Thursday, June 09, 2005

What about our salaries and expenses then?

As some of our readers have noted, the US House International Relations Committee has approved a proposed legislation that would withhold half of US dues if the tranzi organization-in-chief does not show that its ability to reform extends beyond fine speeches by SecGen Kofi Annan (father of Kojo of food-for-oil fame).

The Bill, due to go to the full House, lists 39 specific changes that range from stricter budget and auditing procedures to changing the structure of the UN Commission on Human Rights, that has such freedom-loving countries as Sudan and Cuba on it. In fact, it has been chaired by Libya, also known as an advocate of human rights (in the Gaddafi family).

There is also the suggestion that the UN takes 18 of its programmes of the list of automatically funded ones, thus making them voluntarily funded and more amenable to control.

According to Bloomberg:
“The legislation takes aim at the UN's Public Information Office and ``General Assembly Affairs and Conferences Services,'' which consume a fifth of the UN's regular budget. It notes that diplomatic conferences cost ``upwards of $7,000-$8,000 per hour.'' Costs would be cut 10 percent in 2007, followed by a 20 percent reduction in 2008.
Hyde's bill would establish an independent board to oversee the existing Office of Internal Oversight Services and both bodies would have independent budgets. This new body would also oversee the UN's audit board, could investigate mismanagement and wrongdoing, take steps to protect whistleblowers and end single- bid contracts.
The bill would bar countries from human rights panels if they failed to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or had been sanctioned by the Security Council.”
The proposal is that the UN should implement at least 32 of the listed reforms within two years the US should withhold half its payment. This is not precisely draconian and, given that all supporters of UN are bleating about the need for reform, it should not be particularly controversial.

The US does provide 22 per cent of the annual $2 billion general UN budget as well separate large sums allocated for peacekeeping (of which the efforts in African countries and the Balkans are such sterling examples), international tribunals (who have not achieved much over the years, beyond sentencing a few unimportant participants of the Yugoslav wars), programmes such as the UN Development Programme and UNICEF (wonderful sources of funding for highly paid officials and subordinate NGOs).

Even if half of the 22 per cent is withheld, it will hurt the various UN officials or, as Democrat politicians prefer to put it, would land the US back in its funding wars of the eighties. Why that should matter, as victory will always lie with the US as long as they do not blink, is a mystery.

However, a great deal of squealing has been going on. Democrat Representative from California, Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the Committee, chaired by Republican Henry Hyde, came up with a splendidly vapid comment:
“It will be very important for us to resist the powerful temptation to withhold the payment of our dues in an attempt to leverage needed changes at the United Nations.”
He did not, however, suggest any other method of ensuring that those changes occur, given that the SecGen is somewhat uncomfortably close to the largest of the recent scandals, the food for oil one, and has flatly refused to resign or, even, acknowledge his responsibility.

Nor have there been any attempts to investigate any of the other scandals, like the food for sex scam in DR Congo and other African countries, the more straightforward sex scandals in the Balkans, the money that has disappeared in various projects etc.

But let us not try to pressurize that great and good organization. Let us just keep giving it more and more money and hope that one day they will wake up and reform themselves.

That is what Lantos and others are saying. Understandably, UN officials are not very keen on the idea either.

Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesman put it the following way:
“The secretary general’s position on the use of withholding as a tool for reform is pretty clear. He feels it’s counterproductive, particularly at a time when reform is such a primary agenda item. I think the best way for member states to undertake reform is to engage in discussion among themselves.”
I wonder what that will do, beyond letting SecGen Annan and his various officials and spokespersons off the hook?

At the moment, the Bush administration, refusing to live up to its reputation among the great and the good of the tranzi movement, does not seem to be interested in such a drastic procedure.

The 2006 fiscal spending plan calls for $1 billion of UN peacekeeping on top of the standard contributions. It seems that President Bush and Secretary of State Rice prefer to indulge in gesture politics as far as the UN is concerned, refusing to attend various forthcoming celebrations of its 60th anniversary.

Or they may be hoping that the Bolton nomination goes through and John Bolton will be able to shake up that rich, ineffectual and extremely corrupt organization.

But the possibility of withholding dues in whatever proportion will not go away. At least one other country is watching this with interest. Japan, the second largest contributor to the UN budget is not feeling happy. Apart from the frustration with the lack of any real reform in the UN, Japan feels that her contribution should be recognized by a permanent seat on the Security Council. Unfortunately, every time this is suggested, China throws a hissy fit and the question is shelved. How long will Japan put up with that?

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