Penniless UN set to cut costs: Boutros-Ghali warns of bankruptcy as expenses top 206m pounds per month

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The Independent Online
THE Secretary-General of the United Nations yesterday sought to put the frighteners on the perpetually late-paying members of his organisation. His threats included a 6pm deadline for meetings, a limit of UN staff service for no more than 63 meetings a week, and a maximum of two copies of official documents to each of the 184 member states.

The measures, which diplomats calculated could save less than 2 per cent of UN costs, are intended both to satisfy demands for radical reforms of the UN's bloated bureaucracy, and to demonstrate the urgency of the UN's financial crisis to its 175-odd members who are in the red. They follow allegations of corruption and misuse of funds.

'The organisation lives from hand to mouth,' said Boutros Boutros-Ghali. 'There is nothing new about that. But today the situation is unprecedented and it is intolerable.' He said expenses ran to more than dollars 310m ( pounds 206m) a month and cash in hand would run out by the end of next week.

Members owe more than dollars 2bn, including nearly dollars 1.2bn to peace-keeping and dollars 848m in regular dues for 1993 and past years. Fewer than 10 states are estimated to be fully paid up. They include Britain, most of the Nordic and Antipodean countries, and Canada. When Mr Boutros- Ghali took over, pledging to 'create a new momentum in favour of this organisation', he honoured the ambassadors of the nations who had paid their 1992 assessments by according them the first audience with him.

Those most lagging behind on payments to the regular budget are the United States and Russia. On contributions to peace-keeping, the list includes Russia, the US, Japan and Italy.

The US owes dollars 268m for peace- keeping and dollars 518m in regular dues. The arrears date back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who persuaded right-wingers in Congress that the UN was an untrustworthy, Third World- dominated organisation. One of Mr Reagan's envoys to the UN said at the time he wished the body would 'be towed off into the sunset'.

Mr Boutros-Ghali has frequently complained that every time he raises the question of money owed by the US - theoretically the UN's biggest contributor - US officials tell him they are powerless against opposition from Congress.

Diplomats yesterday described as 'peanuts' Mr Boutros-Ghali's attempts to remedy the situation. They included the threat that neither the General Assembly nor the Security Council would be serviced by UN staff after 6pm or on weekends except in special cases. However, the threat would not apply to the interminable speeches by government leaders known as the General Assembly debate, which opens this year on 21 September.

Other measures would include:

Reduction of official travel and use of consultants.

The supply of verbatim records only for the general debate of the General Assembly.

Cuts in temporary staff servicing the General Assembly.

Overtime working in only two of the UN languages - French and English - and not in Russian, Chinese, Arabic or Spanish.

The UN operation in Bosnia was attacked yesterday as a 'disaster' by Paddy Ashdown, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, writes Colin Brown.

Mr Ashdown warned that the UN was 'at the crossroads' and could suffer the same fate as the League of Nations, which collapsed through lack of political will.

'We had better learn the lessons of Bosnia. That Bosnia has been such a disaster is bad not just because it has done terrible damage to the UN, to the international rule of law and human rights, but we may have failed in Bosnia to do anything to put that right,' he said.

If the lessons were not learnt, he added, the world would 'be in for a very dangerous and turbulent few years'.

Apart from British, Canadian and some French forces, 'troops of very poor quality' had been committed to Bosnia, said Mr Ashdown, a former member of the Special Boat Squadron. 'There is no strong force, no military committee in the UN, no staff college or training.'

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