HARARE – The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has said that its General Assembly would have a final vote in September on the Executive Council’s Georgian nominee Zurab Pololikashvili for the UNWTO secretary-general post, even as more are opposing his confirmation, raising the spectre of Zimbabwe Tourism minister Walter Mzembi clinching the post.
The hard-working Zimbabwean Tourism minister came agonisingly close to winning elections to become secretary-general of the UNWTO which were held in Madrid, Spain last month — before losing in the run-off.
In the end, Pololikashvili was elected a nominee to become the next UNWTO secretary-general, beating Mzembi by a mere three votes — and despite having lost to the Zimbabwean minister by a similar margin in the first round of voting.
In the first round of voting, Mzembi polled 11 votes to Pololikashvili’s eight. But the little-known Georgian swept to the position after polling 18 votes to the Zimbabwean minister’s 15 in the runoff.
It has now emerged that Pololikashvili — set to replace Taleb Rifai, a Jordanian who is stepping down at the end of the year after serving two five-year terms, if he gets the General Assembly nomination — could have swayed the election by inviting key Executive Council members to a sold out football game during the Madrid Executive Council meeting.
At the May 10 game, Atletico Madrid won 2:1 against Real Madrid in the Champions League Semi-Final at Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid.
Pololikashvili reportedly gave delegates free tickets to the match, held on the first day that members of the UNWTO Executive Council were meeting at the Melia Castilla Hotel in Madrid.
The election was held on May 12, the last day of the Executive Council meeting.
Pololikashvili is a member of Real Madrid and according to his CV, he was CEO of FC Dinamo Tbilisi for 10 years, from 2001-2011. Dinamo Tbilisi is the leading professional football team in Georgia.
The scandal, first reported by the Evening Post, has dented Pololikashvili’s attempt to garner enough support to avoid a showdown that in turn could trigger a blockade against his nomination at the 22nd UNWTO General Assembly in Chengdu in China in September.
So far, many countries have publicly announced opposition to Pololikashvili.
Most of that group backs a growing effort to block a confirmation vote through the use of a procedural hurdle called a filibuster.
Pololikashvili’s nomination has to be confirmed by the General Assembly by a two-third majority.
It means he will be required to master 102 member country endorsements by voting in order to be appointed the new secretary-general.
According to a survey by UNWTO Wire, 138 out of 142 members said they would reject Pololikashvili as a nominee. More outspoken were more than 100 readers claiming the action by the UNWTO secretary nominee should be considered as bribery.
Many of those responding were Executive Council members and did not want to be named.
“How can a person be elected as the CEO when there has been evidence that votes were ‘bought?’ This kind of corruption should not exist at this level,” Bea Broda, a Canadian TV producer, said.
A French government official who preferred anonymity said: “If he (Zurab) respects 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.”
“The candidate is tainted,” said a response from Germany.
Birger Baeckman, former president of Universal Federation of Travel Agents Association (UFTAA) of Finland said: “Attending the football game for an UNWTO Executive Council member was wrong and constitutes bribery. Any politicisation of the travel and tourism is to the detriment of the travel and tourism industry and thus also to the UNWTO.”
A Namibian government official 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, let’s revisit this election in China if we are fair.”
A second Namibian responder said: “The whole election was unethical, corrupt and unprecedented.”
Italian Michelina Gabriel Sanquest said: “I was disappointed that Hon. minister from Zimbabwe Walter Mzembi did not win. I felt he was the better candidate in my opinion.”
While Mzembi was unreachable for comment yesterday, he said last week he is hoping Pololikashvili’s nomination will be thrown out.
“…we are still the dark horse going forward to September 11-16 when the UNWTO shall convene for the general assembly in China,” he said.
“So, we will be there to make sure that we are correctly and strategically positioned to take advantage of any outcome,” Mzembi said.
It is believed African countries are preparing a position paper on the outcome of the UNWTO sec-gen elections to challenge Rifai at the General Assembly.
“There are many unbelievable and flagrant violations of rules of procedure currently going on in addition to those captured in our position paper on the outcome of the Executive Council elective issues which we have escalated to other organs, and will soon be made public,” an African diplomat told the Daily News yesterday.
“For example, the current secretary-general, …Rifai has taken it upon himself to market a secretary-general-elect before the General Assembly receives a formal report of the Executive Council.
“This is not a transition or hand-over period between him and the SG-elect.
“He is severely conflicted and seems daily to be losing sound judgment and prudential decision-making. Some very reckless moves we shall question in the fullness of time.”