Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)
Lankan Penny assesses UN's economic boost for New York
NEW YORK – The United States has had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the United Nations (UN) over the last 64 years, ever since the UN headquarters building was completed in 1952 in an 18-acre plot, which housed a former abattoir where cattle were being trucked daily for slaughter.
The late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a full-time chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a parttime UN basher, once said “providing funds to the UN (read: former slaughter house) was like pouring money into a rat hole.”
Former New York city Mayor Ed Koch used a five-letter word to describe the UN: a "sewer". And one of his successors, Rudolph Giuiliani, said he will not miss the UN, if it decides to pack up and leave New York.
And when the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted in some of the world’s repressive regimes as members of the HRC, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California) sniveled: "The inmates have taken over the asylum. And I don't plan to give the lunatics anymore American tax dollars to play with."
The mandatory US contribution to the UN’s regular biennium budget – amounting to $5.4 billion in 2016-2017-- was reduced from 25% to the current 22%, based on a country’s “capacity to pay.” Still, the US is the largest single contributor to the UN budget.
Although complaints against the UN have been never ending – including unpaid parking tickets by UN diplomats – US politicians have rarely admitted the political and economic advantages of the presence of the UN on American soil.
And now, a new report released last week by the Office of the New York city Mayor, points out that the UN generates $3.69 billion in total economic output to New York city's economy.
The 15,890 individuals directly employed by the UN Community took home household earnings of approximately $1.64 billion. These household earnings and the operating expenses of the UN Community helped create and sustain 7,940 jobs for New Yorkers.
Titled “The United Nations Impact Report 2016”, it was released by the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, Penny Abeywardena, an American of Sri Lankan heritage.
Meanwhile, the UN issued over 30,000 accreditations for visitors attending meetings and conferences. These visitors, on average, stayed in New York City for 14 days and received an average daily expense allowance of $258. This spending supported an additional estimated 1,210 jobs in NYC.
On the other hand, New York City incurs costs supporting the UN Community, estimated to be approximately $54 million, including costs for security and education costs for staff members enrolling their children in public schools.
However, even after taking account of these costs, the UN Community contributed approximately $56 million in net fiscal benefits to the City, according to the Report.
In 1946, New York City competed with cities from London to San Francisco to host the official headquarters of the UN.
Unlike past Mayors, the current Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio has been a strong supporter of the UN. “New York City is not only an economic and cultural capital, but a diplomatic one. We are proud to be the host city to the UN headquarters and the largest diplomatic community in the world,” he said last week.
“The impact of the UN stretches far beyond New York City, and this study reflects the city's enduring commitment to supporting this critical institution,” he added.
As New York City’s Commissioner of International Affairs, Ms Abeywardena serves as the primary liaison between the City of New York and the diplomatic community, foreign governments, the UN and the US Department of State, according to a press release from the Mayor’s office.
New York City is home to the largest diplomatic community in the world, with 193 Permanent Missions, 115 Consulates, and the headquarters of the UN – and 75 international trade commissions.
In her current role, Ms Abeywardena is building a global platform from which the City promotes its goals for a more just and accessible society, showcasing the diversity of New Yorkers and sharing policies and best practices with the world.
Prior to her current post, Ms Abeywardena was the Director of Girls & Women Integration at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). She is also a member of the World Bank’s Advisory Council on Gender & Development, a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a contributing author in “Women in the Global Economy: Leading Social Change.”
She is a graduate of the University of Southern California and completed her Master’s Degree in International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA). Footnote: As a result of the presence of the abattoir, property values in the neighbourhood were some of the lowest in the city. But John Rockefeller Jr purchased the 18-acre plot from real estate developer William Zeckendorf Sr. and donated it to the city for the UN building. But, according to widespread rumours, Rockefeller owned several other highrise buildings in the neighbourhood, including the Tudor City complex. After the UN moved in, property values skyrocketed, proving the close ties between American philanthropy and capitalism.