Quebec’s premier, while in Ontario, police and bylaw officers saw to an illegal, 60-person party at a Mississauga Airbnb. Some guests fled as police arrived, 27 others were slapped with $880 fines, and the hosts issued summons carrying minimum $10,000 fines.

“These antics,” tweeted Peel deputy police chief Marc Andrews, “help no one.”

Given all that, some ethicists have argued that people who flout or publicly protest pandemic public health measures should willingly forfeit medical care in favour of those who play by the rules, should hospital resources become strained. An average of 2,111 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the past week.

“We’re not saying don’t treat,” Arthur Caplan, founder of the division of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine said Monday. “We’re saying, if you’re going to run around and claim exemption to endorsed and established behavioural policy, you should volunteer, if you get sick, to go to the end of the line.”

Others contend that a person’s political ideals should have no bearing on who should get care ahead of others.

In an opinion piece published earlier this year,

an opinion he still holds, Caplan, along with his co-authors, argued that while most people are diligently and heroically adhering to public health asks, thousands of others haven’t fully grasped the gravity of the situation, or believe the economic consequences of stay-at-home orders disproportionately outweigh the health benefits.

In Canada, demonstrators have argued that appeals and orders to mask or limit social gatherings violate their Charter rights, including freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

But Caplan said there are no free-for-alls in a “plague,” and that a threat to others justifies limitations on individual civil liberties. Should people willfully engage in behaviours known to potentially harm others, “then if you get sick, you have an obligation to think about saying, ‘let others go before me, because I wasn’t responsible,” he said. “If you are a real believer in liberty, then you have to say, ‘I’ll pay the price.’”

At a minimum, protesters should sign a pledge stating that they are willing to forgo medical care should emergency rooms or intensive care units become saturated — in the name of their political beliefs, Caplan and his co-authors wrote. “Patrick Henry’s famous proclamation, carried by many protestors, is ‘give me liberty or give me death,’ not ‘give me liberty and if that doesn’t work out so well give me a scarce ventilator.’”

Vaccines are a different matter, Caplan said, “because if you get vaccinated, you may stop infecting other people.”

“I think the thing that motives people to not wear a mask, to go where they want to go, oddly enough that’s what a vaccine will let them do,” Caplan said. While some have mused that pandemic protesters might be more likely to reject vaccines, “I think it’s more consistent with what the anti-mask, anti-social distancing, anti-quarantine crowd wants,” Caplan said  — “as soon as they understand they can get on a plane or go on a cruise if they get vaccinated, I think they’ll shift their attitudes.”

 People protest against measures taken by public health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19, in Montreal, Saturday, November 28, 2020.

While he has a great amount of respect for Caplan, McGill University’s Daniel Weinstock couldn’t disagree more with the assertion protesters should forfeit their right to care before others.

A basic principle in medical ethics, particularly in a country like Canada, is that “you get medical care, if and when you need it, and need is really the only criterion that we should use,” said Weinstock, a professor of law and the Katherine A. Pearson chair in civil society and public policy.

There absolutely should be sanctions visited upon people who break laws, Weinstock said, including criminal sanctions for criminal acts. A 30-year-old man was charged with assault last week after an employee at a Dawson Creek, B.C. Walmart was attacked and repeatedly punched after he requested that a shopper wear a mask. Masks are required by B.C. government order, and are mandatory in all Walmart stores across the country. “Certainly that assault on the Walmart employee would seem to qualify, but that doesn’t disqualify them from receiving care,” Weinstock said.

“I think everybody is kind of operating at a level of anxiety and fear that has polarized societies,” Weinstock said, but someone has to be the adult in the room. “Even though it might be tempting when seeing people flouting common sense public health directives to say, ‘you guys, back of the line’ … I think it really behooves the medical establishment to look beyond the crisis,” he said.

“We’re all going to have to live in society together and avoid any acts that may exacerbate polarizations or fractures in society.”

It’s also a principle of biomedical ethics that people have full information, but the pandemic has seen an unprecedented glut of misinformation and disinformation, “and I don’t think the consequences of that should be laid” at the feet of protestors, Weinstock said.

In exceptional times, people can become locked into messages thrown at them from all corners, but offer a way of rationalizing their denial, Weinstein said. “I don’t think we want to make matters worse by making them pay the price for what is a much broader set of problems.”

People also need to be sensitive to the frustrations, the COVID exhaustion and small businesses struggling with government-ordered closures, like a Toronto area barbeque house that last week brazenly beached lockdown rules to serve dine-in customers. “I can just imagine the level of despair people are feeling,” said Montreal critical care physician Dr. Peter Goldberg. “Absolute despair.”

