Fifty-seventh General Assembly
12th Meeting (AM)
FINANCIAL STABILITY OF UN ‘UNDER PRESSURE’ SAYS UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
FOR MANAGEMENT AS FIFTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS 2002-2003 BUDGET
Speakers also Address Conference Services, Language Parity on UN Web Site,
Adequate Resources for Nairobi Office, Economic Commission for Latin America
While 2001 had been a historic year -- with record levels of contributions and payments to Member States for troops and contingent-owned equipment –- predictions for 2002 were somewhat more circumspect, Under-Secretary-General for Management Joseph E. Connor told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning. Thus, the page for 2002 would read “a second good year, but ...”.
Regarding three critical indicators of the Organization’s financial health, he said that at the end of December 2001, unpaid assessments had been down, cash had been up, and debt owed to Member States down. For the end of 2002, he projected somewhat better cash balances, but higher unpaid assessments and higher debt to Member States. Today, to those important yardsticks, he also added the capacity of the budget to fund all the mandates of the United Nations. Currently, the Organization was struggling to meet a $75 million budgetary reduction for 2002-2003, and new requirements would push the budget level some $300 million higher than the agreed amount of $2.63 billion. Among those requirements, he listed special political missions, security improvements, the capital master plan and support services for the Counter-terrorism Committee.
Presenting the latest information available, as he does twice a year,
Mr. Connor said that as of 30 September, only 105 Member States had paid their regular budget assessment in full; 39 States had made no payment whatsoever in 2002; another 45 Member States had made only partial payments or had received a credit as a result of a reduction in the rate of assessment. The financial stability of the Organization was under pressure. Receipts meant that the work of the Organization could carry on; their absence undermined that ability. The United Nations had $12 million less in income than had been projected based on past payment patterns. To fund regular budget activities, the Organization had been forced to borrow from peacekeeping accounts.
Also this morning, as the Committee began its consideration of several reports related to the provision of conference services and various financial issues under the current regular budget, speakers stressed the need to provide high-quality meeting and documentation services to intergovernmental and expert
bodies of the United Nations. Several delegates expressed hope that the proposed measures for the improvement of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management would make it a more responsive, productive and efficient partner to Member States and various entities in the Organization.
The United States’ representative said that particularly welcome were measures to alleviate serious delays in issuing documentation by introducing advance planning measures, establishing a slotting system for processing of documents, rigorously enforcing page limits and considering alternatives to summary records, such as digital recordings.
The representative of Denmark (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) also emphasized the need to improve the Department’s interpretation, translation and editing capacities. The Union was concerned that an equivalent of 307 meetings -- or 921 hours -- had not been utilized and thus were wasted in 2001. It was necessary to adjust the programmes of those bodies that had been underutilizing their resources in order to reduce waste. Also important in that respect were improvements in planning and flexible adjustment of the programme of work.
The need to ensure equal treatment of all official languages was stressed in regard to both conference services and public information activities of the United Nations. Libya’s representative, for example, emphasized the importance of achieving parity among the six official languages, particularly on the United Nations Web site. So far, progress had been below par in that regard. Enhancing the Web site in all the languages would allow Member States and large sectors of world society to become more aware of United Nations activities. The representative of China also supported strengthening the United Nations Web site, saying that the use of computers had grown dramatically in recent years and, therefore, investment in the Chinese Web site would be worthwhile.
Several speakers also pleaded for sufficient resources to be provided to the United Nations Office in Nairobi and to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The representatives of Chile and Uruguay expressed concern that regional currency fluctuations would have a negative effect on extrabudgetary contributions to ECLAC. That would frustrate the activities of the Commission, which had achieved great efficiency with limited financial resources. Kenya’s representative expressed hope that envisaged budget proposals for
2004-2005 would address the inconsistencies in the provision of adequate, predictable and sustained financial resources for the United Nations Office in Nairobi.
Also participating in today’s debate were the representatives of Mexico, Syria and Mali. Documents were introduced by Abdelmalek Bouheddou, Chairman of the Committee on Conferences; Jian Chen, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management; Conrad S.M. Mselle, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions; Warren Sach, Director of the Office of Programme Planning and Budget Division; and Toshiyuki Niwa, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Central Support Services.
The Committee will continue its consideration of various reports related to
the budget for 2002-2003, at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 22 October.
This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to hear a statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Management on the financial situation of the United Nations and to take up a number of reports under its agenda items on the pattern of conferences and programme budget for 2002-2003.
Pattern of Conferences
The first document before the Committee is a Secretary-General’s report (document A/57/228) addressing a number of requests for the presentation of reports on the utilization of conference-servicing resources and facilities, documentation-and publication-related matters, translation- and interpretation-related matters, and information technology.
