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Developing Nations Thwart

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Colum Lynch

Washington Post
April 29, 2006

Secretary General Kofi Annan's U.S.-backed effort to streamline the U.N. bureaucracy was derailed Friday by a bloc of developing nations that charged the overhaul would sharply curtail their influence and give wealthier countries too much control over the organization.


The "Group of 77," joined by China, forced a vote on a resolution in the main budget committee that delays action on Annan's management reform proposal for the United Nations for months and bolsters the 191-member General Assembly's control over U.N. spending. Annan has argued that diluting the budgetary authority of the Assembly is vital to thwarting corruption and increasing efficiency. The vote was 108 to 50, with three abstentions.

U.S. and U.N. officials predicted that Friday's action will increase pressure on Congress to withhold financing for the world body, which has been beset by financial scandals in recent years. The Bush administration has signaled it may block U.N. funding unless the organization carries out management reforms by June. In an attempt to pressure U.N. members to support changes, the United States recently pushed through a U.N. resolution to authorize the organization's funding only until June.

"Absent top-to-bottom management reform, the United Nations will continue to be ill-equipped to meet the current demands that we as member states place upon the organization," John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, said after Friday's vote. "The United States is committed to pursuing necessary management reform to ensure that the U.N. remains an effective, efficient, transparent and accountable organization." The resolution adopted by the committee will be presented to the full General Assembly for a vote as early as next week.

Friday's showdown constituted perhaps the most acrimonious diplomatic battle at the United Nations since the days leading to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It also broke a 19-year tradition of making all major decisions on U.N. finances by consensus instead of by up-or-down majority vote -- a precedent that some diplomats fear will lead to further acrimony and threaten paralysis in financial decision-making.

"This is a destructive move," said Britain's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Adam Thomson. "We . . . see today's events as a setback for the reform effort. We deeply regret this debate has become so polarized. We must express our dismay and our wider concern about the consequence of being forced to take action on a draft resolution that enjoys no consensus."

The main sticking point in the negotiations was a proposal by Annan to establish several small representative groups of U.N. members to make decisions on finances. The Group of 77, composed of 132 relatively poorer nations, exerts great influence in the United Nations' budget committee. They were concerned the proposal was designed to short-circuit their role and elevate the influence of wealthy nations in determining how the United Nations spends its money. They also registered concern that Annan's reform platform would shift power away from the General Assembly's budget committee.

"We should always remember that we are all equal partners in this organization, regardless of our level of development and regardless of how much we contribute to the budget of the organization," said Egypt's ambassador, Maged A. Abdelaziz.

The resolutions adopted by the budget committee Friday called on Annan to prepare a series of reports by September, including proposals on how nationals from poor countries can find jobs in the United Nations' upper ranks, and to conduct an exhaustive review of every U.N. reform effort. U.N. officials interpreted the request as a delaying tactic that would ensure that Annan could not push through his reform proposals during his final year in office.

The resolution also seeks to limit Annan's effort to exert greater authority over budget matters or to grant greater authority over management decisions to his deputy secretary general. The resolution specifies that "no changes to the budget methodology, to established budgetary procedures and practices or to the financial regulations may be implemented without prior review and approval by the General Assembly."

"We believe in the G77 and China in the right of every member state to have an equal say in decision-making at the United Nations," said Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa's ambassador and chairman of the Group of 77. Although he expressed displeasure with Friday's vote, Bolton praised the G77 countries and China for mounting a "tenacious" effort to pursue their policies: "We respect the fact that they stuck to their position. It is an honorable thing to do."

Republicans in Congress have recently pressured the administration to withhold financing for the United Nations if it does not overhaul its management. Its reputation was badly damaged by evidence of corruption and mismanagement by senior officials running the $64 billion oil-for-food program in prewar Iraq. Federal prosecutors are also conducting a criminal probe into corruption in the United Nations' procurement department.

The House has responded by passing legislation that would cut U.S. funding for the United Nations unless management reforms are implemented. The bill, however, would give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the ability to waive the cuts if she believes they would undermine U.S. interests.

Annan appealed to U.N. members to work together to "rebuild the spirit of mutual trust" that was shattered by Friday's vote. He said that he "deeply regrets" the failure of the U.N. membership to rally around a common approach to changing the organization.


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