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Op-Ed: UNESCO Decision On Palestine Backfires Badly

An analysis of the provisional work plans at end January 2012 shows the profound impact of the severe funding constraints across the entire Organization, which reaches into core priorities and operations, all due to accepting PA membership.
Published: Friday, March 09, 2012 10:28 AM


 
Report just issued by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova reveals the extent of the serious crisis facing UNESCO following its decision to admit  “Palestine” as its 195th member State - contrary to the terms of UNESCO’S own Constitution and customary international law.
 
Prior to the vote to admit “Palestine” on 31 October 2011 - Ms Bokova had issued delegates with this warning:
 
“Let me be frank. As Director General it is my responsibility to say that I am concerned by the potential challenges that may arise to the universality and financial stability of the Organization. I’m worried we may confront a situation that could erode UNESCO as a universal platform for dialogue. I’m worried for the stability of its budget. It is well known that funding from our largest contributor the United States may be jeopardized. I believe it’s the responsibility of all of us to make sure that UNESCO does not suffer as a result”
 
Her unambiguous and clearly articulated message was ignored - but it has been proved to be correct.
 
The United States did in fact immediately suspend its payments to UNESCO - denying UNESCO about US$260 million for the period 2011- 2013 - amounting to 22% of UNESCO’S budget. 
 
The suspension of such payments was mandated by American law for any international organization that took unilateral action to recognize “Palestine“ outside the negotiations being conducted between Israel and the PLO.  There appears to be little prospect of that law being circumvented.- especially in an election year.  
 
Ms Bokova was then forced to prepare her current Report for the 48 members of  UNESCO’S Executive Committee to revise UNESCO’S already predetermined programs for global humanitarian aid for 2012-2013 to cope with the sudden loss of this American revenue.   
 
The Report does not make for pretty reading. 
 
Ms Bokova had to make an unprecedented call on member States to pay their annual subscriptions in advance to give her some cash up front to implement the budgeted programs from 1 January with minimum disruption - whilst she tried to sort out the financial mess that she had inherited as a result of the Palestine vote.
 
Her plea was not in vain.  The total of advance payments received at 31 December 2011 amounted to $19.9 million compared to $2.2 million at the end of 2009. As of 31 January 2012, $88.4 million of 2012 assessed contributions have been received as compared to $21 million in January 2010.
 
However Ms Bokova is merely postponing making the really hard decisions on the cutting or abandonment of programs - hoping against hope no doubt for some miracle before these advance payments are swallowed up leaving an enormous black hole in UNESCO’S bank accounts 
 
Her action in setting up an Emergency Donor Fund has been poorly supported with just US$42 million being pledged in the three months since its formation - only $32000 of which was donated by the public,public institutions and private endowments.
 
Only US$31.2 million of the US$72 million owing by America for 2009-2011 was recouped  by cuts of 8% in activity budgets (US$21.7million) and 2% in staff cost budgets (US$9.5 million.) 
 
Many UNESCO members are already in arrears with their contributions - which only exacerbates the cash flow needed to maintain the designated global programs. The percentage of unpaid contributions for 2009-2011 has significantly increased from 3% at the end of 2009 to 12% at the end of 2011.
 
Overall the total unpaid contributions by member states amount to a staggering $98.7 million at 31 December 2011 - twice the level at end of 2009. 
 
UNESCO was also forced to draw down its total Working Capital Fund (WCF) of US$30 million to finance its programs as a result of its parlous financial position.
 
90% of UNESCO’S budget is paid by 25 of the 195 member states - putting the Organization at risk when one of them delays its payment. The WCF was the only reserve available to face delays in the payment of contributions. This reserve belongs to Member States and is not meant to finance programmes or to be used where a member suspends its payments..
 
The Report indicates there will be deep cuts in programs designed to help improve the lives of scores of millions of people world wide - as well as many more staff retrenchments. 
 
An analysis of the provisional work plans as at end January 2012 shows the profound impact of the severe funding constraints across the entire Organization, which reaches into core priorities and operations.
 
The funding shortfall has forced UNESCO to start the 2012-2013 biennium with a reduced Regular Programme budget which translates into a reduction of some 58% to the education activity budget.
 
In some areas such as HIV and AIDS - only limited regular programme funds will be allocated to be used as “seed funding”. Ms Bokova hopes the shortfall will  be supplemented from extra-budgetary resources.
 
The Natural Sciences Sector’s work plan budget has been reduced by 31%.  The current budgetary situation has had very serious consequences for this Sector. Had the sector not freezed or abolished vacant posts, the cut in the regular programme budget would have been represented in a net negative allocation for regular programme activities. However, by delaying the recruitment of over 20 posts (for varying time periods), the Sector generated savings under the staff costs, which in turn were used to create budget for programme activities.
 
Ms Bokova’s Report has received a frosty reception from the International Staff Association of UNESCO - which Ms Bokova describes as a “staff confidence crisis”.
 
The Association concludes that the Report:
 
“lists haphazardly reductions in administrative costs and the postponement or cancellation of programme activities. Elements considered to be key priorities in the construction of a modern personnel management system for the Organization have been penalized inter alia through the suspension of the merit-based promotion scheme, investments in human resources management computer tools and training programmes and the cancellation of gender priority evaluation activities and training for Administrative Officers”
 
Yet this crisis could have been possibly averted by UNESCO spending just $100000 seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of  its decision to admit “Palestine”. No suggested recommendation for this course of action appears in Ms Bokova’s Report.
 
An opinion declaring Palestine’s admission to be unconstitutional would lead to an immediate inflow of American funds and an end to UNESCO’S current woes. 
 
UNESCO obviously still prefers to play politics at a real cost to its universality and financial stability.
 
Go figure - and spare a thought for those millions of people world wide who are fast becoming victims of UNESCO’S inaction to try and reverse the disastrous consequences of its decision on “Palestine”.