UN Palestine Agency to have new commissioner-general

By Manik Mehta

NEW YORK, Nov 8 (NNN-BERNAMA) — The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees has a new Commissioner General after the incumbent chief resigned on Wednesday hours after the preliminary findings of an investigation into misconduct allegations were announced.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national and the hitherto UNRWA Commissioner General, was put “on administrative leave”, to use the UN jargon, in the earlier part of the day.  According to a statement from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Christian Saunders was named the acting Officer-in-Charge of the agency the investigation was officially completed.

The preliminary report findings emanated from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the internal oversight body of the United Nations (UN). 

The OIOS assists the Secretary-General in fulfilling his oversight responsibilities in respect of the resources and staff of the organisation and carries out audit, investigation, inspection and evaluation services.  

While emphasizing that the findings excluded “fraud or misappropriation of funds” on the part of Krahenbuhl, the UN said in a statement that there are “managerial issues that need to be addressed”.  

The review revealed a number of areas which required strengthening; the agency said it had already commenced with the necessary corrective action and will be pursuing further initiatives and improvements over the coming months.

Reading out from a prepared statement before journalists, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said the Secretary-General “thanked Mr. Krahenbuhl for his commitment and constant dedication to UNRWA and to Palestine refugees. The Secretary-General reiterates his appreciation to UNRWA for their excellent work, which is essential to the well-being of Palestine refugees.”

Besides confirming that Krahenbuhl’s resignation was “effective immediately”, Dujarric gave no other details but emphasized that “at this time, it is vital that Member States and other partners remain committed to UNRWA and the services it provides. It is also critical for the international community to support the crucial work performed by the agency in the areas of health, education, and humanitarian assistance, which is a source of stability in a volatile region.”

Earlier in the day, the Spokesperson’s Office announced that the former UNRWA chief had been placed on “administrative leave”, pending a “final determination” on any action that should be taken following the detailed OIOS report.  A UN source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Bernama that allegations of misconduct first appeared in media reports last July, highlighted a leaked internal UN ethics investigation, allegedly accusing Krahenbuhl and other senior staff members of abusing their authority for personal gains and trying to put down internal dissent in the agency.

The agency provides basic education for 525,000 boys and girls at over 700 UNRWA schools; emergency food and cash assistance to 1.7 million Palestine refugees; access to primary health care for 3 million refugees.  The UNRWA started in January 2018 a worldwide fundraising campaign to allow it to continue its work, following the U.S. decision to slash its funding of the agency by some $ 300 million.

The Secretary-General has called upon donors and partners to commit to the transfer critical funding payments to enable UNRWA to bridge its significant financial deficit and ensure it is able to carry out its unique and vital role in in serving over 5.5 million Palestine refugees.