The bean counters at the Department of Defence (DoD) and the national defence force would be right if they alerted the South African contingent at United Nations headquarters to keep a weather eye on the world body’s budget planning.
This is in the light of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying this week that the financial crisis at the UN has been years in the making and is undermining the world body’s mandates and reform efforts.
More importantly from a South African point of view, the UN number one wants changes to the current budgeting procedure which he is reported as saying are “absurd”.
“It is time for change and for previously rejected proposals to be considered. These include setting a budget level to set the Secretary-General’s office free to manage resources with full accountability.”
The current situation, Guterres said, is preventing the UN from reimbursing troop- and police-contributing countries in a predictable and timely manner, hindering their ability to provide lifesaving support to peacekeeping operations.
South Africa is currently the 17th largest troop contributing country to UN peacekeeping efforts, all going to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Last year Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said the Department of Defence’s (DoDs) “coffers” were boosted by R728 million. This was, according to him, reimbursement from the UN for South Africa’s participation in “various peacekeeping and other missions”.
He did not indicate where the world body money would go. Past practice has been for reimbursements of this type to go into National Treasury’s B7 account. This account is the depository for services provided by the SANDF, either internally such as the deployment of SA Military Health Service (SAMHS) to North West last year or external deployments.
In New York Guterres told the UN Fifth Committee, the body responsible for the UN budget, this week that inability to meet payroll and pay suppliers would be “catastrophic” for the UN’s reputation and its ability to conduct business.
The level of UN arrears as of the end of May stood at $492 million. “We are at a tipping point and what we do next will matter for years to come,” he said.
According to a UN statement, military and police personnel for UN operations are mainly provided by low income countries with outstanding contributions from member states for peacekeeping currently totalling $1.5 billion.
One of Guterres’ proposals is to set up a single funding pool for all peacekeeping operations and create a peacekeeping working capital fund.
There are indications some UN peacekeeping missions could be cut in both equipment and personnel terms. This follows an apparent decision by US President Donald Trump last year to reduce financial assistance to the world body. It saw a Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation go to New York. To date there has been no indication from the regional bloc of any sizable reduction in the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), staffed by SADC member states Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa.
The next rotation of South African peacekeepers to the DRC will comprise 800 soldiers (from 2 SA Infantry Battalion), down from 850 for the current 7 SA Infantry Battalion deployed. The drop is in line with a UN request.
It is understood South Africa’s Rooivalk helicopters will remain in the DRC, but they are flying fewer missions for the United Nations.