UNRWA Faces Donor Backlash Amidst Charges of Sexual Misconduct & Nepotism

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 2 2019 – The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has been undermined by a sharp cut in US contributions, has been embroiled in a scandal that threatens to jeopardize its very future.

A report from the Ethics Office has found “credible and corroborated” evidence that the senior management of UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

As a result, two of the donors, Switzerland and the Netherlands, have suspended payments to UNRWA, with the possibility of others to follow.

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced it was withholding $65m out of a $125m aid package earmarked for UNRWA, a veritable lifeline for more than five million registered Palestinian refugees, for nearly 70 years.

That move was prompted primarily for political reasons.

Paula Donovan and Stephen Lewis, co-directors of AIDS-Free World and its Code Blue Campaign, which seeks to end impunity for sexual abuse by UN personnel, told IPS the incriminating report was received in the Secretary-General’s office eight months ago.

“He should immediately have suspended the principals involved and replaced them with interim appointments. Had he done so, Switzerland and the Netherlands would not have suspended payment to UNRWA and the indispensable work of the agency would not have been compromised.”

“If the UNRWA story had not been broken by the media, the Secretary-General would not have acted. Alas, that’s the pattern,” they added.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters August 1: “I have been acting quite significantly to make sure that we strengthen UNRWA and UNRWA’s capacity to deliver”.

“I’ve been appealing for the support to UNRWA to all countries of the world as I think we should distinguish what are the revelations made, or accusations made, in relation to members of the management of UNRWA, from the needs to preserve UNRWA, to support UNRWA, and to make UNRWA effective in the very important action in relation to the Palestine refugees, and I’ve been acting consistently to support that.”

As you know in the present situation, he pointed out, the deputy of UNRWA has resigned, and “so I decided that it would be important to immediately appoint a new deputy as acting deputy and, as I said, in relation to any intervention that might [be] justified, I will wait, according to due process, for the results of the inquiry and, based on the results of the inquiry, I will act accordingly.”

According to UNRWA, the UN agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

The only exception is a very limited subsidy from the Regular Budget of the United Nations, which is used exclusively for administrative costs.

“The work of UNRWA could not be carried out without sustained contributions from state and regional governments, the European Union and other government partners, which represented 93.28 per cent of all contributions in 2018.”

In 2018, said UNRWA, 50 per cent of the Agency’s total pledges of $ 1.27 billion came from EU member states, who contributed $643 million, including through the European Commission.

The EU (including the European Commission), Germany and Saudi Arabia were the largest individual donors, contributing a cumulative 40 per cent of the Agency’s overall funding. The United Kingdom and Sweden were also among the top five donors.

The Trump administration said last August it has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA.

“When we made a US contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years,” according to the US State Department.

“Beyond the budget gap itself and failure to mobilize adequate and appropriate burden sharing, the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that have marked UNRWA for years– tied to UNRWA’s endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries– is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years,” it continued.

“The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.”

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters July 30 that Guterres believes it’s essential that UNRWA gets the support it needs and “so we will be looking to make sure that all of the countries that have been generous in donating to UNRWA will continue to be able to support that, and will look at engaging with them to see what can be done to satisfy them”.

“Clearly, this is an agency – as we have been saying in the last few years, when, as you know, it faced a financial crisis – this is an agency whose work is critical to the lives, to the health, to the education of millions of people, millions of Palestinians across the region, and they have been a vital source of stability, not just for those people but for the region itself,” he added.

Asked for a response about the charges against UNRWA, Haq said there is an ongoing investigation on the allegations contained in the report.

“Until this investigation is completed, the Secretary General is not in a position to make any further comments on this matter. As he has shown in the past, the Secretary General is committed to acting swiftly, as appropriate, upon receiving the full report. The Secretary General continues to consider the work undertaken by UNRWA as absolutely essential to Palestinian refugees,” he added.

Asked who was conducting the investigation, Haq said: “This is happening by our Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Now, I’ll leave it for you to evaluate the sufficiency of the steps that are taken once we take them; but, like I said, I’ve assured you the Secretary General is ready to take action upon receiving this… the full report”.

In a statement released August 1, Code Blue said the ethics report asserts that the alleged conduct of UNRWA’s senior leaders—Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, Deputy Commissioner-General Sandra Mitchell, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan, and Senior Adviser to the Commissioner-General Maria Mohammedi—presents “an enormous risk to the reputation of the UN” and “their immediate removal should be carefully considered.”

The ethics report was leaked to the media this week. But it was completed and delivered to the UN Secretary-General in December 2018. That was eight months ago. Mitchell and Shahwan have since left the agency of their own accord. Both Krahenbuhl and Mohammedi remain in their posts, said the statement.

