Zimbabwe withdraws election complaint against UNWTO, but…

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Yesterday, the Executive Council of the United World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) met during the General Assembly at the Intercontinental Hotel Convention Center. This was no ordinary get together. The most anticipated discussion point was the opportunity for the Executive Council to address concerns related to the Secretary-General election raised by the Zimbabwe Minister of Tourism, Dr. Walter Mzembi.

Earlier in the day at the African nations regional meeting, this was also a hot topic. The discussion was passionate, if not heated, resulting in the outgoing Secretary-General, Dr. Taleb Rifai, showing a rare display of temper during the contentious meeting. Which resulted in an immediate apology from Dr. Rifai. Clearly, a very passionate regard for our UNWTO runs deep, from many, very different perspectives.

All of which is abundantly apparent with the debates, disagreements and general concern, if not alarm, felt within many levels of the global UNWTO membership related to the upcoming Secretary-General vote to take place tomorrow, Thursday, September 14 in Chengdu.

The proposed Secretary-General Elect, Zurab Pololikashvili from Georgia appears to be a lightning rod for concern. Combine the candidate’s opaque background with his lack of authentic tourism experience, and this has resulted in his nomination not being widely applauded, accepted or indeed, appreciated, by many leaders within the industry.

No one has been a more vocal critic of the election process that resulted in the nomination of Pololikashvili than Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism, Walter Mzembi.

At yesterday’s Executive Council meeting, Mzembi’s election concerns were discussed in depth, with Dr. Rifai rebutting and discussing numerous items. An outcome was reached related to Mzembi’s election agenda items proposal for the GA, by the Executive Council and, after much discussion, also by Dr. Walter Mzembi.

It demonstrates to our industry that given the opportunity to thrash out issues – truly skilled, genuine leaders can come to the table, have a productive exchange and settle matters amicably.

Moving forward, Dr. Walter Mzembi has agreed to spearhead a new initiative and chair the new committee that will review UNWTO election systems.

Here’s a quick run-down on the status of the upcoming Secretary-General election and the agreement between Zimbabwe and UNWTO:

1. The General Assembly tomorrow, Thursday, September 14, will hold a secret ballot to confirm or not confirm, to accept or reject, Zurab Pololikashvili as the new Secretary-General of our UNWTO.

2. The Executive Council and the Secretariat will create a special committee to work on overhaul and reforms of future elections. This committee will be chaired by Zimbabwe.

3. Zimbabwe has withdrawn current elective complaints.

Secretary-General, Dr. Taleb Rifai commended Minister Mzembi as an honorable, fair minister and also a friend. Rifai expressed his concerns, not with the possibility of the Georgian Secretary-General Elect being rejected or elected by the General Assembly, the voting chips will fall where they will in relation to Pololikashvili. As Rifai has noted, nations will vote as they see fit.

Rifai’s primary concern was, and always has been, for the overall well-being of our UNWTO, which lately has been swamped with swirling election allegations related to the Georgia candidate.

With the proposed new election oversight committee being put into place, and Mzembi withdrawing Zimbabwe’s proposed GA agenda items, all parties were able to reach an amicable, reasonable and productive conclusion. All of which truly, very genuinely, benefits the greater good of our UNWTO.

What hasn’t changed is the looming question for the voting General Assembly: is the Georgian candidate suitable, appropriate or qualified for global tourism’s top post? That is a very serious issue each voting nation must step up and answer tomorrow.

We will continue to report and provide breaking news and updates as they occur. As always, we welcome your comments.