Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Congress Should Renew the Report Requirement on U.S. Contributions to the U.N. and Reverse Record-Setting Contributions to the U.N.


U.S. contributions to the U.N. system reached a record level of $7.692 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2010—a staggering 21 percent increase over FY 2009.[1] This is the third consecutive year in which U.S. contributions set new records.

The current budgetary crisis should focus congressional attention on whether increased funding for the U.N. is a priority, particularly considering well-documented U.N. management and oversight deficiencies. Having an accurate account of U.S. contributions to the U.N. is critical to this evaluation.

Record-Setting Contributions to the U.N.

The United States has been the largest financial supporter of the United Nations since the organization’s founding in 1945. The U.S. is assessed 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and more than 27 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget. In dollar terms, the Administration’s budget for FY 2012 requested $568.7 million for the U.N. regular budget and more than $1.92 billion for the U.N. peacekeeping budget.[2] In addition, the U.S. also provides additional billions in assessed and voluntary contributions to other organizations in the U.N. system each year.

Despite America’s detailed budgetary process and documentation, comprehensive information on U.S. contributions to the U.N. have not been readily available until recently. Most U.S. contributions to the U.N. originate in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For FY 2010, for instance, the State Department and USAID accounted for over 95 percent of all U.S. contributions to the U.N.

However, hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars go to the U.N. and affiliated organizations through other parts of the U.S. government. For instance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides funding to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Department of Energy provides funds to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Department of Health and Human Services provides funds to the World Health Organization.

Because of the complexity of U.S. funding to the U.N., prior to 2006 there was no definitive data on total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system. Estimates relied on incomplete State Department data. In an effort to get an authoritative figure for total U.S. contributions to the United Nations, Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) asked former OMB director Rob Portman for a comprehensive report on total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system for fiscal years 2001 through 2005.[3] Because OMB is in charge of overseeing the preparation of the President’s budget, it was in a position to require all parts of the U.S. government to report the requested information.

The results of the first report were eye-opening. The State Department inexactly estimated that the United States contributed “well over $3 billion” to the U.N. in 2004. In its 2006 report, OMB calculated that U.S. contributions to the entire U.N. system actually totaled $4.115 billion in 2004 and $5.327 billion in 2005. Thus, the State Department estimate for 2004 was only about 75 percent of the actual U.S. contribution for that year as calculated by OMB.

According to OMB, total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system reached record levels for the third year in a row in FY 2010. U.S. contributions to the U.N. exceeded $7.691 billion in 2010. This is more than $1.3 billion more than the previous record of $6.347 billion in FY 2009 and more than $1.6 billion more than in FY 2008.

U.S. Financial Crisis Requires U.N. Budget Cuts

The staggering increase in U.S. contributions to the U.N. in recent years (contributions in 2010 were more than 21 percent more than in 2009) is indicative of the rising budgetary trends across the U.N. system over the past decade[4]:

  • The U.N. regular budget has more than doubled from $2.49 billion approved by the General Assembly for the 2000–2001 biennial budget to $5.16 billion approved for the 2010–2011 biennial budget.
  • The U.N. peacekeeping budget increased more than fourfold from $1.7 billion in 2000–2001 to $7.2 billion in 2010–2011.
  • Excluding contributions to the U.N. regular budget, U.S. funding for U.N.-affiliated organizations through the Contributions to International Organizations account were estimated in 2000 to be $375 million in FY 2000 and $645.5 million in FY 2010.

The rapid expansion of U.N. budgets has been combined with minimal attempts at prioritization. For example, spurred by complaints in Congress and fiscal belt tightening by member states, the U.N. Secretary-General declared his intent to impose a 3 percent cut in the upcoming U.N. regular budget for 2012–2013. Indeed, the proposed $5.197 billion biennial U.N. regular budget for 2012–2013 is 3.2 percent less than the revised $5.367 billion budget for 2010–2011.

