Ethics inquiry targets UN agency chief, top staff

The agency said it is cooperating fully with the investigation and that it cannot comment in detail because the probe is ongoing. (File/AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Ethics inquiry targets UN agency chief, top staff

  • The internal inquiry’s confidential findings come as UNRWA faces a mounting financial crisis following US funding cuts

AMMAN: Senior leadership at UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees, have been accused of abuses of power and mismanagement by a UN ethics inquiry following complaints by staff.

The internal inquiry’s confidential findings come as UNRWA faces a mounting financial crisis following US funding cuts.

Ahmad Awad, director of the Phenix center in Amman and a former UNRWA employee, told Arab News that the investigation’s findings leaked to media in New York were well known by many working for the agency.

“The culture of concentration of power has been known for some time by those involved with UNRWA,” he said.

Awad said that the abuse of power led to appointments being made without proper procedures, and a culture of revenge and backstabbing against staff who refused to cooperate with the leadership.

Sami Mushashaa, UNRWA’s spokesman, told Arab News that he could not comment on the UN investigation “because it is still ongoing.”

However, he said that when the commissioner general was informed last March of the investigation, he told all staff “to cooperate with the UN investigators.”

Questioned by Arab News, Mushashaa conceded that several senior staff had left the organization.

“It is true that commissioner adviser Hakam Shahwan’s services were ended because he interfered with the investigation,” Mushashaa said.

He said that deputy commissioner Sandra Mitchell had resigned in late July, three months before she was due to leave.

Shahwan, Mitchell and senior adviser Maria Mohammadi allegedly formed a tight circle with Pierre Krahenbuhl, the commissioner general, that pushed the boundaries of proper management.

Media reports alleged that the commissioner general often obtained waivers to have Mohammadi travel with him on business class.

Among issues discussed by the UN ethics report was the appointment of Mitchell’s husband in a senior role at UNRWA’s Amman headquarters.

Nadeem Qadura, the deputy in the agency’s human resources department, had also left over a “totally different issue,” Mushashaa said.

Sawsan Areene, a former head of the UNRWA workers’ union in Jordan, told Arab News that she had been harassed and pushed out because she insisted on transparency.

“The abuse of power was clear in many circles. It was clear to us that the commissioner and his team were working against the slogan used for fundraising, namely that dignity is priceless. That was opposite of what was happening on the ground.”

Areene said that those around the commissioner changed workers’ union rules with the aim of pushing her out.

“They reworked the bylaws to benefit a person that they could easily control on the board in order to remove me from my position,” she said.


Queues build at Lebanese banks reopening after one-week closure

Updated 24 min 10 sec ago

Queues build at Lebanese banks reopening after one-week closure

  • Banks have mostly been closed since protests erupted against Lebanon’s ruling elite on Oct. 17
  • Seeking to avoid capital flight, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced on Sunday that cash withdrawals would be limited to $1,000 a week
BEIRUT: Queues built as Lebanese banks reopened on Tuesday after a one-week closure, with police deployed at branches and banks imposing tight restrictions on hard currency withdrawals and transfers abroad.
Banks have mostly been closed since protests erupted against Lebanon’s ruling elite on Oct. 17. They reopened after a two-week closure on Nov. 1, but shut again a week later because of a strike by staff who complained of intimidation from clients demanding their cash.
Seeking to avoid capital flight, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced on Sunday that cash withdrawals would be limited to $1,000 a week and transfers abroad would be restricted to urgent personal spending only.
The central bank has said deposits are safe and that it has the capacity to maintain the value of the Lebanese pound, which is pegged to the US dollar.
In Beirut’s Hamra area, around 50 people were waiting at a branch of Blom Bank shortly after it opened, a witness said.
In the Sodeco area of the capital, about 20 people each were waiting at another branch of Blom Bank and at a branch of Bank Audi, a witness said.
“Everyone has a lack of trust, there’s a state of panic, and people’s feelings are justifiable because no one is giving them any trust,” said a customer at the bank, who declined to give his name.
In the southern city of Sidon, around 50 people were waiting at a branch of Blom Bank ahead of opening, a witness said.