Speakers Reiterate Importance of Paying Budget Assessments in Full, on Time, Without Conditions, as Fifth Committee Debates UN Financial Situation
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-third General Assembly
47th Meeting (AM)
SPEAKERS REITERATE IMPORTANCE OF PAYING BUDGET ASSESSMENTS IN FULL, ON TIME,
WITHOUT CONDITIONS, AS FIFTH COMMITTEE DEBATES UN FINANCIAL SITUATION
In its general debate on the United Nations financial situation this morning, members of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) once again reiterated the importance of every country paying their assessed contributions in full, on time and without conditions, while calling for financial prudence on the part of the Secretariat in its management of funds, given the world’s poor financial state of affairs.
The representative of Japan noted that the regular budget had grown large enough for Member States to have difficulty paying their assessments. The increase, by $619 million compared to the previous period, was due largely to greater provision for special political missions. In addition, there was a “massive expense” of $8.2 billion for peacekeeping, which was posing a tremendous burden on Member States and causing difficulties for their Governments in making timely payments.
Pointing to constraints faced by Governments worldwide as a result of the global financial and economic crisis, he voiced the idea of “austerity budget proposals” by the Secretariat. Those would involve tighter control over expenditure, opting for the most effective and efficient means of fulfilling mandates, and abolishing mandates no longer needed to create new ones. It was also essential for the Secretary-General to implement the recommendations of the Board of Auditors, so that potential over-budgeting was avoided, and that the budget was based on available resources.
On a positive note, he paid due recognition to 146 Member States that had paid their regular budget assessments in full at the end of 2008, six more than in 2007, which was the best record in six years. Cash available on 30 April stood at $791 million, compared with $419 million at the end of 2008.
The representative of the Czech Republic also praised the higher number of countries that had paid in full, but expressed concern at the level of contributions still unpaid, particularly the $2.88 billion that was owed for peacekeeping at the end of 2008. Although the financial position of peacekeeping budgets on 7 May showed an improvement when compared to that of the previous year, the sheer amount of unpaid assessments was “alarming”.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, she said the fact that peacekeeping missions must be financed from the accounts of closed peacekeeping operations, because of unpaid assessments, was “not sustainable”. She called for the balance from the accounts of closed peacekeeping operations to be returned to Member States and not be retained by the United Nations.
She further noted that the financial situation of the international Tribunals -- [on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda] -- was worse than last year when, by 7 May 2008, 67 Member States had paid in full compared to only 49 Member States so far in 2009. With unpaid assessments of $158 million, both Tribunals might face difficulties in the final phase of their work. As for the Capital Master Plan, only 84 Member States had paid their assessments at 7 May, compared to 90 Member States last year. As a “staunch supporter” of the Capital Master Plan, the European Union was “delighted” that that enormous undertaking was now under way, but believed that, in order to ensure timely implementation, all Member States should settle their share of the assessment.
Singapore’s representative observed that, while some States had genuine difficulties in making their payments, those countries did not typically finance a large portion of the budget. The “real reason” for the United Nations’ financial situation was the late and non-payment by major contributors. “The situation would ease considerably if major contributors could exercise responsible leadership in paying in full and on time”, he stressed.
He said on-time payments, in full and without condition, was an agreed condition for United Nations membership, and the practice of withholding contributions undermined the commitment they undertook in joining the United Nations. “We must ask ourselves: do we want a United Nations that is effective or one that is hobbled by chronic, self-inflicted financial malaise?”
A few speakers made clarifications on the payment made by their Governments, which might not have been reflected in financial presentations made last week by Under-Secretary-General for Management Angela Kane, and today by the Controller, Jun Yamazaki.
Among them, the representative of the United States said her Government had just made a payment to the United Nations regular budget in the amount of $135.96 million, which fully paid its calendar 2008 assessments. With those payments, over the past year, the United States had paid a total of about $1.25 billion in combined regular budget and peacekeeping budget payments. The United States was up to date with recent peacekeeping assessments and was expected to pay the remaining post-2000 peacekeeping unpaid assessments, as well as remaining calendar year 2006 and 2007 dues, in the near future, should sufficient funding be available.
