United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Erik Solheim resigned after an audit report revealed that he spent millions of shillings on unnecessary and unbudgeted travel expenses.
Mr Solheim, who in September said the audit was not an investigation, announced on Tuesday that he had decided to resign after receiving the final report on Saturday.
Mr Solheim incurred $488,519 (Sh49.9 million) in travel expenses between May 2016 and March 2018, spent 529 days of his 22 months as head of UNEP globetrotting “resulting in an absence rate from his duty station of 79 per cent”.
He travelled extensively around the world, visiting top cities such as Paris and his home country Norway.
“For this reason, after deep reflection and in close consuation with the secretary general, I am stepping down as executive director of UNEP with effect from November 22,” said Mr Solheim in a statement addressed to staff.
The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which conducted the audit, recommended that Mr Solheim should refund “all travel costs and related staff time not accounted for and all additional costs incurred by UNEP as a result of uneconomical and inefficient decisions made by management”.
In reviewing the travel expenditure, OIOS noted that three senior managers travelled extensively during the period under review resulting in total travel costs of $740,893 (Sh75.6 million).
Furthermore, the audit found that Mr Solheim reviewed and re-routed his travels to include multiple stops in either Paris or Oslo resulting in increased costs.
Mr Solheim, in a September e-mail to staff, had sought to downplay the report and justify the travel expenditure.
He said that as a team working on urgent environmental challenges the job ‘‘requires global commitment to unprecedented action, driven by new levels of personal action and political will’’.
Mr Solheim argued that real results could only be achieved in close dialogue with member states, businesses and civil society. He downplayed the leaked audit report as “draft notes” that laid ground for consultations between the Office of Internal Oversight Services and UNEP, adding that it might contain misunderstandings or inaccuracies.