How a Georgian journalist sees UNWTO nominee Zurab Pololikashvili for Secretary General?
The Author of this Due Diligence Report on UNWTO Nominee Zurab Pololikashvili is a geopolitical analysts with extremely strong ties to the country of Georgia. If there is any partiality in this report, then it is the authors’ concern and regard for Georgia. For that reason alone, it is not in the interest of the authors to hurt the chances of the Georgian candidate, Zurab Pololikashvili, from becoming the first Georgian UNWTO Secretary-General. In theory such a development would be great for Georgia. But if a Georgian candidate is elected under dubious or even remotely compromised circumstances, then the country of Georgia has the most to lose.
Because of the Georgian government’s vested interest in this election and Pololikashvili’s extensive network of supporters, the authors of this report have taken a serious risk in compiling it. Georgia is a small country. We risk significant backlash and reprisal by publishing this. The reason we have chosen to proceed is because the discrepancies described herein may ultimately hurt the country—the same country which Pololikashvili has served so well. At stake is also the progress of developing nations that rely on tourism not just for economic benefit but for their overall progress and improvement.
This is not personal. The authors of this report hold Zurab Pololikashvili in the highest regard. His service to the country of Georgia is unparalleled. His competence in both the public and private sectors have made him indispensible to the last three Georgian governments.
In six weeks worth of interviews, no one had anything negative to say about Zurab. Even his legal adversaries, members of a newspaper who are suing the bank that he helped build, did not have anything bad to say about him. (See final section)
Due Diligence Report on UNWTO Nominee Zurab Pololikashvili
The following is a report on Zurab Pololikashvili’s role as nominee for Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the lack of transparency, integrity, and accountability from nearly every party in that campaign, the failure of the entire system and leadership that allowed it to happen. This report has been compiled over the last six weeks. It is not meant to be a comprehensive account of all the players and their failings in the election process. Instead we provide a brief look into a flawed nomination process, the nominee, what went wrong and why
On May 12th, 2017, Zurab Pololikashvili (born January 12th, 1977, in Tbilisi, Georgia) was nominated by the UNWTO Executive Council for the post of Secretary General for 2018-2021. The 105th session was held in Madrid, Spain, where he serves as Georgian ambassador.
Historically the nominee is elected. Or as the UNWTO puts it, “The recommendation of the UNWTO Executive Council will be submitted to the upcoming 22nd UNWTO General Assembly for ratification (September 11-16th, 2017, Chengdu, China).”
Yet this year historical precedent may not decide the final outcome. Pololikashvili must receive 2/3 of the vote in order to win. And he is losing confidence fast.
The election for UNWTO Secretary-General is intended to be an election of individuals with the most experience candidate prevailing. Instead, this process has been dominated by FIFA-esc backroom deals, favors and negotiations between various countries and not by the experience and integrity of the individual candidates. As a result representatives from the tourism sector are growing increasingly concerned about the integrity of the entire process.
There is simply too much at stake for this process to be undermined by national interests. Or as the UNWTO itself puts it:
“Today, the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in international commerce and represents at the same time one of the main income sources for many developing countries. This growth goes hand in hand with an increasing diversification and competition among destinations. This global spread of tourism in industrialised and developed states has produced economic and employment benefits in many related sectors—from construction to agriculture or telecommunications. The contribution of tourism to economic well-being depends on the quality and the revenues of the tourism offer. UNWTO assists destinations in their sustainable positioning in ever more complex national and international markets. As the UN agency dedicated to tourism, UNWTO points out that particularly developing countries stand to benefit from sustainable tourism and acts to help make this a reality.”
For this reason, a growing number of representatives from various nations have now begun to question the transparency and integrity of the nomination process. We believe that sunlight is the greatest disinfectant.
The goal of this report is to shed light on and bring transparency to a process that we believe has been compromised. The objective of this report is not to target or attack any individual but to expose faults in the overall UNWTO system and what appears to be a failure in the impartiality of the entire election process.
Representatives from every country will have one final opportunity to either elect or reject Zurab Pololikashvili as head of “the world’s largest commercial service sector industry.” Unfortunately the alternatives are just as problematic.
Walter Mzembi of Zimbabwe has led the charge against Pololikashvili, crying foul, making accusations of corruption, demanding changes and public scrutiny. Unfortunately Mzembi is also the candidate who came in second place. He is the most biased possible candidate, and yet he has shamelessly made himself the “opposition” alternative.
The Failure of a System
If elected, Zurab Pololikashvili will make a fine UNWTO Secretary-General. Why then, you might ask, is Pololikashvili the focal point of this report on the failure of the integrity of the UNTWO election process?
It is not what Pololikashvili did, but what he did not do. Aside from his extremely controversial decision to bring executive council UNWTO members to a sold-out Real Madrid game (he secured an entire block of tickets) during an ongoing meeting on May 10th, Pololikashvili did not openly campaign for the position for which he may soon be elected. Instead members of the Georgian government, the Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in particular, campaigned on his behalf. Georgia is not alone.
Nearly every country that put forward a viable candidate carried out its campaign on a national level—as a country and not as a candidate with the necessary credentials. Dozens more countries are guilty of making secretive and unsanctioned deals with the main contenders. The failure lies within the system as a whole and its leadership.
Zurab Pololikashvili’s greatest offense is that he won the nomination. He did so without addressing the UNWTO body once. Aside from a white paper cited below, he made no case for his experience or future policy. Not only does this undermine the integrity of the process, it is also extremely cynical. It sends exactly the wrong message to individuals with future aspirations for the position and the countries they represent.
As for the authors of this report, Pololikashvili refused multiple attempts for interviews. He refused emails and either refused to answer or hung up the phone when we attempted to contact him, after he initially agreed to an interview. Perhaps most disheartening was his initial response when we first requested an interview:
He told us to wait until he won the election.
It wasn’t just us. Pololikashvili did not give one single press conference, instead current Secretary-General Dr. Taleb Rifai spoke for him, as did Georgia’s prime minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Accountability is a virtue that should be demanded of the potential leader of one of the largest industries in the world. This is impossible if that figure choses to ignore the media. Yet Pololikashvili violated no law or UNWTO regulation by refusing to speak to the media. Again Pololikashvili’s greatest offense is what he did not do.
Ultimately the current UNWTO leadership should be held accountable. There are dozens of them: Abulfas Garaye, the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan—an increasingly authoritarian country which borders Georgia and shares a very close geopolitical relationship—was chair of the executive council in Madrid when Pololikashvili was nominated. Current UNWTO Secretary-General Dr. Taleb Rifai will depart carrying this burden. It may very well come to define his legacy.
Below is Zurab Pololikashvili’s biography from his own embassy’s website: http://spain.mfa.gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=SPA&sec_id=269. As of August 31st, 2017, this biography was not available in English and the website was listed as “in update mode.”
When considering the discrepancy between this and the biography (below) submitted to the UNWTO and the controversy surrounding the lack of transparency in Pololikashvili’s nomination there is reason to believe this “update” is not a coincidence.
At every juncture, the authors of this report, along with several other journalists investigating this issue, were inhibited in their pursuit for information, particularly in regard to Pololikashvili’s tourism credentials, of which there appear to be almost none.
Exhibit A: From http://spain.mfa.gov.ge/
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia in the Kingdom of Spain, the Principality of Andorra, the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria and the Kingdom of Morocco, Permanent Representative of Georgia to the World Tourism Organization (WTO)
- Since April 15, 2012 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia in the Kingdom of Spain
- 2009 – 2010 Minister of Economic Development of Georgia
EXPERIENCE IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR
Ambassador Pololikashvili’s professional experience in the private sector includes several years in the financial and banking sector, serving as Director of International Operations at the entity “TBC Bank” (one of the most prestigious banks in Georgia). Director of the Central Branch of “TBC Bank” (2001-2005) and Vice President of the TBC Group (2010-2011).
In 2011-2011, Ambassador Pololikashvili was the General Manager of FC Dinamo de Tbilisi, the most outstanding professional football team in Georgia.
2008-2009 Global Senior Management Program (GSMP), IE Business School, Instituto de Empresa, Madrid, Spain
1994-1998 Degree in Banking, Technical University of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia
Date of birth January 12, 1977, Tbilisi, Georgia
Married with three children
English, Spanish and Russian (Fluent)
French, Japanese and Polish (spoken)
NOTE: Pololikashvili and those seeking his nomination have taken his impressive professional and political credentials and attempted to tie them to the tourism sector. In reality the nominee for WTO Secretary-General has almost no experience working in tourism. Instead the Georgian Prime Minister and other officials waged an underhanded campaign on his behalf.
Pololikashvili made no effort to campaign himself. He actually avoided doing so. He has refused to speak at official meetings of the very organization, which he may soon be in charge of and responsible for.
The strategy of the Pololikashvili campaign has been to sell his immense political (and private sector) experience with Georgia’s last three governments as experience in the tourism sector. This is the sole argument Pololikashvili’s camp made for why he should be Secretary-General of the world’s largest industry for the next four years.
While his professional and political experience can hardly be criticized, it is a falsehood to call him an expert in tourism in any capacity. It is cynical at best and disingenuous at worst.
Below are excerpts from the White Paper that the Pololikashvili camp (in which he seems to have had little involvement) presented to the UNWTO:
By simply comparing the above biography from his website as Georgian ambassador to Spain, where the word “tourism” appears only once (in the name of his official WTO title), to the excerpts below from his White Paper, one can see where tourism “credentials” are inserted (in bold) into the text and tenuously tied to his many positions over the years. Exhibit B is an impressive work of fiction
Ambassador POLOLIKASHVILI has broad experience of working in both private and public sectors at high-profile positions. He has extensive diplomatic experience, having represented Georgia to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), as well as serving as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Kingdom of Spain. He also held a position of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2006.
As Minister of Economic Development of Georgia, Ambassador Pololikashvili was responsible for overseeing the country’s long-term fiscal growth strategies, for advancing foreign trade and investment policy initiatives, as well as for promoting the development of tourism, infrastructure and transportation sectors. He was instrumental in launching an innovative policy for the development of tourism in Georgia, prioritizing the sphere on both the government and private sector agendas.
During Ambassador Pololikashvili’s tenure as the Minister of Economic Development, through key policy reforms, marketing activities, improvement of infrastructure and visa liberalization initiatives, Georgia managed to nearly double the annual number of international arrivals, from 1.5 million (in 2009) to exceeding the 2.8 million mark by 2011.
Those reforms paved the way for sustainable tourism practices in Georgia and poverty alleviation initiatives, placing Georgia among top tourist destinations in the region.
Minister Pololikashvili successfully led the economic liberalization processes, introducing more supportive policies for SMEs, and incentive programs to attract foreign investment for development of hard and soft infrastructure.
2005 – 2006 Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. In this capacity as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, he supervised the departments for administrative, budgetary, financial and consular affairs, as well as the Department for Human Resources Management.
Pololikashvili was responsible for ushering in a new phase of more liberal and secure visa regimes, facilitation of processes to ease border crossing procedures, and deepening relations with various international organizations, including the UNWTO.
Experience private sector.
Ambassador Pololikashvili’s private sector experience includes several years in the financial and banking sectors, serving as the Manager of International Operations for TBC Bank (one of the most successful banks in Georgia), Director of TBC Bank’s Central Branch Office (2001-2005) and the Vice President of TBC Group (2010 – 2011).
In 2001 – 2011 Ambassador Pololikashvili was CEO of FC Dinamo Tbilisi, the leading professional football team in Georgia.
These Questions Remain Unanswered
(Despite multiple attempts to contact the nominee). We again welcome his response.)
On August 25th, candidates and individuals from the diplomatic community representing 90 UNWTO member countries gathered in Madrid to discus the upcoming General Assembly in Chengdu, China, and to discuss how to respond to the controversy surrounding Pololikashvili’s nomination among other issues. The nominee, Zurab Polokishvili, did not say a single word to the body he intends to govern.
-Simply put: Why? For a seasoned diplomat whose “reforms paved the way for sustainable tourism practices in Georgia and poverty alleviation initiatives,” he must at least know how to voice his opinion.
-Why was a candidate with no experience working in tourism chosen to represent Georgia at the UNWTO when there were and are dozens of experienced potential candidates?
-Is this a result of Pololikashvili’s close relationship to the Georgian prime minister or was he truly considered the most qualified person in Georgia based on his competence alone?
-Why has no Georgian with the proper credentials contested his appointment? It almost seems insulting to those in the Ministry of Tourism or Foreign Affairs.
Georgia made numerous quid pro quo backroom deals during the nomination process.
-What was it trading on and with whom?
-Was Pololikashvili’s decision to give members of the UNWTO executive council an entire block of tickets to a sold-out May 10th Real Madrid game the blatant act of corruption that it appears to be or simply extremely poor judgment and timing on Pololikashvili’s part?
There is no good answer to this question. A man who has held high political positions in three consecutive Georgian governments cannot claim political naiveté.
-So what is Pololikashvili’s explanation and why won’t he provide one to the media?
-Pololikashvili’s silence on the issue creates the impression of guilt, regardless of the truth. Do he or his camp not understand media enough to simply issue a statement, does he simply not care, or is something else at play?
-Why did the UNWTO leadership not hold open discussion and debate about the candidates’ qualifications?
-Is it too late to elect a candidate with the proper credentials and with a reputation that remains intact?
Key Quotes from Interviews
(The names of those interviewed have been omitted for obvious reasons.)
From a high-ranking member of the UNM party who has been around since the nineties:
“Zura is one of those people in Georgian politics that nobody seems to have a grudge against. He survived the 2012 [change in power] rather comfortably, and there are people in both camps of the post-split UNM that consider him a friend.”
From a Georgian politician, a former Member of Parliament, a former head of IRI in Iraq, and a former advisor to Yuschenko (the ex-President of Ukraine) who knows Georgia in the 2000s like nobody else and who is staunchly anti-Saakashvili:
“Most of Pololikashvili’s fortune was accumulated by his father, who was an influential businessman and a go-to guy for amicable dealings in post-Soviet Georgia, especially during Shevardnadze’s tenure. Zura himself just was a good son who listened to his dad. That’s where he got his savvy acumen and knack for negotiation. He’s a perfect second man.”
From a well-known lawyer who dealt with the Pololikashvili family in the past:
“The good name runs in the family—it has always been part of the elite. Pololikashvili, Senior, was one of the businessmen that even Shevardnadze didn’t have anything against. -Wealthy folks, though not in a posh way.”
From an anonymous journalist:
“Pololikashvili enjoys a flawless reputation. He’s a smart and savvy diplomat and dealer who never antagonizes anyone.”
From a friend of the ex-head of the National Bank of Georgia:
“He is somewhat unassuming—the kind of guy nobody goes after or against. He was a yes-man during his time at TBC [the bank that he helped create] and during his tenure as minister.”