In $60-million UN scandal, a $2.5-million housing investment in Goa — and no house to show for it

A $60-million scandal involving loans and grants by a little-known UN agency also included a $2.5 million investment to build affordable houses in India in 2019 — none of which have materialised yet.

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which deals with operational projects, had entrusted the entire sum to a single British businessman and now faces $22 million in bad debts, as per a New York Times Report earlier this month.

A Singapore-based firm, owned by the businessman, David Kendrick, was in charge of getting at least 50,000 houses built in Goa for $2.5 million, UN documents show.

A couple in Delhi, Amit Gupta and Arti Jain, are the directors of this firm — Sustainable Housing Solutions (SHS) Holdings Pvt Ltd — that has little to show in its books, registering zero revenue and Rs 27,289 in losses in 2020-21.

The project was under the Sustainable Infrastructure Impact Investments (S3I) initiative, launched in 2018, which is now being probed by the UN for allocating all its funding to companies linked to Kendrick. The head of UNOPS, Grete Faremo, also stepped down earlier this month over the issue that has embarrassed the world body.

Gupta, who is the CEO of SHS, told The Indian Express that the project had been shelved .

A senior Goa government official confirmed to The Indian Express that a presentation was made to officials by SHS Holdings for the construction of the proposed housing units in Goa.

However, officials had questioned how supporting infrastructure like power and roads would be made available for the housing units also. They also had reservations about how the government could award such a large housing project to a private firm without a tendering project, said this official, requesting anonymity.

“No land was identified for the project. In fact, the discussions did not even reach the stage where the fund-sharing pattern for the project was discussed,” the official said.

Gupta claimed that it was the Goa government that had approached UNOPS

“There was an agreement with the Goa government in February 2019 and then there was a supplementary agreement signed in March 2019. We sent some follow-up mails after that because the state was supposed to allot land to us. We followed up till August-September 2019. When we did not get a response, we were told by UNOPS that it was Goa that wanted these houses to be built and that if they don’t want to follow up, we don’t have to either. Whenever they want to come in, they can. We left it there at that point in time.”

State government officials, however, said no such proposal had been made to UNOPS and had that been the case, the project would not have been shelved.

Sources said that discussions last took place with SHS Holdings in February 2019, and that the file was shelved after the death of then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar the same year. At least a couple of meetings were held with SHS India officials but nobody from UNOPS had met government officials, they said.

While the former chief of UNOPS, Faremo, had said in 2019 that 50,000 affordable houses would be built in India, a 2020-2021 internal UN audit document put that number at 100,000.

Asked if houses are being built by SHS in other states, Gupta admitted that none had been made, but said it was due to the pandemic and added that discussions are still ongoing with some governments. “There were other projects as well that we have been discussing, we have been working out with the UN. But there is no press release on them. It all depends upon the UN, when they want to declare the other projects that we have been working on.”

He claimed that all information regarding expenditure for the UNOPS projects is shared with the agency “on a monthly basis”, and that the UN investigation regarding the loans “has not come to him”.

Asked about the firm’s lack of business, Gupta said: “When we formed SHS India, there were a lot of matters with regards to compliances and everything, so all the expenditure we have been doing in SHS India has all been done through our holding company. No expense has been done through SHS Projects so far… because the compliance wasn’t complete on this company.”

UNOPS gave nearly US$60 million to Kendrick, and his daughter, Daisy Kendrick for wind farms, sustainable housing projects and a video for the agency by a pop star. An internal investigation into the transactions was completed on May 10.

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