Deadbeats of the World, Unite!
It speaks volumes about the mindset of UN top management that Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has just delivered himself of his most articulate statement since he took office -- and the gist of it was to insult America, the UN's biggest sugar-daddy, as a "deadbeat."
Ban was in Washington, following up a mutual back-patting session with President Obama by complaining to members of Congress that the U.S. is behind on its dues. Bear in mind that the assessed dues paid by the U.S., which come to 22% of Ban's record-breaking core budget, are the biggest share paid by any of the UN's 192 member states -- and monumentally more than most. Bear in mind that those dues are just a small fraction of the billions upon billions that the U.S. actually forks over every year to the UN in the form of additional funds -- including voluntary contributions, support for UN agencies, special programs, donations to emergency appeals, peacekeeping and whatnot. Bear in mind that while American taxpayers have been tightening their belts, the UN has been demanding and spending their money at record-breaking rates.
Plus, to keep Ban comfortable as he formulates his complaints, America provides the frill of lavish living quarters in midtown Manhattan for the tax-exempt Ban Ki-Moon himself. Then there's the landmark UN headquarters now undergoing an extravagant $2 billion renovation for which America taxpayers are likely to foot most of the bill (granted, that doesn't do much for the cause of world poverty, but it certainly does enhance the ample comforts of the UN bureaucracy -- Ban included -- in New York).
But OK, that's the entitlement mentality for you. The real problem is how the UN handles -- or mishandles -- the torrent of American money it already enjoys every year. There is no transparency, there is almost no accountability. For hours of fun, check out Ban Ki-Moon's vaunted "public disclosure" initiative -- in which top UN officials are invited to disclose their own finances to the public. Even the most forthcoming are too generic to tell you much. But the most entertaining cases are those of UN officials whose "disclosure" consists of ticking a box which says they are exercising their option not to disclose anything except their refusal to disclose. For instance, the deputy head of UNICEF, Omar Abdi; or Ban's special adviser (Kofi Annan's former chief of staff, who shredded years worth of executive suite documents during the Oil-for-Food investigations) Iqbal Riza.
If you actually try to figure out the extent of the UN's system-wide budget, you will quickly discover that in the maze of inter-agency fees, contributions, opaque programs, awol inventories, bizarre procurement arrangements, haze of consultancy contracts, plethora of per diems, tardy and vague public audits, erratic and secret internal audits, and extra-budgetary add-ons, doo-dads, whistles and peace bells, there is for all practical purposes no way to do it. The best estimate we've had in recent years was a statement from Kofi Annan in 2006 that the system-wide budget came to about $20 billion. America pays the biggest share -- roughly one-quarter of all that dosh.
What does the UN deliver in return?
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen put out a press release on Ban's deadbeat remark, which pretty well sums up the scene. Excerpts here:
"Last year, American taxpayers ponied up nearly $5 billion for the UN system. The U.S. is by far the world's largest donor to the UN. The U.S. provides other assistance for peacekeeping operations. The U.S. responds to emergency appeals. We are always on deck.
"Yet, the head of the UN comes to Congress and scolds us for not doing enough? He demands yet more money from us while making little progress in cleaning up the badly-broken UN?
"The UN's ineffectiveness is not from a lack of cash, but the result of a corrupt system which wastes money and apologizes for dictatorships.
"The UN has been hijacked by a rogues' gallery that uses our funds to undermine peace and security. Dictatorships use the Human Rights Council and Durban 2 conference process to restrict universal freedoms and protect extremists. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aids violent Islamists and partners with money-laundering banks under U.S. sanctions or under U.S. investigation for financing Islamist militants. The UN Development Program (UNDP) pays the legal fees of its corrupt officials but refuses to protect whistleblowers.
"While Iran, Syria, and North Korea endanger the entire world, the UN is pre-occupied with condemning democratic states like the U.S. and Israel."
To this, we might add the news item that in the rigged "election" process for choosing the president of the UN General Assembly, it looks like a done deal that the winner for 2009-2010 will be Libya (I'm not kidding ... more in my Forbes.com column this week on "The U.N.'s Year of Libya"). On this, Ban has uttered not a word of dismay.
There's a lot of scope here for enhancing chances of world peace and progress simply by cutting off money for the UN. Deadbeats of the world, unite!