UN Spent $319 Million on Staff Travel Last Year


Feb. 8, 2018 – UN Secretariat staff took almost 100,000 trips last year at a cost to the global taxpayer of $319 million, according to a new report by Antonio Gutteres.

The UN chief was tasked by the General Assembly to issue the report and to devise recommendations for cutting down on travel costs.

Of the 98,000 flights taken by some of the 41,000 people working for the UN Secretariat, 12,000 were in business class and just 51 traveled by first class, and that number looks set to decrease.

In his conclusions, Guterres says assistant and under-secretaries general representing him in an official capacity should no longer travel first class but stick to business class for all their travels.

Business class is offered to UN staffers when their flight time is 9 hours or more. This is not insignificant as the flight from New York to Geneva, a popular route for world body employees, is just over nine hours. [Correction: A reader pointed out that the travel time from NYC to Geneva is 7.5 hours and that unless there is a special circumstance UN staff travel on economy for these trips.]

The deputy secretary-general and the president of the General Assembly still retain their first class travel rights.

The average cost of travel for UN staffers works out at about $3,000 with about half that spent on the price of the flight.

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Only 14 Countries Have Paid 2018 UN Dues

Jan 24, 2018 – South Sudan and Benin have paid their 2018 United Nations dues but the world body’s biggest contributors, the United States, Japan and Germany have still to pony up, according to latest figures from the Committee on Contributions.

Only 14 countries have paid as of January 23, and besides the United States, none of the other permanent members of the UN Security Council have paid up yet.

Member states are being given until Feb. 9 to pay in full but if past years are any indication only some 15 percent of the UN’s 193 member states will have stumped up by then.

The 14 countries that have paid their dues so far are as follows:

Member State
Net assessment
(in US$)

Date of Payment

1 Armenia
145,843
10-Jan-18
2 Benin
72,921
10-Jan-18
3 Hungary
3,913,439
10-Jan-18
4 Liberia
24,307
10-Jan-18
5 Poland
20,442,246
10-Jan-18
6 South Sudan
72,921
10-Jan-18
7 Ukraine
2,503,629
10-Jan-18
8 Australia
56,805,623
17-Jan-18
9 New Zealand
6,514,294
17-Jan-18
10 Latvia
1,215,354
18-Jan-18
11 Switzerland
27,710,060
18-Jan-18
12 Canada
71,000,953
19-Jan-18
13 Luxembourg
1,555,653
19-Jan-18
14 Norway
20,636,703
23-Jan-18

 

Libya Still Without Vote in UN General Assembly

August 1, 2017 – Libya remains in arrears to the United Nations and will not be allowed vote for the remainder of the General Assembly’s 71st session, which ends next month.

Sudan and Venezuela also had their voting rights suspended this year for non-payment of dues but have since made the necessary payment to put them back in good standing.

Article 19 of the UN Charter states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

In all, a total of 116 countries have paid their 2017 dues, according to the Committee on Contributions, but noticeably, permanent members France and the United States have yet to pay.

The US typically makes a payment in October when its financial year begins.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Venezuela, Libya, Sudan Lose UN Voting Rights Over Non-Payment of Dues

April 11, 2017 – Sudan, Libya and Venezuela have had their General Assembly voting rights suspended because of non-payment of dues.

These countries have fallen foul of Article 19 of the UN Charter, which states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

Notice Posted on the UN’s Website

Venezuela recently completed a two-year term on the UN Security Council while Sudan is host to the world’s second biggest peacekeeping mission, a 20,000 strong joint African Union – UN mission in Darfur.

Libya has been ravaged since the 2011 UN-backed military action led to the overthrow and killing of strongman Muammar Gaddafi. A UN support mission in the country has failed to bring competing sides together to form a central government.

Tripoli has arrears of $6.5 million, according to a letter from Antonio Guterres to the General Assembly, while Caracas is in the hole for $24 million and Sudan has arrears of $264,000.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

US Has Good Cause to Seek Reductions in Contributions to UN

First Phase Digital

March 20, 2017 – At a time when the United Nations is seeking funds to address massive humanitarian crises in Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia, reports that the Trump administration is seeking to cut its funding to the world body by up to half are particularly unwelcome.

