US Accounts For Almost 60% of OAS Contributions; GAO Says Reform Efforts ‘Hindered’ by Venezuela

By Mark Browne | July 12, 2017 | 11:44 PM EDT

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: Presidency of Venezuela)

Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – A U.S. effort to reduce the Organization of American States’ heavy dependence on U.S. funding is being hobbled by Venezuela – which owes  the OAS $6.9 million – according to a recent GAO report.

Congress passed a law in 2013 mandating reforms in the OAS fee structure within five years, and calling for no country to pay more than 50 percent of total annual contributions to the OAS and three other inter-American organizations.

Between 2014 and 2016 U. S. taxpayers accounted for more than 57 percent of contributions to the OAS, the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, and the Pan-American Institute of Geography and History, the GAO report found. (The OAS fee structure is applicable to the other three regional bodies too.)

This year, the U.S. will pay $50.7 million or 59.7 percent of the total $84.9 million in contributions from the 35 countries which are members of the OAS.

The next largest contributors this year are Brazil at $10.6 million (12.4 percent), followed by Canada at $9.03 million (10.6 percent).

Venezuela meanwhile owes the organization $6.9 million in unpaid dues from prior years, and the GAO report noted that Venezuela’s “unwillingness” to pay its contributions to the OAS has “has impeded the quota structure reform effort.”

Citing information provided by State Department officials, it concluded that, “Venezuela’s contentious political relationship with the OAS has hindered progress on various efforts promoted by the United States, including quota structure reform.”

The U.S., Canada, Brazil and Mexico have agreed on the need to reform the fee structure, but State Department officials told the GAO that “reaching consensus among OAS members states will be difficult.”

There are no draft resolutions designed to reform the OAS fee structure at this time, OAS secretariat spokesman Gonzalo Espariz told CNSNews.com.

“There have been attempts and talks for a long time about the whole quota system, but there hasn’t been any decision,” he said.

OAS regulations do not include any provisions for penalizing countries who are in debt to the OAS for the failure to make past contributions, Espariz explained.

“The OAS has worked since its inception on the basis of the mutual and reciprocal commitment of its members, and member states have not deemed it necessary.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has formally notified the OAS of his intention to withdraw from the organization, a process that could take up to two years, according to Espariz.

But Venezuela’s national congress claims Maduro doesn’t have the power to end the country’s OAS membership, thus compelling the OAS to seek an opinion from the organization’s Inter-American Juridical Committee.

According to the GAO report, “The OAS determines the assessed quota for each member state based on the United Nations’ methodology, as adapted for the OAS, using criteria that include gross national income, debt burden, and per capita income.”

The amount the U.S. government pays in annual contributions to the OAS is determined by the relative size of the U.S. economy compared to other member-states, according to a State Department official speaking on background.

“The 59 percent represents a ceiling that limits the amount that a single country can contribute,” the official told CNSNews.com. “The United States contributes at the ceiling level, because the U.S. economy is larger than the combined economies of the other countries that are members of OAS.”

The Trump administration, however, wants other countries to “take on greater financial responsibility at international organizations, including the OAS,” the official said.

The Organization of American States Revitalization and Reform Act of 2013 calls for “the OAS and its member states to move toward an assessed fee structure that assures financial sustainability and establishes, within five years, that no member state pays more than 50% of the organization's assessed fees.”

The legislation called on the State Department to put together a strategy for reforming the fee structure, including implementing a diplomatic campaign to “build support for reforms and budgetary burden sharing among OAS member states and observers.”

The legislation was sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)