UN Wanted Affordable Housing, Got a Pop Song Instead

In some corners of the UN, bad ideas have too much room to grow
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2022 4:25 PM CDT
At a UN Agency, Big Budgets and a 'Culture of Impunity'
Grete Faremo, UN Under-Secretary General and UNOPS Executive Director speaks during the opening of the United Nation's new Climate Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday, April 26, 2022. She stepped down Sunday, May 8, amid revelations of squandered aid funding.   (Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

(Newser) – Officials at a UN agency squandered millions of dollars through a demonstrably poor series of decisions, according to a recent New York Times investigation. It was born of good intentions: to build affordable housing in needy areas around the world, along with renewable energy projects. The project gained legs in 2015 at a ritzy diplomat party in Manhattan and ultimately supported production of ocean-themed video games and a pop song, but absolutely zero houses or renewable energy. Per the Times, the Office for Project Services has lost $25 million, perhaps more, but it's difficult to know due to the UN’s grinding and opaque internal review processes.

The story has many bizarre elements, but diplomats and former UN officials say it demonstrates "a culture of impunity among some top leaders, who wield huge budgets with little outside oversight." Project Services is described as a "general contractor to the world," coordinating construction projects for other agencies. It’s not glamorous, and official Grete Faremo "wanted to move away from being a silent partner," the Times reports.

So, Faremo and colleagues diverted funds and tried to establish a "revolutionary in-house investment firm." But they only found one partner, David Kendrick, who used much of the money to discharge existing debt within his international web of companies. The agency also gave a $3 million grant to an ocean awareness group run by Kendrick's 22-year-old daughter. Faremo announced her resignation on Sunday. The UN has clawed back some of the money, but much remains murky, and more details may not be available until the next internal report is released in June 2024. (Read more United Nations stories.)

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