Delegates Urge All Member States in Arrears to Fully Pay Assessed Contributions, as Budget Committee Discusses United Nations Financial Situation

Speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today urged all Member States with unpaid assessments to make their payments — whether for the regular budget or crucial peacekeeping operations — as soon as possible to ensure the Organization can carry out its mandates.

Delegates spoke a week after Jan Beagle, Under‑Secretary‑General for Management, gave the Fifth Committee an overview of the Organization’s four main financial indicators:  the amounts of assessed contributions; unpaid assessed contributions; available cash; and outstanding payments to Member States.  Ms. Beagle updated delegates at today’s meeting, part of a resumed session zeroing in on the multibillion‑dollar financing needs of more than a dozen active peacekeeping missions.

Egypt’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the importance of Secretariat efforts to fully pay Member States for the costs of peacekeeping troops and their contingent‑owned equipment.  Many troop‑contributing countries were developing nations unable to sustain their troops and maintain equipment on their own for extended periods, he said.

China’s delegate noted that as of April 30, outstanding payments from Member States totalled $1.56 billion for the 2018‑19 regular budget, $2.27 billion for peacekeeping operations, and $83 million for the international tribunals.  He urged countries, particularly those with large outstanding payments, to pay those bills.  He also urged the Secretariat to tighten its financial discipline as it managed its budget more wisely and efficiently.

During her presentation last week, Ms. Beagle noted that the financial period for peacekeeping operations ran from 1 July to 30 June while the calendar year was used for the regular budget and international tribunals.  As of 30 April 2018, the total amount outstanding for peacekeeping operations was $2.3 billion, she said.

Cuba’s delegated noted how many developed countries, impacted by complex economic and financial conditions, were able to meet their payment obligations.  Yet 100 and 147 Member States owed assessments to the regular budget and peacekeeping operations, respectively.  Cuba was alarmed that the largest debts of the United Nations budget were concentrated in the same Member State, “the State which benefits most from the main distortion in the calculation of the scale of assessments and makes outrageous profits by hosting this Organization in its territory, subjecting it to constant financial blackmail”, she said.

Also speaking today were representatives of Japan and the European Union.

The Fifth Committee will meet again on Friday, 25 May, to discuss the revised budget for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals for the biennium 2018‑2019.

Opening Remarks

JAN BEAGLE, Under‑Secretary‑General for Management, updated the Fifth Committee on the financial situation since she had given the Committee an overview of its four main financial indicators:  the amounts of assessed contributions; unpaid assessed contributions; available cash; and outstanding payments to Member States, on 11 May.

Ms. Beagle said that for the regular budget, Guinea and Indonesia had fully paid their assessments, bringing the total number of Member States having paid in full for the regular budget to 95.  For peacekeeping operations, Andorra had paid in full, bringing to 47 the number of Member States having paid in full in that category.  For the international tribunals, Ecuador had paid in full, bringing the total number of Member States current on payments for that category to 69.  In addition, Andorra’s payment added that Member State to the list of countries having paid in full for all categories, bringing the total to 42 Member States, as reflected in paragraph 27 of document A/72/522/Add.1.  “On behalf of the Secretary‑General, I would like to thank these Member States for their positive action since last week’s briefing on the UN financial situation,” she said.

Statements

MOHAMED FOUAD AHMED (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, welcomed the Secretariat’s efforts to give Member States a full and transparent accounting of the Organization’s financial health.  Going forward, the Secretariat should consider presenting more year‑to‑year comparisons and elaborating on the general assessment and comments.  That would help Member States analyse the evolution of the Organization’s financial health over time and track their own performance vis‑à‑vis meeting their financial commitments.  He conveyed the Group’s appreciation for the Secretariat’s efforts to address the issue of outstanding payments to Member States, especially for peacekeeping troop costs and contingent‑owned equipment.  Many troop‑contributing countries were developing countries that were unable to sustain their troop commitments and maintain equipment on their own for extended periods, he said, emphasizing that the issue was a major priority for the Group and urging the Organization to do its utmost to significantly reduce outstanding amounts.

The financial health of the United Nations depended on action by all Member States, and while some might be temporarily unable to meet their financial obligations, the entire membership had a legal obligation to bear its expenses, he said.  “There is nothing special about the equal obligation of all to live up to their responsibility to pay, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” he said.  It was unrealistic to call for the United Nations to function effectively, fully implement its mandates and undertake major change while withholding payment of assessed contributions.  “Calling for efficiencies in the formulation of budgets does not excuse us from our obligation to provide the Organization with the resources it needs,” he said, adding that creating artificial justifications for non‑payment not only affected mandate delivery, but also undermined the Organization’s established principles of governance on the basis of the sovereign equality of Member States.

THOMAS HYNDRAK, European Union, expressed concern about the level of unpaid assessed contributions to the regular budget.  As of 30 April, that amount was higher than a year earlier, with a small number of Member States responsible for a large proportion of that sum.  With the Secretariat predicting that cash levels would be falling as the year progressed, the full and timely payment of assessed contributions in the coming months would be critical.  The European Union thus called on those Member States with unpaid assessments to address that issue as a priority.  With regard to peacekeeping assessments, he noted that more Member States had paid up in full since the 30 April cut‑off date.  However, at $2.3 billion, the amount of outstanding payments remained high.  Once again, the European Union encouraged Member States to pay their peacekeeping assessments in full and without conditions to ensure a satisfactory cash flow as well as necessary resources for peacekeeping missions.

Noting that European Union member States contributed more than 30 per cent of assessed contributions to the United Nations regular and peacekeeping budgets, he said the Organization must ensure full accountability for the use of resources and strive to live within agreed budget levels, rather than reverting to Member States during a budget cycle with revised estimates.  For that reason, the bloc supported the Secretary‑General’s proposals on management reform, which it expected would lead to more transparency and better accountability.  He went on to say there was “substantial room for improvement” in the way the United Nations managed its resources, and that European Union member States supported the adoption of approaches aimed at further savings and efficiencies, meaningful reprioritization of activity, and delivery of results.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said the financial resources earmarked for the United Nations activities and proper management were increasingly reduced each year, both for the regular budget and peacekeeping operations.  Cuba agreed that efficiency and accountability were parameters needed for the Organization’s proper functioning.  “However, doing more with less may jeopardize the fulfilment of the mandates that Member States had collectively agreed upon in order to achieve the goals of the United Nations,” she added.  Even with the adoption of a 2018‑2019 regular budget that had been substantially reduced by more than $200 million, $1.56 billion remained to be paid on 30 April, four months after the new budget’s start date.  The situation was similar with peacekeeping operations, where $2.27 billion was pending payment in 2018 even when, during a similar session in 2017, the budget for these vital operations had been reduced by about $600 million.  She noted the efforts of many countries, particularly developing countries most severely impacted by complex economic and financial conditions, to meet their payment obligations.  She reiterated Cuba’s concern that 100 and 147 Member States owed assessments to the regular budget and peacekeeping operations, respectively.  Cuba was alarmed that the largest debts of the United Nations budget continued to be concentrated in the same Member State, “the State which benefits most from the main distortion in the calculation of the scale of assessments and makes outrageous profits by hosting this Organization in its territory, subjecting it to constant financial blackmail”, she said.

KATSUHIKO IMADA (Japan) said that, despite long‑standing domestic financial difficulties, his country had been faithfully meeting its assessment obligations.  However, the capacity of Member States to pay was not unlimited, and it must be remembered that the assessed budget was borne by taxpayers.  Expressing concern that the Secretariat was covering cash shortfalls through the Working Capital Fund and the Special Account, he asked the Under‑Secretary‑General what concrete measures had been taken within the Secretariat to address the regular budget’s negative cash flow.  It would not make sense to many taxpayers in Member States if United Nations staff members were travelling in business class when the Organization’s cash position was in such a difficult situation.  Hopefully the Fifth Committee’s decision on air travel expenses would help the Secretariat take appropriate measures, including the voluntary downgrading of flight class, as requested by the General Assembly when it abolished first‑class staff travel.

FU LIHENG (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that his country, a staunch supporter of the work of the United Nations, had paid all its assessed contributions on time and in full.  Expressing his appreciation to other Member States that had done so as well, he said the Organization’s financial situation did not allow for optimism.  As of April 30, outstanding payments from Member States totalled $1.56 billion for the regular budget, $2.27 billion for peacekeeping and $83 million for international tribunals.  Countries with large outstanding payments in particular should pay all unpaid assessments as expeditiously as possible and without conditions “as a genuine gesture to support the United Nations and its reforms”.  China hoped that the Secretariat would strengthen budget management, respect budget rigidity, tighten financial discipline, use financial resources more efficiently, and wisely manage and spend every penny that had been provided by Member States’ taxpayers.  He went on to note that the Organization, as of 30 April, owed as much as $1.205 billion to troop- and police‑contributing countries.  Hopefully the Secretariat would pay back those unpaid reimbursements as expeditiously as possible.

Ms. BEAGLE thanked the Member States for their comments.  The Secretariat was committed to enhancing the transparency of its budget process and would continue to work to have useful, transparent and timely information available for Member States.  All delegates’ comments would be taken into account.

The Secretariat understood the issue of outstanding payments to troop‑contributing countries was an important concern for Member States and payments to these countries was critical for the delivery of the mandates of the peacekeeping missions, she said.  Monitoring of those payments was being carried out, and payments to the African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) had been made this week and more would follow.

It was also crucial to address the cash flow of the regular budget as the financial health of the Organization depended on payments being made in full and on time, she said.  That was critical.  The Secretariat was dedicated to strict budgetary discipline.  The negative cash flow occurred because of unpaid assessments.  An online portal gave Member States information about payments.  Letters had been sent to all Member States in arrears and the Secretariat thanked all Member States which had responded.

MICHEL TOMMO MONTHE (Cameroon), Chair of the Fifth Committee, said progress on the issues on its agenda was proceeding pretty well.  He noted the number of questions submitted to the Bureau during the resumed session had been more than 900.  He advised delegates to be prudent as they submitted questions on various issues as negotiations proceeded.  The Committee did not want to be like “the village that kills the cow to eat the chicken”, he added.  He urged delegates to move quickly during negotiations and finish its resumed session on time and in full without further delays.

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