[Published 2 February 2012]
Palestine’s admission as the 195th member state of UNESCO - in possible breach of UNESCO’s own Constitution - has become a very painful poison pill for UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova to swallow.
This is becoming increasingly evident as she addressed a special information session of permanent delegations to UNESCO on 26 January to present her assessment of the crisis that has enveloped UNESCO since its controversial decision to admit Palestine on 31 October 2011.
Putting on a brave face - Ms Bokova disclosedthat the establishment of her much vaunted Emergency Multi - Donor Fund on 10 November 2011 had fallen far short of recouping the $72 million shortfall in unpaid American dues for 2011. Even worse - pledges made by some states still remained unpaid.
Ms Bokova initially claimed on 10 November that this shortfall - caused by American laws dating back to the 1990’s and amounting to 22% of UNESCO’s budget - had stimulated an unprecedented outpouring of support for UNESCO from individuals, associations and private corporations from all corners of the globe.
Having announced that the Fund would be open to all donors including public institutions, foundations and individuals - Ms Bokova now revealed that the fund had received just $30000 from these sources in the two months since the fund was established.
Incredulously - Ms Bokova had the effrontery to tell the delegates:
“I would mention that this amount is much higher than that collected during previous campaigns ...it is a sign of popular support”
Ms Bokovapointed out the following measures that had been taken to try and make up the 2011 shortfall :
1. Cutting down the number of missions from an average of 319 per month to 70 in December - with a saving in mission costs of 65% in November/December
2. Reducing the number of temporary consultants and temporary contracts from 482 people to 160 people
3. Postponing or cancelling a number of activities - all of which no doubt affected UNESCO’s delivery of help to millions of people world wide relying on UNESCO to bring some hope into their distressed lives.
The position for 2012 - 2013 appears to have worsened in the space of three weeks from a projected deficit of $167 million to $188 million - as Ms Bokova announced that her budget of $653 million was now only funded to $465 million due to the suspension of contributions from America and Israel.
Drastic measures to cope with this crisis will be presented by Ms Bokova at the next meeting of the UNESCO Executive Board on 27 February.
The 58 Board members will not be hearing any good news.
Ms Bokova made no bones in telling the representatives of the permanent delegations:
“In terms of the reduced funding available, I requested all Sectors/Bureaux/Offices to prepare Work Plans for 2012-2013 that reflect an overall reduction of 29% in the Approved Budget. I determined 29% as a realistic measure of good contingency planning in the face of the accumulated deficit.”
No UNESCO program will be spared the axe - but the cuts will not be 29% across the board as Ms Bokovahastened to add:
“Rest assured, the Global Priorities of Africa and Gender Equality are programmatic priorities,and targeted action will be identified in favour of youth,Least Developed Countries,Small Island Developing States and countries in post conflict and post-disaster situations.”
How Ms Bokova hopes to achieve this delicate balancing act will make for fascinating reading.
She continued by issuing this stern warning:
“Early analysis of work plans for the five Major Programmes and the rest of the Organization as of 20 January 2012 shows the profound impact of the severe funding constraints across the entire Organization, which reaches into core priorities and operations.”
Jobs in UNESCO and programmes world wide are set to go in this massive shake up - which will be devastating for those affected..
For many who view UNESCO as being an over staffed and bloated bureaucracy - this will be seen as a blessing in disguise. Others who see a severe contraction in UNESCO’s current and future programs will be alarmed at the prospects of what lies ahead. Yet others will rejoice in seeing UNESCO wallowing in a problem of its own making that could have been avoided.
Ms Bokova revealed some pills that UNESCO employees and conference junkies have already swallowed - including:
1. Suspending the printing and distribution of her own Ivory Notes ($793 per Note)
2. Increasing the hours required for business class travel from 8 hours to 9 hours.
3. Reducing regular program travel budgets by 20% across the board
4. Reducing daily subsistence allowances to programme meetings and conference participants by 25%
In the meantime one possible solution to all of UNESCO’s financial woes - that would cost it $100000 to pursue - is apparently still not in contemplation.
That possible solution involves UNESCO seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to determine the legality of UNESCO’s decision to admit Palestine as a member state.
The 107 countries that voted for Palestine’s admission should be urging such action be taken - since a reversal of that decision would end UNESCO’s current parlous position by immediately restoring the lost American funding and allow UNESCO to resume all its global programs. Seeking this outcome should surely be the priority of each such member state and in its best national interest - since the populations and economies of many of these countries will become the first victims of UNESCO’s growing financial crisis
The 87 countries that did not affirmatively vote for Palestine’s admission - but urged a more cautious approach - should certainly support testing the legality of Palestine’s admission to UNESCO at the ICJ.
Only states can become a member of either the UN or UNESCO. The UN vetting Committee did not accept that Palestine qualified to be admitted as a state - but UNESCO’s Executive Board apparently did. My attempt to find out why has fallen on deaf ears at UNESCO headquarters.The ICJ would certainly not tolerate this wall of silence.
There is a further legal issue requiring the ICJ to interpret and reconcile inconsistencies between different clauses of the Constitution regulating the vote required to admit new member states.
UNESCO’s large Public Information Division and its well staffed and resourced Office of International Standards and Legal Affairs don’t even want to discuss these issues.
Will all their jobs still be there after the Executive Board meets on 27 February?
Whilst UNESCO refuses to take the prescribed ICJ antidote that could aid its complete recovery - this poisoned pill will continue to claim many more victims - including permanent UNESCO employees - as its effect is continued to be felt by scores of millions of people around the world.