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UN battles to pay staff salaries

China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-10 09:24

Flags fly outside the United Nations headquarters during the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 28. [JENNIFER PELTZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Guterres says world body facing worst cash crisis in nearly 10 years

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations has an overall annual operating budget of several billion dollars, covering everything from humanitarian work to disarmament, but right now, it's just trying to make sure its employees get paid next month.

How did the world body end up more than $200 million in the red?

The answer: Member states who have not paid their expected contributions, including the United States.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Tuesday that the agency may not have enough money for staff salaries in November if member states don't pay what they owe.

He told the budget committee of the 193-member UN General Assembly that if he had not worked since January to cut spending then "we would not have had the liquidity to support" the annual gathering of world leaders last month.

"This month, we will reach the deepest deficit of the decade. We risk ... entering November without enough cash to cover payrolls," said Guterres. "Our work and our reforms are at risk."

The US is the largest contributor - responsible for 22 percent of the more than $3.3 billion regular budget for 2019, which pays for work including political, humanitarian, disarmament, economic and social affairs and communications.

Washington owes nearly $381 million for prior regular budgets and $674 million for the 2019 regular budget. The US mission to the UN confirmed the figures.

An official from the US mission said the US "will be providing the vast majority of what we owe to the regular budget this fall, as we have in past years".

"Overall, the United States, as the largest contributor to the UN, contributes roughly $10 billion annually in assessed and voluntary contributions across the United Nations system," the official said.

US President Donald Trump's administration has taken a hard line on UN funding, cutting contributions and pushing for costsaving reforms. Guterres has been working to improve UN operations and cut costs.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said 129 countries had paid their dues for 2019 so far, which amounted to almost $2 billion.

Guterres said he introduced extraordinary measures last month to cope with the shortfall: Vacant posts cannot be filled, only essential travel is allowed, and some meetings may have to be canceled or postponed. UN operations in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi and at regional commissions will be affected.

UN peacekeeping missions are funded by a separate budget, which was $6.7 billion for the year ending June 30, 2019, and $6.51 billion for the year running to June 30, 2020.

The US is responsible for nearly 28 percent of the peacekeeping budget but has pledged to pay only 25 percent - as required by US law. Washington currently owes nearly $2.4 billion for peacekeeping missions.

The top contributors of troops are Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Nepal and Rwanda. They pay their troops according to their national salary scales and are reimbursed by the UN. As of July 2019, the UN paid $1,428 a month per soldier.

The UN said its peacekeeping operations cost less than half of 1 percent of world military expenditures.


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