Associated France Press (AFP) 30/4/2006
Growing polarization between rich, poor
nations over UN reforms
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - A divisive vote in a key UN General Assembly panel is the latest sign of the growing polarization between rich and poor nations over management reforms, diplomats say.
Despite opposition from wealthy nations, developing countries on Friday passed a resolution in the budgetary committee that effectively set back the reforms proposed by UN chief Kofi Annan.
The reforms, mandated by world leaders at their summit here last September after a series of corruption scandals, include giving the secretary general greater powers in exchange for greater accountability and measures to root out graft.
After days of marathon talks and an abortive last-minute compromise offer, developing nations backed by China and Russia adopted a text aiming to reassert the 191-member General Assembly’s budget oversight responsibilities in the face of perceived US-led Western attemtps to erode them.
The vote -- 108 in favor, 50 against and three abstentions-- broke a 20-year tradition in the committee of reaching decisions by consensus rather than by a vote.
The text proposed by 132 developing nations in the Group of 77 and China asked Annan to submit several new reports on his reforms and insisted on prior review and approval by the General Assembly of any changes to budget practices.
The United States and other wealthy nations, which together contribute 85 percent of the UN budget, want quick action on Annan’s reforms to ensure greater efficiency, transparency and accountability.
But developing countries object to what they see as a bid to transfer some of the powers of the General Assembly to the 15-member Security Council and the UN secretariat.
Speaking Monday before the vote, Britain’s UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry bluntly reminded the developing world that the United States, Japan and the European Union "pay 82 percent of the budget."
"And we’re not going to have this sort of imposition on us by the draconian tactics of the G77 at the moment," he told reporters. "If they want to play with fire, they’re going to get their fingers burned."
But Pakistan’s UN envoy Munir Akram said Friday that rich nations were contributing to the UN budget "in accordance with their obligations under the Charter."
"Fulfiling your obligations under the (UN) Charter does not entitle you to greater privileges than are provided in the Charter for member states," he added.
"It is a sad day," France’s UN envoy Jean-Marc de la Sabliere fumed after the vote. "This is a victory for the radicals."
Several diplomats said most member states had been prepared to accept a last-minute compromise worked out by the European Union and South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who had submitted the resolution on behalf of the G77 and China.
But they said the bid failed in the end because it was not acceptable to the United States.
A UN diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity saw the vote as the latest episode in the power struggle between what he called "extremists" on both sides of the north-south divide at the UN.
The rift, which often pits the United States against such nations as Pakistan, Egypt, Cuba and Venezuela, has been exacerbated by Washington’s dogged determination to reform what it views as a broken institution.
Since his arrival here last August to spearhead this reform agenda, US Ambassador John Bolton has made it clear that he wants an end to the "business as usual" way of doing things.
"The goal is to accomplish what our leaders in September told us to do, which was that business as usual practices of the United Nations are inadequate and that it’s time for reform," he said Wednesday.
In November, Bolton caused consternation among developing countries by suggesting that the UN adopt an interim budget only for three or four months pending a resolution of a stalemate over management reforms.
In late December, after hard-nosed bargaining, rich and poor nations finally agreed on a 3.798 billion dollar (3.2 billion euros) budget, including an exceptional six-month spending cap of 950 million dollars for 2006 linked to implementation of the reforms.
Now many diplomats fear the polarized atmosphere could lead to a crippling budget crisis when the reform-linked spending cap expires on June 30.
The United States, which provides about 21 percent of the budget, has threatened to withdraw funding if the reforms are not adopted by then.
"We want the UN to continue in business (after June 30) and what we have said repeatedly about the expenditure cap is that it is a form of intellectual discipline on the reform process," Bolton said. "We hope the concern we raised about the effective operation of the organization will be taken into account."