Famous French intellectuals and artists such as Pierre Bergé and Jean-Michel Jarre have publicly announced their support for the candidacy of Bulgarian UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), proclaimed the Bulgarian press. They were joined by “a group of outstanding scientists”.
These announcements, reminiscent of the famous communist times stereotype “group of Soviet scientists”, conveniently omit the fact that the scientists are laureates of UNESCO, while the intellectuals and the artists are goodwill ambassadors of the same organization. That means that Bokova has personally made them such or has reaffirmed decisions of her predecessors.
However, such use of the resources of UNESCO by its Director General to boost her campaign for the highest office in the UN is not liked by everyone. Exasperated diplomats and members of the Executive Board of UNESCO even speak of “conflict of interest”.
Besides honorary posts, with which she successfully “buys” support, Bokova also uses the money and human resources of UNESCO for her campaign, show documents which Bivol has obtained.
This comes amid catastrophic management of the budget and the activities of the organization, which has already been criticized in a British report entitled “Poor Value For Money for UK Aid”, published in 2011
To serve or to be served?
As soon as she took the high office, Irina Bokova sent a directive to the main sectors of UNESCO to increase their contribution to her official travel budget for trips around the world. They were asked to provide another 800,000 US dollars over the slated budget. This emerges from the document that Bivol was able to examine.
Since then, this hole in the program budget sectors has been recurrent to the detriment of the main activities of UNESCO.
To the extent that in November 2015, the UNESCO General Conference approved an increased budget for Bokova’s travel that, according to diplomats from the organization, exceeds the budget of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This was done against Bokova’s explicit commitment to no longer withdraw money from the programs. However, the Bulgarian backtracked and in 2016 the sectors were again instructed to allocate nearly 10% more for her trips.
At the same time, the budget of UNESCO is generally poorly managed and large sums are returned to the donors of the organization, as they are not utilized. This can be seen in documents from the Bureau of Financial Management of UNESCO for 2012.
Unlike the poorly managed finances of the organization, the personal wealth of Bokova and her husband Kalin Mitrev enjoys admirable management. As an investigation of Bivol showed (see here and here), the family has purchased in recent years apartments in Paris, London and New York for a total of about 5 million US dollars.
The origin of a significant part of the funds for these acquisitions is unclear. Even after announcing her UN candidacy, Bokova remains among the very few senior officials of the UN who have not voluntarily declared their assets.
All these facts speak more of spending the resources of the international organization in the interest of its Director and not vice versa.
UNESCO’s Headquarters have forgotten that they must serve and not be served.
The quote of the British diplomat at UNESCO, Matthew Sudders, in the Dutch newspaper NRC, is indicative of the assessment of Irina Bokova’s “achievements” in the management of the organization. In fact, she transferred there the model of the communist nomenclature that was served ruthlessly with all available resources of the State. And it did not go unnoticed.
Human resources are also harnessed in serving Bokova
In addition to increasing her travels around the world, prior to unofficially announcing her candidacy for the UN, Bokova also appointed trusted people to key positions through a very controversial procedure. The appointment of Ana Luiza Thompson-Flores, marked by serious violations of the rules, tampering with the criteria for the post, and a bogus diploma, nearly led to the impeachment of Irina Bokova in the summer of 2015.
Flores-Thompson advanced in her career, taking consecutively key positions as Head of “Human Resources” and subsequently Deputy Director of “Strategic Planning”, which gave her enormous power over key resources of the organization. However, her fall, after revelations of her lack of qualification, was mitigated through Bokova’s personal intervention. Rather than firing her, she appointed her at another high position in the organization.
Among Bokova’s assistants, there are some who have not yet acquired a scandalous reputation. Two Bulgarian women in her office are working exclusively for her candidacy. Vesselina Ivanova and Snezhana Manoylova are of retirement age, but continue to work in Paris to serve Bokova’s ambitions, not for the tasks and goals of the organization funded with taxpayers’ money. Ivanova even receives a supervisor salary (about 10,000 euro a month net and exempt from taxes), which does not correspond to her functions.
Bivol’s attempt to obtain official information about the years of service, the experience and the job descriptions of Vesselina Ivanova and Snezhana Manoylova hit a wall. The press office of UNESCO responded that the organization has no practice of disseminating information about the career development of its employees.
“The bottoms don’t want and the tops cannot live in the old way”
The policy of human resource management, however, is strongly criticized by trade unions of employees of UNESCO for the lack of objective, equitable and transparent procedure for appointments in the organization. Nevertheless, the management problems affect more than the recruitment and career development.
Documents, distributed to union members, include the eloquently entitled “Crisis of Leadership” and “Descent into Chaos”. They criticize the hypocrisy of the policy of austerity that does not affect the travel of the Director General and the appointments in her cabinet.
The protests of trade unions, brought to the attention of Irina Bokova, remain unanswered. The situation strongly reminds of the classical definition of a revolutionary situation – “the bottoms don’t want and the tops cannot live in the old way”. It was formulated by Lenin, whose works Bokova studied by heart during her enrollment at the Academy of International Diplomats (MGIMO) in Moscow in the early years of Brezhnev’s rule.
The neglect for the organizational and budgetary problems in UNESCO has an easy explanation. The Director General has a clear plan and purpose for her personal career – boss of UN. Everything else is secondary.
This did not go unnoticed by international diplomats, who state in official documents as early as 2014 that Irina Bokova is lobbying for the post of UN Secretary General.
There are sufficient facts showing that the resources of UNESCO are mobilized to serve Bokova’s ambitions. This is combined with mismanagement, cronyism and indifference to deficits in the organization. UNESCO’s finances are far from brilliant, especially after the United States decided to stop the funding of the organization over the recognition of Palestine. Since then, however, Bokova has not made a single official call to Washington to ask for the donation to be restored.
Will there be a British veto?
Perhaps this combination of extreme personal ambition, lack of managerial skills, non-compliance, abuse of power (in the scandal with the appointment of Thompson-Flores) and irrational spending of money explains the current relentless opposition of Britain to Bokova’s candidacy, not counting her communist past and her positioning as “Putin’s candidate”.
Britain is monitoring very carefully how donor funds allocated to international organizations are spent and there is a special agency carrying out periodic audits (Multilateral Aid Review, or MAR). The previous such report, from 2011, listed UNESCO as a badly managed organization and evaluated its work as poor, compared to the money invested by British taxpayers (“Poor Value For Money for UK Aid”).
According to senior diplomatic sources, talking to Bivol on condition of anonymity, the new British report on UNESCO is expected at the end of the month, after it was delayed because of the referendum and Brexit. Its findings are not at all flattering. As we have seen, despite their inherent tact and diplomacy, the British are able to stand their ground and ask the question: “Is this what we want?” Bokova’s chances also depend on whether other members of the “Mighty Five” will close their eyes or will “start seeing” as their British counterparts.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian