Disquiet is growing among member states of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation [UNWTO] about the way in which a new Secretary General was elected just over a fortnight ago in the Spanish capital Madrid.
Impeccable sources within the UNWTO who have spoken to us on condition they were not named say that members are seriously considering going to court to challenge the appointment of Georgia’s ambassador to Spain, Zurab Pololikashvili who polled 18 votes against Africa’s preferred candidate Walter Mzembi who polled 15 in the last and final vote held on the 12th of May at the Melia Castilla Hotel in Madrid.
Pololikashvili is a Permanent Representative of Georgia to the UNWTO and Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Georgia to Spain, Algeria and Morocco. Investigations we have carried out into the UNWTO’s elections may indeed shock the world’s tourism organisation.
According to our impeccable sources, we can now reveal that the appointment of the Georgian had been secretly agreed by the outgoing Secretary General Taleb Rifai who has been in the post for the last 10 years and has been working hand in hand with Ambassador Pololikashvili in Madrid.
Suspicions started spreading around the UNWTO’s headquarters in Madrid when Alain St Ange, Seychelles former Minister of Tourism and Culture was allowed unprecedented time to address the UNWTO Executive Committee shortly before the vote was held in Madrid after he had been forced to reluctantly withdraw his candidature by his country and urged to support the African Union [AU] choice, Walter Mzembi.
The AU has one of the largest blocs in the UNWTO with 10 of the 33 members sitting on the UNWTO Executive Council. In the elections held in Madrid, Spain, where strangely The London Evening Post was denied entry into the hall but which we nevertheless covered from the hotel lobby, Mzembi stood against three other candidates in addition to Ambassador Pololikashvili.
These were Márcio Favilla [Brazil], Jaime Alberto Cabal Sanclemente [Colombia], and Young-shim Dho [South Korea]. Each candidate was allowed a 10-minute presentation to show how they would use the post to advance tourism around the globe. Surprisingly, St Ange, who was at this time no longer a candidate, was given a platform to address the Executive Council for nearly 30 minutes during which he tried to explain how he would have taken the UNWTO forward had he been a candidate.
Why was he given this amount of time and the same not given to the other candidates? The London Evening Post can now reveal that information from impeccable sources have told us that the outgoing UNWTO Secretary General had already made a deal with St Ange, promising to give him a seat in the new administration of Pololikashvili.
If this is true, it is now clear that the chance for Africa to gain the prestigious post of UNWTO Secretary General was lost by the manoeuvring of an African candidate to spoil Africa’s chances.
According to those that were in the room in Madrid where the final voting took place, St Ange portrayed himself and Seychelles which he alluded to as ‘this small island country’, as ‘the helpless victims of an authoritarian African Union, threatening to impose sanctions unless Seychelles complied with its wishes’.
His posturing seems to have damaged Mzembi’s choice by taking away the votes he had garnered after making a forceful and well-detailed presentation of what he intended to do if elected UNWTO Secretary General. While grandstanding at the UNWTO Executive Council, St Ange forgot to mention that the AU had in fact chosen Mzembi as the continent’s sole candidate and had asked all AU member states to back the Zimbabwean.
He also failed to mention that the Seychelles government had urged him to stand down and not go ahead with his candidature. Yet why a candidate who had stood down was given a platform to air his grievances to the UNWTO Executive Committee and thereby downgrade Africa’s candidature, beggars belief.
Our investigations have shown that the UNWTO Secretary General’s post had been decided long before any candidate showed up. What happened in Madrid debigulated the UNWTO’s deportment as a reputable world organisation for it took it to the level of the fiasco that has recently enveloped the Federation of International Football Association where bribes were offered in return for votes to keep senior officials in the posts for years.
There are reports which we could not independently verify, that some UNWTO members were offered exclusive corporate tickets to watch the semi-final of the UEFA championship between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid as well as tickets to attend the final due to be held in Cardiff, Wales in return for votes for a candidate already decided by the UNWTO hierarchy in Madrid.
Pololikashvili is a member of the Spanish football champions, Real Madrid, who will contest the final in Cardiff against Italian champions Juventus. During the UNWTO Regional Commission for Africa meeting that was held in Addis Ababa in April, no less than 17 African Tourism Ministers met with St Ange and appealed to him to withdraw from the race.
If he is given a post in the Pololikashvili cabinet, we are being told that an aggrieved Africa will not allow that to go unchallenged. The Secretary General-elect is set to travel to Chengdu this September to have his appointment ratified by the UNWTO.
There are several voices who now say that Pololikashvili’s endorsement in Chengdu is likely to be challenged, not only by Africa but other member countries in the UNWTO who have since voiced their concern at the way the Georgian gained the votes that clinched the post for him.
The absence of Pololikashvili at the Melia Castilla Hotel in Madrid at the press conference held soon after he was named to succeed Rifai, astounded many. His candidature was so bizarre that many present during the presentation speeches could hardly understand what he was talking about.
One wonders whether his absence at the press conference hosted by Rifai meant he was embarrassed by his win. Reliable sources have told us that consultations are under way across the continent with a view to mounting a challenge to the election result during the forthcoming General Assembly in Chengdu, China which The London Evening Post will cover live.
Instead of the Assembly endorsing the decision of the Executive Council, it may just transpire that that decision will be called into question, and itself put to a vote of all 157 members.
Indications are that discontent with the outcome of the election and indeed the processes leading thereto, has since spread considerably beyond the African continent. The Georgian candidate made the worst presentation, by far to the Executive Council, was barely audible or intelligible in whichever language he was speaking and simply showed no real vision for the way ahead.
Many amongst the European camp were not happy at all with his election, with some openly asking themselves, ‘what have we done?’ The fact that Pololikashvili secured much of his support on the basis of votes to reciprocate Georgian support for other countries’ candidates for other international positions – i.e. with little if any consideration given to the core issue of global tourism – is another very questionable element of his campaign. In summary, therefore, this issue is far from over.
Many believe now that an injustice was done in Madrid with the full connivance of the UNWTO Secretariat and with the incumbent Secretary General pulling the strings. They wonder how a man who has no experience of the tourism industry could be preferred to other candidates, especially the Zimbabwean Tourism Minister who have the experience to run the vital global industry.
A source in the UNWTO told us: “It is an injustice which cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged – and Africa will lead that challenge.”
[By Henry D Gombya]