Covid-19 disrupts the UN and threatens a potential liquidity crunch within the global body

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The empty corridors of the UN. Credit: United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, January 13, 2022 (IPS) – The 22-month-old coronavirus pandemic – which has claimed more than 5.4 million lives worldwide, devastated economies and reduced an additional 100 million people to poverty – has also disrupted the work of a United Nations United partially locked, triggering a potential liquidity crisis in the global body.

Speaking to the UN Administrative and Budget Committee late last year, a spokesperson for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has 10 members, said that “any organization, to be successful, must have sufficient financial resources to implement its mandates. However, COVID-19 has disrupted not only the work of the UN, but many of our economies ”.

“It is understandable that countries whose economies have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 may have difficulty paying their contributions (namely the dues of UN members). It is therefore all the more important that Member States which have the capacity to pay their assessed contributions do so in full, on time and without conditions ”.

“Otherwise, the UN runs a real risk of not having the resources it needs to carry out its mandates,” said the spokesperson for ASEAN, a group that includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos. , Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand. and Vietnam.

Last year, 11 countries were in arrears under the United Nations charter, including Antigua and Barbuda, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Guinea, Iran, Papua New Guinea, Sao Tome -and-Principe, Somalia, Sudan, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations states: “A Member of the United Nations which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall not have the right to vote in the General Assembly, if the amount of his arrears are equal to or greater than the amount of contributions due to him for the two previous full years. The General Assembly may, however, authorize such a member to vote if it is convinced that the default is due to circumstances beyond the member’s control.

Asked about failing member states, Paulina Kubiak, spokesperson for the president of the United Nations General Assembly, told reporters on January 12 that there were 11 member states on the list, which is similar to figures from previous years.

She said these member states could not vote in the General Assembly until they made the minimum payment. But there are a few exceptions.

In A / Res / 76/2, the General Assembly decided that Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia would be allowed to vote at the GA until the end of the current 76th session, leaving 8 country still in default.

Exceptions are made by the General Assembly at the start of the session on the recommendation of the Committee on Contributions. These exceptions are based in large part on the state of a country’s faltering economy.

On December 24, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly adopted a regular budget of $ 3.12 billion for 2022, while the annual peacekeeping budget is approximately $ 6.5 billion. of dollars.

The United Nations intermittent lockdown since March 2020 – with the overwhelming majority of its 9,900 employees working from home – is starting to impact the operational services of the global body.

The lockdown, which was partially lifted last month, has been reinstated twice. In a January 10 message to New York-based UN staff, Gilles Michaud, chairman of the UN Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, said after consultation with senior management at the UN UN, it was decided that staff members will continue to work from home (WFH) and not return to duty (RTO) – until January 28 “when the situation will be reviewed again”.

The decision to expand the WFH was largely driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which last week averaged around 37,000 cases per day and overwhelmed New York City hospitals. But there is no official breakdown of the number of virus cases among UN staff.

Ambassador Boubacar Diallo of Guinea, outgoing chair of the Group of 77 plus China, the largest coalition of developing countries at the UN, warned late last year that the Group continued to be disappointed that ‘Due to security concerns, the Administrative and Budgetary Commission is deprived of interpretation services (in the six official UN languages) during informal consultations.

This is mainly due to the lack of personnel at the UN premises.

“We look forward to the day when multilingualism is fully restored and we can take advantage of interpretation services as we do here today. We commit to a thorough consideration of the agenda items assigned to the Committee, and in this regard, note with disappointment that several reports are still pending, ”he added.

This endemic situation, he stressed, seriously compromises the work of the Committee.

“The global challenges we face today are becoming increasingly complex and interconnected, and solutions require a collective global response. As we have heard from many leaders (at the UN General Assembly sessions in September), now is the time for us to redouble our efforts on multilateralism and reaffirm our commitment to a system. rules-based multilateral policy, ”said Ambassador Diallo.

With a resolution adopted by consensus, including the 134 members of the G77, he said: “It is not possible to turn a blind eye to a General Assembly resolution and ignore the two-thirds majority. general members.

Speaking on behalf of the 27 members of the European Union (EU), Thibault Camelli, Adviser to the EU Delegation to the United Nations, said: “We call on all Member States to pay their contributions in full and to time. We remain deeply concerned that the United Nations liquidity situation continues to undermine the fulfillment of mandates. ”

The temporary solutions introduced so far, he warned, have only mitigated the consequences of this crisis and are locking the Organization into systemic underperformance. The Member States of the European Union call on the Committee to take up this challenge. We will continue to advocate for lasting solutions to this crisis, ”he said.

Joseph Chamie, international demographer and former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS that the current crisis should come as no surprise to member states as the coronavirus pandemic has strongly impacted the work of the United Nations.

In addition to the vast majority of United Nations staff working from home, the Organization’s normal day-to-day operations have been drastically curtailed and restricted, he said.

“It is understandable that many Member States are disappointed with the lack of interpretation services. However, with the technology available, interpretation services for United Nations languages ​​should be able to be provided without difficulty ”.

It is also not surprising, said Chamie, that many member states, especially poor and less developed countries, are calling on rich and more developed countries to increase their financial contributions to the United Nations.

“However, it strikes me as somewhat ironic that many Member States, including less developed countries, report having difficulty paying their contributions to the UN, but have little difficulty paying their military expenses.”

The UN budget for 2021 was only US $ 3 billion, a relatively low cost for the international body. In comparison, he said, the annual UN budget amounts to:

– a low percentage of military spending by many countries, including China, India, Russia, the United States and the European Union; 4 percent of the global pet food market; 3 percent of annual US spending on non-alcoholic beverages; and 1% of the wealth of the two richest Americans.

As for possible reductions in the number, salaries and benefits of United Nations personnel, this does not make sense and appears to be largely intended for national political consumption. Hopefully Member States and the General Assembly will focus on the critical global issues facing nearly 8 billion people around the world.

The relatively small United Nations budget is a godsend for Member States and the world.
In terms of cost, dead and injured, the price of peace is far less than the price of war, Chamie said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, senior adviser on United Nations management and reform, told delegates that the United States is calling for fiscal discipline across the United Nations system and will take a close look increasing demands for statutory contributions.

This includes ensuring that only necessary constructions are undertaken and that large projects avoid cost overruns. The United Nations should also seek to contain increased spending in response to new and expanded mandates by eliminating obsolete mandates, consolidating overlapping areas of work and reallocating existing resources.

He said staff rights and conditions of service account for nearly two-thirds of UN costs. Restoring a unified salary scale remains a priority for the United States, including addressing divergent decisions of different administrative tribunals in the United Nations common system, improving transparency on compensation costs, including using commercially available data, and reaffirming the authority of the ICSC, while improving its methodology.

Speaking on behalf of the African Group, Ambassador Harold Adlai Agyeman of Ghana said: resolutions on multilingualism which is at the heart of this organization ”.

He said that members of the African Group use four of the six official languages ​​of the United Nations as working languages. The Group therefore considers it of the utmost importance that Member States be able to contribute to the deliberations of the Committee in the official language in which they are most effective.

The six official languages ​​of the United Nations are: Arabic; Chinese; English; French; Russian; and Spanish.


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