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Ted Turner Gift Poised To Boost UN

The payout begins in May. Worries about his undue influence on the world body seem allayed.

By Colin WoodardSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / April 22, 1998


Remember last year when Ted Turner announced he would give that $1 billion to support United Nations causes? Well, those in charge of spending the cash are settling into their new offices this month and about to get down to business.

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As the money starts flowing in May, a range of global concerns - population, human rights, and the environment - can expect a big boost. So can Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The gift also appears to have sparked some rethinking about an organization that is often criticized for its bureaucracy and largess.

"In a sense, it's broken the psychological logjam about the UN's financial future, relieving the pessimism and gloom over the US arrears," says James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, a New York-based UN watchdog group.

These are heady times for the UN. Mr. Annan himself appears to be riding his recent success in averting - or at least delaying - a military conflict between the United States and Iraq.

He took to the road April 19 on a highly publicized trip around the US aimed at raising awareness of the UN.

Annan will attend sold-out, support-building events in San Francisco, Hollywood, and Houston, mingling with film stars, academics, business leaders, and politicians.

When Mr. Turner announced his gift in September, UN officials were ecstatic. UN operations were suffering from the US failure to pay its $1.5 billion in back dues, and from a decline in voluntary contributions from member states. Turner's gift was a much-needed morale booster, a high-profile gesture of support for the beleaguered organization from a high-profile American.

Other analysts - and some member states - have expressed concern that the gift might actually undermine global cooperation by letting the US and other delinquent countries off the hook - or by beginning the process of "privatizing" UN operations, making them dependent on the support of wealthy individuals, rather than governments.

Timothy Wirth, former senator from Colorado and undersecretary of state, was hired by Turner to manage the gift. He appears to have since addressed many of those concerns. Working in close cooperation with Secretary-General Annan, he has put in place checks and balances geared to ensure that projects funded by the gift are in accordance with UN policy, and that they supplement - not replace - existing operations.

"We're not going to be doing things that governments ought to be doing," says Mr. Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation (UNF), the Washington-based charity Turner formed to channel the donation.

"We don't want to be in the position of substituting for governments or putting money into the sort of large disaster-response programs that they can support. We want to keep ourselves on the prevention side of the ledger," he says. "Underlying problems like population, environmental issues, and human rights haven't gotten the kind of attention they need."

Turner will make his gift in the form of 10 annual installments of $100 million in Time-Warner stock, the vast majority of which goes to the UNF. Personnel at the UNF will work with their counterparts at the UN Secretariat to identify mutually agreeable proposals. In effect, Wirth and Annan's representatives will collaborate to find projects they both want to support.

Most projects will be drafted by UN organizations and agencies, which will forward them to the new UN International Partnership Trust Fund office (UNFIP) at headquarters. UNFIP, which reports directly to Annan, will decide which proposals earn the secretary-general's stamp of approval and in some cases will work with UN agencies on projects.

Nothing gets funded by Turner, in other words, unless Annan wants it to be.

"We will only put forward projects that are fully consistent with UN mandates and policies," says Miles Stoby, UNFIP's executive director. "We're not seeking to play politics between the [UN] agencies; we just want to put forward the best projects. If we are going to build on this opportunity, we must have a good track record. We need projects that work, have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and can have measurable results."

Wirth favors projects in three areas: population and women's issues, environment and climate change, and children's health.

Additional resources will be dedicated to improving the performance of UN agencies in accordance with Annan's reform efforts.

That translates to a windfall for UN agencies that work closely with these issues, like the population fund (UNFPA), the children's fund (UNICEF), the development program (UNDP), and the environment program (UNEP). UN sources say dozens of proposals have been drafted by these agencies for consideration. These and other UN bodies also have been drafting joint proposals to increase their collaboration.