The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the UN system, contributing 22 percent to the regular budget and also 28 percent to the peacekeeping budget. That it is a permanent member of the Security Council and that the UN headquarters is hosted in New York City go some way towards the US getting its money’s worth (the economic benefit to New York City from the UN is some $3.3 billion per year).

In truth, the UN is divided into two classes: the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, and all others, and it is the P5 who rule the roost at UN headquarters. The top jobs are divvied up among the five and they have the power to influence hiring and firing (witness last week’s ‘resignation’ of the secretary-general of ESCWA after angering Washington with a report that said Israeli treatment of Palestinians amounted to apartheid).

As researcher Cedric de Coning recently pointed out in a Twitter post, a fairer system of assessing dues would be for the permanent members of the Council to pay 10 percent each towards the regular budget, which would amount to about $1 billion each – a savings to the US of about $2 billion. Combined, the other four permanent members, Britain, France, China and Russia, pay less than 17%, with the UK and France paying some 6 percent, China, 3 percent and Russia less than two percent.

The UN could also make make life easier for itself and those it serves by imposing mandatory assessments to fund its aid programs, just as it does for the regular budget and the peacekeeping budget. Its dependence on voluntary contributions is not working and when crises emerge, as they constantly do, the UN is hamstrung by lack of money. But the UN also has to improve how it delivers aid and addresses crises. It can do this by continuing to focus on resilience and helping fragile countries increase local capacity.

The UN is vital but it is also a poorly managed bureaucratic labyrinth with some 30 funds, programs and agencies all vying for money and influence and oftentimes operating with overlapping mandates and duplicate efforts, wasting precious resources.

If the UN wants the new US administration to take it seriously then it must get serious about becoming more transparent on how its money is spent and shutting programs that are simply redundant or not working.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related: Despite Inefficiencies, UN is Big Contributor to US Economy

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Thirty Countries Have Paid Their UN Dues on Time for 2017

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Feb. 8, 2017 – The following is a list of the thirty UN member states that have paid their dues to the United Nations regular budget so far this year. The UN considers members past due if they have not paid by Feb. 10. So far, the member states assessed the biggest dues – the U.S., Japan and Germany, have yet to pay. Besides the U.S., none of the other permanent members of the Security Council have paid yet.

1 Angola
252,229
10-Jan-17
2 Armenia
151,338
10-Jan-17
3 Benin
75,669
10-Jan-17
4 Dominican Republic
1,160,254
10-Jan-17
5 Hungary
4,060,886
10-Jan-17
6 Liberia
25,223
10-Jan-17
7 Senegal
126,114
10-Jan-17
8 South Sudan
75,669
10-Jan-17
9 Ukraine
2,597,959
10-Jan-17
10 Canada
73,676,084
17-Jan-17
11 Singapore
11,274,636
17-Jan-17
12 Liechtenstein
176,560
19-Jan-17
13 Norway
21,414,240
19-Jan-17
14 Luxembourg
1,614,265
20-Jan-17
15 Denmark
14,730,173
24-Jan-17
16 Latvia
1,261,145
24-Jan-17
17 Australia
58,945,913
25-Jan-17
18 Guinea
50,446
25-Jan-17
19 Sweden
24,113,090
25-Jan-17
20 Estonia
958,470
26-Jan-17
21 Finland
11,501,641
26-Jan-17
22 Switzerland
28,754,104
26-Jan-17
23 Georgia
201,783
27-Jan-17
24 Ireland
8,449,670
27-Jan-17
25 New Zealand
6,759,736
27-Jan-17
26 Algeria
4,060,886
2-Feb-17
27 Kuwait
7,188,526
2-Feb-17
28 Austria
18,160,486
6-Feb-17
29 Azerbaijan
1,513,374
7-Feb-17
30 Netherlands
37,380,335
7-Feb-17

Antonio Guterres Recommended as Next UN Secretary-General

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Oct. 6, 2016 – The Security Council on Thursday made a recommendation to the General Assembly to appoint Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres as the next and ninth UN secretary-general.

The move came after Wednesday’s sixth straw ballot which saw Guterres, 67, emerge as the clear winner with no opposition among the 15 Council members. He will take office on January 1 after a formal vote by the General Assembly.

Guterres will be the first former prime minister to take the helm at the United Nations having headed Portugal’s government from 1995-2002 as leader of the Socialist party. From 2005-2015 he was head of the UN refugee agency, winning wide praise for his stewardship during the agency’s biggest refugee crisis.

Guterres will also be the first UN secretary-general from a NATO-member country. Portugal was a founding member of the alliance.

Although he led all straw ballots, his victory will be regarded by many as a surprise given the widely held view that it was time for a woman to lead the organization after eight successive male secretaries-general. It was also expected that the next UN chief should hail from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post.

Guterres qualified as an electrical engineer in 1971 but soon became involved in politics and was involved in Catholic youth movements. A committed Catholic to this day, he recently cited the Biblical “parable of the talents” [Matthew:25] as the reason why he entered the race for the UN’s top job. He cited the same parable in a 2005 interview with the Migration Policy Institute.

During interviews with the General Assembly in April, Guterres mooted introducing a Global Tax to fund humanitarian efforts, telling delegates that the UN and international financial organizations need to find ways for humanitarian efforts to be “funded by global funding sources,” such as fees on plane tickets and financial transactions.

In his lengthy vision statement submitted to the UN General Assembly back in April, Guterres called for a surge in diplomacy as a preventive tool, greater accountability in the UN system, and gender parity in senior posts.

While there is little doubt that he has the experience and leadership qualities needed to guide the UN as it confronts multiple crises, some views he held as prime minister will cause unease at Turtle Bay and beyond.

In a 1995 interview with Portuguese television, he said that “homosexuality is not an aspect I particularly like.” He was not questioned about his current views on sexual orientation during the General Assembly hearings and his views may have evolved in the twenty years since. Ban Ki-moon has been widely hailed for consistently speaking out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guterres too was opposed to legalizing abortion during his term as prime minister, campaigning actively in a referendum that successfully overturned a parliamentary vote that legalized the procedure. He was also reportedly in favor of a law that sent women who had an abortion to prison.

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Guterres expressed his ‘gratitude and humility.’

“To describe what I’m feeling at this moment, I just need two words: humility and gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude firstly towards the members of the Security Council for the confidence in me, but also gratitude towards the General Assembly of the United Nations and all its member states for having decided in an exemplary process of transparency and openness.”

– Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

Race for Next UN Secretary-General Taking Shape

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

The six official candidates to date to succeed Ban Ki-moon

Feb. 22, 2016 – There are now six official candidates to succeed Ban Ki-moon and become the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations.

Four of the six declared candidates hail from the Balkans with the former Yugoslav countries hedging that strong trade links with Russia, as well as EU membership in the case of Croatia and Slovenia, and EU accession status, in the case of Macedonia and Montenegro, could see them bridge the West-Russia divide in the UN and get the support of both.

Besides Croatia’s Vesna Pusic, Macedonia’s Srgian Kerim, Slovenia’s Danilo Turk and Montenegro’s Igor Lusik, the two other candidates are Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova and Moldova’s Natalia Gherman.

Bokova, the current director-general of UNESCO, was nominated earlier this month by the Bulgarian government despite much speculation that her compatriot Kristalina Georgieva was Sofia’s favored candidate – the EU budget commissioner is also favored by the Western P5 countries, Britain, France and the US.

But all is not lost for Georgieva as the candidate process does not rule out a UN member state nominating two candidates nor does it stipulate that a candidate has to be nominated by their country of citizenship.

The sixth and most recent declared candidate is Moldova’s Natalia Gherman. UN Tribune was first to write about Gherman as a potential successor to Ban Ki-moon, noting back in April 2015 that Moldova’s strong ties with Russia, its non-membership of NATO, as well as her own pro-EU outlook, could see her emerge as a compromise candidate.

Gherman is scheduled to speak at New York’s Columbia University next week and it is interesting to note in her bio she lists fluency in English, German, Romanian and Russian – but not French, an unofficial requirement of UN secretaries-general. But there’s little reason for her to worry about this as it’s widely known that Ban Ki-moon was taking intensive French classes after his election, and French-languaue reporters still like to test him on his proficiency.