However, the Secretary-General’s claimed budget savings are based on speculative efficiency gains, such as videoconferencing in lieu of travel or reducing printed reports in favor of electronic documents, which have yet to be approved by the General Assembly or implemented. The budget avoids the overdue necessity to analyze and eliminate ineffective or duplicative mandates, some of which date back to the 1940s. It also makes only a cosmetic staff cut of 44 posts (after U.N. employment funded by the regular budget increased more than 20 percent from 2008 to 2009) and largely ignores the need to reduce staff costs, which account for roughly 65 percent of the U.N. budget.[5]

Moreover, the Secretary-General’s claims of budget austerity are based on an apples-to-oranges comparison. The proposed budget for 2010–2011 (the current stage of the 2012–2013 budget) was only $4.887 billion—some $310 million less than the 2012–2013 proposed budget.[6] Doubtless, without strong U.S. pressure demanding budgetary constraint, the proposed budget for 2012–2013 will grow substantially as did the previous budget.

The failure to prioritize budgets is not restricted to Turtle Bay. There are reports that other U.N. organizations are unable to effectively use the resources that the member states have provided. For instance, the Norwegian government recently concluded that four of the U.N.’s biggest development and aid agencies—the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, and U.N. Population Program UNFPA)—had consistently increased their budgets despite accruing at least $12.2 billion in unspent cash by the end of 2009. “UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and WFP are building up considerable reserves and/or [are] unable to spend a growing share of resources,” according to the report, which adds that “the buildup of reserves implies that substantial donor funding is not being used for development purposes.”[7]

Each of the four U.N. organizations in the Norwegian report increased their budgets by 80 percent to 120 percent between 2000 and 2010.[8] The Norwegian report indicates, however, that they have routinely requested more resources than they require. While these organizations doubtlessly do good work, America’s budget crisis no longer allows for the extravagance of providing them resources that they do not or cannot use effectively or within their budget cycles.

Budgetary Cuts and Permanent Reporting Requirement Needed

The U.S. has fought a difficult battle for U.N. budgetary restraint and management reform for decades. Making sure U.S. contributions are used appropriately and how to best allocate them to advance U.S. interests starts with knowing how much the U.S. is providing to the U.N. and where that funding originates. Congress is right to demand accurate information. The legislative reporting requirement expires in 2011. Congress should take action to make this reporting requirement permanent.

America’s current budgetary crisis adds fiscal necessity to underscore that oversight responsibility. The record-setting level of U.S. contributions to the U.N. in recent years and the notoriously weak and inadequate oversight, transparency, and accountability standards in the U.N. system should lead Congress to reverse the trend of increasing U.S. contributions to the U.N. and demand budgetary restraint in the U.N. system.

Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation and editor of ConUNdrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009).

UNDP SCANDAL: Official Credit Cards charges at UNDP reached $416 million at end of 2010

UNDP high level management, including Resident Representatives and Regional Directors whom have been given Corporate Credit Cards, have spent almost half a billion dollars in Credit Cards charges.

Internal communications at Office of Finance show that UNDP had major difficulties to closing its books for 2010 given the absence of satisfactory expenditure proof towards Credit Card charges by its high level managers thru-ought its the corporate organigrame. Many of these managers have claimed "approval thresholds rights" given to them by UNDP's Comptroller.

Many claimed representation expenses, office or travel related expenses, etc. But the fact is that much of the charges are not supported or substantiated by paper trail. 82% of the charges are less than $2,500 and thus very difficult to track.

One Finance staff said that many of the charges do not comply with UNDP's corporate regulations and instructions. The staff said that: "if UNDP would be asked by member states to provide a detailed expenditure breakdown of its Corporate Credit Cards usage it can only account for only about 16% of current half a billion accumulated bills".

The above credit card charges span in a period of two years. UNDP's Bureau of Management is refusing to publish a detailed expenditure list of Credit Cards thru out the organization, which means that Member states who fund the organization will never be able to scrutinize the usage of such "extra" expenditures by higher management at UNDP.

Would United Nations Member states ever know where all this money went?

Record-Busting U.S. Spending on the United Nations

by Claudia Rosett @ PajamasMedia.Com

While President Obama exhorts American taxpayers to tighten their belts, and the U.S. flirts with default, the United Nations is setting new records for spending American money. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has produced its latest report, required by Congress, on U.S. contributions to the UN. For the 2010 fiscal year, the U.S. bankrolled the UN to the tune of $7.69 billion. As the Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer notes, that’s a “staggering 21 percent increase over FY2009.”