According to this document, overall, for all four duty stations, 98 per cent of the requests for interpretation were met. Although in its resolution 56/242 the General Assembly decided to include all necessary resources in the budget for the biennium 2002-2003 in order to provide interpretation services for meetings of regional and other major groupings of Member States upon request, no provision for such services has been specifically earmarked in the current programme budget. In order to put these services on a more formal basis and avoid scheduling difficulties, the Assembly would have to include corresponding expenses in the programme budget for the next biennium 2004-2005.
The Secretary-General also lists the measures undertaken to ensure more timely submission of documents and compliance with documentation-related rules. For instance, the reasons for late submission are being tracked and analysed, and a computerized methodology has now been developed to summarize the timeliness of document submission for the Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary organs. All departments, offices and other entities have been instructed to adhere to the page limits, and justifiable requests for waivers for documents exceeding 7,200 words have to be signed personally by heads of departments. Although the number of documents issued in accordance with the established page limits has increased, however, compliance with the targets for both intergovernmental and Secretariat documents continues to be partial.
Regarding the issuance of documents at the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the Secretary-General reports that the Commission intends to increase the percentage of documents available in Arabic from
47 per cent in 2000-2001 to 80 per cent in 2002-2003 and to 100 per cent in
On translation and interpretation matters, considering the need to provide high-quality interpretation and in view of the scarcity of available first-rate interpreters in some language combinations, the report recommends that the training programme for interpreters be established on a continuous basis. Videoconferencing is now commonplace, both within and outside the United Nations system, but remaining image quality problems still need to be solved. Listing a number of technological advances -- including a computerized terminology databank, electronic planning and servicing of meetings, digital recording systems, voice recognition software, and computer-assisted translation -- the Secretary-General further concludes that with updated equipment and proper funding, all those systems have the potential to enhance productivity, while maintaining or improving quality.
Annexed to the report are statistical data on the planned and actual utilization of conference resources allocated to a core sample of bodies that met in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi in 2001. Two addenda to the document contain a revised draft calendar of conferences and meetings of the United Nations for 2003 (documents A/57/228 and Add.1-2).
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on improving the performance of the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services (DGAACS), (document A/57/289), which “disposes of resources” amounting to some 17 per cent of the current programme budget. The document was prepared with the help of a team of consultants, which was commissioned to provide expert and independent advice. It also reflects the results of the Department’s internal process of critical self-examination, which was undertaken at the beginning of the year.
The main challenges identified in the report include the need to “reposition” the Department, shifting away from the current demand-driven approach and pursuing “full-system benefits”. The agenda will involve resource adjustments and greater application of information and communications technology. Consequential personnel shifts will occur, but, through retraining and attrition, there will be no involuntary personnel departures. The document stresses the need to do away with “the customary crisis management mode of operations” and ensure effective coordination both within the Department and among all the various structures involved.
The report also focuses on the need to optimize the use of modern technology and alleviate the documentation situation, which “has worsened lately to such an extent that the Organization is in danger of being overwhelmed by a flood of documents”. To improve document processing, better advance planning is needed. The rules governing the size and number of documents will be strictly enforced, and ad hoc meeting extensions beyond normal working hours will not be accommodated, with the exception of the plenary and Security Council meetings, and the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Requests for sessions beyond authorized duration, or intersessional “informal consultations”, which take the form of additional unapproved sessions, will be channelled for consideration through the Committee on Conferences.
It is also planned that editors will provide technical advice to the drafters of resolutions prior to the submission of the texts, and chiefs of translation services will offer advice to authors on the readability of their texts. Concordance among languages in respect of drafts will be done, where feasible, prior to their adoption, and regular contacts will be maintained with delegations to receive feedback on the quality of translation. Among other proposals, the report lists replacement of summary records with digital sound recordings of various meetings and introducing printing of documents on demand.
The Secretary-General’s report contained in document A/56/901 deals withrecruitment for the interpretation section at the United Nations Office at Nairobi. According to this document, as of April, the Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish Units were fully staffed; two of the three posts in the English Unit had been filled, while the four posts in the Arabic Unit remained vacant. Once the Arabic and English Units are fully operational (by August and September, respectively), all the language units of the Interpretation Section will be staffed with Nairobi-based staff members. For want of such staff, short-term freelancers have so far been recruited for specific meetings.
Also before the Committee was a report of the Committee on Conferences for 2002 (document A/57/32), which contains information on documentation- and publication-related matters, translation and interpretation and information technology. Stressing the essential role of information technology, the Committee welcomed the updated information contained in the Secretary-General’s report (A/57/228) on a number of information technology projects, and requested the Secretariat to ensure the dovetailing of the DGAACS projects with the overall strategy of the Organization, as well as their compatibility with the capital master plan. Priority should be given to projects that have the potential for improving Department-wide productivity without sacrificing quality.
In connection with documentation concerns, the Committee on Conferences requested the Secretariat to study the relative merits of the document tracking systems currently in use in the different duty stations, and the possibility of combining the best features of each. It also requested the Secretariat to make more extensive use of videoconferencing in meetings, in view of improvements in the technology, in order to increase the contact between intergovernmental bodies and Secretariat officials posted away from Headquarters, while achieving cost savings.
