Published September 01, 2011
The protest came just a few days after Fox News revealed the hike in U.N. paychecks, just five months after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ordered his top officials to cut their budgets by 3 percent in the face of a financial “emergency situation” facing the world body.
The U.S. State Department said it was particularly aggrieved at the “inappropriate” pay hike, which an official said amounted to 3 per cent annually, in that salaries for equivalent levels of U.N. government civil servants- were frozen for two years by President Barack Obama in 2010, as an austerity measure. (The U.S. federal paychecks which are taxable, are also about 20% lower than take-home paychecks of similar U.N. staffers in New York, which additionally are tax free.)
The U.S. protest was delivered in the form of a letter from Joseph Torsella, the State Department’s U.N. Ambassador for management and reform, to the head of the U.N.’s International Civil Service Commission, which sets pay scales and cost of living allowances.
Torsella decried the cost of living hike “at this time of global fiscal austerity, when Member State governments everywhere are implementing drastic austerity measures such as layoffs, service reductions, revenue increases, and reductions in pay and benefits for civil servants.”
In the process, Torsella noted that the pay hike covered about 4,800 U.N. staffers—more than 50 percent more than the U.N. itself told Fox News were affected in response to questions for the original story.
Torsella also noted that the Commission is supposed to take into account the pay and living allowance scales of a benchmark civil service when deciding on its increases—and in the case of the U.N.’s staff, the benchmark pay scale is that of the U.S. civil service. He then “respectfully requested” the cost of living be rolled back.
When Fox News asked for further elaboration from Torsella on the issue, the U.S. mission to the U.N. replied that the Ambassador was traveling in Africa, and declined additional comment.
Calls by Fox News for a response from the letter’s recipient, International Civil Service Commission chairman Kingston Rhodes, were not returned before this article was published.
The letter did, however, draw a strong reaction from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who has just introduced a bill in Congress to make all U.S. payments to the U.N. voluntary, rather than mandatory. At the moment, the U.S. pays 22 percent of the U.N. Secretariat’s so-called “regular” budget and more than 27 percent of its peacekeeping bills, as well as large “voluntary “ contributions to a host of U.N. agencies. In all, the State Department says the U.S. paid $6.4 billion to the U.N. last year.
“The fact is, fiscal irresponsibility, mismanagement and malfeasance continue to plague the U.N.,” Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, declared. “the U.N.’s attitude needs to change. My legislation conditions future U.S. funding on the implementation of concrete reforms.”
The Obama Administration opposes the legislation, and it would face steep opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate if it clears the Republican-dominated House of Representatives.