There are no clear favorites yet to succeed Ban and the list of candidates is sure to increase but what is clear so far is that the next secretary-general will come from Eastern Europe – there is no requirement as such but it is the only region not to have had a secretary-general and there is wide agreement in the general membership, if not the P5, that it is Eastern Europe’s turn – and that the UN may well elect its first female secretary-general.

Update: Feb 29, 2016 – Former UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres has been nominated by the Portuguese government. Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal and served as UN refugee chief from 2005-15, during the worst refugee crisis in UNHCR’s history. The Portuguese government made the announcement on Monday. He is the first candidate to be nominated by a non-Eastern European member state and his candidacy, while popular, is likely to face stiff resistance from veto-wielding Russia.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Natalia Gherman – Could Moldova’s Foreign Minister be the Next UN Secretary-General?

Libya Loses UN General Assembly Vote Over Non-Payment of Dues

60th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 66th session:

Feb. 4, 2016 – Libya has been suspended from voting in the UN General Assembly over non-payment of dues.

The country, which has two competing parliaments and governments, has been in turmoil since NATO forces intervened in 2011 and removed Muammar Gaddafi from power following a UNSC resolution authorizing action to protect civilians.

A recent UN report also says ISIS is established and seeking to expand in Libya.

The loss of a General Assembly vote is a result of falling foul of  Article 19 of the UN Charter, which states that countries will lose their UNGA vote if their “arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years.”

Screenshot 2016-02-04 at 4.25.07 PM

A minimum payment of $1.4 million is needed for Tripoli to regain its vote, according to a letter from Ban Ki-moon to the General Assembly.

In total, Ban named 15 countries in his January 18 letter to the General Assembly, including Bahrain and Iran, but the other countries have since either made the necessary payment or, as in the case of Somalia and Yemen, been given a waiver as the UN Committee on Contributions has determined that conditions beyond their control contributed to this inability to pay.

Libya is assessed annual dues to the United Nations’ regular budget of $3.1 million.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

The United Nations and the Death Penalty

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Jan. 5, 2016 – Ban Ki-moon’s statement on Saturday expressing dismay at the mass execution carried out in Saudi Arabia and his concerns over the nature of the charges and due process for those condemned elicited a terse response from Riyadh’s mission to the United Nations.

Ban, as well as the high commissioner and assistant high-commissioner for human rights, Zeid Hussein and Ivan Simonovic, have repeatedly called for states to abolish the death penalty. If they are to use it then they say the death penalty must only be used for crimes of murder or other forms of intentional killing following a fair and transparent process.

At this stage, there is nothing UN officials can do other than urge abolition because under international law there is no treaty or any other instrument that prohibits the use of the death penalty. The closest is an annual General Assembly resolution calling for states to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolishing it.

That resolution, which was first put to a vote in 2007, and is spearheaded by EU countries – particularly Italy and France – has been approved each year by some 100 of the UN’s 193 member states while around 40 countries consistently vote against it.

While General Assembly resolutions are not binding under international law, they are intended to express the will of the international community and can act as a persuasive force in creating international norms.

The text of the General Assembly resolution on establishing a moratorium also calls on states that retain the use of executions to limit the number of offenses for which the death penalty can be applied.

The call to limit the number of offenses is well-founded as at least seven states, including Saudi Arabia as well as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Iran impose the death penalty for drug trafficking.

But it’s not just drug crimes that are punishable by death in some countries. Apostasy is considered a capital crime in both Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Yemen, there are some 360 crimes punishable by death including adultery and prostitution. In Morocco, there are more than 325 while in Egypt there are more than 40, and death sentences have increased there since the 2011 protests that led to the fall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Indeed, it is Egypt, newly elected to the Security Council, that has led the fight back against the UNGA resolution, sending a letter to Ban Ki-moon on behalf of 47 countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, stating that “the Charter of the United Nations, in particular, Article 2, paragraph 7, clearly stipulates that nothing in the Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State. Accordingly, the question of whether to retain or abolish the death penalty and the types of crimes for which the death penalty is applied should be determined by each State.”

Despite the recalcitrance of some states, there is confidence that over time the death penalty will be abolished universally with the UN’s Simonovic noting recently that when the UN was founded only eight countries had taken the death penalty out of their laws while the figure is now 99, and only five states now execute more than 25 people per year – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related Story: UN Official Cites Progress, Setbacks in Death Penalty Abolition