By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 10 2019 – The UN’s smoldering cash crisis, which has threatened staff salaries and payments to vendors, has triggered strong reactions and rattled the over 6,400 staffers who work in the 39-storeyed Secretariat building in New York.
The proposed cuts in spending, which also cover about 37,500 UN staffers worldwide, excluding over 25 UN agencies, have put the focus on several issues, including a “bloated bureaucracy,” and more critically, on the time and money spent on endless overseas trips by some high ranking UN officials who are constantly “airborne”.
Guy Candusso, a former First Vice-President of the UN Staff Union, told IPS, the cash crunch in the 1990’s was much worse, but Under-Secretary-General Joe Connor managed to solve it.
“Over the last 10 years, the UN has become a bloated organization, especially at the top. If the cash crunch is considered so serious now, there should be a complete hiring freeze along with the other measures announced,” said Candusso, a longstanding staffer, until his recent retirement.
Patricia Nemeth, President, United Nations Staff Union, told IPS staff at the United Nations are alarmed by the cash flow crisis facing the organisation.
“In addition to the anxiety we feel regarding next month’s salary, constant financial uncertainty limits our ability to fulfil our mandates or deliver services to the most vulnerable,” she said.
The United Nations Staff Union in New York has been working closely with the Under Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and the Controller to keep staff informed of the situation as it evolves.
Among the various mitigating measures, the Union welcomes the instruction to limit all official travel to essential activities.
“In this spirit, we expect senior officials to lead by example, as we are in this together”, said Nemeth, who is also Vice President for Conditions of Service – The Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations CCISUA
“More importantly, on behalf of our 15,000+ constituents (NY staff and local staff in the peacekeeping missions) the Leadership of the United Nations Staff Union appeals to those countries who have not yet done so to heed the Secretary-General’s call and make the payments required to ensure that the work of the United Nations can continue, with the resources required to accomplish the mandates they themselves have given us.”
“We count on the world’s leaders to support the UN’s valuable work, improving the lives of current and future generations,” she declared.
Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “Obviously staff are very worried about what is going on. We are pleased that the Secretary-General has prioritised payment of salaries and we have also been asked to advise on which meetings and events can be delayed for when there is more money available.”
If things get worse, Richards warned, this will have serious consequences.
“Staff have rent and other bills to pay and for those in dangerous duty stations, we need to be able to continue paying for their safety and security”.
He said this could also impact the UN’s ability to deliver food to the most needy and protect the rights of the most vulnerable.
Focusing on the UN’s mandates, Nemeth told IPS the world is faced with countless pressing issues, from violent conflicts to natural disasters, all set against the continued need to promote sustainable development for all.
The United Nations is the leading force in humanitarian efforts; in maintaining peace and security; and in offering hope for the most vulnerable, all of whom aspire to the most basic needs: life, liberty, dignity, peace, security and justice.
“Yet our critical work around the globe is currently hampered by delays in the payment of Member States’ contributions, compounded by overly restrictive financial rules.”
“We are grateful to the Secretary-General for his continued efforts to ensure that Member States fulfil their obligation to come forward with their assessed contributions. However, if the situation does not improve, we call on the Secretary-General and his team to calibrate their response to ensure that staff is protected, and ask him to cooperate closely with the Staff Unions to find practical solutions,” she declared.
UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the Secretariat could face a default on salaries and payments for goods and services by the end of November unless more Member States pay their budget dues in full.
The Secretary-General has therefore requested additional steps be taken immediately, including further reductions in official travel; postponing spending on goods and services; and discontinuing events scheduled outside official meeting hours at headquarters duty stations.
In addition, conferences and meetings may have to be postponed or services be adjusted. He is reviewing further options, said Dujarric.
The Secretary-General has already written to Member States about “the worst cash crisis facing the United Nations in nearly a decade”.
Stressing the Charter obligation of Member States, the Secretary-General thanked the Member States who have paid their regular budget assessments, which is now 129, and urged those who have not paid to do so urgently and in full.
By the end of September, Member States had paid only 70% of the total assessment for the regular budget, compared with 78% at the same time last year. The Secretariat had put in place multiple measures since the beginning of the year to align expenditures with cash inflows.
The 64 states that have yet to pay regular budget dues in full for 2019 are: Afghanistan, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Costa Rica, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ecuador, Eritrea, Gambia, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Israel, Kiribati, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Tajikistan, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Yemen.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org