Another document to be considered today was the Secretary-General's report on improving and modernizing the conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi in order to accommodate major meetings and conferences (document A/57/477). In particular, the report recalls that a new Division of Conference Services was established at Nairobi effective 1 September 2000. The creation of a permanent interpretation service at Nairobi and further steps to enhance the rational use of the Office’s human and financial resources have resulted in improved utilization of conference facilities in Nairobi. The General Assembly is advised that in order to hold large international meetings in Nairobi, it is necessary to construct approximately 7,500 square metres of additional space. Should the General Assembly decide to proceed with the expansion and modernization of the Nairobi Office’s facilities, the detailed project proposals, including cost estimates, would be submitted to the Assembly for its consideration.
Having studied those reports by the Secretary-General, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/57/472) takes note of the information related to the pattern of conferences and points out that such suggestions as rescheduling meetings for which not enough speakers are inscribed would not be possible for bodies that do not use a formal agenda or a list of speakers. When taking action in that respect, it is necessary to take into account specific situations that govern the work of some bodies in the
Regarding the DGAACS, the Advisory Committee notes that the Secretary-General's report makes no mention of several earlier evaluations of the Department, including one by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Many of the decisions reached in those evaluations remain valid, however, and should be taken into account when considering the most recent report. The Advisory Committee also cautions against imposing too strict a rule in reference to requests for sessions beyond authorized duration, recommending a pragmatic approach in order to avoid introducing unnecessary restrictions, which could affect the ability of intergovernmental bodies or conferences to reach a successful conclusion. In connection with the concept of “integrated global management”, the Advisory Committee cautions against turning the DGAACS into a remote supervisor. It also stresses that the concept of delegation of authority should not be compromised.
Regarding translation and interpretation issues, the ACABQ takes note of the Department's intention to develop proposals aimed at making the Organization more competitive against other bidders for translation services, and welcomes its plan to explore possibilities to increase the use of off-site translators. It notes, however, that owing to the shortage of in-house translation resources, only random spot checks have been conducted on the work of contractual translators so far, and the ACABQ is of the view that the implementation of the new system should be carefully monitored and that expanded use of contractual and off-site translators should provide for revision by in-house revisers.
The Department is also urged to seek innovative solutions to the problem of the deteriorating quality of translation. In particular, the ACABQ recommends renewing the commitment to training for translators and interpreters. In particular, the Advisory Committee welcomes the re-establishment of the in-house interpreter training programme and recommends looking into the possibility of using national translation and interpretation institutions for training.
Turning to the Secretary-General's intention to abolish the Official Records Editing Section, the ACABQ stresses the importance of retaining the concordance principle in order to ensure equally valid texts of resolutions in all six official languages. As for the plan for electronic processing of documents, the Advisory Committee notes that a number of projects are under consideration in the context of the capital master plan and requests follow-up information on their implementation, including associated costs. Also recommended in the report is analysis of all the reasons behind delays in the issuance of documentation and adjusting measures undertaken by the Department in the light of experience. All missions should be surveyed regarding distribution and printing of documents upon request. All documents not distributed in hard copy must be available on demand on the Optical Disk System.(ODS), and implementation of all new measures should be carefully monitored.
In his report on financial arrangements for central services (document A/57/348), the Secretary-General recalls that the Assembly, in its resolution 56/253, requested him to study the option of departments within the Secretariat being responsible for those central services, which are currently borne centrally under the regular budget. The document outlines the measures already in place and provides a conceptual review of the advantages and disadvantages of decentralized funding arrangements.
According to the report, the concept under study has been gradually introduced and implemented since the early 1980s. A proposal for decentralizing the costs of long-distance telephone services at Headquarters, for example, was first made in the context of the programme budget for 1982-1983. A number of significant centrally provided services are already budgeted on a decentralized basis, including telecommunications, information technology support, travel and removal services. In addition, over 20 common services are provided centrally but are cost-shared between the United Nations and the funds and programmes (the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)).
Among the limitations that restrict further expansion of decentralized financial arrangements for central services, the report cites the fact that overhead costs resulting from introduction of the decentralized payment arrangements may outweigh the expected benefits. The Secretariat intends to keep the issue under review, introducing measures consistent with best practices and optimal use of limited resources.
In a related report (document A/57/7/Add.3, para. 13), the Advisory Committee recommends that the Assembly take note of the Secretary-General’s report on central services and requests the Secretary-General to remain seized with the matter and submit proposals as he deems necessary in the context of the programme budget for 2004-2005.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General on cooperation between Headquarters departments and regional commissions (document A/57/361), which draws the Assembly’s attention to the report of the Secretary-General to the Economic and Social Council on regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields (E/2002/15).
