UNOPS must stop lying and remove all its fraud-enabling Senior Leadership Team

8 June 2022 – Mukesh Kapila

Finnish Government Director General Titta Maja addresses the UNOPS Executive Board

My previous article described the UNOPS Executive Board briefing on 16th May. It also referenced strong criticisms made by many Member-States who have belatedly recognised the mismanagement, misconduct, and potential fraud at UNOPS. 

Finland was particularly outraged because it was conned into hosting the office of S3i  – the ill-judged UNOPS venture at the centre of the scandal that lost around US $60 million. My article  also quoted Finland’s key questions to which UNOPS’s Acting Executive Director Jens Wandel  responded on 2nd June, to Ms Titta Maja, Director General for Development Policy at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

“When were UNOPS senior leadership informed about the wrong-doings and misconduct? Could you share the records of the UNOPS senior leadership and Engagement Acceptance Committee and other documents?”  

Mr Wendel did not answer the fundamental Finnish government question on when the “UNOPS senior leadership” were informed.  He side-stepped by saying that UNOPS’s Internal Audit and Investigations Group (IAIG) were notified in March 2019 by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) of “a brief anonymous complaint without any evidence”.  

Mr Wandel is being misinformed by his own team, or he is lying.  UNOPS received its first complaint regarding WATO in 2017, the second complaint regarding Worldwide Renewable Energy (WWRE) in 2018 and the third one regarding Sustainable Housing Solutions (SHS) in 2019. As no action was taken by the UNOPS IAIG (directed then by Paul Lucas who is now at the World Bank), the whistleblower went to OIOS in 2019. OIOS staff  took the complaint more seriously, undertook an initial assessment, and recommended a full investigation. However, their boss, Assistant Secretary-General Ben Swanson, decided  to shut down the investigation and “refer the matter back to UNOPS”  i.e., the very people who had failed their duty to examine the original complaints.

Meanwhile, the UNOPS senior leadership ignored this and  proceeded with S3i investments via its oddly-designed ‘special purpose vehicles’. Thus, it is abundantly evident that UNOPS top management were aware of substantial concerns raised several years earlier than what Mr Wandel now claims.

The Finnish government also requested UNOPS to share its records  around  S3i decision-making, but this is ignored by Mr Wandel in his response. What – potentially incriminating – evidence is  hidden in these documents?

Mr Wandel also claims in his letter that the IAIG is “an independent function”. This is disingenuous. UNOPS’s internal compliance functions do not meet recognised international standards, as Mr Wandel has himself admitted when the Board quizzed him. Furthermore,  it has been long recognised  that the IAIG function is appointed by, reports to, and controlled by the Executive Director.

Finland may also note that the same UN  OIOS that initially refused to investigate and then  limited its report only to Mr Vanshelboim is now being invited to Copenhagen to examine UNOPS’s audit and accountability systems. How ‘independent’ and credible will they be? The same concern  applies to the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs charged with the task of recovering the lost money.

“Which date did UNOPS internal audit initiate its investigation on the matter? How does the investigation timeline correspond with the negotiations with Finland? Were the wrong-doings already known by the UNOPS leadership while negotiating with the Finnish government related to the funding to the S3i Helsinki office?

Mr Wandel responds that  an IAIG audit  was proposed in 2020 “to more substantively evaluate S3i investments.”  He explains that  “complaints into WATO/Oceans Generation and Worldwide Renewable Energy/Myra SHS Renewable Energy Srl (an entity owned by the same person as Sustainable Housing Solutions”) led to formal IAIG investigations. In December 2020, the scope of this work widened to include an external forensic audit of SHS affordable housing projects, and a subsequent wider IAIG investigation into all SHS activities commenced in March 2021”.  

Mr Wandel  doesn’t explain why UNOPS commenced the audit exercise only in June 2020 when the alarm was raised much earlier?  He also does not explain why the UNOPS leadership continued to enter commitments with S3i partners that it had started investigating.

Furthermore, Mr Wandel does not say why its audit report has not been published in line with its own information disclosure policy that requires all audit reports to be available on the UNOPS website. Also, why had the vendors under investigation not been  referred to its Vendor Sanctions Committee?

What was the reason why Finland was not informed about these matters and investigations until April this year [2022] despite the obligation to do so in our co-operation agreements?

Mr Wandel acknowledges that the agreement with Finland was signed by UNOPS in May 2020 i.e., before the start of the June 2020 audit exercise. But  UNOPS continued to hide pertinent information from Finland (and other governments) until the potential fraud became widescale media and public knowledge this year.  Mr Wandel could hardly deny such obvious facts and apologises ”for the lack of proactive, timely and transparent information”. 

The person responsible for negotiating with the Finnish government included UNOPS Chief Legal Counsel, James Provenzano, and the person responsible for communicating was Kelley Swift. Both are still employed by UNOPS. Then why does Mr Wandel lie when he says that “as the persons responsible for negotiating and informing the Government of Finland of relevant matters are not available to UNOPS, it would be inappropriate to speculate as to the reasons for them not having  shared the information with you.”  

His response makes no sense when, in the same breath, Mr Wandel also admits that the “previous Executive Office were fully aware of ongoing processes detailed above.”  The Executive Office includes the Senior Leadership Team who regularly met with then Executive Director, Grete Faremo. (See my 16th May article detailing all SLT meetings between  August 2019 and April 2022).   It is fully evident that the SLT were well-informed on all S3i matters  and appear to have deliberately conspired with hiding decision-shaping information from the Finnish government.  

To repeat: Why does Mr Wandel say that “responsible persons are not available” when the SLT members who had their own formal decision/ approval roles are still there: Honore Dainhi, Marianne de la Touche, Nick O’Regan, James Provenzano, Peter Browne?   They are individually and collectively culpable not just for enabling the original mismanagement and fraud around S3i, but also about hiding information around it.

Were the decisions taken by the former Executive Director regarding the WATO initiative based on the advice and recommendations of the senior management team and engagement acceptance committee?

Mr Wandel’s letter ignores this question. Why? Perhaps to protect the SLT members who are still in position, and now part of his own cabinet?  Meanwhile, Finland will recall that today is World Oceans Day,  on which occasion exactly five years ago, the previous UNOPS Executive Director Grete Faremo sang an expensively-made WATO song to an empty UN General Assembly chamber in New York.

The Finnish government’s letter goes on to say that “we emphasise the need to ensure that all involved in the decisions carry their responsibility and are held accountable.”   The Finland representative (speaking also on behalf of Sweden, Norway, Denmark) reiterated this at the Board’s 6th June session. This was also echoed in powerful statements from others, especially by the United States who spoke for 25 other countries  as well as Kenya and several others.

Mr Wandel’s 2nd June letter  is, therefore,  deeply insulting to Finland that had asked reasonable questions but got  prevarications and untruths in response. The matter will not rest there as public and politicians demand full answers, thanks to some fine investigative reporting by Finnish media with English translation here.

How Mr Wandel is handling the UNOPS crisis is baffling. He was initially projected as  UNOPS’s  saviour  thanks to his reputation for personal integrity and expertise in UN reform. He is also refreshingly blunt-spoken and, certainly, he has said the right things at Board meetings. For example, at the Board’s 6th June session. Mr Wandel promised several fundamental changes to rectify the most egregious abuses that accumulated under his predecessor, such as profiteering and excessive reserves, transparency lack, non-independent compliance and oversight arrangements, and full whistle-blower protection. On the face of it, if Mr Wandel is sincere, he deserves to succeed.

But the exchange with Finland shows that how Mr Wandel is going  about his business is troubling.   His most serious vulnerability comes from the flip side of his strengths. He is, at the core, an UN insider – a pillar of the establishment and embedded in its practices and rituals. He appears to be a stranger to boldness. Instead, ingrained in him is the impulse to do the minimum he is pressurised to do, while doing everything to protect the system where he has himself  prospered.  And that may mean hiding the truth or even lying if that would better serve the wider institutional interest. Of course, he is wrong if he does that and, in that sense, Mr Wandel’s values and ethics raise serious concerns.

This is demonstrated in the way he basks in the company of his compromised team – even at Executive Board meetings. He is constantly accompanied there by Chief Legal Counsel James Provenzano who co-designed and gave legal blessing to the original S3i and then approved the dodgy contracts issued under it.  

This is not just bad optics but a serious indictment of the sincerity of Mr Wandel. That is because Mr Provenzano is now in charge of  implementing the recommendations that he had rejected earlier while when he created  his own laws and regulations that derailed UNOPS in such spectacular fashion. As Mr Provenzano  says jauntily in an internal email yesterday:  “Hi all… Jens has asked me to help in accelerating the implementation of all oversight recommendations – UNBOA, IAIG, ACABQ and JIU…. I am looking for a solid analyst who could be available through the summer into the early fall to assist [me].  If you have someone… please let me know. Thanks and best, Jim”.

it appears that Mr Wandel is depending unquestioningly on the same senior UNOPS Senior Leadership Team that brought the agency down. Some of them like Mr Provenzano are his very close associates from before That is a potential conflict-of-interest and risk to Mr Wandel’s personal integrity.  He needs to jettison them by sending all the SLT on administrative leave while getting independent advisors to support him. Otherwise, he is already being dragged down by the coterie who failed  in the first place.

UNOPS has already lost its biggest donors and its reputation among partners is at rock bottom. Its misbehaviours have tainted the whole of the UN system as graphically indicated by Finland suspending all funding to all UN agencies.  Ultimately it is the world’s poor that pay the cost of  the misdeeds of the UNOPS SLT.

