The following transpired at the United Nation’s (UN’s), headquarters in New York city.

In mid-1980’s president Reagan cut US’s contribution to the UN. Consequently UN’s secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellor proposed budget cuts, one of which was to halt supply of ice water in its 13 meeting rooms to save $100,000 per year. The proposal resulted in several hours of delegates arguing vehemently that they were not going to give up their cold water.

As the debate dragged on late into the night, one of the speakers warned that the total cost of the meeting which would include overtime expenses for guards, translators and others could end up exceeding the saving from elimination of the iced water. The budget committee could not reach a decision.

The great ice water debate is unimportant, if seen in isolation. It merely highlights how tenaciously officials of aid agencies hang on to even the tiniest of their perks and privileges. Graham Hancock in his 1989 book, ‘The Lords of Poverty’, calls these aid bureaucrats the ‘aristocrats of mercy’.

Even in those days of ‘economy’ necessitated by widely criticized Reagan ‘cuts’, the UN continued to pay $60,000 a year for services of a chauffeur-driven limousine for a single employee. It also paid more than $200,000 to construct leisure facilities for its staff in New York city.

The money aid agencies spend on travel and travel related expenses is legendary - sometimes well over 50 per cent of their allocated budget. A former ambassador to the UN acknowledged that the Economic and Social Council (Eco So C) holds its summer meetings in Switzerland, “just because the weather is more pleasant in Geneva during summer than it is in New York”.

In just one year the Executive Board of Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization received $1.8 million for its travel and lodging costs. Guess what this agency spent on education in the same year?

$49,000 on education of handicapped children in Africa, $7,200 for curriculum development in Pakistan, and $1,000 to train teachers in Honduras. The expenditure on its education projects was exceeded by its travel expenses by a factor of 30.

The typical UN employee works 22 days less per year than a US civil servant and earns a higher salary at every level. UN pensions exceed those for US civil servants by 43 per cent. It would take 14 years for a US government employee to accumulate as much sick pay as a UN staff member obtains on his very first day on the job.

Any wonder why UN jobs are the world’s most sought after!

An aid-aristocrat told Graham Hancock that “The main reason that people accept a job in a place like this is so they can stash away money — and I am stashing a small fortune. Because it is a hardship post, I am automatically on 25 per cent above basic salary for my grade. My housing’s paid for, food is cheap, and there is really nothing much else to spend money on, so I am building a nest-egg”.

Money flows from the middle class taxpayers of the developed countries to aid agencies, for the good of its employees. Lord Peter Bauer said “those who sought the public good achieve what was no part of their intention, namely personal wealth”.

Ask the aid aristocrats in Nepal, about their salaries, perks and hardship allowances.

Ask what they obtain for their children’s education, land cruisers, first class air travel, hotels, servants, chauffeurs, summer and winter vacations, and their homes.

They will be ashamed to answer, because they know that with the money they spend on themselves, an army of poor could be delivered from poverty.

If the dollars were just handed over to the poor by these ‘aristocrats’ who then took the next flight home, there would be no poor left.

(The writer can be contacted at: everest@mos.com.np)