The representative of Cuba noted that spending on economic and social development assistance did not match peacekeeping spending, which was now projected at $8.2 billion. Although Cuba understood the necessity of mediation by the United Nations to achieve stability in some societies, peacekeeping had the effect of eroding United Nations economic and social activities. “We face a de facto militarization of United Nations action”, she said. For Cuba, a major guarantee for peace and security was the eradication of poverty, the elimination of social marginalization, and the recognition of the right to development of all countries. If there was to be a true commitment to global peace, the United Nations’ “development” pillar must continue to be strengthened.
Also speaking today were the representatives the Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Russian Federation, China, Brazil, Norway and Guatemala.
The representatives of the United States and Cuba also spoke in the right of reply.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 26 May, to continue its consideration of peacekeeping finance.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to consider the financial situation of the United Nations, which was presented to it last week by the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Angela Kane (see Press Release GA/AB/3904 of 15 May).
At the outset of the meeting, the United Nations Controller, JUN YAMAZAKI, informed the Committee about payments made subsequent to the cut-off date of 7 May. Those included regular budget payments of $12 million from Brazil and $136 million from the United States, as well as peacekeeping payments of $192 million from Japan. In addition, payments had been initiated by Sweden for the Capital Master Plan and South Africa for peacekeeping operations. Taking into account the payments received after 7 May, updated lists of Member States fully paid would include Guatemala, Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Thailand for the regular budget; Australia and South Africa for peacekeeping; Indonesia, Norway and Sweden for the Capital Master Plan; and Belarus, Guatemala, Montenegro, Portugal, Nigeria and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic for the Tribunals.
He also drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that Australia had fully paid its assessments due and payable since 7 May, joining 16 other Member States in that position. In addition, the abovementioned payments by South Africa and Sweden had resulted in their addition to the list of States that had paid their dues in full
MOHAMED YOUSIF IBRAHIM ABKELMANNAN ( Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reaffirmed that full and timely payment of dues by Member States was a Charter obligation. It was all Member States’ collective responsibility to ensure their sincere adherence to that obligation. The Under-Secretary-General for Management had stated clearly that, while 2008 had seen financial progress, a negative trend had emerged in 2009, with a growing number of States not fully meeting their financial obligations -- an evolving situation, the outcome of which would depend largely on actions taken by Member States. Information as of 7 May indicated that the regular budget was facing an outstanding amount of $1.5 billion, a situation that could expose the Organization to the risk of cash shortage in the coming months, hence, hindering its ability to meet its legislative mandates. That was mainly due to a large outstanding payment by one Member State. That problem needed to be resolved permanently.
Regarding peacekeeping, the Group expressed its concern over the fact that over two thirds of the $2.9 billion outstanding at the end of 2008 was owed by Japan and the United States. He hoped those two Member States, as well as others, would spare no efforts in paying their arrears, so that missions can implement their important mandates, particularly those related to peace and security. The Group also noted with concern that about $1 billion was owed to troop-contributing countries, mainly due to the lack of cash surplus in many missions, as well as the slow rate of reimbursement by the Secretariat. The Group noted that cross-borrowing from closed missions was still an ongoing practice, due to the late or non-payment of contributions by some Member States. However, the Group wished to reiterate its opposition to cross-borrowing among active operations and emphasized that cash surpluses in any mission should preferably be utilized for outstanding liabilities, such as troops and equipment payments, or be returned to Member States, in accordance with relevant Assembly resolutions.
He added that the Group remained committed to the efforts to strengthen the United Nations and enable it to implement its mandates more effectively and use its resources more efficiently. Further, it was committed to meeting its financial obligations to the Organization in full, on time and without conditions. While sympathizing with Member States that were unable to meet their obligations due to social and economic conditions beyond their control, he urged all Member States, in particular the main contributor, to recommit themselves to meeting their Charter obligation, so that the Organization was able to meet its objectives and operate in an efficient manner.
IVANA KRAHULCOVÁ (Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, reiterated the importance for every State to live up to its responsibility to pay assessed contributions in full, on time and without conditions. It was also important for the Organization to make efficient use of its resources, given the world financial crisis.