According to the report, greater consideration should be paid to how well the regional perspectives contribute to global dialogue on development issues; the extent of effective cooperation between the regional commissions and the United Nations funds and programmes, especially the UNDP with regard to its regional and subregional activities; whether there is a need for further measures to strengthen the regional coordination meetings while maintaining their practical structures as at present; and whether achieving strong collaboration between the commissions, non-United Nations regional and subregional organizations requires more cohesive mandates emanating from their respective intergovernmental bodies.
In light of the contribution that regional commissions can make to conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction, it would seem necessary that their analyses and policy recommendations be utilized not only by the United Nations but also by partner regional organizations active in the area of conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction and development. In addition, the commissions could provide technical assistance for reconstruction based on development strategies that are accepted by governments and civil society.
In paragraphs 14 and 15 of its related report (document A/57/7/Add.3), the ACABQ points out that this issue is a relevant item on the agenda of the Second Committee and that it will be considered by the Assembly in the context of the report of the Secretary-General on strengthening of the United Nations (document A/57/387).
Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on delivery of advisory services (document A/57/363), which covers the purpose and scope of such services, the criteria for the selection of beneficiaries, the types of advisory services provided and their coordination and reporting arrangements at the intergovernmental and Secretariat levels. Advisory services, the report stresses, represent an essential operational bridge between the knowledge and expertise available in the United Nations and the capacity-building needs of developing countries. Through those services, the United Nations can also assist Member States in implementing the outcomes of major conferences dealing with economic and social development.
On this issue, the Advisory Committee, in paragraphs 10 and 11 of its report (document A/57/7/Add.3), states that despite the general information given, the Secretary-General’s report does not specifically address the request of the Assembly to consider measures to avoid duplication and achieve optimum use of resources.
According to the Secretary-General’s report on the trends in extrabudgetary resources at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and their impact on its capacity to carry out its programme of work (document A/57/364), the amount of ECLAC’s extrabudgetary resources has risen from some $16.5 million in 1996-1997 to over $20.05 million in 2000-2001. Extrabudgetary funding complements the Commission’s budgetary resources. An increasingly important role is being played by joint funding arrangements with donor countries of the region. Resources are also provided by United Nations programmes and funds, multilateral financial institutions, as well as by other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations.
Among the factors that restrict further expansion and diversification of ECLAC’s extrabudgetary funding, the document lists the lack of flexibility; harmonization difficulties and high vulnerability to national economic factors and exchange rate variations in contributing States. The Secretary-General concludes that it is necessary to further encourage contributions from donors for technical cooperation activities, commensurate with the needs of the developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Funding arrangements should be reinforced and made more stable over time.
The Advisory Committee (document A/57/7/Add.3, para. 9) recommends that the Assembly take note of the report of the Secretary-General on the trends in extrabudgetary resources of ECLAC.
Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on the plan to increase the regular budget component of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (document A/57/362). The budget of the Office is being gradually increased to ease the administrative costs levied on the substantive programmes of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme. The report reflects the situation in 1998-1999, 2000-2001 and
2002-2003, and indicates an intention to further strengthen the regular budget component for the Office in the next biennium, subject to the availability of the required resources.
The ACABQ recommends (document A/57/7/Add.3) that the Assembly endorse the approach proposed by the Secretary-General in his report.
Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the United Nations Web site in all official languages of the Organization (document A/57/355). The Department of Public Information (DPI), the report stresses, has an inadequate resource capacity, which is not able to sustain the rapid expansion in the use of the United Nations Web site. Member States, through legislative bodies such as the Committee on Information and the Committee on Conferences, have consistently requested the Secretariat to provide full parity for all official languages. In order to keep pace with this expansion and the daily addition of new material in all the official languages, resources in the total amount of some $1.3 million would need to be identified. As the DPI has no room within its current budget to absorb these costs, it would require supplementary resources. The Secretariat needs concrete guidance from Member States on the level of resources that might be made available for Web site development and management.
In view of the ongoing review of the Department of Public Information, the ACABQ in a related report (document A/57/7/Add.2) recommends that the Secretary-General proceed to implement his proposals on the Web site and report on the budgetary requirements, if any, in this regard, in the context of the second performance report for the biennium 2002-2003.
Review of Efficiency
The Secretary-General’s report on the common services task force (document A/57/176) has been issued as follow-up to his previous report on the matter (A/55/461). It contains information on the activities of the Task Force on Common Services, which was established as part of reform measures initiated in 1997. The common services initiative envisions development of a system shared by various bodies of the United Nations system in such areas as facilities management, personnel services, procurement and transportation.
According to the document, the Task Force has established a two-year cost-sharing arrangement for funding a Common Services Support Unit in the Executive Coordinator’s Office, under which the Secretariat was supposed to fund 40 per cent of the costs, and other participating funds and programmes were to share
60 per cent of the total. Initially scheduled to be phased out in August 2002, the Support Unit has now been extended through August 2003 to compare joint initiatives in archives and records management, travel/transport and procurement services.