Mr Wandel must understand that there is no recovery for the agency without all itsSenior Leadership  Team being held accountable.  Mr Wandel must stop pandering to them and get his reform agenda hijacked by them.  It remains to be seen whether Mr Wandel will clean-up or cover-up at UNOPS as he struggles to nurse this sick organisation.

Published by Mukesh Kapila


73 thoughts on “UNOPS must stop lying and remove all its fraud-enabling Senior Leadership Team

  1. THERE IS SOMETHING ROTTEN IN UNOPS GENEVA TOO. ONE EXAMPLE (there are many issues but let’s start from here): THE SANITATION AND HYGIENE FUND. The Swiss national TV uncovers UNOPS dirt in Geneva in this report that was broadcast in Switzerland on 21 June – same day, quite incredibly, of another interesting report on UN-Whistleblowers by BBC: – and an article on the Guardian – so the 21st of June kicks off a hot summer where accountability, transparency and the protection of whistleblowers within the UN (finally!!!) become HOT TOPICS THAT NEED TO BE DEALT WITH.

    Of course it looks like UNOPS is negatively distinguishing itself even in the middle of these other UN scandals – the Swiss documentary shows how Grete Faremo and Jim Provenzano enabled the SHF scam to be set-up despite an IAIG investigation on multiple illegalities reported by a group of whistleblowers (including the corruption of board members, mismanagement and waste, recruitment abuses of all kinds, harassment, discrimination).

    All whistleblowers and plenty other staff were sacked by the former WSSCC senior management who had grossly mismanaged funds and were unable to raise a penny – andf who despite their failure, found themselves retributed by juicy jobs as directors within the SHF- Sanitation and Hygiene Fund – at the D2, D1 levels for a micro-team where there are more directors than staff, and zero activities going on – 18 months after the set-up, the SHF has not released any report of activity, or financial report.

    Plus, they are LITERALLY HIDING – as you will see in the Swiss report, the address they published online leads to an empty office – no one is there. So, if the S3I is the story of 63 M USD given to a private and his daughter at a mundane cocktail to build social houses that were not built and to have Grete Faremo sing a nice song before an empty UN room, the UNOPS SHF promised to ‘fund government at scale’ to address their sanitation and hygiene priorities and to do so, they were talking about raising billions of dollars, but instead they were abandoned even by 2 out of the 4 traditional donors – Norway and Sweden dropped them because they did not consider their fund a feasible thing – but two donors Holland and Switzerland decided to anyway fund their salaries although in February 2021 IAIG admitted that multiple whistleblowers’ allegations were SUBSTANTIATED.

    But the guys in charge at that time (both British, as it seems) are the same in charge now, meanwhile 90% of the staff was sacked in the middle of the pandemic by UNOPS. So the SHF is broke, UNOPS knew it, yet Grete and Jim Provenzano both covered up.

    So these are the questions to the new DG Mr. Jens Wendel:

    1. For how long, Mr. Wendel, will you keep protecting James Provenzano and the rest of the directors who shamed UNOPS, instead of protecting UNOPS?

    2. How many more shameful articles will we and you have to read, how many shameful TV reports will we have to watch, how many more donors will UNOPS have to lose, before the entire UNOPS SM Team is disbanded to make space for new people, with the necessary qualifications and skills, and the indispensable integrity?

    3. For how long the law of silence will continue to protect the wicked, and punish the wisthleblowers, against the values of the UN charter and the basic rules of decency?




    1. Tip of the iceberg! UNOPS Board should commission a full investigation on how all these so called funds are run. No work is going on there. These are clubs set up to recruit and pay their friends a lot of money.
      Investigators should zoom in to understand who owns the companies contracted by the so called funds.


  2. The upcoming UNOPS GLM is an opportunity to continue brainwashing the UNOPS leaders in the field.
    A PR company was hired to draft Talking Points for all the SLT members to deny their involvement in authorizing funds to the Kendricks.
    PCG has instructed the company that is carrying out the People Survey to manipulate the results
    James be reminded that you are on our radar, and everything you are doing will be exposed.


  3. UNOPS make time to watch that documentary about another self enrichment scheme for UNOPS. Donors should stop their funding immediately.


  4. UNOPS reform is needed urgently. For the The EU IGAD project in Djibouti, the donor was over charged. Some personell were given 8 months contracts but the budget sent to to the donors was for 16 months. Us in the finance department are made to cook up reports to the donors and this unethical. EU and other donors should investigate.


  5. It’s high time for real reforms at UNOPS not the ongoing cosmetics change. What is needed is a truly independent investigative capacity. In the absence of victim and whistleblower protection that is independent from UN entities, I encourage all UNOPS to use this platform or reach out directly to Mukesh.


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