RPT: REVIEW - Fears Of New Brush With Bankruptcy As UN Scrambles To Collect Membership Fees

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 10th October, 2019) The United Nations faces a severe shortage of cash that it needs to pay salaries to its civil servants after running the worst deficit in a decade, in the words of UN Chief Antonio Guterres.

The 193-member UN has been in arrears for a while now. It depends on membership fees for money and contributions have been scant. Guteress warned in July last year that "an organization like ours should not have to suffer repeated brushes with bankruptcy."

But it only got worse. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters this week that the UN budget was short of $1.3 billion and it would not have been enough to pay for this September's General Assembly if the UN had not contained expenditures globally.

Only 129 countries have paid in full, filling UN coffers by 70 percent. The UN chief appealed to those with outstanding payments on Tuesday to urgently contribute. Otherwise, meetings may be canceled and travel will be limited to essential trips. All UN hubs will be affected.

"It is the worst cash crisis facing the United Nations in nearly a decade. The Organization runs the risk of depleting its liquidity reserves by the end of the month and defaulting on payments to staff and vendors," he said.

Determining who is in arrears is a difficult job as the UN does not publish lists. Documents mention the amount to be paid and percentages of total for each country. Mentioned indirectly are countries that have "significant arrears," such as Comoros, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Somalia.

A report of the debates further states that the Angola envoy said on behalf of the African Group that "the ability to pay for many developing countries had been affected by the ongoing food and energy crises."

Of the heavyweights, Canada paid in January, while Russia and Germany paid in February. A majority of other countries had paid by end of June 2019.

The missing Names are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Israel. The US is the largest UN contributor, responsible for 22 percent of its budget this year. It owes $674 million for the 2019 regular budget.

The US mission promised that it would be providing "the vast majority of what we owe to the regular budget this fall, as we have in past years." The US traditionally pays later than the others because of its budget year.

Michel Liegeois, from the Crisis study Centre at UCLouvain university in Belgium, said that the US had been using payment delays as leverage over the organization.

"The first contributor, the USA will pay their dues for 2019, even if it is very late, which gives the US administration a tool of pressure on the organization ... President Trump knows that the UN cannot do anything without him, which gives him considerable leverage on decisions," he said.

Liegeois added that distinction should be made between the value of the Security Council and the General Assembly for the US. Washington values its veto power in the former and uses it to protect Israel, while a huge Palestinian lobby in the latter is a problem for it.

The UN has long been accused of paying high salaries to its employees, small-time corruption and astronomical expenses of some delegations in New York, usually from the poorest African or Asian countries.

US President Donald Trump has argued that Washington is carrying an unfair burden of the organization's cost and has called, like his predecessors, for deep-going reforms of the largest international institution.

Dominique Martin, a French member of the European parliament from the National Rally, said to Sputnik that the UN had been accused of lavish spending and inefficiency since the times of Charles de Gaulle, who famously called it the "boondoggle."

"Guterres pretends to be desperate about his lack of cash to pay the UN employees next month, but they have not reduced staff as requested by many ... I think the UN announced a reduction of 100 positions on a staff of more than 6,000 in New York and some 45,000 around the world. So the UN has not really made a cost-cutting effort yet," he argued.

Pierre Vercauteren, a political sciences professor at UCLouvain, pointed out that the UN rarely had problems collecting contributions for urgent humanitarian interventions in the aftermath of famine or wars.

He further said to Sputnik that Trump would not pile pressure on the UN over its cost reduction efforts as the country enters a new presidential campaign cycle. That means the funding gap will be closed soon and another brush with bankruptcy will be avoided.