Tun Ismail Ali - A Malaysian Legend

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Article 19 of the 53-year old United Nations Charter says "a United Nations member which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceeding two full years."

As of late June 23, nations which were in arrears (under the terms of Article 19) included Milosevic's Yugoslavia (owes US$11.7 (RM45) million), Iraq (US$7 (RM28.7) million), Georgia (US$2.8 (RM11.5) million), Moldova (US$1.7 (RM7) million) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (US$1 (RM4.1) million).

Others countries whose political and economic problems have had an impact on their payment patterns are Somalia, Burundi, Central African Republic and the Congo.

Article 19, however, has the right to permit defaulting members to vote if it was satisfied that the failure to pay "is due to conditions beyond the control of the member". This has been the case with Comoros, Liberia and Tajikistan.

The American action (not paying its bills) has caused Washington to lose much influence at the United Nations except in the powerful Security Council where actual power is centred. The council debates and determines the issues of war and peace.

Having said that, it is believed by many and confirmed by Richard Sklar, United States delegate responsible for reform and management issues, that "the American influence at the United Nations is plummeting through the floor every day".

Sklar said that when he proposes economies at the United Nations the rest of the delegates would say to him: "What right do you have to talk to us? You're a deadbeat."

Because of the arrears, Washington had lost its seat on a key committee that advises the General Assembly of administrative and budget questions.

This is what the United States owes the international organizations as of June 26: US$297,727,256 million (US$1=RM4.1) for the 1998 regular budget and US$271,478,206 for the regular budgets of prior years, US$95,953,702 for peace keeping operations this year and US$871,412,764 for peace keeping operations in previous years.

All in all, I think, it totals up to US$1.5 billion. The United States stubbornly disputes the amount contending that it only owes a little more than a billion dollars and has refused to pay an extended assessment for peace keeping; withholding money for some projects that it considers wasteful or biased, and disputes the amount of tax that the United Nations pays for American employees in its
tax equalization programme.

After taking "projected payments" by the United States into consideration, Washington will still leave a shortfall of US$211 million (US$1=RM4.1) to $241 million, meaning that the United States
could lose its vote in January

The GAO says that despite the fact that the United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations, 25% of the US$1.3 billion budget, "the arrears problem has contributed to a difficult environment for the State Department and the United States Permanent Mission to operate in" at the United Nations.

I do hope the US Congress would soon send President Bill Clinton legislation of appropriation funds for the United Nations before he addresses the United Nations in early September.

Stay tuned.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )