8 May 2022- Mukesh Kapila
I listened to Grete Faremo, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) preening herself on 6th May in front of a small group of 25 of her top managers including her Senior Leadership Team, Regional and key Departmental Directors. There was no hint that she had already resigned. Instead, she boasted about all she was doing to right the ship that she herself had wrecked.
But they say that a day is a long time in the affairs of men – and women. And Ms Faremo had already drafted her resignation in a short apologetic message to her worldwide staff in which she admitted that she was responsible for all that went wrong ,and acknowledged that UNOPS cannot move on while she is still there.
Why did it take Ms Faremo so long to shameless cling to office? Many of us had been calling for her resignation since my first article on 4th March. Several other articles followed on my “Flesh and Blood” site documenting the sorry saga of the misconduct, mismanagement, and probable fraud and corruption. All of this happened under the leadership of Ms Faremo, aided and abetted by her personally-appointed groupies at the top of UNOPS.
My writings were only possible because desperate UNOPS staff – present and past – trusted me to give them a voice on the terrible and systematic wrongs they had suffered for many years, including intimidation, harassment, and worse. That was on top of UNOPS cheating donors and robbing the world’s poor through its greedy, profiteering business practices.
These pieces were dismissed by the arrogant Ms Faremo and her coterie as just from a blogger, and not worthy of being taken seriously in terms of the grave issues raised. She was wrong; accountability and justice may often be slow but they cannot be avoided if there are enough determined people with the willingness to make a stand. My profound thanks to UNOPS personnel for their courage in providing me with overwhelming – at times, painful – evidence that emboldened me to write with clarity and conviction.
Ms Faremo’s own United Nations bosses had also been calling for her resignation, but she had rejected their plea to go in a dignified manner. Now she is forced to do so, in disgrace. Today’s brilliant story in the New York Times summarised the whole scandal very well, leaving no leaf under which Ms Faremo could crawl.
Her own Senior Leadership Team – that she suborned into criminal mismanagement – are also thinking of leaving. They would be wise to do so – because they cannot be allowed to stay on, as they are central figures in the debacle at UNOPS. One of them, Mr Bruce McKerrow, acting head of S3i, has already resigned but is planning to shamelessly cling on till the end of June. He must go now as should the others. Other senior functionaries and directors named in my previous writings must also go because they proactively enabled the misconduct and mismanagement at UNOPS, or failed egregiously to uphold UN norms and values in doing their jobs.
What happens next? The UN Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guterres will appoint an interim executive director. This is expected imminently. Ms Faremo is boasting that she has recommended some names, including some of her own tainted senior staff and her close friends.
Mr Guterres would be extremely unwise to accept any of Ms Faremo’s self-serving recommendations. That will not help in restoring trust and confidence in UNOPS nor in the wider UN. The ad interim executive director should be someone independent who could hold the fort while the substantive successor is appointed after consultation with UNOPS stakeholders, including its Executive Board.
The departure of Grete Faremo does not close the chapter on this saga. It is only the first step along the long road towards extracting full accountability from all concerned with the egregious wrongs and abuses committed at UNOPS. Only then will the right lessons be learnt and appropriate changes made to return UNOPS to its rightful role as a key, trusted partner in the global development struggle.