G-77 says Third World nations shut out of U.N. contracts

UNITED NATIONS, March -- The Group of 77 has charged that U.N. contracts increasingly go to developed nations thereby shutting out qualified Third World vendors.
As of October 1997, only about 141 companies out of 2,027 registered and 962 provisionally registered suppliers in the U.N. Procurement Division were from developing countries.

"Therefore, we would like to underline that efforts should be enhanced to include potential vendors from the developing countries so as to increase their representation in the bidding for contracts, as called for by the General Assembly resolution 51/231," Ambassador Makirim Wibisono of Indonesia said.

"We are also of the view, that in order to balance the geographical base of supplier roster in the procurement system of the United Nations, to introduce the provision that among qualified vendors, preference should be given in the award of contracts for the procurement of goods and services to vendors from developing countries," he said.

Ambassador Wibisono said the anomaly in U.N. procurement is particularly striking in view of the fact that more than two-thirds of the 185 member states are from the Third World.

He said the Group of 77 attaches "great importance" to the issue of procurement reform in the United Nations.

"We believe that such reform is important to ensure the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, transparency, and competitiveness of the procurement process as well as to make it responsive to the needs of the Organization," the chairman said.

The Group of 77 has also emphasized the need to fully implement the provisions of regulations and rules regarding open tender. The Procurement Division should comply with the Board of Auditors recommendation that all major procurement bids should be publicly opened and the time and place specified in the invitation to bid, he said.

The purchases made by the United Nations and its field agencies include food, logistics services, drugs, medical equipment, sea and air freight, vehicles, vaccines, computers, contraceptives and communications equipment.

Of the 468 million dollars in procurements approved by the Secretariat in 1996, U.S. companies grabbed 49 percent of the business, amounting to about 229 million dollars.

For every dollar Washington contributed to the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), U.S. companies got back more than two dollars in UNDP contracts, according to statistics released by the U.N.'s Department of Public Information.

Currently, the United States is not only the biggest single contractor to the United Nations but also the biggest single defaulter owing more than 1.3 billion dollars to the world body.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General Joseph Connor, head of the Department of Administration and Management, told reporters that Washington owed 79 percent of all outstanding regular budget assessments.

The 15 members of the European Union (EU) have proposed that countries such as the U.S. - which owe a large chunk of money to the United Nations - should be barred from bidding on U.N. contracts. At the same time, nationals of such countries should also be refused employment in the United Nations, the EU has said.