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Cash-Strapped UN Agency on Tenterhooks Over Probe

A Palestinian refugee boy holds a placard showing his school report card as hundreds of refugees request asylum at a rally outside the the Canadian Embassy, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sept. 5, 2019.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees is waiting anxiously on the outcome this month of a probe into alleged mismanagement that has dented its already severely depleted funding, one of its top officials said Monday.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency hopes the results of the investigation will enable it to get past the scandal that has worsened a cash crunch threatening the school and health services it provides to five million Palestinians.

UNRWA's director for West Bank operations Gwyn Lewis told AFP in Brussels: "We're waiting with bated breath because it obviously has financial implications."

She said the conclusions of the probe are expected to be delivered "around the end of October" to UN chief Antonio Guterres, who would then issue public and internal "follow-up steps."

The timing is crucial as the agency's three-year mandate is up for renewal this month, and money is tight.

UNRWA has been skating on very thin financial ice since last year, after US President Donald Trump decided to suspend, then yank entirely his country's contribution to the agency's budget, robbing it of its top donor.

Those woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency's management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.

That has left the agency struggling to provide the schooling, medical and sanitary programmes it runs for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.

According to a copy of an internal U.N. report obtained by AFP in July, senior management at UNRWA engaged in "sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain."