With UN dues still unpaid, Sri Lanka could lose voting
NEW YORK - When several cash-strapped nations from sub-Saharan Africa
were plagued by droughts, famine and military conflicts years ago,
their UN diplomatic Missions in New York were forced to leave a
trail of unpaid bills because they were not receiving funds from
their home countries for sustenance.
mostly for rent, electricity and telephone services, amounted to
more than $2.5 million. The only thing that prevented these diplomats
from seeking sanctuary in New York's shelter for the homeless was
diplomatic immunity that prevented landlords from evicting them
from their apartments for nonpayment of rent. But still, telephone
lines to these UN missions were eventually cut and electricity shut
off-- until the US intervened to help them out financially.
defaulters are only a handful, they still reflect badly on the entire
diplomatic community in New York. As a result, most New York landlords
in the UN neighbourhood refuse to rent apartments to diplomats while
banks have been reluctant to extend loans.
In one particular
year, the situation was so grave that the US Mission told the UN's
Host Committee that it had to deliver food parcels to some African
diplomats -- perhaps to prevent them from lining up outside soup
kitchens for the hungry run by the Salvation Army.
famine in countries in sub-Saharan Africa was threatening to spill
over into their UN missions in New York. Last week, the General
Assembly named 13 countries, including Burundi, Central African
Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Liberia, Somalia, Moldova and Tajikistan,
as deadbeats because they had failed to pay their UN dues for the
last two years.
These are countries
whose cash-starved governments are unable to pay their membership
fees to the world body. Under Article 19 of the UN charter, all
13 countries have lost their right to vote in the General Assembly.
unlike most private social clubs in New York, non-payment of UN
dues does not automatically result in expulsion. So they are holding
onto their UN membership but without voting rights.
Sri Lanka was on a UN "honour roll" as one of the 10 top
countries to pay its dues in the first week of January each year.
The names of the countries, including that of Sri Lanka, were read
out at the noon press briefing putting all late comers to shame.
But no more. Sri Lanka is now on a "dishonour roll" because
it has still not paid its UN dues for this year amounting to about
a part of this payment comes out of mandatory deductions -- called
staff assessments -- made every month from salaries of Sri Lankan
employees in the Secretariat. But despite this "discount"
in dues, Sri Lanka is still in arrears for 2003 because the UN expects
all payments to be made by the end of January each year.
At a time when
ministers and senior officials are on junkets every week at tax
payer's expense (the last ministerial and media delegation to the
UN left a $21,000 phone bill, along with a cable TV bill for porn
movies viewed in their hotel rooms), why is it that the government
cannot afford to pay its UN dues on time as it did in earlier years?
Sri Lanka's annual contribution is only about 0.01600 percent of
the total UN budget compared with 22 percent by the US and 19.5
percent by Japan, the two largest contributors.
Sri Lanka will
lose its voting rights if its total arrears exceeds the amount of
contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. At a
time when Sri Lanka is planning to field a candidate for the post
of Secretary-General, will we face the frightening prospect of being
deprived of our ballot in the General Assembly to vote for our own
At the last
pledging conference for contributions to UN agencies, Sri Lanka
was a notable absentee. The government also failed to make the annual
$1 million pledge to the UN Development Programme (UNDP) which it
has been doing over the years. Sri Lanka was one of the few developing
nations to make a voluntary contribution to UNDP even while it was
receiving assistance from the New York based agency.
Is the non-payment
of UN dues precipitated by a cash crisis or a mix-up in our priorities
back home? If and when Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits Sri Lanka
in the foreseeable future, it would surely be embarrassing if he
reminds the prime minister or the president that the country is
in arrears of its dues-- or on the verge of losing its voting rights.
A cash problem
has apparently affected even some of Sri Lanka's missions overseas
where the delay in the transfer of funds from Colombo has held up
payments of diplomat's salaries, rents and even massive bills left
behind by visiting ministerial delegations in various capitals.
Will some of our diplomats overseas be forced to go on the dole?
Or will they end up soliciting for food packets from their host
governments? Stay tuned.