New Zealand has suspended donations to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) last week, following a late July confidential internal report from the agency’s own ethics office detailing alleged abuses of authority by the agency’s senior management team.
Among other things, the report alleges that in 2015, Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA’s Swiss chief, created a post of “Special Advisor” which he gave to his mistress, who was paid for her work by the Swiss foreign ministry from March 2015 to December 2018. This was confirmed to the newspaper Sonntagszeitung by the ministry, which declined to disclose how much was spent on the mistress’ salary and whether it included travel expenses.
The ethics commission report says many people both inside and outside UNRWA knew about the affair between the married Krähenbühl and his chief advisor, writes Sonntagszeitung. The newspaper alleges that Krähenbühl was more often at her place of work rather than his, and that they frequently traveled business class together, while most of the management travelled economy class,
New Zealand joined Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium in suspending aid to UNRWA over the findings of the internal report, which was sent to UN Secretary General António Guterres last December but was made public only this summer, that cites “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses including “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”
The report connects the ethical collapse at UNRWA with the decision by the Trump administration to cut the US contributions from $360 million to $60 million for 2018, and in 2019 bring that figure down to zero. The report says that this crisis “served as an excuse for an extreme concentration of decision-making power in members of the ‘clique’ and in particular, the [former] chief of staff; increased disregard for agency rules and established procedures, with exceptionalism becoming the norm; and continued excessive travel of the commissioner-general.”
New Zealand’s foreign minister Winston Peters originally issued a statement saying, “We are aware of recent media reports of allegations of ethical issues and mismanagement within UNRWA. We expect UNRWA to cooperate fully with any investigation and to report back on the investigation’s findings and recommendations.”
But when the FM’s demands had not received a proper response, his staff issued a statement saying “the Ministry will review the findings of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report once the investigation is complete and provide advice to the New Zealand Government. New Zealand will not make any further payments to UNRWA until we have reviewed the report’s findings and assessed UNRWA’s response to any recommendations.”
New Zealand contributed more than $6.4 million to UNRWA over the past ten years, and recently committed to add $3 million over the next few years.
UNRWA’s annual budget used to hover around $1.2 billion, to support more than 5.4 million clients in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria, eastern Jerusalem and Gaza. Its current annual donations are not even close to this amount.