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November 19, 2018

Prof Lipman: Surely he cannot be serious?

I read with interest the commentary filed by Professor Lipman, and published on your most informative site,  concerning the ongoing controversies surrounding the outcome of the Madrid Executive Council election for a new UNWTO Secretary General and the possibility of that outcome being challenged during the forthcoming General Assembly in China.

I was disappointed, to say the least, by the Professor’s statement that “unless someone can prove that there was anything illegal about this election, all of the rest is hype”.

Surely he cannot be serious?  Granted, it is unlikely that there was anything “illegal” about the election, or about the measures deployed by the various candidates in order to drum up votes.  The rules themselves are so vague and, absent an agreed Code of Ethics applicable to such contests,  it seems clear that all candidates had a pretty free hand to do what they wanted to secure the 17 votes required for victory.

From what I have read on this website, however, and from what has appeared in or on other media outlets, we are not talking about the legality of the process and of what unfolded in Madrid last May, but rather of the moral integrity of that process and, therefore, of the moral acceptability of the outcome it produced.

I was not in Madrid for the vote, but I know and have been in communication with a number of people who were, including some who currently work within the UNWTO Secretariat and all of whom have expressed grave misgivings about that process and about the suitability or aptness of the candidate who emerged as the Secretary General-elect  –  i.e. to oversee global tourism for the coming four years.

That the process followed inflicted a degree of prejudice upon all candidates is undeniable.

I speak of course of the fact that the Council was not given any opportunity to engage in confidential discussion about the presentations or the strategic visions or the qualifications and suitability of any of the five candidates before the start of the election process itself.  This ‘confidential discussion’ was an integral component of the agreed election process and was included on the Agenda for the specific purpose of allowing the 33-member Council to compare and contrast the differing attributes of the candidates in order for them to arrive at a more informed position.  Not all Member States arrived in Madrid with the decision already made  –  certainly not a decision beyond the first round  –  and, as it turned out,  the first round result seemed to throw a number of cats among the pigeons.   Such a discussion on the substance and vision of each candidate may well have assisted to settle those pigeons.

The question is whether the decision to sidestep the ‘confidential discussion’ was deliberate maneuvered by a complicit Secretariat or, was it just incompetence or carelessness?  Where was the Legal Counsel?

The fact that that discussion never took place served to bring prejudice to all candidates.

From what I have observed and read, it appears that considerably more prejudice was inflicted upon the candidate from Zimbabwe  –  which clearly explains why he has been the prime mover in efforts to bring a spotlight to bear upon the Madrid process and its, for him (and many others) somewhat unsavory outcome.

The antics of the candidate from Seychelles even after his government had withdrawn its support for him, and the degree of tolerance and accommodation shown by the Secretariat towards those antics was simply beyond acceptable.  His address to the Council  –  unprecedented and certainly damaging to the Zimbabwean  –  should not have been allowed or, should only have been allowed after the voting process had taken place.

Again, was this the action of a complicit, conniving Secretariat, or simply further incompetence?  Again, where was the Legal Counsel to advise the Secretariat or the Chairperson of the Council of the likely prejudice the angry and embittered man from Seychelles might cast upon the integrity of the election which was to follow almost immediately upon his address ?

I think it would be a mistake, and a grave one at that, to dismiss Mr. Mzembi’s actions and words since that time as merely those of a ‘sore loser’.

His ‘Open Letter’ and the substance of the interviews he has given since May reflect something far deeper than ‘sour grapes’.

They reflect a deep affection for the UNWTO and acknowledgment of the role it plays and must continue to play in promoting global tourism and, through the movement of people, promoting greater understanding between peoples and cultures.

They reflect a deep pride in the progress achieved by the UNWTO  –  especially under the stewardship of Taleb Rifai  –  but an even deeper concern that the Secretary General-elect is ill-equipped to assume control of global tourism or to adequately defend let alone advance the gains achieved so far.

