The Government has expressed no real concern about Thursday’s announcement that the United States is pulling out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) after accusing it of “anti-Israel” bias.
According to Everton Hannam, secretary general for the UNESCO Jamaica office, there will be some negative effects from the loss of the US contribution of 20-22 per cent of the UNESCO budget. However, he noted that the US has not been paying its obligations for some time, and already owes UNESCO between US$300 million and US$400 million in dues.
Hannam noted that the United States last stopped paying their share of the contributions in 2011, under former President Barack Obama, after Palestine was admitted to UNESCO. However, he noted that it was a decision taken by the US Congress and not the president.
Responding to the US announcement, current Director General Irina Bokova, noted that the US had not been contributing since the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference in 2011.
She said that she regretted the withdrawal, which is a loss to UNESCO and the United Nations family, but that UNESCO would continue to work for the universality of the organisation.
This year UNESCO is choosing a new director general and with that, a new executive board, and Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment, and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange has little doubt that the country’s intention to seek re-election to the executive board for the period 2017-2021 will reap success.
Jamaica first served as a member on the executive board of UNESCO during the period 1970-1976, and subsequently served six mandates and participated in 51 sessions, in the capacity of both chairperson and representative.
Grange says that the region was ably represented on the outgoing executive board by St Kitts-Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago and Belize, and now Jamaica intends to ensure that the region’s voice and priorities are reflected in the decisions of the next executive board.
She, however, expressed regret that the region did not have a single candidate for the presidency.
She said that the current focus is on next month’s election, which could enable her to sit on the board for a second stint, while the region starts looking for a candidate to put forward for the next election cycle.
“Things come to bump,” Hannam noted, as he explained that the US threat to withdraw from UNESCO would not take effect before December 2018. He also noted that it would be the first time that the US would actually be withdrawing from UNESCO, as in the past the North American giant had only refused to pay dues.
He said that the decision should be among the main items on the agenda for the new directorship.
Despite its intention to withdraw, the United States is expected to remain as an observer.
Grange, who will be in Paris for the election of the new director general next month, says that sitting on the executive board of UNESCO carries a “significant amount of power”.
She said that while Jamaica may be behind in terms of its contributions to UNESCO, it would not be at the level where it would be disqualified from voting or competing for office.
She said that she will be leading a delegation representing UNESCO Jamaica to the meeting, and would be having discussions with teams from several other countries, including Latin American and Caribbean neighbours, to firm up the votes for her candidacy.
Grange chairs the Jamaica National Commission for UNESCO, of which Hannam is secretary general.
The membership of the commission, which comprises 16 people, is composed of parliamentarians, ministers, academics, representatives of national organisations and the media, and the secretary general.
The Jamaica commission last year secured close to $10 million to fund development projects in the areas of culture, gender, youth, and science.