Smallest Contributors to U.N. Resist Calls to Reduce Budget

By Patrick Goodenough | April 20, 2011 | 6:23am EDT

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on November 1, 2010. (UN Photo by Mark Garten)

( – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent call to reduce the United Nations’ operating budget for 2012-13 by three percent reportedly is drawing resistance from the bloc of developing countries, which dominate the world body.

Ban said last month he wanted U.N. program managers to slice three percent off the budget for the two-year period, below its current level of $5.16 billion.

“Even the wealthiest nations are tightening their belts and cutting budgets,” the U.N. news center quoted him as telling senior managers. “The United Nations must be no less disciplined. We cannot go about business as usual.”

During a visit to Washington on April 7, aimed in part at placating Republican lawmakers skeptical about U.S. funding and U.N. spending, Ban again cited the reduction goal and said that the U.N. was “fully conscious of the international community going through this era of austerity.”

Testifying before a U.S. Appropriations subcommittee on the same day, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said that U.N. managers “must enforce greater budget discipline.”

When it comes to budget cuts, however, member states have the final say in the amount that will be negotiated and then adopted by the 192-member General Assembly in December.

And the so-called “G77 plus China” group – which comprises 131 countries, or more than two-thirds of the General Assembly membership – is unhappy with Ban’s plan.

According to an Inter Press Service (IPS) report, the G77 has now written to Ban, to stress “the importance of ensuring a budget that reflects the specific needs of each U.N. program – and not the national interests of a minority of member states.”

The U.N.’s regular budget is financed by “assessed contributions,” based o member states’ relative “capacity to pay.”

U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent – more than one-fifth – of that budget.

By contrast, of the 131 members of the “G77 plus China” bloc, China alone contributes more than one percent of the regular budget (2.5 percent in 2010-11).

Of the rest, only nine pay 0.1 percent or more – Indonesia (0.1), Malaysia (0.1), South Africa (0.2), Argentina (0.3), Singapore (0.3), United Arab Emirates (0.3), India (0.4), Saudi Arabia (0.7) and Brazil (0.8 percent).

Fifty-five G77 members pay the bottom rate of 0.001 percent.

IPS reports that G77 sent its members a list of “talking points” on the budget issue last month.

“While the Group understands the backdrop of international and inter-related crises that we are all facing, the use of the financial and economic crisis as a reason to control the growth of the budget of the United Nations is a flawed argument,” the document stated.

Previous attempts to curtail the U.N. budget have fallen foul of the developing nations’ group.

When negotiations were underway for the 2010-11 budget, U.N. managers sought a two percent reduction. Instead, a budget of $5.16 billion for 2010-11 was approved, around 20 percent more than the $4.2 billion budget for the previous two-year period.

In an Oct. 2009 statement to the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which is responsible for administrative and budgetary matters, the G77 and China used the same argument – word for word – as they are using now.

“The Group of 77 and China is concerned that the efforts to restrain the growth of the budget, including the two percent cut requested to program managers last year without the endorsement of the General Assembly, may jeopardize the effective implementation of mandates,” it said.

“While the Group understands the backdrop against which the budget was elaborated, the use of the financial and economic crisis as a reason to control the growth of the budget of the United Nations is a flawed argument.”

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