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.