Monday, 15 August 2011

U.N. cutting costs by the word

By JOHN HEILPRIN @Associated Press

GENEVA — Even words aren't cheap anymore. The United Nations, not normally known for terseness, is putting a word limit on the thousands of reports it produces each year to try to save money and diplomats' time.

Lengthy documents are being scaled back "due to increasing financial constraints and the strain on translation services," Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the U.N.'s director-general in Geneva, told diplomats on Thursday.

Reports by the U.N.'s intergovernmental bodies must now be limited to no more than 10,700 words, he told the Conference on Disarmament that he oversees — a big change from the thick reports whose pages often run to dozens, even hundreds, pile up in press rooms and clog the inboxes of reporters.

The U.N.'s secretariat is limiting its own reports to 8,500 words.

The 193-nation General Assembly has repeatedly expressed frustration over what it calls chronic delays with lengthy reports that are straining the world body's resources. Its budget committee recently discussed whether to require measuring documents in words instead of pages.

"It shows that the U.N. is making an effort, as is everybody else," Alessandra Vellucci, a spokeswoman for the U.N. in Geneva, said Thursday.

The secretariat's $5.4 billion annual budget is set in U.S. dollars, causing hardship in places like Geneva where the Swiss franc is soaring against the dollar and euro. Extended U.N. agencies spend billions more each year.

Last year, in the wake of the global financial crisis, nations gave the U.N. less money than they did in 2009 for the secretariat's budget and international tribunals.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the U.S. Congress that the world body is doing what it can to reduce its budget this year and said he has instructed his senior advisers to devise a 3 percent cut.

The U.S. is the largest single contributor to the U.N., responsible for 22 percent of its regular budget.

Ban reported to the General Assembly that the U.N. "enforces strict compliance" on the word limit.

But all is not lost for the long-winded: He also told the General Assembly that officials who feel they have a whole lot more they need to say can ask for an exception on a case-by-case basis.

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