Overall, there is a rising demand for inter-agency collaboration, the report states, as more organizations and agencies realize the value of networking. In the future, though, “the time has come to review and assess the prudence of the current dual-track approach to the Task Force on Common Services and the Development Group Management Committee”. Instead, the report suggests that one overall coordination group should oversee common services initiatives at the Headquarters and country levels. A consolidated common services programme approach would expedite the harmonization of policies and procedures among the participating organizations.
Commenting on this report, the ACABQ (document A/57/7/Add.3. para. 5) takes note of the status of the technical working groups of the Task Force on Common Services and encourages greater cooperation, especially in such areas as travel and development of procurement Web sites. The Advisory Committee intends to revert to this matter in the context of its consideration of the regular 2004-2005 budget for the Office of Central Support Services.
Introduction of Reports
ABDELMALEK BOUHEDDOU, Chairman, Committee on Conferences, introducing the report of the Committee (document A/57/32), said that over the years, the Committee had been intensively dealing with the utilization of conference resources and had noted with deep concern that the 2001 utilization factor for the four United Nations offices had dropped below the benchmark of 80 per cent. Such a loss of resources was unacceptable. He had conducted consultation with the chairpersons and secretaries of bodies that had been underutilizing their resources for three years in a row and urged them to consider changes to their work and introduce discipline in the way they conducted their business. They had also been requested to work more closely with conference services and to adjust their programme of work with a view to reducing waste.
The Committee had welcomed proposals to improve the utilization of those bodies that failed to reach the benchmark, such as voting on items in blocks and establishing a higher minimum number of speakers before scheduling a meeting. Should there be no improvement in the utilization statistics of the most consistent underutilizers, the Committee would consider further steps to remedy the situation and make recommendations thereon to the General Assembly. With regard to changes to the methodology, the Committee considered that the utilization factor was superior as an overall measurement of utilization and should be kept as the primary index.
CHEN JIAN, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the reports of the Secretary-General on pattern of conferences (document A/57/228), improving the performance of the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services (document A/57/289) and the status of recruitment for the Interpretation Section at the United Nations Office in Nairobi (document A/56/901). Member States, he said, had year after year called upon the Department to examine its operations and make them more efficient and cost-effective. But after much tinkering, nothing had changed fundamentally; documents were still issued too late, meetings went on overnight with debatable results, and over-expenditure seemed like a fixture.
That situation had to change, he continued, and the time had come. There would be a major change in the Department’s philosophy, because problems could not be solved with the mentality that had initially led to their creation. The Department would move from servicing on demand to managing events within the available resources. It would assume a more proactive role, and place much emphasis on advance planning, the absence of which had been part of the problem. There would also be drastic changes in the Department’s internal modus operandi. For years, different work units had functioned like silos, so much so that the Department had been perfecting performance in each and every silo without necessarily improving the overall performance. From now on, the Department would focus on full-system benefits.
Technology underpinned all that the Department intended to do and held the key to a Department poised for the twenty-first century, he continued. To address the inadequacies of the past, the Department would have to put its money where its mouth was and put in place better coordination mechanisms. Implementation was the biggest challenge, he said. The Department was losing no time in designing a comprehensive implementation strategy and setting up the necessary mechanisms, both at the policy and operation levels, within the remainder of the year. The Department would make sure that ample experiment was made of new ideas and that adequate flexibility was built into the new mechanisms before anything was institutionalized.
CONRAD S.M. MSELLE, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Committee (ACABQ), introducing the Committee's related report (document A/57/472), said that the implementation process of recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s reports could lead to difficulties, and the concept of delegation of authority should not be compromised. Full involvement of overseas duty stations would be essential for the success of the proposed reform. He welcomed proposals for upstream planning and thought that a systematic analysis of delays in the submission of reports should be undertaken in order to make changes to improve upstream planning. The Committee had also highlighted the deterioration in the quality of translation. Much progress could be achieved if greater investment was made in new technology. Finally, in order to implement proposals, a continuous and effective dialogue must be maintained among all units of the Secretariat.
THURE CHRISTIANSEN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the work of intergovernmental and expert bodies of the United Nations required high-quality meeting and documentation services. The international character of the United Nations –- with the need to ensure the equal treatment of all official languages, which the Union considered a high priority -– added yet another challenge to conference services. He recognized the need to use those services in the most rational and effective way and enhance their quality, and considered the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management as the functional authority with regard to United Nations conference services. The Union expected close coordination of conference services, bearing in mind the responsibility of each duty station for operational activities, to achieve maximum cost-effectiveness, while ensuring the required standard of services throughout the Secretariat.
Turning to the future calendar of conferences, he stressed the need to avoid peak periods at the various duty stations when drafting the biennial schedule of conferences and meetings for 2004-2005. He noted with satisfaction that the Secretariat had taken into account the arrangements referred to in resolution 56/242 concerning Orthodox Good Friday in the calendar.
