The UN’s Parking Ticket Problem

Brett Schaefer /

It was revealed this week that U.N. member states owe $18 million in parking tickets to the City of New York. According to the news story, the top three debtor missions are Egypt (over 17,000 tickets for $1.9 million), Kuwait (over 11,000 tickets for $1.3 million) and Nigeria (over 8,000 tickets for $1 million). Nigeria has also been accused of “failing to pay real estate taxes on commercial parts of its ‘Nigeria House’ building on 44th Street and Second Avenue.” The rest of the top 10 parking deadbeats are (in order of debt) Indonesia, Brazil, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan and Angola. Each of the top 10 owes more than $400,000.

Hiding behind their diplomatic immunity, there is little New York can do about these scofflaw diplomats. So, in 2001, Congress empowered the State Department to “withhold aid to countries in the same dollar amount that they owe.” This is a potentially effective lever, considering that 85 percent of the 180 countries whose missions or diplomats have outstanding tickets receive aid, but there are reasons for doubt.

For instance, it is uncertain to what extent the State Department has exercised this power. Nor is it clear whether recipients are alerted exactly why their aid allocation was less than it otherwise might be. Moreover, considering the level of aid provided to some of these countries (Egypt received $1.5 billion in FY 2009), it is questionable whether the recipient governments would even notice the missing money. These are all excellent issues that Congress should explore.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) has raised an additional concern — the fact that the money may be withheld from U.S. aid recipients, but New York doesn’t see a dime of that money. He is proposing legislation to transfer the withheld aid to NY city coffers to pay for the tickets.

But it hardly seems right to ask American taxpayers to pay the debts of scofflaw diplomats, which is essentially what Rep. Weiner is proposing. What is needed is a way to convince the diplomats or missions to pay the tickets.

Perhaps it is time to open up a second source of pressure.

When challenged about whether Secretary-General Ban should call on member states to honor their obligations and pay their fines, the U.N. spokesperson noted that the Secretary-General is “not responsible for the actions of the member states themselves. Nor for the diplomats and other officials that work for those missions.” This may surprise Congress. After all Ban has not been shy in reminding the “deadbeat” U.S. of its obligation to pay its outstanding dues to the U.N. Congress should encourage the Secretary-General to call on all member states to observe the laws of the host country of the U.N. by withholding U.S. contributions to the organization equal to the outstanding tickets owed until such time as the tickets are paid.