On the Wagon: U.N. Cuts Back on Liquor, Interpreters, and Water Pitchers

Secretary-General António Guterres lays down the law in a new memo dealing with the cash crisis.


United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently distributed a memo informing senior U.N. staff around the world that an ongoing cash crisis prompted by the late payment of dues would result in certain privations. Starting Oct. 14, official travel is limited to the “most essential activities,” according to the Oct. 10 memo. In addition, no meetings can be scheduled after hours or on the weekend, air conditioning is being cut back, and the U.N. headquarters fountain will be shut off to save energy. Dreams of happy hour at the Delegates’ Lounge will have to be put on ice, as the bar was ordered to close at 5 p.m., forcing delegates to travel across First Avenue for a drink at Trump World Tower or any other number of East Side saloons.

The measures were imposed in response to a cash flow crisis brought on by the practice of the United States and several other member states to delay their payment of dues from the beginning of the year—when they are owed—to the end of the year. Other deadbeats include Brazil, Iran, and Venezuela, which are also significantly behind on their payments.

In a separate Oct. 8 memo to U.N. Security Council political coordinators—which we are publishing as part of our Document of the Week series—the U.N. Department for General Assembly and Conference Management said: “As a result of delays in payment of assessed contributions, [it] is currently working on the basis of available cash, not on the basis of the approved budget, which might not be currently funded due to cash shortfalls.”

The department, which provides support to the Security Council, outlined a series of measures aimed at getting the U.N. through the crisis. It would limit “its provision of interpretation services to the Security Council to two meetings per day, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m. … There will be no continuation of services over lunch time.”

The restrictions would also force the council’s 15 members to wait longer than the standard 24-hour waiting period for verbatim records of their meetings, forgo last-minute changes to resolutions, and limit the publication of reports by the U.N. secretary-general or any number of U.N. sanctions panels to 8,500 words—“[n]o waivers would be granted.”

Not all services would be cut. For instance, U.N. interpreters would be assigned to the U.N. Security Council when it travels abroad. But their absence could impact the availability of interpreters at U.N. headquarters.

The memo also threatens a possible reduction in room service in the council, a step that could require most delegates to take refreshment needs in their own hands: “Provision of individual water pitchers for each council member would be curtailed, and possibly be limited to the President of the Council.”

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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