Code Blue also said the Secretary-General has ignored the ethics report’s recommendation that Krahenbuhl and Mohammedi be removed with “immediate” effect.

Instead, the UN has responded to the report by ordering yet another internal investigation, this time by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which is ongoing. In effect, the UN has taken no substantive action to address the crisis at UNRWA.

The Netherlands and Switzerland have responded to the revelations by suspending funding to UNRWA. The United Kingdom is considering such a step. It should go without saying that the work of UNRWA is too important to be sacrificed to the UN’s willingness to allow the crisis to worsen, Code Blue added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

Boom or Bust -Education Will Determine Africa’s Transformation

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets young Kenyan artists at the State House-Photo State House

By Francis Owino and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 2 2019 – August 12, marks International Youth Day, and the theme for this year is ‘making education more relevant, equitable and inclusive’, is particularly apt for Africa. Consider this. Every 24 hours around 35,000 African youth are looking for work.

The youth make up 37% of the working-age population in Africa, but 60% of the unemployed. Though Africa continues to post impressive gains in education enrolment rates, challenges of access, quality and relevance of education in the continent remain formidable.

The region has the highest number of out-of-school children; four in ten learners score poorly in literacy and numeracy; and the systems are producing many graduates whose skills do not meet the workforce requirements. Estimates indicate that a dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, generates earnings and health benefits of $10 in low-income countries and nearly $4 in lower-middle income countries.

By 2050, Africa will be home to about 830 million young people, meaning that at current trends, the challenge will only become tougher.

Francis Owino

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta pushed for education reforms to prepare the youth for a new era. The National Policy on Curriculum Reforms, whose vision is “nurturing every learner’s potential” is anchored on the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which includes education aspirations to catalyze an education and skills revolution with a greater role assigned to the Private Sector.

Clearly, the road towards achieving SDG 4 – to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all – requires bold and innovative action. This is why education must be at the heart of private sector engagement in the journey towards the SDGs.

It is also in line with the UN Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guterres’s call for the reformed UN to make a “strategic pivot from ad-hoc, transactional partnerships to longer-term, ‘transformational’ partnerships designed for scale”. This will involve collaboration between the UN Global Compact and UN country teams to better mobilize local business communities.

To prepare Kenya’s young people to face the challenges of a rapidly changing world and to build on existing national leadership on young people, the country has joined Generation Unlimited as one of its key partners. President Uhuru Kenyatta, a global champion of Generation Unlimited, has established a high-level steering committee co-chaired by the Government and the UN to guide the implementation of Generation Unlimited in the country, as well concrete steps to attract public and private partnerships in support of its goals.

Siddharth Chatterjee

To set the Youth Agenda on a transformative trajectory, the Government approved and is set to roll out the Kenya Youth Development Policy (KYDP) (2019). This Policy is an expression of the collective commitment of concerned stakeholders to harness and optimize the strengths and opportunities that the youth present while addressing the personal and structural barriers that affect their productivity

More significantly, the policy is an outcome of a broad based consultative process that is designed to robustly address eight (8) Priority areas namely: realize a healthy and productive youth population; build qualified and competent youth workforce for sustained social economic development (farming, manufacturing); create opportunities for youth to earn decent and sustainable livelihood; develop youth talent, creativity and innovation for wealth creation; nurture value, moral, ethical generation of patriotic youth for transformative leadership; effective civic participation and representation among the youth; promote a crime free, secure, peaceful and united Kenya where no young Kenyan is left behind; and support youth engagement in environmental management for sustainable development.

This has been successfully done by the setting up of safe spaces for youth through the establishment of the 152 Youth Empowerment Centers (YECs) across the country as One Stop Shop for the youth services. They feature myriad of services to the youth such as a counselling center, an ICT Hub, indoor recreation facilities, affirmative fund desks/focal points, and outdoor game facilities. The Government’s efforts have been fully complemented by both the County Governments, the Private Sector and UN Agencies by adoption and enhancing the variety of services offered in the YECs.

The YECs provide youth friendly services intended to address their physical, psychological and socio-economic needs.

The One Stop Youth Center concept, which is a product of partnerships between the UN and the Government, utilizes an integrated approach to youth development by providing youth with safe spaces in urban settings where they can meet and access information and resources critical to youth-led development including peace building, research and policy development. The model is in line with the Kenya Vision 2030 blue-print and the Big4 agenda which emphasizes on opportunity creation.

The UN in Kenya is scaling up its partnership with the Government in efforts to reform education, as reflected under the UN Development Assistance Framework’s, Pillar 2- Human Capital Development. The outcome is to ensure the continent’s education systems for future economic, technological and demographic trends.

Dr Francis O.Owino, PhD is the, Principal Secretary, Public Service and Youth. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.