JAMAICA has lost voting rights and access to technical assistance from several international and regional organisations as the island remains saddled with the heavy burden of close to $800 million in outstanding arrears to these organisations.
A report submitted to Parliament on the arrears shows the contributions to the Caricom Secretariat are some $350 million behind, costing Jamaica its voting rights.
Debts to the United Nations and its agencies and projects amount to over $300 million, and have cost the country technical assistance and voting rights, as well. These include debts owed to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the creation of which Jamaica pioneered to administer the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and which still has its headquarters in downtown Kingston.
Chairman of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), Ed Bartlett, told the Jamaica Observer, following last Wednesday's meeting, that he was concerned that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Ambassador Paul Robotham, suggested that a $96-million allocation in the 2012/13 supplementary estimates could relieve the pressures.
"The committee is concerned about the level of budgetary applications to deal with these outstanding payments, as this amount will still leave us at risk, especially in dealing with key multilateral organisations like the UNDP," Bartlett said.
Robotham suggested that the $96-million budgeted, which was originally intended to reduce the debt to Caricom, could be spread around the creditors and reduce the pressure from other organisations, lowering the debt to $726.5 million by March 31.
"It will not clear off the balance of arrears, and it will still leave us with arrears of over $700 million at the end of March, but it will put us in a position where some of the dangers we identified in another paper about the loss of technical assistance will be averted, and if we receive an allocation from 2013/14 which is reasonable, we will be able to maintain that position and to service, in a reasonable way, our obligations," Robotham said.
However, he admitted that the allocation in the recent Estimates of Expenditure has not yet been sent to his ministry and, therefore, no payment has yet been made on the outstanding amounts.
He said that his ministry would provide the Ministry of Finance and Planning with a schedule of the sums owing for each financial year, "so that a payment plan could be implemented beginning in financial year 2013/14".
The list he presented to the PAAC dealt with 31 organisations to which Jamaica is affiliated, 10 of which Jamaica has lost voting rights and six cases of loss of technical assistance due to non-payment over two years.
Robotham's submissions to the PAAC showed that Jamaica has arrears of $793 million to the international organisations, the bulk of which it owes to Caricom and the United Nations.
In a footnote, the submission said that the $204 million owed to the UNDP "may result in the diversion of funds for technical assistance to cover operational costs".
It showed debt of over $400 million owed to Caricom and its agencies, which has cost the country its voting rights. But Ambassador Robotham told the Sunday Observer that there are virtually no voting rights under the Caricom agreement. The country owes $375 million directly to the Caricom Secretariat, which operates the community mechanism.
In addition to the $204 million owed to the UNDP office in Jamaica, it owes approximately $70 million to UN missions, including those to Haiti, Rwanda, Darfur, the Central African Republic, Chad, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, and Somalia.
Voting rights have been lost in terms of the UN regular budget, Caricom Secretariat, Office of Trade Negotiations, UN support to the African Union Mission in Somalia, Organisation for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, and Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the International Seabed Authority, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, and International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
The country has suffered loss of technical assistance from the Association of Caribbean States; the Inter-American Council for Integral Development; Commonwealth Secretariat; the Commonwealth Foundation; the African, Caribbean and Pacific group (ACP); and the UN Development Programme office in Jamaica.
Robotham said that if the ministry receives a "reasonable" allocation in the budget in 2013/14 it would not be able to clear off the arrears, "but we will be able to manage it in a way that is tolerable and allows us to keep our representation in these organisations".