As donors increasingly flee Germany's troubled UNICEF chapter, Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a growing chorus of luminaries calling for action in response to accusations of mismanagement.
Critics are asking whether enough UNICEF donations are going to help the needy
UNICEF Germany acknowledged that some 5,000 of its 200,000 regular donors have pulled their support from the charity in response to reports of funding abuses and mismanagement at its highest levels.
The national chairwoman of UNICEF Germany, Heidi Simonis, resigned on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2008, after blowing the whistle late last year on the alleged waste of donor funds collected by the body.
Simonis, a former Social Democrat politician, conceded that her departure after two years in the post was in part due to a bitter row with the head of management at UNICEF Germany, Dietrich Garlichs. She accused Garlichs of failing to face up to allegations of mismanagement.
Pressure on Garlichs mounted on Tuesday, Feb. 5, after the press revealed a petition signed by volunteer workers, including the wife of the mayor of Munich. The petition demanded a crisis meeting to deal with the problems.
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UNICEF ambassador Christiansen demanded changes
"The leadership has to stop its siege mentality and its diversion tactics," the press quoted the petition as saying.
Critics accuse Garlichs of wearing contradictory hats: He is the head of UNICEF Germany, but also sits on its supervisory board, which makes independent oversight difficult.
Television presenter Nina Ruge was among those who signed the petition. She told Bild newspaper co-workers were concerned about the generous salary of a UNICEF worker who was earning 850 euros ($1,244) per day on a two-year contract.
"People have a hard time understanding this," Ruge said.
Independent audit found 'irregularities'
An independent audit carried out last year found no evidence of personal enrichment at UNICEF Germany, but mentioned negligence and irregularities in the running of the organization.
For example, auditors noted that management had in some cases failed to draw up proper contracts for co-workers, relying instead on oral agreements.
Garlichs is currently facing a preliminary investigation for abuse of trust, led by authorities in Cologne where UNICEF Germany is based.
Meanwhile, early on Wednesday, Garlichs admitted to the press that he had made mistakes. There had been "sloppiness" at the management level, he said. And he acknowledged that self-imposed regulations had been broken.
Still, he insisted to Die Welt newspaper: "No laws have been broken."
Merkel urges clarification
Simonis (left) stepped down amid a tiff with manager Garlichs (right)
Merkel's spokesman Thomas Steg told news agencies that the chancellor implored all parties "to shed light on these accusations in order to protect UNICEF Germany's reputation."
UNICEF Germany is one of the biggest contributors to the UN body's budget. It has taken in around 100 million euros annually for the past two years.
Also on Wednesday morning, Germany's ambassador to UNICEF, television-news personality Sabine Christiansen, loudly criticized Garlichs' rule-breaking. She demanded changes in UNICEF's organizational structure and said she wouldn't rule out personal consequences for specific board members.
Prominent figures demand change
Other prominent UNICEF representatives lent Christiansen their support. The manager of the German national soccer team, Oliver Bierhoff, told Bild: "An organization like UNICEF Germany, which takes in 100 million euros per year, has to be led in a professional way."
UNICEF representative Toni Schumacher, onetime goalie for the German national team, demanded the resignation of both the management and supervisory boards. "The people who are responsible should take responsibility and resign," he said.
A spokeswoman for UNICEF, Veronique Taveau, said from Geneva that it was vital to restore supporters' trust in the German chapter.
"We hope that we can put the crisis behind us and move on," she told the AFP news service.