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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fiscal Crisis Forces UN To Mull Huge Cutbacks

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations is on the verge of deciding to adopt the most drastic personnel cuts in its 50-year history, shrinking its staff of 14,000 professional and clerical workers by up to 1,150 positions because of the current financial crisis that threatens the world body with bankruptcy, UN officials have said.


The UN's top management experts have recommended that Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali institute a program of layoffs and attrition, which senior UN staffers described as "a massacre'' and "a potential disaster for the organization's ability to meet its commitments.''


Nevertheless, several officials said they believe Boutros-Ghali will conclude the cuts cannot be avoided and that he will announce them in a policy statement he is scheduled to make Wednesday.


The proposals are in line with the austerity measures advocated by the United States as necessary to solve the UN's financial problems. A senior U.S. official said, "We are aware that such steps will cause considerable pain. But we think they are unavoidable if the UN is to survive, and we think there is enough fat and waste in the system to make such cuts without cutting the UN's ability to perform its mission.''


The cutback proposals are outlined in a memorandum by American Joseph Connor, undersecretary-general for management. The Washington Post has obtained a copy of the memorandum.


The proposal calls for reducing the secretariat, which administers the functions of the world body, by more than 8 percent by the end of this year. Officials said most of the anticipated cuts would be made at UN headquarters here in New York. The various special agencies that are outside the UN's regular operating budget, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, would not be affected.


The United Nations has been forced to contemplate such measures by the worst budget crisis in its history. As of Jan. 15, member countries owed $3.3 billion in arrears. More than $1 billion is owed by the United States.


For several years, though, Congress has refused to appropriate the funds necessary to meet those obligations. U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration has been pressing the organization to make far-reaching reforms and budget cuts.


As part of that campaign, the United States convinced the General Assembly, which includes all 185 member states, to adopt a 1996-1997 no-growth budget of $2.6 billion. That was $154 million less than the secretariat had requested, and Connor's memo said the shortfall must be made up through cutbacks of projected spending. Specifically, the memo called for shaving $36 million in operating expenses and $118 million in personnel costs.


It suggests distributing the cuts to include 550 professional staff and 600 secretaries, clerks and general service workers. The professional staff is the UN's cadre of diplomats, economists, political analysts and specialists in such technical areas as environment, economic development and science.


Aides to Boutros-Ghali said if major reductions are required, the UN will try to absorb the maximum number of cuts through a hiring freeze. However, the officials acknowledged, it also would be necessary to lay off some employees to achieve cuts of the proposed magnitude.