UN must shed its flabby body

UNHCR goodwill ambassador and actress Cate Blanchett speaks at a High-Level Segment on Statelessness during the UNHCR's Executive Committee meeting at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The “severe financial crisis” confronting the United Nations is alarming. According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the world body is running low on liquid assets and so severe is this crisis that it may not be able to pay the salaries of around 44,000 people on its payrolls next month. As of May 2019, the UN had a deficit of $492 million, Guterres said that the crisis has been precipitated by UN member-states defaulting on their regular payments. Of the UN’s 193 member-states, only 129 have paid their contributions to the regular budget. India can take pride in the fact that it is among the UN members that have not only paid their dues to the UN but it has also done so within the stipulated time. If defaulters do not pay up immediately, the UN’s humanitarian and other work will be adversely affected. Some of the agencies whose funding comes out of the UN budget are the World Food Programme, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. These agencies have been doing splendid work among people living in war zones. This work would suffer if defaulting member-nations fail to pay up their dues soon.

The US, which is the UN’s largest donor—it contributes roughly a fifth of the world body’s budget—is also its biggest defaulter.  In addition to the $674 million that it owes for the 2019 budget alone, it is still to pay over $381 million pending from previous years.  In 2018, President Donald Trump said he was keen to cut down US contributions to the UN, especially towards peacekeeping. Although the US Congress largely rejected his proposals, it gave its nod to paring down contributions to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, amounting to a sum of $200 million this year. Of course, Trump is not the first US President to cut down on contributions to the UN. Many of his predecessors slashed payments to the UN as well. This is unfortunate as the US’ tightfistedness is impacting the UN’s functioning.

The cash-crunch confronting the UN is not new. It has been in a financial mess for decades. Only this time, the crisis it confronts is the deepest deficit in a decade. Poor financial management has crippled the functioning of the UN. Much of the money that governments contributed is wasted on high salaries, perks and lavish lifestyles of its officials. The UN bureaucracy is notorious for its corruption. While UN member-states must pay up dues immediately, the UN needs to change from a flabby body to one that is well-managed, efficient and fighting fit.

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