More Oversight Needed

This Charity Should be More Skeptical of North Korea

11.05.12 5:16 PM ET

"This" refers to Mercy Corps, a four-star Charity Navigator organization that seems to have a naive view of the regime in Pyongyang. The Weekly Standard's Ethan Epstein reports:

In a phone interview with The Weekly Standard, Austin described how Mercy Corps delivers its aid to North Korea. Actually, in point of fact, Austin described how Mercy Corps doesn’t deliver its aid to North Korea: Along with four smaller organizations it leads, it simply ships the goods to a port in the country, where the Korean American Private Exchange Society, an arm of the North Korean foreign ministry, takes delivery and distributes them. Mercy Corps workers are not involved in the distribution. Instead, they are allowed periodic visits to the country to monitor the dispersal and use of the donated goods. But the itinerary is set long before the workers arrive in the country, with no deviations allowed. What’s more, the Mercy Corps workers are chaperoned by members of the North Korean foreign ministry and other officials the entire time they are in the country.

Austin concedes that North Korea is the only country in which Mercy Corps is not allowed to implement its own aid programs—only in North Korea does it simply trust the local regime to do what it says it will do. In every other country that it operates in, no matter how troubled—from Pakistan to Niger, from Burma to Colombia—Mercy Corps has permanent employees who oversee its aid programs. But not in North Korea—the regime won’t allow it. With the exception of infrequent, closely monitored visits, the Kim government has carte blanche to do what it sees fit with the aid. When asked about this stunning lack of oversight, Austin avers, “The [North Korean] government doesn’t take food away, to the best of our knowledge,” before quickly adding, “there’s no evidence of that.”