Poor Nations Block UN Reforms

A powerful group of developing countries at the United Nations has effectively blocked Secretary-General Kofi Annan's management reform proposals. Wealthy nations warned that failure of the reforms could trigger a financial crisis at the world body.

After days of bitter debate, the U.N. budget committee adopted a resolution blocking efforts to give Secretary-General Annan more authority over staff and budgeting decisions. The 108 to 50 votes reflected the sharp division between rich and poor nations.

The powerful group of mostly developing countries known as the Group of 77 plus China voted en masse in favor of the measure. Western countries and Japan, which finance more than 80 percent of the U.N. budget and are demanding sweeping management reforms, voted overwhelmingly against.

The wealthy countries warned that the vote could lead to a U.N. budget crisis in the near future.

Last year, in hopes of spurring management reform, the United States persuaded the General Assembly to tie management reforms to approval of the second half of the world body's annual budget. That raises the possibility that Washington could withhold its share of dues after June 30.

Several contributing countries called Friday's vote a setback for badly-needed reforms. Deputy British representative Adam Thompson said it was an indication of a harmful polarization between rich and poor.

"This is a destructive move," he said. "Today's vote does not bode well for the integrity of the budget process in the future."

Other western country ambassadors joined in condemning the vote. France's U.N. envoy Jean-Marc de La Sabliere predicted it would have grave consequences. Japan's Ambassador Kenzo Oshima said the action was likely to be interpreted as a rejection of reforms.

"My delegation is disappointed at this predicament in which we find ourselves now," he said. "It is clear the draft resolution does not enjoy consensus. The outcome will send a message more negative than positive. I feel there will be no winners in this vote, and if there are losers, then it is reform of the organization."

But the leader of the Group of 77 bloc, South Africa's Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, rejected the charges that developing countries were blocking reform. Speaking to reporters before the vote, he accused wealthy countries of triggering the crisis and blaming the poorer nations.

"And they're trying to blame the crisis on us developing countries," said Kumalo. "We're not the ones who are putting it in crisis. The United States, the EU, the UK are the ones who are putting this organization in a crisis by trying to force us to agree to things, a very undemocratic things, like give up our right as member states of the General Assembly, or be faced with denial of their money. That's not fair."

Secretary-General Annan issued a statement expressing regret about how the vote was handled. He urged member states to work together to rebuild the spirit of mutual trust that is the basis of consensus.

Mr. Annan triggered the anti-reform uprising last month when he proposed a sweeping overhaul of management practices. World leaders had ordered the reforms last year, partly in response to reports of widespread corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program.