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|UN chief Antonio Guterres is warning that UN finances are in a critical state, with a US$1.5 billion shortfall for peacekeeping and nearly US$500 million for the regular budget. (AFP/Evan SCHNEIDER)|
Guterres put forward proposals to address a US$1.5 billion shortfall in the UN peacekeeping budget and a US$492 million hole in its regular budget from unpaid contributions by member-states.
"The first thing I did when I arrived was to ask if I could sell the residence," said Guterres, who became secretary-general in January 2017.
"I'm not joking. It's a true story," he told a UN budget committee.
The UN chief's residence in midtown Manhattan is a four-story townhouse with a garden overlooking the East River, located in the posh Sutton neighbourhood - and estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
Guterres said he quickly discovered that he did not have the authority to sell the residence under UN agreements with the United States, the host government of the United Nations.
But the attempt highlighted the severe restrictions placed on the United Nations as it tries to manage its assets and revenue flows.
Guterres described UN finances as "critical" and said that even if all countries paid their contributions on time and in full, the United Nations would still face cash problems towards the end of the year.
The United States, which is the top financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, also owes the biggest amount at US$852 million, followed by Brazil, Japan, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, according to UN officials.
President Donald Trump's administration announced in December that it would cap its contribution to the UN's multi-billion-dollar peacekeeping budget at 25 per cent, down from 28.47 per cent.
To address the shortfall, Guterres called for the creation of a peacekeeping working capital fund of US$250 million and proposed that cash balances from all missions be placed in a single pool to ease budget management.
"The organisation cannot operate effectively in such a cash-strapped environment," said Guterres, who called for steps to increase liquidity.
The UN chief warned that his efforts to reform the world body and make it more efficient could be compromised unless its financial situation improved.