UNRWA in the Focus of Accusations
On Friday October 9 2009, the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Quds published a statement of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), Karen Koning AbuZayed in which she announced the discontinuation of some important activities of the UNRWA, such as scholarships for Palestinian students.
According to Al-Quds, the statement of Koning came during a political interview which she gave to the “Middle East Report” from London. According to Koning: “the UNRWA has a financial deficit estimated at $100 million, and that the UNRWA does not get a sufficient budget to cover its emergency activities”. (Click on pictures to make them bigger).
Koning said that “what most concerns us in the UNRWA is that we are not getting enough money to cover our activities such as education and health care”. She added: “At the end of this year we have deficit of $17 million. We hope that our contacts during the General Assembly in New York will fill the gap and help us to go ahead until the end of the year”. AbuZayed expressed her deep concern about next year, 2010, as the year will start “while we do not have anything”.
As a comment on the announced discontinuation of some important activities of the UNRWA, such as scholarships for Palestinian students, I would like to ask the the UNRWA Commissioner-General, Karen Koning AbuZayed, some questions:
- Where is the OPEC grant (US$1.2) of 1 July 2009 which the Commissioner-General which she personally accepted and received from the OPEC Fund as a donation towards a new scholarship fund for talented Palestinians?
- Where is the OPEC grant of 1 July 2009 which she herself accepted from the OPEC Fund for International Development for a microfinance fund towards supporting the private business sector of Palestinian Refugees through a micro-finance scheme (PALFUND) which reached (US$10) million?
“Justified” Corruption at UNRWA
On 1 October 2009, Al-Nahar News from Deir Al-Balah in Gaza reported that Mr. Ramadan Al-Omari of the Comptroller General unit of UNRWA decided to leave his post after serving for more than thirty years in the position. Mr. Al-Omari sent an open letter to the Commissioner General of UNRWA, her deputy, and to all members of UNRWA Board, in which he revealed some aspects of corruption and misappropriation of funds and the budget of the UNRWA.
Al-Omari said that “the US$ twenty-five million budget of the UNRWA for the years 2010 / 2011 were spent without tangible returns for the Palestinians”. He added: “Most of that money has gone to consultants working in the UNRWA and for the employment of more than 15 international staff which were not needed, each one contracted with a salary of not less than one hundred thousand dollars (US$100.000) a year”.
Mr. Al-Omari criticized the work of UNRWA, which has recently adopted very questionable methods in terms of style, in terms of organizational development, and in the terms of making decisions. He said that “such developments have created an imposed upon us an international staff which we do not need”. He also stated that the UNRWA decisions are taken within a circle of agency managers who form a closed group, de-facto conspiring with each other, who have neither connection to nor interest in the Palestinians, and who take their decisions without consulting with the other responsible managers in the UNRWA work. Al-Omari was perplexed by how the UNRWA gives unlimited powers to the Director of Human Resources Management, taking in consideration any other input from within the organization or outside.
Al-Omari pointed to the main of contention that led to his resignation, which was related to the recent abolition by the higher UNRWA administration of the committees of human resources and contracts, in implement their plans without referral to the advice and review by these committees, which had been high regulatory powers within the agency.
Al-Omari said “the UNRWA wasted huge amounts of money on the so-called summer games in Gaza. This budget would have been enough to rebuild dozens of schools which were destroyed by the Israeli occupation during recent years”.
Karen Koning Denies
For her part, Karen koning, the UNRWA Commissioner-General, said that the statements and allegations of Mr. Al-Omari are wrong, different and far away of the truth. She added: “It is unfortunate that the Al-Omari letter was circulated (passed) to the press”. Koning considers that the open letter of Al-Omari is “damage to the Palestinian refugees and the UNRWA”. But her statement appears to be the usual “blame the victims” tactic used by psychopaths. See Koning denial as (PDF)
Al-Omari Replies to the Denial of Koning
Thanks for forwarding to me your message to the Management Committee members and for copying me on your letter to the HQ staff, both dated 4 September 2009. To a large extent the substance of both letters is the same and, therefore, I would like to address the two in this brief response, and to copy same to all addressees. Please note that I do not want to enter into a protracted exchange, but the way both letters were drafted for your signature indicates a lot of window dressing and a distraction from the real issues.
- In this regard, I notice that in both letters you have chosen to ignore my comments in paragraphs six and seven of the open letter regarding the critical issues of “hiring friends and former colleagues” and the practice of “favoritism and marginalization” respectively. I blame no body for ignoring them, as I know none would have any defense in addressing these management lapses.