They reflect a deep-seated concern that lingering questions about the integrity of the election process and about the outcome stretch far beyond the Jacaranda-lined avenues of Harare and will continue to swirl around the Secretary General elect well after endorsement by the General Assembly  –  if indeed such endorsement does take place.

The maneuvers used by the Secretary General-elect to garner the 17 votes required to win the Madrid process  –  including inviting selected Council members to a soccer game on the eve of the election  –  are now well-known.  Illegal ?  Hardly.  Morally acceptable?  Again, hardly.  Similarly, having someone within the Council chamber live-streaming the voting process via Skype to his mobile phone whilst, as a candidate, he waited outside  –  Illegal? Probably not.  Morally acceptable?  Absolutely not.

Does think kind of thing falls within what Professor Lipman refers to as “the norm”?  Or does it stretch an acceptable norm to something rather seedy? I and, it seems, many others think so and that, inevitably, that seediness has contaminated the outcome of the Madrid process and will, from the very outset, contaminate the incoming Secretary Generalship if the General Assembly opts to endorse the Madrid outcome.

What might happen in China is somewhat unpredictable.  Most will probably be hoping that, all the “hype” aside, the Secretary General-elect will simply be endorsed by acclamation and that all the unpleasantness which has followed in the wake of the Madrid election will, like a morning mist, simply evaporate.

Others and I count myself among them, will be hoping that UNWTO Members will acknowledge the “hype” which continues to swirl around the Madrid outcome and will, at the very least, order that the Assembly should vote on the proposal by the Executive Council to endorse that outcome.  If the Secretary General-elect musters a two-thirds majority vote in his favor, then good and well, the healing process will have begun and both he and the broader membership can move ahead with some degree of confidence.

What, though, will happen if the two-thirds majority vote fails to materialize?  Is there a Plan B?  The Professor  –  who is very familiar with the UNWTO  –  says that the “decision will be sent back to the Executive Council” and that there are Rules in place to cover such an eventuality.  I am not as familiar with UNWTO’s Rules as is Professor Lipman but my understanding is that the existing Rules do not, in fact, provide any clear guidance  –  apart from referring such an eventuality back to the Council.  And then what?  Rifai is due to step down at the end of December.  Will the Council be able to determine the way forward by then?  Unlikely I think.  Which means what, then, in terms of leadership of the UNWTO until there is a clear way ahead?

Where I do absolutely agree with professor Lipman is when he suggests  –  and, in so doing,  acknowledges the gaps in the UNWTO Rule Book which gave us the very unsatisfactory process and undeniably tainted outcome in Madrid  –  “an objective review and modernisation of the election process (…) followed by Action”.

The Professor highlights a number of “fundamental questions” which need to be addressed, including “the absence of a professional selection/vetting system, the vagaries around national endorsement and state financial support, the fairness of running a “ticket” for a single position, the maximum age of candidates, the support of (geographical)blocs, the promises of Secretariat positions, and the like”.

He is correct, but he doesn’t go far enough.

Mr. Mzembi has made more or less the same proposal, albeit in more colorful language, but it is no less true or compelling.  If I read him correctly, he is challenging the outcome of Madrid on the basis of principle and because he feels that the UNWTO deserves better than it got in that process.

The General Assembly would be well advised, for the sake of its own credibility and for the credibility of the man elected by the Executive Council in May, to heed Mzembi’s call for a vote.  The General Assembly would be equally well advised to heed Professor Lipman’s advice, which echoes in many respects the proposals made by Mr Mzembi, in respect of an immediate, comprehensive review of existing Rules relating to elections and all associated matters.

Only by ordering a vote to confirm (or reject) the outcome of the Madrid process and only by thoroughly amending the Rules which produced that outcome, will the UNWTO be able to credibly put this matter behind it and allow the incoming Secretary General  –  again to quote Professor Lipman “whoever that is) –  to focus on the enormous and important task ahead.

Jaime Paterson
Freelance Writer, Analyst, and Commentator
Dublin – Ireland



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