Joint Statement at the Annual Session of the UNOPS Executive Board

Ambassador Chris LuU.S. Representative for UN Management and ReformNew York, New YorkJune 6, 2022


Thank you, Madam President.

I deliver this statement on behalf of the following countries Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Moldova, Kingdom of Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and my own country, the United States of America.

At the outset, we commend your leadership in guiding the Executive Board through this challenging time in its relationship with UNOPS.

We look forward to working with you and the Bureau to support UNOPS to accept responsibility for failures in its internal systems, reform governance and oversight systems, and restore trust and credibility with the Executive Board and the public.

That said, we stress the following:

  • We remain deeply concerned about how UNOPS’ leadership allowed mishandling of the Sustainable Investment in Infrastructure Initiative (S3i) to jeopardize the reputation of the organization and the wider UN development system.
  • We remain deeply concerned that information about financial mismanagement did not come from UNOPS leadership but rather from the Board of Auditors, ACABQ, the JIU, internal auditors, online bloggers, and the media.
  • It is regrettable that the UN and UNOPS have allowed these allegations to damage its credibility in such a public manner – and deflected requests and opportunities to provide a full accounting to the Executive Board and the public.

We thank Interim Executive Director, Jens Wandel, for his humility, sincerity, and proactive communication in engaging the Executive Board since taking on his role. We rely on his expertise and reform-minded approach to facilitate our efforts to move forward in the spirit of mutual respect and partnership, with full transparency and accountability for what has transpired.

Looking to the future, we call for:

  • The suspension of new S3i investments pending further instruction from the Executive Board;
  • A clear accounting of all current S3i investments;
  • Accountability towards the governments and populations that were negatively impacted by the mismanagement of S3i;
  • Robust efforts to recover all funds lost through S3i investments and a timeline for those actions;
  • Assurances that the failings around S3i did not corrupt the integrity of the rest of UNOPS portfolio and project delivery;
  • Assurances that full accountability, including any appropriate disciplinary action, for wrongdoing within UNOPS will be fully pursued;
  • The transfer of all UNOPS cash back into the Operational Reserve and no further transfers from it to other reserves until further notice from the Executive Board;
  • The creation of an expert Working Group to provide recommendations to the Executive Board regarding (1) the use of funds recovered from S3i defaults and returns on investments, (2) the use of existing and future reserves over and above the amount permitted by the Executive Board, and (3) how to increase transparency around UNOPS management fees and costing structure;
  • A third-party assessment of the UNOPS portfolio and internal controls, including those related to S3i;
  • Strengthened ethics and internal audit and investigation functions, including reinforced independence;
  • A plan for UNOPS to address all outstanding recommendations from the Board of Auditors, ACABQ, and the JIU;
  • Full transparency and accessibility regarding UNOPS whistleblower protections, including an updated policy to protect whistleblowers from retaliation;
  • Ensuring there is space for UNOPS staff to raise concerns and engage with leadership, in addition to formal whistleblower channels; and
  • The release of the OIOS investigation report as soon as possible.

We seek full support from UNOPS and the Executive Board to address this set of issues comprehensively, all of which is being considered in Executive Board decisions that seek to address and eliminate the root cause and vulnerabilities that enabled these mishandlings within UNOPS. We expect these actions to strengthen and improve management within UNOPS and enable a smooth, effective, and constructive transition to a new Executive Director.

We should not forget the key role that the UN Development System plays in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The Executive Board seeks solutions that avoid a situation where issues within UNOPS exacerbate UN efforts to deliver on its development commitments in an increasingly complex global environment. Now, more than ever, it is important that the UN demonstrate its effectiveness. This includes a reliable and efficient UNOPS that can deliver on its mandate and support the world’s most vulnerable populations.

We look to your leadership, Mr. Wandel, in the coming months to address the Executive Board’s concerns swiftly, but also comprehensively, transparently, and accountability. We hope that the Executive Board’s instructions leave no doubt as to our expectations and we hope you will continue to seek clarification and guidance from the Executive Board, as needed.

While the coming months will require significant work by Executive Board members, Member States, and UNOPS, we expect these efforts, with full cooperation from you and your leadership team, will help reestablish the trust and confidence between UNOPS and its employees, its Executive Board, and its partners – both program countries and donors.

Let’s get to work.

Thank you.