It’s also more than double the $3.539 which U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, in testimony this April to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, implied was the rough amount of U.S. annual spending on the UN.

The rise in U.S. contributions reflects soaring UN budgets over the past decade, to which the U.S. has been the biggest contributor. The exact percentage of UN activity funded by the U.S. varies, depending on which part of the UN we’re talking about. But browsing the OMB report can give you a pretty good idea of how big a hunk of the UN tab is bankrolled by American taxpayers. Scroll down in the report to page 2, where you can discover that the U.S. in fiscal 2010 bankrolled 27.3% of all UN peacekeeping, 22% of the regular budget, 33.6% of the World Food Program, and 26.5% of the budget of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

What’s America getting for all this money? One seat, with one vote, in a 192-member General Assembly dominated by the largely anti-American preferences of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the G-77 plus China. One permanent seat on the Security Council, alongside veto-wielding China (which contributes a mere 3.189% of the UN’s regular budget) and Russia (which contributes 1.6%). And such privileges as a chance to rub elbows with the likes of Iran and Cuba on the governing board of the UN’s flagship agency, the UN Development Program (UNDP). Plus the endless circus act in which the UN promises transparency, better oversight and more efficient management — and delivers soaring budgets, opaque finances and bubbling scandals. All those American billions now pouring into the UN had their origins in work done by Americans, who earned that money, and then had it taxed away by government — and turned over to the UN. Given a choice, could those taxpayers perhaps find better uses for their dollars?

How About Inviting North Korea’s Senior Envoy to Defect?

by Claudia Rosett @ PajamasMedia.Com

The U.S. administration has just invited a senior North Korean official, Kim Kye Gwan, to come to New York to talk about ending Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Or, as these things tend to play out in the meta-world of North Korean nuclear shakedowns, to talk about holding further talks to talk about ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

As it happens, we’ve been here before — with the same North Korean senior official, Kim Kye Gwan. In 2007, it was the Bush administration that invited Kim Kye-gwan to come talk nukes in New York. Kim spent a lively four hours dining and drinking at the Waldorf with the U.S. envoy of the hour, Chris Hill. That was followed by U.S. concessions and gifts to North Korea which included free food and fuel, arrangements to return to Kim Jong Il some $25 million in allegedly tainted North Korean funds frozen in Macau, and the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring states. North Korea’s regime responded by stalling, stonewalling, cheating and ultimately walking away from the denuclearization deal; then conducted a second nuclear test in 2009 and in 2010 unveiled a uranium enrichment facility which it had previously denied.

The Obama administration, to its credit, has so far refrained from being suckered into another of these North Korean shakedown routines. But that could all be about to change, with Kim Kye Gwan preparing to enjoy another round of American hospitality in the Big Apple.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, “We are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table.” Too late. For North Korea, a United Nations-sanctioned erstwhile pariah of the so-called international community, it is already a reward to have America dignify Vice Foreign Minister and former nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan by inviting him for an encore in New York. And with the State Department saying America is looking for signs that North Korea is serious about returning to the negotiating table, a negotiation of sorts has already begun — in which America is already at a disadvantage. North Korea’s negotiators are masters at taking whatever they can get, and then welshing on whatever they have promised.

But if the State Department is determined to entertain Kim yet again in New York, there might be a way to redeem the situation. Upon Kim Kye Gwan’s arrival, U.S. officials ought to offer him five little words, and nothing more. Quite simply: “Would you like to defect?” It’s unlikely Kim would say yes. But if he does, that would be a lovely diplomatic coup, and an excellent start to the next round of “talks” with North Korea. And if he doesn’t, it’s still the kind of message that might provoke some useful cogitation among his colleagues back in the gloomy confines of Pyongyang. Haggling with the North Korean regime is a routine that by now fits the definition of insanity. Inviting Pyongyang’s envoys to come to New York, as long as they then stay there for good, might sound crazy. But something in this routine needs to change. Why not give it a try?

Friday, July 22, 2011

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