The Union, he said, shared the Committee on Conferences’ deep concern that the equivalent of 307 meetings -- 921 hours -- had not been utilized and, thus, wasted in 2001. He commended the Committee Chairman for having conducted consultations with the chairpersons of bodies that had been underutilizing their resources for three years in a row. It was necessary to adjust their programmes of work in order to reduce waste. In that context, he also noted the explanation given by some committees that early endings of meetings could be considered a sign of efficiency. However, better planning and flexible adjustment of the programme of work was the best way to reduce time lost. Ensuring sound and efficient utilization of the financial resources of the Organization should be given the highest priority.
In conclusion, he proposed that the Fifth Committee take note with appreciation of the Secretary-General’s report on the improvement of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management and the recommendations of the Committee on Conferences, on the expectation that implementation of the actions presented would make the Department a more responsive, productive and efficient partner to Member States and substantive entities in the Organization. Those actions should, therefore, contribute to improving interpretation, translation and editing capacities.
ELIZABETH A. NAKIAN (United States) endorsed the recommendations contained in the report of the Committee on Conferences and welcomed the creative ideas presented in the Secretary-General’s report on the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management. Her delegation considered those measures as one phase in what it expected would be a process of continuing improvements in the way that conference services were provided to Member States. She welcomed the Department’s intention to work with the OIOS on an implementation plan, including progress indicators, for envisaged improvements. Particularly welcome were measures to alleviate serious delays in issuing documentation by introducing advance planning measures, establishment of a slotting system for processing of documents, rigorously enforcing page limits and considering alternative measures to eliminate summary records, such as digital recordings. She also supported measures to integrate global management and optimize the use of technology. However, her delegation expected the Secretary-General to ensure that information technology projects were incorporated into the overall strategy of the Organization and were fully compatible with the capital master plan.
With respect to language services, her delegation believed that workload standards were an important component in assessing productivity. However, those standards alone could not adequately evaluate functions performed because of the intellectual aspects of the work. Thus, her delegation requested the Secretary-General to develop performance indicators in order to better evaluate the quality of language services and, hence, improve their productivity.
Regarding the calendar of conferences, she said that her delegation shared the concerns noted by the Committee on Conferences that the utilization factor in 2001 had dropped six points below the 80 per cent benchmark. The lost of resources as a result of late starts, early endings and cancellations of meetings must be addressed. She welcomed proposals to set clear and achievable objectives to improve utilization of allocated resources for those bodies that continued to fall below the benchmark figure. She also fully supported the Secretary-General’s goal of cutting back substantially the increasing number of United Nations meetings, which now numbered 15,000 per year, and she looked forward to specific proposals on how to accomplish that. It was important to avoid holding simultaneous meetings during peak periods at various duty stations to avoid exceeding in-house capacities.
Some meetings of treaty bodies that were included in the calendar of conferences were currently financed by the regular budget and not reimbursed by States parties to those bodies. However, Article 17 of the Charter clearly stated that only expenses of the Organization would be borne by Member States. Therefore, it was the responsibility of States parties to financially support the treaty bodies to which they belonged. The calendar of conference should identify the source of funding for each item and clearly note those treaty bodies, for which exceptions had been made, allowing them to be funded from the regular budget. Decisions and recommendations of the Economic and Social Council adopted at its 2002 substantive session and included in the draft calendar should be appropriately identified to allow proper review by appropriate legislative bodies.
ERNESTO HERRERA (Mexico) reiterated his statement of 25 September, which he had made on behalf of the Spanish-speaking delegations, regarding translation and interpretation services. He expected some follow-up on the matter.
Statement by Under-Secretary-General for Management
Presenting his biannual statement on the financial situation of the United Nations, JOSEPH E. CONNOR, Under-Secretary-General for Management, said that while 2001 had been a historic year -- with a record level of contributions and a record level of payments to Member States for troops and contingent-owned equipment -– his prediction for 2002 was somewhat more circumspect. Thus, the page for 2002 read “a second good year, but ...”.
To explain that, he described the key financial indicators of the Organization’s financial situation -- unpaid assessments, cash on hand and debt owed to Member States -- saying that this year, he would add a new one: the capacity of the budget to fund all United Nations mandates. To provide a predictable resource base for all mandated activities, the Organization must be able to rely on payments in full and on time.
Regarding the funds Member States had given the Organization to carry out its programme decisions, he said that the aggregate assessment levels for 2002 -- $3.4 billion as at 30 September 2002 -- comprised amounts applicable to the regular budget, the International Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, and peacekeeping.
The regular budget level had remained relatively constant for a number of years. Over time, costs had been reduced sufficiently to absorb inflation, special mission costs and other unforeseen costs relating to peace and security. The regular budget total today was literally even with the budget of 1994-1995. While in the past, favourable exchange rates had played an important part in making that picture positive, the situation would not be the same in 2002-2003.
Peacekeeping assessment levels amounted to $2.1 billion in 2002, he continued. The Tribunal assessment levels had increased continuously since their inception. Their budget levels in 2002 were at the $200 million mark. Also, new cost increases were foreseen for the Tribunals as a result of the Security Council’s decision to approve ad litem judges for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Long-term costs of enforcement of sentences might have further financial consequences.
