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eTN verdict: UNWTO Secretary General nominee Zurab Pololikashvili guilty of bribery!


eTurboNews readers have spoken. eTN reached out to government officials and other leaders in the travel and tourism industry for feedback on bribery allegation involving the newly recommended nominee from Georgia for the post of the UNWTO Secretary General Position, Zurab Pololikashvili.

The Georgian embassy in Madrid under the directive of its ambassador Zurab Pololikashvili, who was also a candidate for UNWTO Secretary General, invited voting delegates to join him at a popular and sold out football game in Madrid during the Executive Council proceedings on May 10, 2017. Real Madrid was playing in the half final .

Photos obtained by eTurboNews showed voting delegates from Kenya and Ghana enjoying the night out on May 10 with candidate Zurab. Najib Balala proudly took a picture of this ticket  and posted it to his Facebook. Najib is the current Cabinet Secretary for Tourism in Kenya, and the immediate former M.P. for Mvita Constituency.

Ghana and a number of other delegates from Africa and South America were among the lucky ones. They also received a free ticket for the Real Madrid game courtesy of the Georgian Embassy Madrid.

Both Kenya and Ghana are members of the UNWTO Executive Council until 2019.

Secretary General Dr.Taleb Rifai told eTurboNews: “We have no reason to believe that the General Assembly (GA) will not confirm the selected nominee. As has always been the case in the past, the candidate nominated by the Executive Council, we believe will be confirmed by the GA. In the “unlikely situation”, that would not be the case, then it is the responsibility of the GA, as the UNWTO supreme organ, to decide on next steps.”

eTN asked readers if attending the game as a voting member of the Executive council and invited by a delegate should be seen as bribery. 14 readers (10 from Spain) responded the football game was not a big deal and going to the game with a ticket sponsored by Georgia was not bribery. Five more readers thought it should not be seen as  bribery but it wasn’t ethical.

It appears the Spanish readers responding with an ok to attend the game may have actually been staff at the Georgian Embassy in Madrid. The IP address for the form submission closely matched the IP from emails received by the Georgian embassy earlier.

None of the 14 readers approving for candidates to attend the game gave a reason and remained anonymous.

More than 210 eTN readers said for any candidate who accepted a ticket from Georgia should be guilty of bribery. A number of readers went a step further and thought for an executive council delegate knowing about the ticket deal and not mentioning this incident to the Executive Council chair or the Secretary General also constitutes wrongdoing.

eTN reporter Michael Seipelt in Germany talked to an expert attorney. Going to the game or knowing about the scam could be seen as a criminal offense in Germany.  A delegate from an EU country who wanted to be unnamed called eTN and wanted to make sure eTurboNews knew her or his country did not vote for Georgia.

Drago Bulc vice president of Fijet formerly with RTV SLovenjia summarized:  “I propose that UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu first annulate voting of the Executive Council and then vote for a New Secretary General.”

From Zambia we hear: “What happened in Madrid is a shame. If the nominated person has a clear conscious let him resign. Surely the last election has put the UNWTO on the spot and this organization needs serious reform.”

A government official from Namibia said: “The ballot paper were shredded so that no evidence is there for the rigging and the African candidate lost because of the system and it is my hope that the Georgina man should not be confirmed in September 2017 ,let’s revisit this election if we are fair

Honestly out of the five candidates you go and vote for the least experienced and qualified person what a shame on the tourism industry.

If the current Secretary General wants his legacy to live on the last election need to be canceled and call for fresh elections with properly laid out procedures.”

A government official from South Africa who did not want to be identified turned his frustration into a racial issue. He said: “This UNWTO is full of racists and that is why they did not want they guy from Zimbabwe to win.

I have checked their website the whole management team is full of whites and Asians no black African at all what nonsense is this? Does it mean there are no qualified blacks to work in the UNWTO.

Other UN organizations have mixed races in their management team. All African countries should withdraw or withhold their contributions to UNWTO.

The losing candidates in the last election should petition the UN to intervene.

Surely when will racism end on this earth I am informed that there are only two full time black Africans working at the UNWTO and they all hold very junior positions what an insult to Africa and yet our governments continue paying membership fees.”

AUSTRALIA:  (anonymous) “The UN and UNWTO are a waste of tax payers money and we see proof of this in the last few weeks first when the African Union tells countries who they must vote for even if the countries candidate comes from that continent.  (We deleted some personal attacks on a candidate following this sentence)

What is the UNWTO? Well, it’s just a big boys club for a bunch of useless ex or current public servants and consultants. What has the UNWTO really done in the last 20 years? Besides chewing through millions of dollars, mostly for meetings and conferences for a few public servants of 3rd world countries. Let the private sector, regional tourism bodies, and IATA get on with the job.

To prove this point how much has the UNWTO wasted on this election process. many countries don’t even belong anymore to UNWTO, including Canada and the USA and many European countries.

I have written to my Prime Minister here in Australia a few months ago to ask if Australia was going to pull out and the reply I received back from the PM office said they were reviewing it. Now that this Georgian has been elected I think you will see a lot of countries not renew and pull out.”

CANADA: Bea Broda, TV producer said: “How can a person be elected as the SG when there has been evidence that votes were “bought?” This kind of corruption should not exist at this level.”

FLANDERS: Two responders say this incident constitutes bribery.

FRANCE: Government official: “If he (Zurab) respect himself he should resign and the next in line who was elected should be nominated. How we can have such a nominee at UNWTO helm, if he is a cheater. This is unacceptable at all.”

GERMANY: One attending government official  commented: “The candidate is tainted.”

FINLAND: Birger Baeckman, former president of UFTAA, board member .travel.  “Attending the football game for an UNWTO Executive Council member was wrong and constitutes bribery. Any politicization of the travel and tourism is to the detriment of the travel and tourism industry and thus also to the UNWTO.”

GUATEMALA:  “I trust that a good choice will be made–someone who is in the business of tourism; who has a good reputation as a person and as an entity–who has nothing to hide; nor has done wrong to anybody within and outside the world tourism family.
May we continue to be transparent!!!”

ITALY: Michelina Gabriel Sanquest: “I was disappointed that Hon.Minister from Zimbabwe Walter Mzembi did not win.I felt he was the Better Candidate in my opinion.”

MACEDONIA:  (government official): “The UNWTO needs to correct and adhere the Secretary General Election regulations in order to prevent from unethical acts and wrongdoings. Not necessarily, these are result of purposeful action, but more could be a result of a culture differences.
Also, the deadlines for submissiona and the candidates nominations regulations should also be subject to change.”

MOROCCO: James, MA Grogor, a government consultant posted: “Thanks for keeping this disastrous and wholly unacceptable situation alive with your excellent journalism. UNWTO can ill afford such controversy. I was finally hoping for a candidate that could represent and work with the private sector to enable the UNWTO to assume the rightful position as an International leader for the entire sect… Obviously Alain St. Ange provided just that creativity and leadership that is needed. But that aside, electing somebody with no tourism industry experience is simply unacceptable in 2017. Will you sure a lack of participation the private sector. The challenges to the tourism industry are too great at this time.”

SOUTH AFRICA:  Prof Erika De Wet Marxon Prof Erika de Wet. is an Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Public Law of the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. She writes: “Global tourism is in jeopardy now with this clueless Zurab. The UNWTO risks becoming irrelevant even loosing membership due to the SG elect’s leadership inabilities that are a matter of public record. It is unfortunate for global tourism. Certainly, the irregularities we are reading compels for a re-run of the election. Dr. Rifai has put a dent on his legacy and to say it clearly, he is not a leader to be trusted. We suspect that given the determination he has, Dr Rifai, to impose Zurab as he tricked the whole world, makes himself and Zurab never to be trusted at all.”

SPAIN: Joanna Penalver (Internavo)  Attending the football game for an UNWTO executive council was wrong and constitutes bribery.

SYRIA: Attending the football game for an UNWTO executive council was wrong and constitutes bribery.

THAILAND: One known responder who wanted to remain anonymous found this incident constitutes bribery.
Another one said:  “Shocking behavior from a fellow that the industry hardly knows. Highly risky choice. Could end up a bit like the Trump Presidency …..”

TURKMENISTAN: Shohrat Jumayev who is the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for Turmenistan in Romania:  “Mr. Zorab Polikashvili (I hope I got his name correctly) should not be UNTO next secretary general as he is not related to tourism, did not campaign for the office and is a non-performance and non-person on the international stage.
It will spell the end of UNWTO remaining resemblance of normality and relevance!”

UK:  (government official) The nominee should be disqualified and the contest re-run so as to select a candidate untainted by controversy & with the necessary background & experience of the world of tourism and its myriad aspects.

USA: Pamela Ott, consultant: The nominee should be required to have attended most, a percentage, of meetings in order to be considered for that position. I believe this alone shows a lack of dedication that others, regardless of receiving “gifts” should acknowledge and insist upon for any leader.

Ron S. Mracky, the current Managing Director of the Africa Consult Group wrote: It is a disgrace that type of underhanded obligation bribe has been brought on to an ethical top world tourism office. Reminds one of the FIFA and its downfall and loss of credibility the organization held for many decades -in short, the action of the Georgia government official should be called “dirty politics” and the results of the last UNWTO vote dismissed as an affront to serious international behavior the international tourism industry stands for.

Another respondent from the USA said:  This kind of sub-rosa bribery is both tiresome and damaging to the organization.

ZAMBIA (anonymous ): The elections were not free and fair. The so called elected candidate is not an expert in Tourism issues. His Manifesto was rather clueless please we can not have such an incompetent leader at the helm of such an important organization. UNWTO needs a dedicated and professional leadership with no link to football matches as a means to rise to the top post of Secretary General.

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.