By Thalif Deen
UN, Jan 22 2020 (IPS) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared last week that the United Nations just “managed to survive its deepest financial crisis in a decade.”But if countries continue to default on their assessed contributions to the world body – as 47 countries did in 2019 — the UN may be heading for another liquidity crisis in 2020, he warned.
“Unless all member states pay their assessed contributions on time and in full”, Guterres declared, “we risk receiving insufficient funds to implement the entire programme of work and the full budget approved for 2020.”
That budget, voted by the 193-member General Assembly last month, was $3.1 billion for 2020: an increase of approximately $8 million on what was initially requested by Guterres.
And it also marks the first time since 1973 that the UN is adopting an annual budget instead of a two-year one.
UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on January 10 the United Nations closed out 2019 with 146 out of 193 member states having paid their dues in full for the last year’s budget.
Asked how another cash crunch was expected to impact on UN staffers in 2020, Patricia Nemeth, President of the United Nations Staff Union (UNSC) told IPS the General Assembly approving the budget– and individual countries paying their dues on time– are two different issues.
If member states don’t pay their contributions on time, then there could indeed be another cash crisis with repercussions for UN staff — both at UN headquarters and in overseas postings, she said.
“It’s not just about salaries; even the prospect of a repeat of last year’s liquidity crisis is disruptive to our daily work as UN staff, as we are unable to plan in advance so as to deliver our mandate in the most efficient and cost-effective manner”, said Nemeth, who is also Vice President for Conditions of Service at the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA).
Currently, the total membership of the UN staff union in New York is approximately 6,400 but overall it is close to 20,000 (representing UNHQs NY staff, locally recruited staff in overseas peacekeeping missions and some of the departments that are governed by the Secretariat but their offices based outside of New York ie.United Nations Information Centres (UNIC)
Addressing the Group of 77 developing countries last week, Guterres said: “I will continue to manage our cash situation carefully, and I count on your continued support to help us avoid a deeper crisis. To this end, I hope that we could find more sustainable solutions to our cash problems.”
Over the years, he pointed out, “we have spent our budgets on the assumption that we should receive sufficient cash at the start of each year to execute the entire budget smoothly during the year.”
“In reality, we receive nearly half in the first three months but almost a quarter comes only at the very end of the year, leaving a very poor liquidity situation especially from July to October.”
“We could manage in the cash-strapped months if we had sufficient liquidity reserves and more flexibility in managing our resources as a pool. But our regular budget liquidity reserves are insufficient and structural impediments prevent us from minimizing the impact across programmes,” Guterres said.
He also said the UN’s programme implementation is now increasingly being driven by the availability of cash, “which is entirely against the way we should be working.”
Asked if the UN is in the process of eliminating short term and consultancy contracts –and whether teleconferencing has replaced overseas assignments– Nemeth said the UN does not eliminate temporary contracts, which are a regular component of the hiring structure.
“While the Staff Union will always advocate for job security, we do understand that the UN sometimes needs to make short-term hires to cover specific needs.”
However, she said, all staff working for the UN should be full-fledged employees, with a contract that guarantees the backing, resources and independence required to perform their tasks exclusively in the interest of the Organization and its mandates.
As for consultancy contracts, she said, “we welcome the General Assembly’s instruction ‘that the Organization should use its in-house capacity to perform core activities or to fulfill functions that are recurrent over the long term’”.
On teleconferencing, she said: “We cannot say that teleconferencing has replaced overseas travel, as UN staff are often posted in a country different from their own to perform specialized assignments”.
However, aside from their permanent assignments, colleagues make every effort to limit travel for meetings and discuss issues whenever possible via virtual technology.
“We are fully aware of the economic and environmental cost of our travel,” said Nemeth.
Asked if regular staffers are assured of permanent stay in New York or was it mandatory for them to serve in overseas posts, Nemeth said regular staff are not assured a permanent position in New York.
All international staff, she said, are encouraged to move geographically during their career.
“A new mobility policy is under development (under the umbrella of the staff-management committee working group) and we will have to see whether or not the proposal contains a mandatory requirement to move”.
She said the Staff Union in New York does not advocate for mandatory mobility, based on the results of a survey that was conducted in 2019 among New York staff.
Staff are very interested in a mobility scheme that is voluntarily in nature and that focuses on intra-departmental moves and/ or inter-agency mobility within the UN system, Nemeth declared.
On the UN’s proposed new locations, including Budapest, Nairobi, Montreal and Shenzen, Nemeth said: “There is no decision by the Member States, as of today, concerning the Global Service Delivery Model or any potential new offices”.
This will be discussed at the first resumed session of the General Assembly in the spring.
“We are following the matter closely, as it could affect the jobs of colleagues who are locally hired in the existing headquarter locations.”
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Thalif Deen