Brazil could lose its UN vote due to debt

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2019.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro speaks at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2019.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS/BRASILIA (REUTERS) - Brazil is in danger of losing its vote at the cash-strapped United Nations if it does not pay some of the US$400 million (S$545 million) it owes, UN and Brazilian officials said.

Of Brazil's US$415.8 million bill, US$143 million is owed for 2019, they said.

Under UN rules, if a country is in arrears in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for the previous two years, it can lose its General Assembly vote unless the country can show its inability to pay is beyond its control.

"There is considerable risk that Brazil, for the first time ever, will lose its right to vote at the UN as of Jan 1, 2020," the Economy Ministry's secretary for international relations Erivaldo Gomes said in an internal memo.

Brazil is the second-largest UN debtor after the United States and the Brazilian government must pay at least US$126.6 million by the end of the year to avoid losing its vote, Gomes wrote in the memo seen by Reuters.

The Economy Ministry did not immediately reply when asked by Reuters whether a payment would be made this year.

Currently Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe, and Somalia are subject to this rule but the 193-member General Assembly voted in October to allow them to continue to vote.

The United Nations said in October that total arrears were US$1.385 billion, of which US$860 million is for the US$2.85 billion regular budget for 2019, which pays for work including political, humanitarian, disarmament, economic and social affairs and communications.

UN officials said then that seven countries made up 97 per cent of US$1.385 billion owed - the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Iran, Israel and Venezuela - while 58 states made up the rest.

Washington is responsible for 22 per cent of the regular budget and in October owed some US$381 million for prior regular budgets and US$674 million for the 2019 regular budget.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday that the United States had since paid some US$500 million to the world body and now owed about US$491 million.

Dujarric said 138 of the 193 UN member states had now paid their regular budget dues, but that some US$772 million was still owed for 2019.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he introduced extraordinary measures in September to cope with the cash shortfall - vacant posts cannot be filled, only essential travel is allowed, and some meetings may have to be cancelled or deferred.

Guterres had warned that the United Nations may not have enough money to pay staff in November, but enough partial payments have since been made by some states, UN officials said.