Dr. Taleb Rifai Response to the letter of the UNWTO Executive Council

Dr. Taleb Rifai Response to the letter of the UNWTO Executive Council

 November 26, 2021 

Dear Colleagues and Friends, 

It is with great pleasure that I finally receive a reply to the joint letter I signed with Francesco Frangialli, still in December 2020, on the timing of UNWTO elections to Secretary-General, and I thank the Honorable President of the Council for it. You may recall that in our letter, we proposed the Secretariat to reconsider the January 2021 timing for the 113 Executive Council following the change in dates of FITUR from January to May 2021. 

I cannot but welcome and appreciate the remarks made by the Hon. President of the Council that legality was strictly observed in the decisions of the 112 and 113 Executive Councils. His reassurance is comforting, although we never challenged the legality of either set of decisions: our comments were made from the broader perspective of ensuring the fairness of the whole process.

Let’s recapitulate: 

  1. In September 2020 at the 112 Executive Council in Tbilisi, Georgia, the Executive Council decided to hold its 113th session in Spain in January 2021, within the framework of FITUR, on dates to be confirmed by the host country 1. 
  2. At the same meeting, the Council also approved the timeline for the electoral process, with the deadline for submission of candidacies two months from the EC dates, i.e. November 18, 2020, 2. 
  3. One month after the 112 Executive Council meeting, in October 2020, Spain announced that FITUR was postponed to May 2021 due to the prevailing circumstances. In the press release, the attendance at the meeting of the FITUR organizing committee by UNWTO’s Secretary-General Pololikashvili was recognized 3. Regrettably, the Council’s decision to hold the 113 EC session within the framework of FITUR, on dates to be confirmed, was not followed. 
  4. Following the deadline for applications in November, UNWTO issued on November 23rd a note verbale to Members on the receipt of two compliant candidatures 4. Regrettably, the provision approved at the 112 EC to inform Members by December 15th of the received candidatures has not complied. Further, it appears that regrettably, up to six candidatures were rejected because they have not been able to submit them in full by the deadline. 
  5. It was at that moment, in December 2020, that together with Francesco Frangialli, we suggested the UNWTO community reconsider the timing of the 113 Executive Council 5. We also alerted that holding it on the January dates would trigger a breach of Financial Regulation 14.7 6, as regrettably happened. 
  6.  The 113 Executive Council took place as initially scheduled on January 18 and 19, 2021, with the alternative candidate having had very little time compared with the incumbent to run an effective campaign. In fact, in a social event hosted by the UNWTO on the eve of the council, said candidate regrettably did not attend in protest for the lack of equal opportunities in the campaign. 

Dear friends, I never argued the Council decision was not legal. As Francesco Frangialli recently put it, legality is not enough. In manipulating the process, you can be both legal and immoral 7. 

It is said in academic circles that if a student fails, it is the student’s problem; but if the whole class fails, it is the teacher’s fault. What to say when the deadline for applications was so short that up to 6 external candidatures out of 7 could not be timely complied with? Or why this information on rejected candidatures was withheld from Members, even if the Council had requested information on candidatures received to be disseminated? 

What to say when the only alternative candidate left was confronting an impossible timeframe to the campaign, most of it through the Christmas and New Year period when Tourism administrations were closing for the year? 

What to say when the Secretary-General attended the FITUR organizing committee meeting that changed dates from January to May and took no action to adjust the Council dates within the FITUR framework as mandated by the Council? 

What to say when the Secretary-General left the January dates for the Council knowing he would breach the Financial Regulations by so doing? 

What to say when the Ethics Officer expresses herself 8with growing concern and sadness that previous practices had suddenly been discontinued leaving ample room to opacity and arbitrary management? 

In an insightful report, the Joint Inspection Unit of the United Nations 9 warned Members about elections of Executive Heads of Agencies when an internal candidate contending for that position takes part: Internal candidates running for the post of the executive head may misuse or abuse their functions and resources (e.g. contacts, travel, office facilities, staff, etc.) to serve  their own campaigns. This situation would not only be unethical but would also result in unequal opportunities between internal and external candidates and may lead to staff division. 

The Inspectors were in fact so concerned by that possibility, they later added: Such behavior, in view of the Inspectors, should always be considered illegal and unethical, and be condemned. If an internal candidate or a successful external candidate is alleged of such practices, they should be subject to an investigation and disciplinary process. 

Against this background, the 113 Executive Council issued a recommendation for the election of Secretary-General, which you have before you. It is now time for you in view of all the arguments, and of the opinion you have of the candidate, to vote for or to vote against. You are free to do it either way and the voting mechanism should guarantee your secrecy: The future of the Organization is in your hands. 

With my warm personal regards to you all, 

Taleb Rifai 

UNWTO Secretary-General

  1.  CE/DEC/15(CXII) https://webunwto.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-09/CE_112_Decisions_En.pdf 
  2. Annex to CE/112/6 rev 1. https://webunwto.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-09/CE112_06_Procedure_SG_elections_2022-2025_rev1_En_0.pdf 
  3. https://www.ifema.es/fitur/noticias/nuevas-fechas-19-23-mayo-2021 
  4. Paragraph 5 CE/113/4. https://webunwto.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2020-12/CE113_04_Recommendation_nominee_post_Secretary_General_2022_2025_En_0.pdf  
  5. https://wtn.travel/decency/ 
  6. Financial Regulation 14.7: By 30 April each year, the Secretary-General shall submit to the Council the audited financial statements of the previous financial year. https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/epdf/10.18111/9789284422319 
  7. https://eturbonews.com/3009507/urgent-warning-by-unwto-honorary-secretary-general-francesco-frangialli/ 
  8. https://webunwto.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/2021-10/A24_05_c_Human%20resources%20report_En_0.pdf 
  9. https://www.unjiu.org/sites/www.unjiu.org/files/jiu_document_files/products/en/reports-notes/JIU%20Products/JIU_REP_2009_8_English.pdf quoted paragraphs 77 and 87 (part).
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