Monday, 25 February 2013

A redacted abuse of power

In the past few years I found myself working on behalf of a company accredited by the UN to audit Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects. Since this is all about giving credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions this process needs to be trustworthy. The body which has the final say on whether projects are approved, and whether a company can be accredited to act on their behalf, is the Executive Board (EB) of the CDM.

What follows is a redacted account of fairly recent goings on.

In late spring last year the EB approved a change in the management structure at xxxxxx xxxx that left xxxx xxxxxxx as not only the majority shareholder but also the CEO and Chairman. In addition it turns out that under local laws he's also the sole company director. The risks of this concentration of power strike me as obvious but apparently weren't to the EB.

Since its formation appointments to xxxx xxxxx were made on a personal basis by the CEO or on direct recommendation from one or two other colleagues. This meant that everyone in the Company, myself included, was in some way directly beholden to the CEO for their position and continued employment. The obvious side effect was for people to keep their heads down.

Later that year xxxx xxxxxx  had its first working site visit by the Accreditation Team (led by xxxxx xxxxxxx supported by xxxxx xxxxxx). Cutting a long story short, during the build up to this visit I witnessed attempts by the CEO to get admin staff to fake clients signatures, I discovered that Perfomance Reviews (the responsibility of the CEO) had been faked and that people's signatures had been used without their permission. I was also able to confirm that the CEO was still using fake professional qualifications (A Bachelors degree, a Masters degree and a PhD all from the non existent Middleham University)

I was extremely disturbed by these findings and, had the management structure been different, would have taken them to the Company Chairman. Instead, after consultation with a small number of colleagues, I decided to try to warn the approaching Accreditation Team so that they could uncover things for themselves without implicating any of the existing, and vulnerable, staff. I did this by writing to the Vice Chair of the EB. I've had confirmation that this letter was received but have never had any response.

By the time of the actual site visit I'd seen even more of the abusive way in which the company was being run and found myself in such an agitated state of mind that when the lead assessor happened to ask me a question about xxxx's qualifications (he was interested in what was meant by a degree by correspondence and had asked me because the qualifications were from what appeared to be a British University) I found myself blurting out that that particular institution didn't exist.

As you can imagine, this disclosure didn't go down particularly well with xxxx and, having repeated my allegations about other fraud in front of both members of the Accreditation Team as well as xxxx himself, was relieved to be able to leave xxxx xxxxx that very evening. As was to be expected I have been dismissed.

Since then, I've been waiting for painfully slow due process to take its course. My chief regret on leaving xxxxx xxxxxx wasn't for the loss of income but the knowledge that I'd probably lose contact with the many decent and committed people I've come to know through my involvement with the CDM.

I'm lucky that I can live comfortably without a lot of money, and am hardly destitute, but there was something exciting about engaging directly with the wilder world whilst at the same time sitting at my kitchen table and looking out over the Scarborough skyline.

From my very first involvement with xxxxx I always knew that he cared far more about money than the environment but I also knew that, despite probably being a bit dodgy, he possessed the kind of energy and personal commitment that would be needed to get a company like xxxx xxxxxxx off the ground. However, being the right person to get something going doesn't necessarily mean you're the right person to run it when it is. Had anyone else in the Company behaved as he did then they would quite rightly have been dismissed. If nothing else, the CDM is built upon trust and in my naive way I think that you can only trust a company if you can trust it from bottom to top.

xxxx may be the majority shareholder but 45% of the shares are in other hands. It now turns out that these other shareholders have been sent legal letters warning them off attempting to interfere with the Company. After  I left a number of employees asked me if I'd be a Skype contact. They've now been told that this is a disciplinary offence.

I'm expecting the xxxx xxxxxx case to be considered at the EB meeting in March 2013. My initial thoughts were that they'd have no choice but to say that the couldn't accredit the Company as long as xxxx played a role in its day to day management. Given the obvious desire to have an accredited company in its particular part of the world I think it likely that they'll do a disservice to the region by not expecting the same standards of governance as they would elsewhere and will brush the matter under the carpet. Let's hope that I'm wrong.

it's not much of a story that "Businessman abuses power over employees" but "UN is complicit in the abuse of power" may be.

UPDATE March 14th 2013. The EB has spoken. New post "Power speaks to power"

+ I know the title doesn't quite make sense in that its the story that's redacted not the abuse of power but if I change the title then the link will change and I've already posted it to too many people.

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