Today, 21 October, as a result of non-payment and slow payment of assessments issued to Member States, the Organization’s cash situation under the regular budget was critical, he said. With no regular budget cash on hand, the United Nations had been forced to borrow from peacekeeping accounts to fund the regular budget. As of 30 September, only 105 Member States had paid their regular budget assessment in full. The United Nations had $12 million less in income than had been projected based on past payment patterns. That was disappointing and, if the trend continued, alarming. Since 30 September, only four other full payments had been received.
At 30 September, 39 Member States had made no payment whatsoever in 2002. Another 45 Member States have made only partial payments or had received a credit as a result of a reduction in the rate of assessment. Overall, 84 Member States have chosen not to meet their agreed financial commitments for the United Nations regular budget. The financial stability of the Organization was under pressure. Receipts meant that the work of the Organization could carry on, while their absence undermined that ability.
As to Member States with outstanding amounts, at 30 September 2002, the United States owed $446 million (70 per cent of the total), Brazil owed
$44 million (8 per cent), and Argentina owed $30 million (5 per cent). Eight-one remaining Member States owed $56 million (10 per cent). The United States Mission had informed the United Nations that a resolution providing funds for its regular budget payments had been recently approved by the Congress. A first instalment of $47 million was paid on 9 October. A second instalment of $208 million was expected by the end of October. The remaining balance of anticipated payments of $23 million was awaiting passage of further continuing resolutions currently pending in the United States Congress.
Many Member States had not paid their 2002 Tribunal assessment in full, he added. In fact, at 30 September, 98 had made no payments, while 35 had made only partial payments. Only 56 Member States had paid their 2002 assessments in full for both Tribunals. The largest amount of unpaid Tribunal assessments was owed by the United States (33 per cent), Brazil (18 per cent ), Russian Federation (18 per cent), Republic of Korea and Argentina (5 per cent each) -– a total outstanding of 79 per cent from these five countries. One hundred and twenty-eight remaining Members owed 21 per cent. Tribunal cash at 30 September was at a sufficient level -- $43 million -- to fund planned activities. That was a marked improvement from the beginning of the year, when cash had dropped to $3 million, necessitating cross-borrowing between the Tribunals. Cash at 2002 year-end should be close to
$10 million, a level that would provide a small cushion to fund operating costs pending receipt of 2003 cash contributions.
At the end of September, outstanding peacekeeping assessments totalled some $1.78 billion. The United States owed $866 million, 11 of the other 15 major contributors owed $537 million, and all other Member States owed $373 million. The greater the amounts owed by Member States, the more cautious the Organization must be in making payments for troops and contingent-owned equipment.
Amounts unpaid for all three services -- the regular budget, peacekeeping and the Tribunals at 30 September - totalled $2.4 billion. Of that total, the major contributor (United States) owed $1.33 billion (55 per cent), 12 other major contributors owed $673 million (28 per cent), and the remaining Member States owed some $400 million (17 per cent). With significant further peacekeeping assessments unlikely to be issued this year, it was appropriate to note that Angola, Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand and South Africa were current as to their payment record against all assessments
In short, he said, combined year-end cash for the regular budget, the Tribunals and peacekeeping taken together, was projected to be at the level of some $1.37 billion, consisting of $1.36 billion in peacekeeping, $10 million in the Tribunals and zero in the regular budget. According to projections, there would be no cash on hand for the regular budget at year-end 2002. Periodic shortages of regular budget cash throughout the year required periodic cross-borrowing from peacekeeping cash. A $10 million year-end cash level was forecast for the Tribunals; that marginal level of cash meant cross-borrowing might be avoided at the beginning of next year while awaiting new assessment payments in early 2003. Higher cash levels for peacekeeping overall were deceptive, since cash available for cross-borrowing was limited to cash in closed mission accounts only.
Turning to the amounts owed for troops and contingent-owned equipment, he said that at 1 January 2002, debt to Member States had stood at $748 million -- $174 million for troops and $574 for equipment. Instead of $893 million in payments forecast last March, it was estimated that only $629 million would be paid to Member States providing troops and contingent-owned equipment. The Organization would be unable to meet the Secretary-General’s goal of paying for all current obligations in the year they were incurred.
Despite the slowdown in payments to Member States, there had been progress on the debt situation. The arrears payments last year had helped, and a significant portion of claims for contingent-owned equipment up to December 2001 had been processed. Payments were being completed for debt up to December 2001 in those missions where cash levels were adequate. The situation was better as far as troop payments were concerned. Once this year’s reimbursements had been completed, the United Nations would be only six months behind for at least five missions -– United Nations Interim force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), and United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).
At the end of December 2001, unpaid assessments were down, cash was up, debt owed to Member States was down. For 2002, he projected somewhat better cash balances at year-end, but higher unpaid assessments and debt to Member States. To some extent, that was because of recent positive actions taken by the United States, which would strengthen the Organization’s financial situation.
