EU to criticize UN food agency for pushing back internal review

The European Union is set to put pressure on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization over its move to push back an independent review of its management until after the agency holds its next leadership election in July 2023.

Auditors from the U.N.’s Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) had just begun their work looking at how FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu has managed the agency since taking charge in 2019 when, in 2021, the FAO chief called it off.

“We are concerned to learn of the postponement of the review. FAO’s request to defer the review is without precedent,” Céline Jurgensen, France’s ambassador to the U.N. agencies in Rome, will say on behalf of the EU at a meeting of the FAO executive body in Rome on Thursday evening, according to an advanced copy of her remarks dated June 13 and seen by POLITICO.

Qu has asked to delay an independent U.N. review until spring 2024, by which point he may have won reelection to serve another four-year term. Western countries have been concerned that the leadership of Qu, who is Chinese, is indicative of Beijing’s tightening grip on a prestigious — and crucial — agency amid a global food crisis.

“We urge FAO to respect the due processes of the JIU and their contribution to better governance, accountability, transparency and efficiency of the entire U.N. system,” Jurgensen will say, adding that countries were not informed in advance of the FAO’s request to delay the review.

The JIU suspended the review in January and in June — in a letter seen by POLITICO — accused the FAO management of “inaccuracies and omissions” in its official summary of the saga so far. The letter added that it “is not for the organization’s management to unilaterally” defer a review and that it had not been mutually agreed, as the FAO’s version of events had indicated.

In a letter in response, also seen by POLITICO, Qu rejected the charge that the FAO management took that decision single handedly, and said he wanted the JIU to find a new date.

Around 20 countries — mostly EU members but also countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea and India — requested a debate on the review be put on the agenda for the FAO Council meeting in Rome this week.

An FAO spokesperson said in response to a request for comment that “the deliberations and decisions of the FAO Council can be followed by webcast.”

This article has been updated with a response from an FAO spokesperson.