How UNWTO is tainting any United Nations call for fair elections?

Forget COVID-19. Members of the UNWTO Executive Council are on their way to Tbilisi, Georgia to be part of the latest scam and are called on to assist in the manipulation of the upcoming Secretary-General election.

As the international community is looking with great concern at the developments in Belarus following the recent presidential elections, the UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, is taking similar action on manipulating the election process of his organization to raise the bars for his re-election to a second term.

This article explained the attempt by the UNWTO Secretary-General to move the election date from May 2021 to January 2021 with a deadline to position candidates by November 2020.

According to eTN sources, this article had triggered a lot of concerns about the current UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili trying to manipulate procedures to eliminate competition in the upcoming election.

The latest attempt to bring forward the date of the Secretary-General election seems to be another sad example of how Pololikashvili is trying to manage UNWTO for his own benefits and the benefits for a few close friends.

In the rules and procedures of the UNWTO Executive Council, it is clearly indicated that documents have to be posted one month before the opening of the Council session.

Under previous UNWTO leaders, this deadline was always easily met. However, under Pololikashvili on various occasions, relevant documents were only made available at a rather late moment. This is according to the feedback received by some country delegates.

What just happened is particularly shocking according to a source.

To the surprise of the many UNWTO Member States, eTurboNews discovered on 11 September, less than one week before the opening of the upcoming UNWTO Executive Council session later this week, that the document on the election procedure had been changed with the intention to bring the election date forward to January 2021.

It seems rather impossible to move the election to January since the issue of accounting is very important. The books for the fiscal year for 2020  won’t be ready until May 2021. They must be approved before the 2nd council meeting of the year, and before the General Assembly.

Therefore it makes no logical sense to separate the budget approval from the election and squeeze a meeting for January 2021 only for the purpose to elect the new secretary-general early.

It clearly shows the proposed January surprise election meeting and a new deadline to register candidates by November 2020 is only designed to influence the election for Secretary-General and catch everyone by surprise and at a time when it is too late to discuss.

Three tourism ministers were caught by surprise and confirmed this to eTurboNews.

A minister, who is also a member of the executive council told eTurboNews: “Wow this is serious, I will call the SG to find out.”

Another minister told eTurboNews: “I read the document and it’s very strange to move the election to January. It’s the first time it ever happens. The objective is clear.”

A third minister saw the message and responded: “Thank you,”

A top global influencer and journalist from London told eTurboNews off the record: ” My view is let the UNWTO drift off into irrelevance. The WTTC is doing a much better job. Gloria is quoted widely. UNWTO is a waste of space and time. The biggest crisis ever in tourism and all Zurab does is go on a cruise with the Saudis or visit Italy. The man and the organization are irrelevant.”

Strangely the original document announcing the election for an expected May 2021 date was taken off the UNWTO website.

It raises the question if such a change is violating internal procedures and good practices when it comes to election procedures for UN agencies altogether.

Especially on such an important topic, it would be expected from a UN agency to alert its Members on such a  proposed change.

In not doing so it is obviously an attempt to not allow member states to consult both internally and with other member states and voice an opinion to the executive council this week.

By trying to present this change at such a late moment in a rather hidden manner, it is clear that Pololikashvili’s sole objective has been to take critical members by surprise and avoid any discussion on the proposal for such changes.

In the current global crisis due to COVID-19, it would be fair to provide potential candidates even more time to campaign than less time. The current move appears to be highly unethical.

Why is this not surprising?

After an election issue in 2017 at the UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu China, UNWTO agreed to appoint a working group to review the procedures of the elections for the UNWTO Secretary-General. The point was a more active involvement for all members in the election  process.

Dr. Walter Mzembi former Minister of Tourism for Zimbabwe was competing against Zurab Pololikashvili at the 2017 election and alleged fraud and manipulation. The only reason Mzembi did not continue his objection against Zurab’s confirmation at the UNWTO General Assembly Chengdu was a promise he would lead such a working group.  At the General, Assembly Mzembi tried to force a secret ballot in confirming Zurab Pololikashvili. It was feared such a ballot would prevent the confirmation for the Secretary-General.

Almost three years later in his term,  Pololikashvili has made no efforts at all to establish the working group and discuss this topic. Probably he feared it would not be in his interest to create a more open, transparent, and competitive procedure for the election of the UNWTO Secretary-General. Apparently is helped him to be elected in the first place, and he may be counting on slipping into being elected for a second term due to similar limitations in procedures.

On Monday a charter flight will bring UNWTO staff members, representatives, and invited executive council members from Madrid to Tbilisi, Georgia for this week’s UNWTO executive council meeting. Tbilisi is the home town for UNWTO Secretary-General Pololikashvili. He will make sure every voting delegate will have a great time.

Other UNWTO agencies wisely decided to organize meetings virtually, UNWTO however is transporting tourism officials from Spain, one of the number one COVID hotspots in the world to Georgia. Social distancing may be a real issue.

Ever since Pololikashvili took office in 2018 he always took care of Executive Council Members.

This is important since only the executive council members vote. Pololikashvili need these votes for his re-election.

It is remarkable that as soon as Pololikashvili had a possibility to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has only visited Council Members to support and endorse their efforts to re-open the tourism sector. At the same time, other member states felt frustrated by the lack of response from UNWTO and its Secretary-General when asking for support and endorsements.

New appointments for UNWTO senior positions were given to representatives from Council Members for which Pololikashvili expects a vote in return. This is especially the case when this involves relatively young officials, who are expected to stay in UNWTO.

His focus on working with a few member states has made the Secretary-General rather invisible for many countries and partner organizations. Pololikashvili declined many invitations for leading tourism events and forums, where previous UNWTO Secretary Generals always used to speak.

eTurboNews has not been able to ever ask one question. The UNWTO communication officers remain silent to all media requests.

The strong partnership that UNWTO had with the World Travel and Tourism Council has fainted under Pololikashvili, and no more joint efforts are made to lobby for the importance of the tourism sector among world leaders.

Specifically now with COVID-19, such initiatives would have been particularly important in these challenging times. Regularly, representatives from member states and also UNWTO staff have expressed concerns that they feel embarrassed when hearing Pololikashvili speak in public about tourism development.

If the UN allows such election fraud to happen in one of the UN agencies, it will lose all its legitimacy to lobby for democracy and fair elections in member countries. Allowing such a procedural change can have catastrophic consequences for the entire United Nations machinery.

A group of concerned anonymous insiders close to UNWTO had been circulating information and contributed to this information raised in this article. It remains to be seen what countries will give in and support.