“One of the great things about a vaccine is that at least people see there may be a end to this despair — ‘I can get hopefully through the next three months, or the next five months.’ We think there is actually a finite end.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Fiscal update 2020: Everything you need to know, from childcare to home offices — and trees

Canada's Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland receives a fist-bump from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after unveiling her first fiscal update, the Fall Economic Statement 2020, in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, Nov. 30, 2020.

The Liberal government presented its long-awaited fiscal update in the House of Commons on Monday. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced a stimulus plan of up to $100 billion to build a “greener, more innovative, more inclusive and more competitive” economy and vowed that Canada will emerge from the pandemic stronger.

While details of the stimulus plan will come in Budget 2021, here are 14 things we learned from the federal government’s fiscal update.

A million workers

As announced in the throne speech, the government will create a million “middle-class” jobs. The COVID recession led to over 5.5 million Canadians — more than 30 per cent of the workforce — either losing their jobs or having their hours cut back. About 4.4 million Canadians have regained their job or lost hours as of October. Still, 636,000 jobs still hadn’t recovered by October and 433,000 workers had less than half the hours they worked before.

National childcare

The government announced “early investments to lay the groundwork for a Canada-wide child care system, in partnership with provinces, territories and Indigenous Peoples.” The government providing $20 million over five years for a Federal Secretariat on Early Learning and Child Care. “The Secretariat will build capacity within the government and engage stakeholders to provide child care policy analysis in support of a Canada wide-system.” The government is also proposing to invest $70 million over five years and $15 million ongoing to sustain the existing federal Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care Secretariat.

Families and children

The government is giving up to $1,200 in 2021 for each child under the age of 6 for low- and middle-income families who are entitled to the Canada Child Benefit.

Task force for women

A task force of experts is being created to prepare and implement an Action Plan for Women in the Economy. “Advice of the task force will be intersectional and will support the government’s longer-term goal of building a more inclusive and resilient economy. The task force will provide advice on advancing gender equality and equity more broadly over the medium and longer-term.”

Home office expenses

The government is simplifying the process for both taxpayers and businesses to claim home office expenses for tax purposes. The Canada Revenue Agency will allow employees working from home in 2020 due to COVID-19 with modest expenses to claim up to $400, based on the amount of time working from home, without the need to track detailed expenses, and will generally not request that people provide a signed form from their employers.

Humanitarian Workforce

$150 million to support the Canadian Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations in building and maintaining a humanitarian workforce to provide surge capacity in response to COVID-19 outbreaks and other large-scale emergencies. The Canadian Red Cross will receive an additional $35 million in 2020-21.

Supply management aid

In addition to a $250 million Dairy Farm Investment Program, and $345 million delivered through direct payments to dairy farmers in 2019-20, the government announced that dairy farmers will receive $1.4 billion in payments over three years, beginning in 2020-21, including a payment of $468 million this year. This brings total compensation provided to dairy farmers, to date, to almost $1.1 billion. There is also $691 million for 10-year programs for supply-managed chicken, egg, broiler hatching egg and turkey farmers.

Diversity

$33 million over three years to support the 50-30 Challenge an initiative where Corporate Canada is asked to provide 50 per cent gender parity in senior management and 30 per cent for underrepresented groups, including racialized Canadians, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and members of LGBTQ2 communities.

Homes retrofit

The government is to give $2.6 billion over seven years to help homeowners improve their home energy efficiency by providing up to 700,000 grants of up to $5,000 to help homeowners make energy-efficient improvements to their homes.

Super savers

Canadians have managed to save a lot during the pandemic — partly as a result of generous government support measures — and the Liberals hope they are ready to spend it. Unlike other recessions, disposable income actually increased during this one. “These savings helped fuel a quick rebound in retail and consumer spending over the summer and fall,” says the fiscal update. “Given this level of support, household balance sheets are now in a better place than would normally be the case. More important than just sustaining the rebound in consumer spending for the economy, this positions households to be a central force within our economic recovery.” It adds: “These savings are a preloaded stimulus Canadians will be able to deploy once the virus is vanquished and the economy fully reopens.”

Car chargers

In a bid to move Canadians to electric cars, there will be $150 million over three years to build more charging and fueling stations.

Indigenous shelters

To tackle systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples and combat violence against Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ and two-spirit people, the government will spend $781.5 million over five years. Most of the money — $724.1 million — is to launch a comprehensive Violence Prevention Strategy to support new shelters and transition housing for First Nations.

Police body cameras

$238.5 million over six years and $50 million ongoing to implement a National Bodywork Camera Program for frontline RCMP officers. Also $250 million to support anti-gang programming.

