Global Policy Forum

Squeezed Japan Threatens Cuts to UN Agencies


By Thalif Deen

January 7, 2004

Faced with an increase in its mandatory contributions to the 2004-05 U.N. budget, Japan plans to cut voluntary contributions to more than a dozen U.N. development agencies and international humanitarian organisations worldwide. ''We have already informed these organisations (about the proposed cuts),'' Shinichi Yamanaka of the Japanese Mission to the United Nations, told IPS. The reduction, in some cases, would be 100 percent, he warned.

Since Japan's fiscal year begins in April, the final figures will be determined only by the end of March, he added. Japan is a major contributor to at least three key U.N. agencies: the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF). Last month, the U.N.'s budgetary committee approved annual spending that hit the three-billion-dollar mark for the first time in the history of the 191-member world body.

That 2004-05 budget represents a nominal increase of 270 million dollars over the previous year's budget of 2.89 billion dollars, Warren Sach, director of the agency's programme planning and budget division, told reporters last month. ''In real terms,'' he added, ''the budget, however, remains at the same level, as the 270-million-dollar difference had resulted from currency and inflation adjustments.''

But Japan thinks otherwise. Yamanaka said Tokyo's contribution to the 2003-04 U.N. budget was 263.5 million dollars but it rose to 279.4 million dollars in the current fiscal year -- an increase of 15.9 million dollars. ''We think this is a big increase,'' he said, adding that Japan's assessed contributions have gone up significantly over the last three years.

During the budget debate last month Yamanaka told delegates that Japan grudgingly approved the new budget. ''However, we would have to express serious concern with regard to the dramatic increase in the level of the U.N. budget,'' he said. ''The amount that my government can pay is not unlimited. One should also understand that the sharp increase in the assessments for the Japanese government directly translates into lesser amounts that my government could allocate to voluntary contributions to development and humanitarian international organisations,'' he told the committee.

Yamanaka said Japan had reluctantly decided to divert, this fiscal year, money set aside for voluntary contributions to international organisations ''away from their original purposes in order to pay the (increased) assessed contributions''. ''Such negative impact on our voluntary contributions would inevitably bring much disappointment to the people who benefit from the various U.N. activities funded from Japanese contributions,'' he added.

The five major contributors to the U.N.'s regular budget are the United States, which pays 22 percent of the budget, Japan (19.5 percent), Germany (9.8 percent), France (6.5 percent) and Britain (5.5 percent). Last year, U.S. dues amounted to 341.5 million dollars, followed by Japan (263.5 million dollars); Germany (131.9 million dollars); France (87.3 million dollars) and Britain (74.7 million dollars).

According to several Asian diplomats, Japan is both angry and frustrated because it believes it does not get enough ''bang for its buck'' compared to other contributors to the U.N. budget. For over 10 years, Tokyo has been unsuccessfully trying to get a permanent seat in the Security Council. Last year a spokesman for the Japanese foreign ministry, Hatsuhisa Takashima, was quoted as saying that there should be ''no taxation without representation''. ''We should get a seat on the Security Council,'' he added.

With the exception of the United States, the remaining permanent members of the Security Council -- France, Britain, Russia (16.2 million dollars), and China (20.7 million dollars), pay much less than Japan. The assessment is based mostly on the state of each country's economy.

Japan has also continued to complain that it has far fewer high-ranking jobs in the U.N. system compared to western nations or permanent members of the Security Council. It also argues that its payments to the world body are disproportionate to the strength of its economy. Although it accounts for only 13 percent of the global economy, Japan pays 19.5 percent of the U.N. budget, while the United States pays only 22 percent, despite the fact that it accounts for 30 percent of world gross domestic product.

William Orme of UNDP told IPS that Japan is the second largest donor of the agency's core resources, providing 86.8 million dollars in 2002, out of a total 670 million dollars for all UNDP operations worldwide. In addition, Japan also provided 25.2 million dollars in co-financing for UNDP-managed projects in 2002. Abubakar Dungus of UNFPA told IPS that Japan accounts for about 14 percent of all contributions to his agency. ''They are a very significant contributor,'' he said.

Asked how the proposed cuts would affect them, spokesmen from both the UNDP and UNFPA refused to comment until they were officially notified by the Japanese government. "We would not want to speculate, as we have no indication that this will occur," said Orme. Japan is also the second largest contributor to UNICEF, accounting for about 95 million dollars.

The threatened cuts come at a time when Japan, under U.S. pressure, has offered to write off a substantial part of the seven billion dollars in debt owed to it by Iraq. In October last year, Tokyo pledged 1.5 billion dollars in outright grants for the reconstruction of Iraq, plus 3.5 billion dollars in concessional loans.

A statement by the Japanese foreign ministry explained it bluntly: ''This is of direct concern to the national interest of Japan, which depends on the Middle East for almost 90 percent of its oil imports.''




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