Published: Fri, November 23, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Under-fire UN environment chief Erik Solheim resigns

Under-fire UN environment chief Erik Solheim resigns

"It is my most honest hope that this proves to be in the best interest of U.N. Environment and the wider U.N." he said.

The former Norwegian diplomat, politician and environment minister announced on the UN Environment Programme's website that he would step down Thursday after receiving the final report of the audit of his official travel by the UN's internal watchdog on Saturday.

Sources at the UN Environment Programme (Unep) said that countries unhappy with Solheim's conduct were holding back tens of millions of dollars, threatening a financial crisis at the body.

In a report, The New York Times said the audit of official travel undertaken by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services cited "uneconomical routing of flight itineraries, opting for more expensive airlines, implementation of teleworking arrangements that were outside the existing policy on flexible working arrangements".

Solheim, a former Norwegian environment minister known as the "green politician", was recently criticized for his extensive traveling and management practices, media reports said, citing a leaked United Nations draft audit.

A United Nations audit found that Solheim had spent almost US$500 million (S$680 million) on travel and that he claimed unjustified expenses at a time when the world body is struggling with shrinking budgets.

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Solheim's resignation as UNEP executive director was accepted by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday.

The OIOS audit report also criticised Erik Solheim's for "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". The audit found he had travelled for 529 out of the 668 days audited.

He had allegedly spent 79 per cent of his time at places other than the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, the newspaper said quoting the report.

The UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services had questioned the need for such extensive travel by Solheim. "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".

Guterres said that Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya will be acting director while a recruitment process is launched for a successor - a process that will include discussions with member states.

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