The trees — again

First announced on the campaign trial in September 2019 after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met activist Greta Thunberg, the Liberals are again promising $3.16 billion, over ten years, to plant two billion trees. To date no trees have been planted under this initiative.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

UN agency hit with fraud and corruption allegations at climate projects

The United Nations logo at the organization's headquarters in New York.

The United Nations Development Programme is facing several allegations of fraud and corruption linked to the multibillion-dollar Global Environment Facility, according to documents seen by the Financial Times.

A copy of a draft report by UNDP’s office of audit and investigations, dated November 2020, described “financial misstatements” worth millions of dollars across UNDP’s portfolio of GEF-funded projects around the world.

The report highlighted problems including signs of “fraudulent activities” at two country offices and “suspicions of collusion among the various project managers” at another, without naming the countries.

“Issues identified by the audit could seriously compromise the achievement of the objectives of the audited entity,” the report said.

The GEF was set up in 1991 as part of the World Bank to help fight environmental challenges such as deforestation, species conservation and pollution. It has since split out to become an independent organization and disbursed more than $21 billion in 170 countries, including $7 billion in projects managed by the UNDP.

The audit of the UNDP’s GEF-funded projects — which covers 2018 and 2019 and is the first review of its kind since 2013 — comes against a backdrop of rising concern from some donor countries over management and oversight issues at the UNDP.

An investigation by Foreign Policy in 2019 published whistleblower accounts alleging the misappropriation of millions of dollars at a UNDP-run GEF project in Russia. Twelve donor countries — including the U.S., France, Australia and Japan — have since sought an independent review of the UNDP’s handling of that project, according to a letter seen by the FT.

“Matters of misconduct and misappropriation of funds continue to obstruct sustainable development across the world,” the donors said in March in the letter to Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator since 2017.

In a written response to the FT, the UNDP said it “takes all cases of financial mismanagement and other irregularities extremely seriously”, adding that its GEF projects were some of the organization’s “most closely monitored”.

“The portfolio, the majority of which is implemented by national and subnational institutions, civil society organizations as well as other UN organizations, is subject to an intricate system of regular reviews, independent assessments and audits,” the UNDP said.

While there have been “allegations of misuse of funds” at certain projects, such complaints affected “a tiny fraction — 1.4 per cent” of the UNDP’s GEF-funded portfolio, it added. The GEF did not respond to a request to comment for this article.

Other project audits from independent consultants as well as written complaints from current and former UNDP staff, all seen by the FT, suggest that concerns over alleged financial misconduct and poor oversight at the UNDP may be widespread.

“What happened in Russia is a Russian problem. But things going wrong are very common,” said Frank Klinckenberg, a European environmental expert who has reviewed GEF programmes across the world for more than 10 years.

An independent review of a GEF-funded UNDP project in Uzbekistan, seen by the FT, warned that financial information provided by the UNDP was not reliable and “must be questioned”. “As a further result, this [midterm review] is required, by UNDP guidelines, to refer this project for a fraud investigation,” the draft report said.

According to another long-term external consultant to the UNDP, problems raised in project reviews frequently seemed to be ignored by senior staff.

“I don’t understand some of the management responses that have been made,” said the consultant, who asked not to be named. “We have an urgent climate crisis.”

The claims of misconduct at the UNDP are not the first allegations of impropriety linked to the UN’s climate work and represent one of the many challenges facing the UN as it seeks to co-ordinate a global response to climate change.

The UN-backed, South Korea-based, Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest climate finance institution, has faced a recent wave of internal misconduct complaints, including allegations of sexism and harassment in the workplace, the FT reported in August.

“The words ‘climate’ and ‘corruption’, people see these as two different worlds, but there is a lot of overlap,” said Brice Böhmer, the head of climate governance integrity at Transparency International, the global anti-corruption group.

Another person familiar with the allegations at the UNDP said there was a history of UNDP internal reviews avoiding “naming names”.

“No one is accountable, no one is responsible. The UNDP lets itself off the hook,” the person said, also asking not to be named. “These funds are intended for the poorest of the poor . . . at what point will donors [to the GEF] decide to suspend funding?”

Transparency International’s Böhmer said governance at the GEF had improved in recent years, but noted that the GEF had limited authority over UNDP projects, which are implemented according to UNDP standards. Böhmer has not seen the audit of the UNDP’s GEF projects reviewed by the FT and could not comment on its details.

“When it comes to climate, we need to have much higher standards,” he said. “If it is a project that is supposed to help an affected population adapt, then this is like penalizing them twice.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques