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On ESCWA Corruption Inner City Press Asked UN now Full Staff Complaint to Inert Guterres

by Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Book Substack

UN GATE, April 13 – How corrupt is today's United Nations, under Antonio Guterres?

Well, consider UNRWA, under Philippe Lazzarini. Inner City Press for two days has asked Guterres' spokespeople Stephane Dujarric and Melissa Fleming -- the second day cc-ing Lazzarini himself - about complaints and evidence that whistleblowers have provided to Inner City Press about what is formally knowns as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

  No response at all, while Dujarric laughs and services state media and his partners in censorship, with whom he worked to target and now ban Inner City Press.

 And consider ESCWA, on which Guterres has refused to answer Press questions, now receiving (along with his equally censoring cronies) this from ESCWA staff:

From: ESCWA UNRWA Staff  Data: April 11, 2023 Subject: Appeal from ESCWA Staff To: Cc:,,,,,,,,, 

Secretary-General,    We, a group of ESCWA staff, fear retaliation from the ESCWA Executive Secretary, Ms. Rola Dashti, and are sending you this email anonymously since the Ethics Office and OIOS have failed to take action and protect us. 

Inner City Press in writing asked UN Spokespeople including Stephane Dujarric, Farhan Haq and Melissa Fleming for Guterres' response. Nothing. Now this fuller letter:

Dear Matthew,

Several months ago, a number of Escwa staff quietly sent a letter to the SG as a cry for rescue.  Alas, it fell on deaf ears.  We feel compelled to make public excerpts below, along with new facts.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

For the past three years, ESCWA has been crippled by an abusive leadership crisis, unseen in the organization's 49-year history. Led by a short-sighted and inexperienced Executive Secretary (ES), ESCWA has silently slid into its deepest low. The organization - once a vaunted regional think-tank - is now bleeding talent, and is experiencing unseen before departures of staff with an unprecedented upsurge in the number of requests for unpaid leaves by employees.

At the helm, an irascible and superficial character with embarrassingly shallow substantive expertise, the ES Rola Dashti, has forced ill-conceived and misguided reforms under the false banner of "agility", supposedly promoting a new vision for ESCWA and the region, but with a glaring exception. No one, including her, knows what that vision is. She is managing ESCWA as if it were her private business, sidelining honorable and hard working staff who stand up against her and empowering mediocre employees whose arrogance and hurried promotions have been hotly contested.

A stranger to the UN system and to the field of sustainable development, the ES has pressed for massive reforms so ferocious and hasty and with no proper consultations or buy-in that the organization has cracked at the seams . Abusing people by imposing unfair workloads, inventing strange and complicated systems to measure and monitor their working days, and throwing at them unworkable ideas just to sabotage them and set them up for failure, is a common occurrence. Directly threatening, manipulating and intimidating staff at town hall meetings is a frequent scene, the latest of which was a month ago to silence the concerns of staff over issues of corruption and harassment, in a bid to rob us of our freedom of speech -a fundamental human right.

The ES contemptuously regards staff and holds them in suspicion all the time by making them feel unappreciated, belittling their work and encouraging unhealthy competition and divide-and-rule among them. Abetted by a number of self-promoting yes-people who are her willing executioners, Dashti's ESCWA resembles Orwell's Animal Farm where all staff are supposedly equal but "some are more equal than others". 

It is irrelevant what your professional level or experience is at the organization. A senior staff can lead a project as well as a junior staff. Career paths have been distorted and derailed by forcing specialized professionals to work in sectors that are not under their specialization. No one is expert in their fields anymore. We are forced to become generalists.

Insecurity, despondency and demotivation have prevailed and corridor whispers, cafeteria conversations and coffee chats all discuss the same thing - how toxic working at ESCWA has become and how incompetent and autocratic Dashti is. 

Most telling sign of a failed leader is their ability to manage crisis situations. Nearly three years ago, a massive uprising broke out in Beirut and the area surrounding the office became the hotbed of many situations of violent standoffs, rendering the work areas fraught. While we are told that staff security and well-being come first, the ES refused to allow staff to leave the office on many occasions or to work from home even when violent clashes took place right under the UN building.

When road closures started popping up haphazardly and staff security was under threat, she was adamant. The frivolous way with which she handled staff security is astounding, intentionally putting them in harm's way. The same was felt during the pandemic, ESCWA was the last of the UN agencies to lock down the office and the first to demand full return to office even when the pandemic was in full rage and against the one-UN country team guidelines. The ES has even repeatedly called for the return of staff who are immuno-suppressed even when covid cases were circulating in the open working spaces she designed as part of the agility modality. This is all because of the ES disdainful view of staff.

Perhaps most concerning under Dashti are the opaque hiring procedures, and curious cases of fast and untransparent promotions of her supporters that have become commonplace. Many deserving staff are dumbfounded to see less qualified and inexperienced people pass them over. The ES has reportedly given away sweetheart deals to contractors and given posts to people from her personal circle to do major remodeling of the UN building, which surprisingly is neither owned by the UN nor the hosting government, thus surpassing due procurement process and transparent bidding for hundreds of thousands. It is reported that she has hired a direct family member in violation of UN laws.  Not long ago, she hired a new senior economist as D-1, sidelining many senior in-house economists who are experts on the MENA region.  While a pleasant guy, his position is totally superfluous.  She also foisted on us a former employee of hers with no experience in sustainable development or the UN system, to write a vision for the future of the Arab region, a document of such odious quality that even the editors refused to read or edit.  All of this is to sideline and bypass existing talent and render them redundant.

Most ominously, her righthand director of administration has been on administrative leave and under investigation in at least 7 cases of abuse of authority and sexual harassment and yet, she assumed no moral responsibility for covering up his misdeeds. In fact she scolded staff for talking about the case and attempted a gag order across the organization. A micromanager, the ES is in on every detail in the organization’s work so it is impossible that she did not know about all the misdeeds, abuse and mismanagement of the director of administration, but we know she conveniently looked the other way because he and his immediate staff did always what she wanted and distributed the budget the way she opts for without any question. Worse, she has managed to collude with senior UN managers at the secretariat to cover up his misdeeds and ensure he gets an honorable discharge from the organization.  Also two years ago, a former D-1 sued and defeated the ES for abuse of power; and another of her D1s was implicated in a sexual harassment scandal and yet remains in his job.  The ES has no ethical compass.  Her performance is morally reprehensible, in addition to being rudderless, bereft of any vision, inspiration or even expertise.  

Despite an OIOS report exposing egregious managerial malpractice, the ES continues to casually dismiss the damning report conclusions by spinning them into mere administrative procedures to be rectified.  Is there accountability? Any safeguards against abuse?  Why does the SG and his team keep looking the other way? For months, this has been going on.  ES incompetence and lack of leadership has been proven on many occasions.

We were sold the idea that the ES should uphold ethics and the highest moral standards and model exemplary behavior.  Our ES is tenth rate, the nadir of her morals is unreachable even by the wildest imagination.  Her cynicism is reflected in a compact that she signed with the SG.  The compact is replete with falsehoods and pseudo-commitments, and the SG has fallen prey to a false and evil appeasement by the ES who maliciously committed to more delegation and democracy at ESCWA.  But her reeking stench of corruption and incompetence is stifling and the coverup in NY is sickening

Her latest shenanigan is pandering to brutal war criminal regimes.  Her meeting last week with Asma Assad, the wife and supporter of a brutal mass murderer generated much harsh criticism and human rights advocates continue to heap scorn on ESCWA and the UN.  Next time you hear a senior UN officer lecturing on ethics, integrity and human rights, just think of ESCWA and remember to laugh (or cry) your heart out.

All of the above wrongdoings and many more, too long to recount here are documented, with damning evidence.  Hence we call on the Secretary General to immediately remove Dashti and hold her accountable for her inappropriate acts and cover-ups.  By failing to act swiftly or by covering up Dashti's action and remaining silent will ultimately reflect badly on the values that the United Nations upholds, and on the personal reputation and image of the Secretary General. This will also send a message to a vast number of ESCWA staff - and all UN staff - that they do not matter, which we hope is not true.

We will make every effort to ensure that these abuses are told to the world and not forgotten.


Active ESCWA staff who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.


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