She voiced the European Union’s satisfaction with the knowledge that 146 Member States had paid their regular budget assessments in full, which was the highest number in the last six years. But, it was concerned about assessed contributions outstanding from previous years, which on 7 May 2009 amounted to $417 million. In terms of peacekeeping, unpaid assessments at the end of 2008 reached $2.88 billion and had increased in comparison with the previous year. Although the financial position of peacekeeping budgets on 7 May 2009 showed an improvement when compared with outstanding amounts at the same date in 2008, the amount of unpaid assessments was still alarming.
All Member States were called on to pay their contributions, so that the Organization could perform its tasks and implement peacekeeping operation mandates, she continued. In addition, the European Union was of the opinion that the balance of funds on the accounts of closed peacekeeping operations should be returned to Member States and not be retained by the United Nations. The fact that peacekeeping missions must be financed from accounts from closed peacekeeping operations because of unpaid assessments to those missions was “not sustainable”.
She said the European Union noted that the financial situation of the international Tribunals was worse than last year when, by 7 May 2008, 67 Member States had paid in full, compared to only 49 Member States so far in 2009. With unpaid assessments of $158 million, both Tribunals might face difficulties in the final phase of their work. As for the Capital Master Plan, only 84 Member States had paid their assessments at 7 May, compared to 90 Member States last year. That left an outstanding amount of $139 million. The European Union was a “staunch supporter of this important project” and was “delighted” that that enormous undertaking was now under way. But, it believed that, in order to ensure timely implementation, all Member States should settle their share of the assessment.
PAUL BALLANTYNE (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, said he was encouraged to see the slight increase in the number of Member States that paid their regular budget assessments in full by the end of 2008, compared with 2007. However, at the end of 2008, 46 Member States, or almost one quarter of the United Nations membership, had not made payment in full. He reminded States once more of the need to fulfil their Charter obligations to pay their assessed contributions in full, on time and without condition. “Our delegations find it unacceptable that a number of Member States regularly fail to meet their obligations”, he said, saying they were particularly concerned to see a negative trend emerging in 2009 across all funds.
He was mindful that some Governments found it difficult to fulfil all their financial obligations in the current global financial environment, he said. But, he called on members to break the cycle of under- and non-payment, which “put at risk the implementation of mandates” and had the effect of penalizing both Member States, who had paid in full and on time, and troop-contributing countries who were left waiting for the reimbursement of costs they had incurred. At a time when Member States were asking the Organization to do more, the regular and peacekeeping budgets had reached record levels. There was a need to ensure that the United Nations programme of work was organized and implemented as effectively and efficiently as possible. Ways should be found to eliminate waste and duplication, to rationalize activities, redeploy resources and streamline the administration of the Organization.
CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, underscored the importance of the Organization’s financial health for the implementation of its mandates and stressed the need for all Member States to comply with their financial obligations to the United Nations in a timely fashion. As the Under-Secretary-General had stated last Friday, a relative improvement of the financial situation in 2008 warranted attention, since a number of countries had made their payments in full at the end of that year. This year, however, there had been a reversal, which demonstrated a negative tendency.
In case of peacekeeping operations, he noted the increase of their number and scope, which had impacted on the costs and led to a slight increase of $165 million in outstanding contributions. He also addressed the issue of reimbursement to the contributors of troops and equipment. Although there had been a slight improvement in that regard, the situation was still unsatisfactory. Many countries of the region were still owed significant amounts. He was concerned that new obligations contracted in 2009 were projected to increase by some $765 million, as a result of growing deployment in several missions. Taking into account that reimbursement depended on full and timely payments to the United Nations by Member States, he urged those countries that had not done so to pay their dues in full and on time.
Turning to the Capital Master Plan, he encouraged the membership to continue to support the project, so that it was implemented within the scheduled timeline. He also expressed gratitude to those Member States that had made payments in full and acknowledged the efforts of developing countries to make their payments, despite the difficulties they faced. The current context of the financial crisis had made it difficult for countries of the region to make payments. In that connection, he emphasized the need to provide all needed facilities for Member States to make their payments and rejected any unilateral measures that hampered payment of dues by the members of the Group. All Member States should make payments in accordance with their Charter obligations, without exception.
