Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS – Special Session 2022 Item 2: UNOPS

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Joint Statement delivered by Permanent Representative, H.E. Ms. Carolyn Schwalger

Thank you, Madam President.

I am delivering this statement on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, European Union as a donor, Finland, Germany, France, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, the United States and my own delegation, Aotearoa New Zealand.

A culture of fear, abuse of power by top management, red flags of fraud clearly present but ignored, hollowed-out internal governance, top-down management culture, ignorance of internal rules and regulations, absence of segregation of responsibilities, and oversight functions unable to operate independently.

Madam President, the findings of the two third party reviews by KPMG depict a bleak image of a UNOPS that was eroded and stripped from the inside out after an unbelievably long period of mismanagement by UNOPS’ former top management, and where warnings insufficiently reached Board Members and UN authorities.

Most importantly, the findings highlight major and structural dysfunctions in the organization.          

This is a tough pill to swallow for all of us here, and a clear call for urgent action and profound reforms to restore trust: internally within UNOPS, by the Board and by governments and other partners worldwide.

We anticipate a long and tough journey to restore trust to necessary levels.

Allow me to make a few remarks on what we think are the most essential steps to take as we embark on this journey of reforming, refocusing and rebuilding.

First and foremost, we demand full accountability, including individual accountability.

It must be made absolutely clear that within the United Nations there is zero tolerance for inaction towards fraud or any other behaviour that is in contravention of our shared UN values and common principles of good governance and stewardship of public finances.

We are eager to hear from the Executive Director ad interim how he, together with OLA, will pursue accountability at all levels, and any plans the Executive Director has to propose necessary further investigations or forensic audits which may be necessary to establish accountability and follow-up actions on the findings in the reviews to get to the bottom of this.

We emphasise that the resignation of any staff member should not prevent full investigations into their actions during their employment at UNOPS, and, if criminal activity is suspected, we expect UNOPS to pass the information on to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.

Failure to prevent or report known wrong-doings should also incur a disciplinary response.

Secondly, we underline the importance for UNOPS of returning to its original mandate of service provider.

Reforms in the governance structure of UNOPS should go hand in hand with a repositioning of the organization to focus on its niche expertise, where it has added value within the UN system.

We see the need for a stronger integration of UNOPS’ activities into the UN system and a clearer and stronger contribution to key UN agendas.

We welcome the commitment of the Executive Director ad interim that he, and his successor, will be bringing UNOPS back to its core mandate of providing infrastructure, procurement and financial and human resources services and to restore UNOPS to a well-balanced organization that does well what is expected of it within its original mandate.

We also welcome the Executive Director ad interim’s commitment to move away from an approach which targets the accumulation of reserves.

Thirdly, we look forward to hearing more about the programme the Executive Director ad interim envisions to tackle culture change within UNOPS at all levels.

We appreciate greatly the unwavering efforts of staff across the globe in challenging contexts.

All UNOPS personnel, including non-staff contractors and consultants, deserve an organization that supports and  protects them, especially in situations in which they report or blow the whistle on (potential) concerns.

Central to this is an organization that implements its core mandate in a transparent and responsible manner, instills UN values from the top down and bottom up, and upholds the standards one expects from the UN.

We expect UNOPS to provide the structures, procedures and an organizational culture where staff feel safe, wherever they serve.

How will the Executive Director ad interim go about rebuilding long-term trust and confidence, including ensuring that a new organizational structure within UNOPS reinforces a culture which is open and free from fear?

And how will such cultural changes be monitored to ensure that the necessary changes take place?

And finally, Madam President, a reflection on the interaction of UNOPS with the Executive Board.

We acknowledge that the review also serves as a mirror for us in our capacity as a governing board with our own responsibility for oversight.

To that end we have already initiated following the Second Regular Session a cross-board initiative for an assessment on how the Executive Board executes its governance and oversight functions, for which the third party reviews we received are valuable input.

We hope our interactions with UNOPS will be frank, open and regular and based on transparent information.

An honest dialogue between the organization and its governing body is essential to restore trust and get UNOPS back on track and keep it fit-for-purpose; and honesty from UNOPS’ former most senior officials could have prevented the current situation.

We expect the current UNOPS management to do its part in this important work.

Let me close by conveying our appreciation for our interaction today and the opportunity to engage on this important topic during this extraordinary session.

There is a lot of work to be done to reform, refocus and rebuild UNOPS, and only one chance to do so well.

A robust and comprehensive action plan with clear timelines, organizational ownership and prioritization for implementation of recommendations, and reliable and timely reporting to the Board, and rebuilding staff morale are a must.

Madam President, we continue to stand ready to assist UNOPS where needed and required. Thank you.


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