Susan Roylance: U.S., developing countries clash at U.N. over funds for development

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

UNITED NATIONS — The goal is the eradication of poverty — a major theme at the U.N. this year. However, considerable difference of opinion exists as to the process needed to accomplish this goal.

The bottom line is that developing countries want the U.S. to kick in more funds to solve their financial problems, and the U.S. wants to see a greater focus on empowering the people.

Confusion reigned in the final hours of the recent Commission for Social Development this week, as developing countries (organized as the Group of 77, which includes 132 member states) voiced their opposition to the language proposed by the U.S. The chairman gaveled the resolution as accepted, and the U.S. rose in protest, calling for a vote to reopen consideration of the draft resolution. The U.S. proposal was defeated by a vote of 22 to 2, with 12 abstentions (rotating membership of 46 countries).

It is very rare to call for a vote in the deliberations of the commission. Decisions are usually a result of consensus — debate and revision until there is an agreement. However, after two weeks of negotiations, no agreement had been reached on the poverty resolution.

In the end, the U.S. spokesman declared, “The U.S. disassociates itself from this resolution!”

The country of Algeria was the spokesman for the G-77. The group opposed the U.S. amendments in five paragraphs and proposed new wording in six paragraphs. The chairman accepted the proposals and gaveled the discussion closed before the U.S. asked for a vote. The U.S. then asked for a vote to consider reopening the negotiations of the resolution on poverty alleviation.

While the final vote was not actually a vote on the poverty resolution, there was a major diplomacy breakdown as the developing countries combined in their opposition to the position of the United States.

An example of the conflict is in operative paragraph 12 — addressing the issue of “decent work for all.” The U.S. wanted to “promote” decent work, while the G-77 wanted to “ensure” decent work.

The G-77 also wanted to add language that would urge developed countries “to make concrete efforts towards meeting the targets of .7 percent of the gross national income of assistance to developing countries.”

The latest official development assistance of the United States was .21 percent of its GNI — compared with the .7 target — according to the Development Cooperation Directorate of the Organization for Economic Cooperaton and Development.

However, this statistic is not comprehensive, since the true measure of American generosity needs to include the amount given by American citizens, companies, nongovernmental organizations and religious institutions.

“In 1970, the U.S. government provided 70 percent of American foreign assistance. Today, the government provides only 20 percent and American citizens and companies provide 80 percent,” according to a USAID report on global partnerships. “When private aid is added, the U.S. is first of all countries in the amount of aid provided to countries in need.”

Private aid is usually more effective — dealing directly with the people. The Hudson Institute in “Rethinking the Uses and Nature of Foreign Aid” pointed out the potential corruptions when “aid projects have to be conducted in real countries with customs officials who want bribes, leaders who favor their own tribes or withhold food from rival tribes or religious groups, doctors who aren’t paid enough by the government so they sell what should be free medicines and services, and lack of free press and elections that provide the important checks and balances on both private and government officials.”

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