Open letter to UNWTO Member States on the report by the Ethics Officer on management culture and practices in the Organization

Open letter to UNWTO Member States on the report by the Ethics Officer on management culture and practices in the Organization

We, the undersigned former staff of UNWTO, would like to bring to the urgent attention of Member States of UNWTO the disturbing findings contained in the report* by the Ethics Officer on the apparent declining ethical principles prevailing under the current UNWTO senior management.

* Report of the Ethics Officer, dated August 23, 2021 and addressed to the General Assembly
 through document A/24/5(c) “Human Resources report”

Based on those disconcerting findings, we propose Member States take them into account before considering the re-appointment of the current Secretary-General for the period 2022-2025 at the XXIV General Assembly in Madrid, Spain; and invite the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services to make a thorough internal investigation.

We have for some time harbored a growing concern over the ethical management of the Organization, now reinforced and confirmed, in the above-mentioned report.*

Click here to read the report.

In her report to the General Assembly, the Ethics Officer describes a worrying trend in the management practices of the Organization. In particular, the report states that “It is therefore with growing concern and sadness that she has observed how transparent internal practices, which were in place in previous administrations, inter alia in matters of promotions, post reclassifications, and appointments, have suddenly been discontinued leaving ample room to opacity and arbitrary management.”

We believe that, as the Ethics Officer states, while proper oversight can only be implemented with adequate resources and an open mind, opaque and arbitrary management seems to be a prevailing attitude and an ongoing practice under the current leadership.

This becomes particularly disheartening when at the beginning of the current Secretary-General’s mandate, in May 2018, at the 108th Executive Council, “Strengthening Internal Governance” was offered to the Member States as the top priority for the internal management of the Organization.

In particular, in document CE/108/5(b) rev 1 (Management vision and priorities ) , it is said that the ethical culture of Organizations is paramount, even appointing at that time the Ethics Officer who signs said report.

When reading the Ethics Officer’s report, it does not seem that the ethical culture was the paramount concern.

This comes on top of what we, as former staff, have directly witnessed, namely specific cases of arbitrary management decisions from UNWTO’s current administration, some of which have even been appealed before the ILO Administrative Tribunal. However, for reasons of prudence and courtesy we have chosen not to mention any names.

Another example of questionable behavior by the current Secretary-General was his proposal to move forward the Executive Council, which had to elect the Secretary-General for the next four-year term, five months ahead of its statutory schedule (January instead of May/June).

This maneuver effectively prevented the Member States from presenting candidates for lack of time and in the end, only one Government could submit a fully compliant candidacy, compared to the number of valid candidates which could be presented in previous elections. And when said candidate appeared in Madrid for the Executive Council meeting, she was barred from attending a social event.

In addition, it was well known that the selected date was very unfortunate as many delegations could not attend because of the pandemic rules in Spain at the time. The alleged justification was to have the Executive Council meeting coincide with the International Tourism Fair in Madrid (FITUR), but when the Spanish government shortly thereafter moved FITUR to May, the Secretary-General declined to adjust the dates of the meeting of the Council accordingly.

Moreover, the audited accounts could not be presented to that Council as is mandated by the rules and regulations, thus making the meeting highly irregular, putting into question the legitimacy of the election process, as was indicated by two former Secretaries-General in an open letter.

It is also worth noting that the Ethics Officer makes it clear that she has not been able to fulfill her tasks under the current management, and as a result suggests that the Ethics Office be moved outside of the Organization.

Given the above, we call on you to pay particular attention to the culture of fear and retaliation to which UNWTO staff have been subjected, leading to a constant degradation and waste of valuable staff resources, who do not dare to complain, nor to take the necessary decisions related to their functions, as you, as a member of the Organization, would expect from them.

To this effect, and in accordance with article 43 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, you may wish to request a secret vote on this Agenda item, and if the vote so determines, mandate the Executive Council to launch a new and proper election process.

We believe that “arbitrary and opaque” management, as highlighted by the Ethics Officer, has no place in any United Nations agency, including UNWTO – your Organization – which you have been set to protect against mismanagement and abuse.

You may, therefore, wish to take all the above into account when considering Agenda Item 9 on Appointment of Secretary-General for the period 2022-2025, and reflect on the type of management you wish to see for the next four years. The future of the Organization is in your hands.

Madrid, November 15th, 2021

  • Taleb Rifai, UNWTO Secretary General 2010-2017;
  • Adriana Gaytan, UNWTO Chief of Information and Communications Technology 1996-2018;
  • Carlos Vogeler, UNWTO Executive Director for Member Relations 2015- 2017, Director for the Americas 2008-2015, and former President of Affiliate Members;
  • Emi MacColl, UNWTO staff since 1980, Chef de Cabinet, Office of the Secretary General 1996-2017;
  • Esencan Terzibasoglu, UNWTO Director, Destination Management and Quality, 2001-2018;
  • Eugenio Yunis, UNWTO staff since 1997, Director of Program and Coordination 2007-2010, Ethics Officer 2017-2018 and former member of UNWTO Board on Tourism Ethics;
  • J Christer Elfverson, UNWTO Special Advisor to the Secretary-General 2010- 2017 and former UN staff since 1970;
  • John Kester, UNWTO staff since 1997, Director Statistics, Trends and Policy 2013-2019;
  • Jose García-Blanch, UNWTO Director of Administration and Finance 2009- 2018, and former IMF and WIPO staff;
  • Márcio Favilla, Executive Director for Operational Programs and Institutional Relations 2010-2017.
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