- It is with regret that your reference in both letters to my “disagreement with the reform process” is incorrect and is out of context. I was, and remain, a big supporter of any reform process. I would very much be in support of the change to the better and not just the change for the sake of change as many of the OD activities have transpired to be. You may wish to recall that it was me who spearheaded the transformation of the Agency’s budget to a programme based budget since the beginning of the year 2000. You will also recall the more recent comment of the ACABQ which praised UNRWA’s budget to the extent that it was suggested to be used as a model by other UN organizations.
- It is also with regret that the statement in respect of the “Comptroller’s assertion that consultants have been hired to perform tasks that could have been easily undertaken by UNRWA staff, ……. that the majority of the OD Budget goes towards the salary of new staff whom we are proposing for absorption into the UN Regular Budget” (the last sentence in the fifth paragraph of your letter to the MC members), is misleading and does not address the issue as discussed with you in person. I regret that I have to be more direct and explain. The example I referred to in paragraph six of my open letter regarding the use by HRD of a friend/former colleague consultant to perform a study on the retirement benefits in the area of operations where the consultant’s work ended with a report containing data about the retirement benefits in the region without giving any suggestions or recommendations as to how the various retirement schemes could be summed up to produce an UNRWA specific retirement system that would be compatible with the practice of the host authorities. You may wish to note that this useless study has cost the Agency $ 21,266.32 (doc 0-8AFV004095 refers) for work that was done in a month’s time. This is exactly what I meant with my earlier statement that the same task could have been easily undertaken by a local staff member from amongst the all competent ones in the Division of Compensation and Management Services.
- In connection with the above the OD, in my view, has become a job creation programme for international staff. It so far employs sixteen international staff members, the actual cost of whom is, so far, some $ 4 million. It also involves the hiring of international consultants, the cost of whom is so far another $ 4 million! It is with sadness that I report that the cost so far paid to the local staff hired under the OD is only $ 133,000.
- It is true that the OD is separately funded and that the General Fund money is not used for its activities, yet, I have to clarify, as you will appreciate, that donors have very limited funds to give to UNRWA against the various budget lines; hence any funding to the OD would certainly negatively affect the funding to the General Fund. Moreover, having the OD separately funded should not justify spending such funds on activities that do not produce any benefits to the Organization.
- It is with regret that the OD defenders keep using the Gaza Field initiatives of the “Schools of Excellence” and the “Education Recovery Plan” as successes for the OD. You will agree with me that credit should go to where it belongs. These two initiatives were exclusively initiated and implemented by the GFO management totally independent from the OD, and that they are funded from the Field’s own resources, mainly the Emergency Appeal budgets. The fact that they coincided with the OD should not give any credit to the OD process itself.
- Before I conclude, and by the way I still have a lot more to say, I want to ask you a question again on what basis the leading consultant of the OD said in the June QMC that “half of those around this table may not be here by this time next year”. Was this said in vacuum? Or it resulted from the “close” discussions within your inner circle? What else I need to say to further prove the existence of the closed circle management approach that has been prevailing for the last few years?
- Finally, concerning your statement that my open letter contains “unsubstantiated accusations”, I believe the best judge here is to have an independent review of the issues raised with the objective of making the facts clear to the Agency’s management and staff, the host authorities, and the refugee community at large. Read the letter in Arabic as (PDF)
Contradicting UNRWA Policies in Palestine
Recently, the UNRWA, which until now did not find it necessary to teach the Palestinians the ir own history, the history of 61 years of Catastrophe, the “Nakba”, and which keeps its schools in Palestinian refugee camps in Palestine and in the Diaspora in a miserable state, decided to teach the Holocaust to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Why must the Palestinians learn about the Holocaust at the UNRWA schools, while the UNRWA did never teach these children about their own history of Nakba, and the daily genocide which they live since 61 years under the Zionists occupation? Is the purpose of the defalcation of funds from the UNRWA by the cronies of Koning related to this travesty?
The shameful and contradicting standards of the UNRWA in the sector of education has brought about a huge reaction of anger in Palestine. On 1 July 2009 I asked the Commissioner-General, Karen Koning AbuZayed, personally:
- Who is responsible for the eliminating the teaching of the Palestinian Nakba, the genocide of the Palestinians, from the curriculum of study of Palestinian children in schools and UNRWA?
- Why does the UNRWA not teach the Palestinian children their own history in its schools in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan refugee camps? And which are the aims of the UNRWA in cultivating this ignorance of the Palestinian history in its schools?
Koning, who obviously considers teaching about the Nazi genocide during the second world war, which interests nobody in Palestine, to be a part of a “human rights” curriculum, did not answer my questions, she said anything, and continued squeezing her hair. She even turned off my tape recorder, which was in front of her on the table.
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