UN Delegates Living Large While Their People Starve…(Now Where Did Put That Guillotine?)
September 28, 2012
NBC New York U.N. delegation visitors from some of the world’s poorest countries are spending lavishly in New York City during the General Assembly.
As diplomats congregate for the United Nations General Assembly, delegations from some of the poorest countries in the world are spending extravagantly in New York City while their homelands struggle, NBC 4 New York’s I-Team has discovered.
“The lavish spending is just endemic of autocratic politics as a whole,” said Alastair Smith, a politics professor from New York University and co-author of “The Diplomat’s Handbook.”
He believes the U.N.’s Manhattan address has become a distraction from the intended work of the General Assembly.
“They are here for the shopping, the food the wine, the dining. If it was in a less attractive place, I’m sure fewer people would want to come as hangers-on,” said Smith.
On Monday, I-Team cameras found several visitors with the U.N. delegation from Swaziland walking out of high-end retailer Bergdorf Goodman. The women had Bergdorf Goodman shopping bags, though they said the items inside were just gifts.
According to U.N. data, nearly 70 percent of Swazi people survive on less than $2 a day. The nation has one of the highest AIDS rates: 18 percent of the population is HIV positive.
Despite those struggles back home, numerous members of the Swaziland U.N. entourage are staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the I-Team has learned, where suites go for between $8,000 and $18,000 a night.
Also staying at the Mandarin Oriental were members of the delegation from Togo. According to one U.N. report, 2.4 million Togolese citizens live on less than $1.25 a day.
Diplomats from Gabon were staying at the Plaza Hotel, where rooms go for a $1,000 to $15,000 a night.
Nigeria’s delegation is keeping five vehicles parked outside the Pierre Hotel where the cheapest room is about $800 a night – or roughly what most Nigerians earn in two years.
At the Waldorf-Astoria, where rooms are between $800 and $9,000 a night, the I-Team found the delegation from Mali, a country where 4.6 million people are battling starvation. A recent U.N. report found Mali is the third poorest nation in the world with a poverty rate near 87 percent.
To be fair, not every poor nation spent so much for hotel accommodations: Members of the Tanzania delegation were found staying at a DoubleTree hotel in Midtown.
Although it may be unseemly for diplomats from poor countries to live ostentatiously during their stays in Manhattan, advocates for business point out there is an undeniable upside to much of the diplomatic extravagance – the boon for New York City’s local economy.
“I don’t think it is really up to us to moderate the type of spending that comes from other countries. That’s their business,” said Nancy Ploeger, president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. “What I’m concerned with is the economic impact on this city. I like the money. I want the money!”