LOY HUI CHIEN ( Singapore) observed that Member States often spoke of the need for the United Nations to receive adequate, timely and predictable funding so as to enable the Organization to effectively discharge its numerous mandates. “Yet, year after year, the United Nations found itself operating amid weak and precarious financial circumstances”, he said. While its overall cash position had improved, the amounts being owed by Member States in the regular budget and peacekeeping budget were “unacceptably large” at $1.46 billion and $1.75 billion, respectively. The Tribunals and the Capital Master Plan faced a similar situation. There was a growing number of countries not fully meeting their financial obligations.
He recalled that Singapore had stated on many occasions that the United Nations’ financial difficulties were entirely avoidable. Some States did have genuine difficulties in making their payments, but those countries did not finance a large portion of the budget. The real reason for the United Nations’ financial situation was the late and non-payment by major contributors, and the situation would ease considerably if major contributors could exercise responsible leadership in paying in full and on time.
Full payment by Member States was only one side of the story, he said. The United Nations’ financial situation also depended on how well it managed its resources. In that regard, the Secretariat needed to tackle ongoing challenges, such as improving the efficiency of its departments, recruiting and retaining qualified and dedicated staff, and developing a stronger results-oriented culture. “In short, the United Nations must instil real transparency and accountability as a matter of priority.” Member States were urged to honour their assessed contributions in full, on time and without conditions, which was a Charter obligation and an agreed condition for United Nations membership. The practice of withholding contributions was “not the right approach” for it undermined the commitment they undertook in joining the United Nations. “We must ask ourselves: do we want a United Nations that is effective or one that is hobbled by chronic, self-inflicted financial malaise?”
ILEANA NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE (Cuba), aligning herself with the statement by the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, said the “main contributor” to the budget -- who benefited the most from the distortion in the calculation of the scale of assessments -- continued to be the major debtor. “It is hard to understand how it can vest in itself the right to judge the rest of the membership”, she said. In contrast, other delegations were making enormous efforts to meet their financial obligations to the United Nations, despite suffering from multiple, simultaneous crises as a result of “disastrous neo-liberal policies” of those with the most wealth.
She said Cuba’s commitment to multilateralism was demonstrated through its active participation at United Nations deliberations, and also through the fulfilment of its financial obligations. Despite the United States “genocidal policy of the economic, commercial and financial blockade” and the losses it suffered from the last hurricane season and the world financial crisis, Cuba had paid its assessments on the Capital Master Plan, half its assessments on the regular budget, and had made important contributions to peacekeeping operations.
She explained that Cuba was not able to use the United States dollar for its international transactions, including payment to international organizations. Cuba’s transfers were subject to the fluctuations of currency markets, placing a negative impact on its capacity to pay. On top of those obstacles, Cuba was forced to carry out its transactions through a third country. In February, a British bank with a branch in a Latin American country had refused to accept a transfer originating from Cuba for the payment of the Cuban contribution of $2 million to an international organ. The “genocidal blockade” against Cuba must cease. Aside from placing an obstacle to economic and social development, it was also a barrier to its multilateral work.
She noted that spending on economic and social development assistance did not match peacekeeping spending, which had risen and was now projected at $8.2 billion. Although Cuba understood the necessity of United Nations mediation in order to achieve stability in some societies, peacekeeping had the effect of eroding United Nations economic and social activities. “We face a de facto militarization of United Nations action”, she said. For Cuba, a major guarantee for peace and security was the eradication of poverty, the elimination of social marginalization, and the recognition of the right to development of all countries. If there was to be a true commitment to global peace, the United Nations’ “development” pillar must continue to be strengthened.
KEN MUKAI (Japan) said he was pleased to have learned that, by the end of 2008, 146 Member States had paid their regular budget assessments in full, six more than in 2007 -- the best record in that respect in six years. He also drew the Committee’s attention to the improvement in the cash resources available on 30 April 2009, which had stood at $791 million, compared with $419 million at the end of 2008.
He went on to express concern about continued expansion of the regular budget, however, which was now large enough for Member States to have difficulty paying their assessments. Unpaid assessments had been $216 million higher on 7 May 2009 than a year earlier. That was because there had been an increase of $619 million in the regular budget assessments for 2009, reflecting mainly the greater provision for special political missions, although payments received by 7 May 2009 had been $392 million higher than a year before. It was incumbent on the Secretary-General, in preparing a programme budget for 2010-2011, to give Member States his overall vision and a full picture of the anticipated needs of the Organization for the next two years in a prioritized and comprehensive manner -- avoiding a piecemeal approach. The Secretariat should work relentlessly to absorb additional costs by streamlining, thus, increasing efficiency. His delegation would, therefore, like to request the Secretary-General to submit an affordable budget, based on the budget outline that Member States had agreed on last December.
The sharp rise in assessments was also evident in the peacekeeping budget, which now amounted to over $8.2 billion, he continued. To put it bluntly, that was a massive expense, and a tremendous burden on Member States, which were consequently having trouble making timely payments. In the next two weeks, his delegation would be looking carefully at every possible way of making peacekeeping operations more cost-efficient. For its part, the Secretariat should make every effort to pursue more realistic budget proposals and avoid exorbitant financial requirements.
He was pleased that outstanding assessments, as of 7 May, had stood at $1.75 billion, a major improvement over corresponding figures of a year before. In spite of a difficult domestic financial situation, his Government made every effort to pay its assessments as early as possible in its budgetary cycle, mostly in February. On 14 May this year, it had made an additional payment of $192.6 million, which left $73.5 million outstanding.
He added that the remaining balance of closed peacekeeping missions should be returned to Member States, in accordance with financial regulations and rules of the United Nations. His delegation was ready to scrutinize the reasons why cross-borrowing from the accounts of closed missions had been required in 2008 for seven active operations. In connection with the Capital Master Plan, he noted that a number of States that had not opted for one-time payments, including Japan, had nevertheless made advance payments. That positive cash position would contribute to more effective and smoother implementation of the project. It was expected that the Secretariat would strive to achieve further savings.
In closing, while recognizing that payment of assessments was an obligation of every Member State, he added that, to address the current global financial and economic crisis and the difficult budgetary situation every Government was facing as a result, it was necessary to do two things. First, Member States must meet their financial responsibilities; and second, the Secretariat needed to prepare austerity budget proposals. That goal could be achieved only by controlling expenditures, opting for the most effective and efficient means of fulfilling mandates and abolishing mandates no longer needed to create new ones. It was also essential for the Secretary-General to implement the recommendations of the Board of Auditors in a sincere and transparent manner, so that potential over-budgeting was avoided and the budget was based on the Organization’s true amount of resources.
IGOR N. SHCHERBAK ( Russian Federation) said that the information presented by the Under-Secretary-General clearly demonstrated that the financial situation remained less than stable. He was pleased that the situation at the end of 2008 had improved somewhat: unpaid assessments to the regular budget and the budgets of the Tribunals, as well as the Capital Master Plan, had been lower than at the end of 2007. Nevertheless, unpaid dues for peacekeeping had been higher. It was regrettable that, as at 7 May, compared to the same time a year before, the number of Member States meeting their obligations to the United Nations in full and on time had declined. Again, the main part of the debt was concentrated in a small number of Member States.
Member States’ failure to implement their financial obligations to the United Nations took place against the background of the growth of costs in a number of areas, he continued. Above all, that related to the unprecedented growth of the peacekeeping budget. Altogether, such issues might have a negative impact on the activities of the United Nations. Member States had to do everything in their power to prevent that negative scenario from happening, primarily by promptly paying their debt to the Organization, including obligations for peacekeeping financing. Only such an approach would allow the United Nations to react to emerging and existing global challenges and threats and implement the programmes and projects authorized by Member States. At the same time, he anticipated that the Secretariat would continue to carry out the principles of rational financial planning and realistic assessment of needs.
YU HONG ( China), aligning herself with the Group of 77, said China was pleased to see the financial situation improving in 2008 over 2007. By the end of 2008, with the exception of peacekeeping assessments, arrears to the assessments for the regular budget, the budgets of the two Tribunals and for the Capital Master Plan had decreased compared to the end of 2007. Most Member States paid their contributions on time and in full, with the bulk of the arrears being incurred by just a few Member States.
She said Member States should fulfil their financial obligations on time. Without a good financial foundation, “strengthening the role of the United Nations would be just empty talk”. The global financial crisis had subjected all Governments to enormous financial pressure, but, in spite of it, many States still paid their various assessments in full and had tried to honour their financial obligations. She commended such States for doing so.
She said formulation and disbursement of the United Nations budget should aim at high efficiency and effectiveness, as well as greater transparency and accountability, with due consideration given to the capacity of Member States. In recent years, there had been a drastic increase of United Nations expenditures, entailing a heavy financial burden on Member States. When formulating the United Nations budget, it was important to take into account the capacity of individual Member States, especially developing countries, and to take a practical approach to the budget. Budget management must be strengthened, applying strict financial discipline and making careful calculations to maximize the value of every penny.
Although China had suffered through severe natural disasters last year, including a snow storm at the beginning of the year, she said it took practical action to pay its assessments on time. China overcame various difficulties to pay its 2008 assessed contributions, including for the regular budget and peacekeeping budget, in the amount of $360 million. For this year, China had paid its 2009 assessment to the Capital Master Plan in full, as well as for the two Tribunals. It had paid more than half of its assessments under the regular budget.
BRUNO BRANT ( Brazil), while aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, remarked that a press briefing given by the Secretariat on the financial situation cited information from the Secretary-General’s report containing information as of 7 May. When speaking to the press, it was important to provide the most up-to-date information, including payments made subsequent to 7 May, such as by his country, Brazil.
Rights of Reply
CHERITH NORMAN ( United States), speaking in exercise of the right of reply in response to a statement by the representative of Cuba, said that her Government took its international obligations very seriously. Earlier this year, it had announced measures to increase the degree of contact between United States citizens with family members in Cuba by expanding family travel, and to increase opportunities for communications among Cubans on the island and between Cubans and persons worldwide by authorizing United States businesses to negotiate agreements to facilitate various types of endeavours. The United States had done that, because it believed in and promoted freedom of information, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience.
Regarding the comments on the United Nations financial situation, she said that, as mentioned by the Controller, the United States had just made a payment to the United Nations regular budget in the amount of some $135.96 million, which fully paid its calendar 2008 assessments. With those payments, over the past year, the United States had paid a total of about $1.25 billion in combined regular budget and peacekeeping budget payments. Her country was up to date with recent peacekeeping assessments and expected to pay the remaining post-2000 peacekeeping unpaid assessments, as well as remaining calendar year 2006 and 2007 dues, in the near future, should sufficient funding be available. The United States remained committed to the United Nations and its vital role in maintaining international peace and security, providing humanitarian assistance and promoting human rights.
Also exercising her right of reply, Ms. NÚÑEZ MORDOCHE ( Cuba) said that the measures announced by the United States representative were superficial in regard to the blockade. Granting the right to visit relatives was a rectification of a serious error committed by a previous Administration, but the sanctions regime against Cuba remained intact. Not a single clear and serious measure had been taken to dismantle the blockade. In that connection, he reiterated that the blockade must be dismantled. It was unilateral and went against international law.
JONAS CARSTEN JOLLE ( Norway) made a clarification to the statement delivered by the Controller, saying that, in addition to having made a payment to the Capital Master Plan, Norway had also made its payment to the regular budget, amounting to $19 million. However, he understood that the payment had not yet reached New York, because of changes under way in Oslo, to a digital accounting system.
KARLA SAMAYOA-RECARI ( Guatemala) asked whether the Secretariat would produce a list of how much was owed to troop-contributing countries.
The SECRETARY of the Committee said a document was recently distributed at an informal meeting of the Committee.
Mr. YAMAZAKI, Controller, responding to comments from delegates, said last week’s presentation on the United Nations financial situation could be found on the Fifth Committee website. His Office would be uploading the information he presented this morning on to the website, as well, and the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General would be informed of those updates.
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