Greenpeace boss faces damaging scandal as he mourns his father

30 June 2014 - 11:31 By ANDRÉ JURGENS

Greenpeace head Kumi Naidoo is facing a series of damaging scandals at the global environmental watchdog.

And to make matters worse the human rights activist from Durban, executive director of the NGO which has a budget of R4-billion, is mourning the loss of his father in South Africa.

The “rainbow warriors” have had a bruising fortnight, shaken by incidents that have angered supporters, including:

- The unmasking of an employee who lost R55 million of funds in a foreign currency exchange bungle. Greenpeace gets the lion’s share of its funds from individual donors. The group refuses to accept money from corporates or political parties.

- Being labelled as hypocrites after senior executive Pascal Husting was exposed for frequently commuting 400km to work — by aircraft — while the group lobbied for curbs on international air travel.

- Leaked documents showing up lax financial oversight and resistance by staff to restructuring. Naidoo had personally taken responsibility for poor internal communication at Greenpeace, according to the leaks.

Naidoo flew home last week to mourn the loss of his father, Shunmugam Naidoo, who died in Durban on Wednesday.

Speaking on his behalf about the impact of the unfolding drama, Greenpeace International spokesman Mike Townsley said that Naidoo faced enormous challenges at the helm of the organisation: “Kumi is a fabulous, unifying figure but not even Kumi can please all of the people all of the time …. It has not been a good couple of weeks for Greenpeace”.

Townsley said the group had parted ways with the employee who lost R55-million, had accepted responsibility and apologised. “There has been a combination of disappointment and anger but also understanding that human beings and organisations make mistakes. We have witnessed some donor loss. People are angry,” he acknowledged.

On Monday the Guardian exposed frequent flights undertaken by Husting. Naidoo immediately defended the arrangement, saying he had a young family at home in Luxembourg and worked in Amsterdam. More public outrage was vented across Europe.

Townsley said allowing the flights to continue for months was a bad call. “Greenpeace must be seen to walk our talk. Pascal should have never have asked [to fly]. Kumi should never have agreed. It’s a wake-up call we are using to take a good close look at ourselves and ask are there any other compromises that we’ve made.”

Der Speigel reported that Greenpeace was in a “state of upheaval” because of focusing attention on emerging economies in Africa, Brazil, China and India. Naidoo was “rarely present and doesn’t even have his own office” at its headquarters in Amsterdam.

“Gone are the day when you could sit around in a room in Amsterdam, make a plan then set out to address the problem,” said Townsley.

Naidoo earned R1.9-million, including salary, pension contributions and other benefits, according to the group’s annual report for 2012.

The 2013 report, to be released in days, will reflect a deficit of R98.7-million.