EXCLUSIVE: The newly appointed chief information officer of UNICEF has abruptly resigned from the job he officially took up at the beginning of January. His departure came days after Fox News raised questions about the selection process that had gotten him the post.
The UNICEF CIO, Paul van Essche resigned “for personal reasons,” a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund told Fox News. “We wish him well in his future career.”
The quick exit is Van Essche’s second departure from a top U.N. info-tech post.
In August, 2011, he ended a three-year term as project director of a still unfinished computerized U.N. financial management system known as Umoja (Swahili for Unity), amid a growing chorus of criticism about the project’s extensive—and expensive-- difficulties and delays in execution.
Months after his departure from the Umoja position, the system that was touted as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to transform the U.N. was judged to be least $100 million over budget at $315 million, and two years behind its planned 2013 completion date, with the delay described as a “failure in management of the project” under the aegis of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
At the time, the U.N.’s chief financial oversight advisory committee declared that it was “deeply disturbed and dismayed by the apparent lack of awareness and foreknowledge in the Organization as to the actual status of the project, which, in its view, points to the inadequacy of the project governance, oversight and reporting arrangements.”
Most of Umoja’s many problems, the advisory committee declared, “could have been foreseen and avoided through proper project planning and prompt management action.”
Umoja is still incomplete. Its long-overdue starting date has been turned into a phased series of unveilings now scheduled to take place from 2016 to 2018. Its current cost is estimated to be $378, million—up from its most recent budget of $348 million, and last fall it was considered likely to run up a further tab that auditors declared was “still unknown.”
The UNICEF job that van Essche briefly held was advertised last June., and the fact that he had taken the job was announced on the website of his personal consultancy, Paul van Essche and Associates, in December.
According to a UNICEF spokesperson, he was chosen for the position “through UNICEF’s standard, competitive procedures for recruitment of senior officials.”
The selection process “included a competitive application, assessment by a panel and recommendation to the executive head” of UNICEF, Anthony Lake. The spokesperson did not reveal how many other candidates were considered in the final selection for the job.
Among the responsibilities van Essche was hired to fulfill was to “provide strategic leadership and overall direction to all Information and Communication Technology (ICT) activities in support of UNICEF’s programs, and “drive the continual transformation of the ICT function” at the organization.
According to the UNICEF spokesperson, “a senior UNICEF colleague has temporarily assumed the interim Director role until the position is filled.”
Fox News attempts to reach van Essche through his corporate website and colleagues in his consultancy were unavailing.