UNWTO’s new Letter to its Member States: Breaching the Standards of Conduct

Desperate needs lead to desperate deeds for UNWTO Secretary General Zurab Pololikashvili

This is the first time UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili reacted or responded to an eTurboNews article.

His response however did not go to the editor, but to all UNWTO Member States. His letter with an addendum was sent on Friday, just days before a controversial secret vote designed to re-elect Pololikashvili for another term as UNWTO Secretary-General. The vote is scheduled for December 3 during the upcoming UNWTO General Assembly in Madrid.

The Secretary-General was “trying to clarify” the critical remarks made by the UNWTO Ethics Officer in the report to the UNWTO General Assembly and the open letter sent by former high-level UNWTO officials about the Ethics Officers report on management culture and practices in UNWTO.

This was followed by the initiative taken by Costa Rica to request a secret ballot for the upcoming UNWTO confirmation hearing for the Secretary-General re-appointment.

Zurab Pololikashvili clearly feels under threat of not being able to secure his second term as UNWTO Secretary-General.

Recent History and References:

In his letter, Pololikashvili writes that under the tenure of the former UNWTO representatives, irregularities were made.

However, in none of the annual audit reports prepared by auditors from the UNWTO Member States any irregularities had been reported.

His reference in the recent letter to member states is a false accusation towards former management and staff, and symbolic of the way how Zurab has been accusing former management and staff from the moment he took office.

This created a very bad atmosphere in the organization and started a culture of harassment and intimidation of many good (former) staff members.

Institutionalizing Corruption and Manipulation

Since Zurab Pololikashvili took office, UNWTO has been making many attempts to institutionalize corruption and manipulation, pretending that all internal procedures are exactly followed, e.g. with recruitment and procurement processes. However, in reality, Pololikashvili made sure that recruitment and procurement committees at the UNWTO were only composed of his good friends, who would take any decision he wanted.

Establishing an internal oversight position by appointing an internal ethics officer was clearly designed to have more control over complaints made by staff members.

It was also designed to intimidate staff members that wanted to report issues.

Under the previous management, there used to be an external ethics officer who had a much more neutral and independent position.

During the first months in office, Pololikashvili changed the process to an internal ethics position.

He felt that through an internal ethics officer it would be easier to exercise pressure to withdraw complaints when necessary.

Threatened by the report of the ethics officer and the open letter from former high-level UNWTO officials Pololikashvili quickly sent out a letter to all UNWTO Member States and prepared an addendum to the HR report reflecting on the critical remarks of the UNWTO Ethics Officer.

In a desperate attempt to save his position, he added false accusations to former high-level UNWTO officials.

The letter by the Secretary-General and the addendum have been received with great surprise by tourism ministers in UNWTO member countries.

Before even publishing the letter, eTurboNews received feedback from ministers and leading officials in the tourism sector, expressing concern and embarrassment of Pololikashvili’s reaction.

It is embarrassing that Pololikashvili accuses former high-level UNWTO officials, including two previous secretaries-general of breaching the standards of conduct for international civil servants when they are raising serious concerns about management culture and practices within the UNWTO. 

Does he think that criticism is not allowed in the UN?

In Polokashvili’s perception, loyalty seems to be the same as eliminating criticism. It is precisely this attitude and this intimidating management style that goes against any UN values.

Zurab Pololikashvili prepared this letter and an addendum to the HR report, yet the addendum is full of information about the financial situation in the past ten years.

It did not give any doubts to the concerns raised by the ethics officer. In fact, this type of response clearly demonstrates why the ethics officer made her critical remarks and the former high-level officials decided to send out their open letter.

Pololikashvili takes credit for turning the UNWTO balance sheet from negative into a positive. However, he left out the fact that Saudi Arabia paid UNWTO 5 Million Dollars for establishing a regional UNWTO center in Riyadh. This 5 million Dollar is in addition to the expensive and operation of the center.

The fact that the Ethics Officer includes such alarming and critical remarks in the report to the General Assembly and that so many former high-level UNWTO Officials take the initiative and wrote an open letter addressed to member states clearly shows that there is something seriously wrong in UNWTO.

Pololikashvili’s statement that former UNWTO officials are affecting the unity and solidarity of UNWTO is absurd. Knowing that he himself ever since he took office has been responsible for the unity and solidarity of the Organization to be destroyed by so many conflicts and controversies he initiated.

The ethics officer and former UNWTO officials need to be praised for taking the action that exposed Zurab.

You cannot get a clear idea of what explanation he is trying to give in his recent letter to member states.

You only read noise, false accusations, and some yelling, a reaction that is unbecoming for a Secretary-General of a UN Agency.

UNWTO Interference in the upcoming Election Process

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili and UNWTO Legal Advisor and Staff Member Alicia Gomez just seen with the Mozambique Ambassador in Madrid

While doubts about the confirmation of Pololikashvili’s second term as UNWTO Secretary-General are building up, eTurboNews learned that some UNWTO officials are actively collaborating with Pololikashvili to contact member states. They try to put pressure on delegates or make deals to secure votes in favor of Pololikashvili’s re-appointment.

If anything goes against the code of conduct for international civil servants, it is this interference in this UN election procedure.  UNWTO staff needs to remain impartial at all times, especially when it comes to elections.

Concerns have also been expressed that Pololikashvili is actively trying to facilitate deals that member states that cannot send representatives to the General Assembly in Madrid will allow other members that are close to Pololikashvili to vote on their behalf.

The coming two weeks will be crucial for the future of UNWTO and the much-needed guidance this organization should give to the world tourism recovery process.

