Wednesday, November 30, 2005

US budget plan for UN criticized

Betsy Pisik in the Washington Times has this story on criticism of the US budget plan for the UN, here, Wednesday, November 30, 2005.

My take on the aftermath of the UN reform summit back in September is that very, very little has actually happened. The UN General Assembly seems almost certain not to complete any of the goals it set in the final action plan to be completed by year end, and there is no good reason to think they will be accomplished ever. Ambassador Bolton seems to be trying to pressure the situation by pressing for an interim short term budget of three months, in order to ensure that the longer term budget for the remainder of the two year budget cycle will actually reflect some measure of UN reform. Japan has backed the US in this, but they are set against the usual group of non-aligned countries plus various Europeans. As Ambassador Bolton says in this article, if the two year budget is passed, it reduces greatly any pressure to engage in UN reform during that period - only the threat of not having a budget, only the threat of running out of money has any chance of getting any actual reform.

The point is that the parties of reform at the UN are very few. The Secretariat, so far as I can tell, simply saw it as a way of saving Kofi Annan and high UN officials from getting ousted over the oil for food scandal. Now that they see that it has blown over, from the threat of ouster standpoint, there's no desire at the Secretariat for reform. The Secretary General maybe sees some ability to salvage his reputation by making reform the centerpiece of his last two years in office. But it now looks rather more that he has concluded that, given the fact that no one cares about reform outside the US and a handful of other countries such as Japan, and given the fact that the oil for food scandal is largely seen as the mean ol' US pulling the plug on a form of corruption and patronage that is seen as normal and part of the UN's patrimony and gift, well, his reputation outside the US is perfectly secure.

So reform is on the agenda only insofar as the US (along with Japan, at this point in history) wants to force it there, against the wishes of the rest of the world, whose missions, representatives and, often, whole countries, want to keep their grubby paws working the til. Ambassador Bolton of course knows all this and more - presumably he, in his persistent, hard headed way, is simply looking to use US leverage to get some level of managerial reform. Good luck to him.

Excerpts from the Washington Times story:

U.S. budget plan for U.N. criticized

By Betsy Pisik
November 30, 2005

NEW YORK -- A senior U.N. administrator warned yesterday evening that a U.S. proposal to pass an interim three-month budget while delegates continue to debate reform could have a disastrous effect on the United Nations.

The Bush administration has refused to pass the proposed $3.6 billion biennial budget unless it includes a variety of administrative and management reforms to make the organization more efficient and effective.

To avoid a budget crisis, U.S. officials have suggested passing a sort of continuing resolution, which is common in Washington and other capitals but unprecedented at the United Nations.

"We do not want to be in a position where we adopt a budget next month and we get no more reform for the two-year life of the budget," U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told reporters on Monday.

But U.N. Comptroller Warren Sach said the interim budget would leave the organization in a cash crunch, forcing it to borrow from closed peacekeeping missions and dwindling management accounts.

"The secretariat considers this a serious problem in terms of cash flow," Mr. Sach said. He said the organization requires between $450 million and $500 million for the period of January through March 2006, but that member states traditionally pay only 38 percent of their assessed dues so early in the year, leaving a shortfall of up to $350 million.

Because roughly 75 percent of the U.N. budget goes to payroll and related fixed expenses, he indicated that staff might be asked to accept late payment or partial salaries during the interim period. The organization would also be forced to defer or delay paying its bills.

Mr. Sach acknowledged to reporters that "the perception of member states is that this is part of a negotiating scheme" by the United States. However, he said that he had already begun to make contingency plans.

Secretariat officials and many member states, including Britain, say that the budget should be passed now, and reforms can be paid for with supplemental budget requests. The new budget pits the United States and Japan -- which pay a combined 40 percent of the U.N. regular operating budget -- against a loosely affiliated bloc of developing nations.

Major donors say enacting the reforms is a necessary step to revitalizing the organization. The developing nations say that many of the measures transfer too much power from member states to the U.N. secretary-general.

Specifically, the proposed changes would give the secretary-general more discretion to allocate posts and funding between programs. Many of the suggestions under consideration were first proposed more than a year ago by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Many members of the 132-nation Group of 77 fear that this secretary-general would transfer resources from development programs to security and human rights. They have suggested in recent weeks that Mr. Annan is playing into Washington's agenda to remake the organization.

"I made it quite clear that there's no attempt at power grab," Mr. Annan told reporters last week.

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