On 7 June 2021, the Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulla Shahid, was elected to serve as President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Although his election was presented in the media as a moment of pride for the nation, Shahid's win came at a great financial cost to the Maldivian budget. Despite popular misconception, the President of the General Assembly (PGA) is not an employee of the United Nations and does not receive any salary from the United Nations. The payment of the President's salary is usually managed by the government of the country that nominated the PGA.
Who Spends for the PGA?
According to an information note published by the Office of the President of the General Assembly, funding for the PGA is raised from three main sources. The Office of the President of the General Assembly assigns a sum of approximately USD 332,000 (MVR 5.1 million) per year, and this budget has not changed significantly since 1998. The budget covers office expenses, computer equipment and communication devices, official travel, and other expenditures relating to the PGA's official responsibilities.
The work of the PGA can also be supported by donors through contributions channeled through the UN system. The Secretary-General of the UN established a trust fund in 2010 to support the Office of the PGA. The trust fund is open for donation from the member states and others. The trust fund is used for general administrative, logistical, and management support and to support thematic debates.
The country that nominated the PGA may decide to cover expenses of the position, such as their salary and accommodation. Since the PGA is not an employee of the United Nations, they do not receive a salary from the UN, nor does the UN cover their costs of accommodation.
Therefore, the Maldivian government will have to cover Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid's salary and accommodation in New York for a period of 1 year, even though the United Nations will provide security detail and arrange a car and driver for the PGA.
Shahid's Team Covered By the Government
The PGA is free to select 5 United Nations staff. Their salaries will be paid by the United Nations.
In addition, the PGA may also employ their own team of staff; their salaries, transportation costs, and accommodation costs will be managed by the member state that had nominated the PGA. The Maldives will have to bear the financial burden of paying for Foreign Minister Shahid's team for the 76th General Assembly.
The details of Foreign Minister Shahid's team are, as of yet, unknown. However, TMJ has received word that the Ministry is currently working on assembling a sizeable team.
Although the UN will cover the costs of all travel made in an official capacity, this coverage does not begin until after the PGA has assumed their office. There are several official trips that need to be made as PGA-elect.
As Minister Shahid's presidential term begins in September 2021, the Maldivian government will have to cover all of his travels between the Maldives and the United States.
MVR 2.7 Million for Shahid
New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Therefore, it is plausible that the Maldivian government will incur hefty costs to fund his stay in New York for a year.
Currently, the Maldives' Permanent Representative to the UN, Thilmeeza Hussain, receives USD 12,000 as a monthly salary from the Maldivian government. The Foreign Minister's pay and accommodation would likely be more expensive than that of the Permanent Representative to the UN, and it may be estimated that the government would incur no less than USD 15,000 a month for the duration of Foreign Minister Shahid's stay.
This adds up to USD 180,000 (MVR 2.7 million) a year. This is not to mention the millions of Rufiya that would be incurred as a result of his travel expenditure and the cost of maintaining his staff.
The official salary scales used by the government pay a minimum of USD 4,500 a month for the accommodation of staff employed by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations. It is conceivable that Minister Shahid's team alone would cost the government millions for the duration of his term as PGA.
Government at a Loss to Pay the Bills
The government currently has no plan to pay for Foreign Minister Shahid's term as PGA, according to credible sources.
While it can be estimated that Foreign Minister Shahid's PGA term would cost the government MVR 8 million, in total; this is a hefty price for a small country such as the Maldives to pay. To put things into perspective, several offices within the Maldivian government have an annual budget of less than MVR 8 million.
Foreign Minister Shahid had not responded to TMJ's questions about how the government was planning to pay for his PGA term.
If the Maldivian government is unable to pay for Minister Shahid's PGA term, he would act to secure the funds from elsewhere. Currently, the chances of Indian funds securing his term are high. Shahid has already appointed an Indian diplomat as Chief of Staff. If things are as they seem, India would truly control Minister Shahid's presidency over the General Assembly.