He must be joking! Members of a United Nations budget committee mused on Tuesday when he revealed what was on his mind when he became the United Nation’s organisation’s secretary general in January 2017.
His first thought, he said, was to sell the UN Manhattan townhouse assigned to the attorney general in order to enable the global Mr Fix It overcome a crippling budget crisis.
“I am not joking. It's a true story,” Antonio Guterres, told the committee members to their disbelief.
He soon realised he had no authority to sell the four storey residence with a garden overlooking the East River in the posh Sutton suburb of New York estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
He went on to put forward more plausible proposals to address a $1.5 billion shortfall in the UN peacekeeping budget and a $492 million hole in its regular budget caused by unpaid contributions by member-states.
US President Donald Trump said in December he would reduce Washington’s contribution to 25 per cent of the peace budget, from 28.7 per cent.
The top benefactor of the UN owes $852 million in arrears followed by Brazil, Japan, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, according to officials quoted by news agencies.
At the budget meeting, Mr Guterres painted a precarious picture of UN finances saying the organisation would be hard up towards the end of the year, if all members did not honour their commitments fully and promptly.
Mr Guterres proposed the creation of a peacekeeping operations fund of $250 million and consolidation of cash balances from all missions into one pot in order to ease budget management.
“The organisation cannot operate effectively in such a cash-strapped environment,” said Guterres, who called for steps to increase liquidity. This, he said, would earn him political goodwill to reform the world body into a more efficient organisation.
Africa had better hope he succeeds given the myriad of humanitarian crises that the continent faces from natural disasters, climate change, drought, political instability, civil wars, disease and extremism for which the UN is the minder of last resort.
The funding gap has meant that seven of the world’s most underplayed crises are in Africa — in Cameroon, DR Congo, Central Africa Republic, Burundi, Mali, Libya and Ethiopia. Only three others — Ukraine, Venezuela and occupied Palestine — are outside the continent.