It is essential that the member states stay alert and fully informed on the decisions to be taken and the voting processes in progress at the upcoming General Assembly. This is the only way it can be ensured that the General Assembly will initiate the process to build back a stronger UNWTO.
This would be in the interest of all UNWTO member states and the many organizations, entrepreneurs, and employees working with UNWTO in the travel and tourism sector.

The UNWTO Secretary-General should equally serve all member states, not only the ones the Secretary-General relies on to be re-elected.

Comments by ministers:

Incompetence and lack of quality advocacy on behalf of the industry in the most challenging moment in our history. Zurab has been vindictive and discourteous to individuals and organizations he deems unsupportive of his policies and programs in the process alienating long-standing partners and thereby weakening the UNWTO. He is inarticulate dull and even indolent! The UNWTO deserved better!!

His letter confirms his view of a closed organization not controllable outside.It was expected he should react.

No mention at all in his letter about the report of the ethics officer which is mainly what the open letter refers to and is a public document. No justification why he kept the date for the executive council in January when FITUR was moved from January to May. 

He is very well aware about the degree of manipulation only designed to position him for his confirmation.

His letter is intimidation to the critics and other member states that want to challenge him.

He is a disaster and a failure!

He is using this platform to prepare himself to be the Prime Minister of his country, Georgia.

Why did he appoint a CFO from Georgia, that a direct influence on the financial affairs of UNWTO by bringing someone from his country?

He goes to small counties trying to give them a token of a favors or bribe them so they can vote for him.

This time he must be removed otherwise the majority of member states will get a raw deal for their counties.

There could be a mass withdrawal of serious members. UNWTO may become another ineffective and useless UN agency, if he is confirmed and continues.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili

Zurab Pololikashvili’s letter referred to in this article:

Madrid, 19 November 2021
Dear Member States,

I hope that my communication finds you well. I have the honour to address you in order to inform you that I am deeply saddened by the recent communications made by former UNWTO staff members published on certain media. At a time when the whole tourism sector is struggling with the devastating consequences of the pandemic and the World Tourism Organization is calling for unity and solidarity, its work is being constantly being disrupted by a series of unfounded accusations by former UNWTO senior staff.

Unfortunately, these publications made through public letters and on youtube.com[1] undermine the transparency and credibility of the Organization, which is currently working hard on the preparation of the forthcoming General Assembly in Madrid. They also affect the UNWTO Member States who want to see the Organization strong and united, and call into question the legitimacy of the decision-making process of its Governing Bodies. This is the reason why I cannot keep silent anymore and feel obliged to respond.

Breaching the standards of conduct of international civil service
The accusations made by the former UNWTO personnel are disheartening and alarming, in particular, taking into consideration that, having served for the Organization for years, they, better than anyone, should protect and defend its image and integrity. Upon the formalization of contractual relations with UNWTO, any staff member, including myself, pledged not to unduly interfere in the affairs of the Organization and those of its Governing Bodies during his/her tenure and after the termination of the employment relationship. Unfortunately, in the build-up to our General Assembly this pledge has been broken, not only once, but on several occasions. I deplore that such attacks are nothing more than a sustained attempt to manipulate and hinder the decision-making processes of the Organization, as established in its Statutes. It is even more disturbing when during the tenure of the former UNWTO representatives, signatories of an open letter, irregularities were made and many important Member States withdrew, a situation which the Organization has been trying to remedy since that time.

Ignoring the sovereignty of the Governing Bodies

The election procedure and timetable for the nomination by the Executive Council of a candidate to be presented to the General Assembly falls within the purview of the Executive Council itself. Said procedure and timetable, adopted by the Executive Council at its 112th session, as well as the date and venue of the 113th session, were strictly followed and fully complied with by the Secretariat, including the receipt, opening and review of applications,  procedure done in close cooperation with the Representative of the Chair of the 113th session of the Executive Council.
Intoxicating through the media

Furthermore, UNWTO has a record of legal actions initiated against the chosen media outlet for illegal and unauthorized use of UNWTO signs (2017), unauthorized recordings and publication of the sessions of the UNWTO Governing Bodies (2017-2018); and defamation against the staff members of the Organization who do not hold public official functions (2019).

At this stage I am dutybound to reserve some of the information under legal privilege, to avoid jeopardizing ongoing proceedings initiated in 2018 against some of the signatories of the letter and to protect the reputation of the Organization. These proceedings were launched after the first ever audit carried out by an external entity, KPMG, at my request upon my taking office, in order to identify potential remedies to a severe financial deficit of the Organization, which undermined UNWTO’s service to its Members and fulfilling its mandate.
Communication with UNWTO

The decision of some Member States to communicate unilaterally through a certain media outlet is of particular concern. UNWTO is your organization, one that serves its Members, and is always open for any clarifications expressed in an appropriate form by its Member States, as provided in the constituent treaty of UNWTO. It is the integrity of all and the decision-making processes through our Governing Bodies that I encourage to be respected. As established in the Statutes of the Organization, to which all Member States have adhered, these are the appropriate fora to debate and discuss organizational matters by all Members of the Organization. This is an essential principle to ensure the correct functioning of the organs and their decision-making processes as well as the interests and the institutional image of the Organization.

With regards to the unfounded allegations, I wish to draw your attention to the clarifications provided by the Secretariat in the addendum to document A/24/5(c) submitted for consideration by the General Assembly. You will find all the necessary information concerning the unprecedented efforts made since 2018 to progressively strengthen the transparency and accountability of the Organization and to establish an internal oversight function which before 2018 did not find the required support by previous Management.

Dear Member States, please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.

Zurab Pololikashvili

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