"Washington got a return of about 41 cents on every dollar it contributed to the world body. But on peacekeeping, the return was about 61 cents for every dollar."

U.S. continues to grab major U.N. contracts

United Nations, Feb 16 (G-77/IPS) — The biggest single deadbeat in the United Nations is grabbing lucrative contracts offered by the world body, according to figures released by the UN Association of USA.

UNA-USA, a New York-based non-governmental body, says its latest data shows the United States was the number one supplier of goods and services to the world body in 1995 for the second year running.

About 18 percent of all U.N. contracts went to the United States which remained the largest U.N. debtor, with an outstanding bill of nearly 1.6 billion dollars. The U.S. supplied 658 million dollars’ worth of goods and services in 1995 compared with 448 million dollars by Italy, 171 million dollars by Britain, 137 million dollars by France, and 134 million dollars by Germany.

These U.N. purchases included food, logistics services, drugs, medical equipment, sea and air freight, vehicles, vaccines, computers and software, contraceptives, and communications equipment.

Ralph Cwerman of UNA-USA told IPS that the U.S. Congress, which has been withholding funds from the world body, was greatly interested in the procurement figures.” Simply put, U.N. procurement contracts mean American jobs,” he said.

Some of the lawmakers, Cwerman said, were not even aware of the contracts won by their constituents. For example, the state of New York alone won 140.4 million dollars in contracts in the U.N. Procurement and Transportation Division.

The Association says the real figure for U.S. sales to the U.N. system, however, continues to hover around one billion dollars.

“This difference (from the 658 million dollar figure) is attributed to the fact that UN statisticians do not count the value of purchases from U.S. subsidiaries in foreign countries as sales from the United States,” the UNA-USA says in the latest edition of its annual publication ‘How to do Business with the United Nations’.

According to the payment scale at the United Nations, the United States is supposed to pay 25 percent of the 1.3-billion-dollar annual budget. But because it withholds funds, Washington really pays only about 12 percent.

According to a U.N. system-wide breakdown provided by UNA-USA, Washington got a return of about 41 cents on every dollar it contributed to the world body. But on peacekeeping, the return was about 61 cents for every dollar.

The 15-member European Union (EU) has argued that if a member-state does not pay its dues, it has no moral right to profit from the United Nations. The EU accused Washington last year of making money from the United Nations even while falling behind in its financial obligations to the cash-strapped world body.

Ambassador Paolo Fulci of Italy said U.S. payments to the world body were more than offset by the earnings from goods and services supplied to U.N. agencies by U.S. companies.

“With American arrears mounting, Italian legislators are asking why they should pay their dues to the United Nations on time, while the leader and its biggest procurement beneficiary was not doing so,” he said.

Urging a system of incentives and penalties to resolve its financial crisis, the EU wants the United Nations to bar suppliers from countries in arrears to the world body.

But the United States says any attempts to penalise defaulting members would be a violation of the U.N. charter which guarantees the equality of all states before the world body.

“The award of contracts should be based on objective commercial criteria,” says U.S. diplomat William Grant.

“Imposing a penalty on member-states would go beyond the Charter.”

Ghanaian diplomat Morgan Brown told a U.N. Committee last year that his country would seek a review of the awarding of contracts in the U.N. system.

“It is glaring that a few of the defaulting states are reaping from the organisation, far more than they are giving to it,” he said.

“Those who come to equity must come with clean hands. Thus, those who want contracts from the United Nations must ensure that they are not indebted to the organisation, at least as far as their assessed dues are concerned.”

Sandrine Tesner of UNA-USA says it would not be feasible to shut out U.S. companies from the U.N. procurement process. Tesner says that although the United States withdrew from the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1984, the Paris-based agency still buys most of its goods and services from Washington.

“They need extremely specialised computers which are available only in the United States,” she pointed out.

Of a total of 15.4 million dollars in UNESCO contracts in 1995, about 6.8 million dollars went to Washington. France was next with 1.4 million dollars.

The bottom line, says Cwerman, is that it is the UN that needs the United States - not the other way around.