Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme Erik Solheim announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a row over his travel expenses and internal rule-breaking.
A draft internal UN audit found that Solheim had spent nearly $500,000 (approximately Rs 3.56 crore) on air travel and hotels in 22 months, according to The Guardian. Calling this a “reputation risk”, the audit added it was “contrary to the ethos of carbon emission reduction”. Solheim had “no regard for abiding by the set regulations and rules” and claimed unjustified expenses, the audit added. The final version of the audit has not yet been made public but the draft was leaked to the media.
“The extensive travel patterns of [Solheim] did not set an example for the rest of the staff to follow,” the draft, compiled by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, said. “In 2011 … the secretary general stated that ‘What we demand of others, we must do ourselves’. Such extensive travel therefore presents a reputation risk to the organization, especially [given] that Unep is supposed to be the lead on sustainable environment matters.”
The draft audit also criticised Solheim’s management style and referred to it as “having no regard for abiding by the set regulations and rules, and correspondence seen showed management willingness to circumvent regulations and rules which were termed as ‘bureaucratic’.”
Solheim said he had already paid back money in instances of oversight and has made changes where other rules were broken. Countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden had said they were stopping funding for the UNEP till the Solheim controversy was resolved. Several other countries had also reportedly threatened to hold back millions of dollars of funding.
“On Saturday, I received the final report on the audit of official travel undertaken by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services,” Solheim said in a statement. “As I have maintained throughout this process – I have been and remain – committed to doing what I believe to be in the best interest of UN Environment and the mission we are here to achieve. For this reason, after deep reflection and in close consultation with the Secretary-General, I am stepping down as Executive Director of UN Environment with effect from 22 November 2018.”
“I wanted UN Environment to be a lead agency for reform, even if it raised some questions,” Solheim emailed staff on Tuesday, according to The Guardian. “Doing things differently is never easy and I will depart knowing I never spared a moment in my effort to implement this vision and leave UN Environment more capable and more impactful.”
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has accepted the resignation and appointed UNEP’s Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya as the acting director till a replacement is found.