Recent United States legislation had authorized the third tranche of the arrears payment under the Helms-Biden legislation -- $30 million for peacekeeping arrearages was provided for in the legislation. This payment, along with previous payments, brought total United States arrears payments made over the past three years to $712 million -– a significant contribution to lowering the Organization’s debt to Member States. The Organization remained committed to paying amounts due to Member States for troops and contingent-owned equipment literally concurrent with receipt of assessments long in arrears. The United States legislation also contained a provision that lifted the cap of 25 per cent on its peacekeeping contributions for the years 2001 to 2004 -- a significant impediment to the build-up of new arrears. The United States also intended to synchronize its payment of assessments so as to resume its payment of dues to the Organization at the beginning of each year. That would obviate the need for the United Nations to cross-borrow to offset its late payment of regular budget assessments.
Regarding budget capacity, he said that the news was not so good. Appropriations and mandates must be kept in alignment, but as the Organization continued into 2002, it was becoming clear that that alignment had not been achieved. For the last 10 years, the United Nations budget had decreased or been kept to a set level even after absorbing higher costs, including inflation. The 2000-2001 budget was approved at $2.54 billion -- $100 million less than for 1994-1995. Some $2.63 billion was appropriated for 2002-2003. Regular budget assessments had been at relatively the same level since 1994. That had been achieved through cutting posts, improved efficiency, doing more with less, and above all with the help of favourable currency rates.
Living within the appropriation level for 2002-2003 continued to be a challenge, he continued. The Organization was struggling to meet the budgetary reductions mandated for 2002-2003 by the General Assembly of $75 million –
$25 million in post costs and $50 million mostly in central support services. The United Nations had been forced to curtail meetings, reduce its utility use and limit any further information technology upgrades. New factors had been approved and others were now anticipated that would push the budget level some $300 million higher than the current budget to about $2.93 billion. That increase was due to special political missions ($114.7 million), security improvements for Headquarters ($59.4 million), exchange rate fluctuations ($49 million), International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) recommendations ($29.7 million), the capital master plan ($22.5 million), unforeseen and extraordinary expenses ($12 million), funding to offset low vacancy rates ($8 million), conference and support services for the Counter-Terrorism Committee ($7.5 million), and, finally, other financial implications ($1.5 million).
Individually, he said, those items were significant. Collectively, the aggregate increase of $300 million could not be absorbed within the present capacity of the regular budget. Thus, new resource requirements called for new assessment funding.
Some 28 special political missions, mandated by the General Assembly or the Security Council, represented the largest individual increase of all of the “add-on” items -- $114.7 million over and above the level of the 2002-2003 budget. The total budget provision for 2002-2003 for special political missions would reach $213 million, or around 8 per cent of the regular budget. The Secretary-General, in presenting his budget outline for 2004-2005, had asked the General Assembly to consider whether special political missions should be included within the regular budget procedures.
It might be time to take another look and to ask some hard questions about the budget, he concluded. The Secretary-General’s latest reform plan told Member States that much had already been achieved, but more could be done. That was certainly the case as far as the financial management of the Organization was concerned.
Introductions of Further Reports
WARREN SACH, Director of the Office of Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the reports of the Secretary-General under agenda item 112 -– programme budget for the biennium 2002-2003. With regard to the report on advisory services (document A/56/363), he stressed the importance of coordination at the level heads of department with the help of resident coordinators in the field. Advisory services were an integral part of the Secretariat, he said.
Turning to the report on ECLAC, he said that when the available information had been studied in detail, it had become apparent that there had actually been an increase in extrabudgetary resources at ECLAC. The issue would be kept under consideration in terms of the level of extrabudgetary resources available.
On the report on the United Nations Office at Nairobi (document A/57/362), he said there was a history of strengthening of services at the Office to bring it onto the same pattern as existed in Geneva and Vienna, and that substantial progress had been made to date. With regard to the report on the United Nations Web site (document A/57/355), he said the role of the DPI was to provide coordination to ensure consistency of information and minimize duplication of efforts. The proposal contained in the report was to strengthen the Web site with an additional 14 posts that, together with related equipment, would cost some
TOSHIYUKI NIWA, Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on Common Services (document A/57/176), said that in the last five years, the Common Services Task Force had focused its efforts on those common services that would be of benefit to the participating organizations. The Digital Archives project had completed its first phase; an inter-agency procurement portal, developed by the Procurement Working Group, had been established; and the Travel Working Group was exploring pilot initiatives with regard to travel management and cooperating in the completion of a global-freight forwarding contract.
The common services initiative had given birth to two inter-agency networks, he continued, the Inter-Agency Network of Facilities Management and the United Nations Security and Safety Services Network. Both networks had recently established individual inter-agency Web sites, which served as forums on technical issues. The Task Force, along with the United Nations Development Group, would explore the possibility of consolidating common services endeavours under a single coordination body. This consolidated approach would assure a renewed and broader commitment to the pursuit of common services and harmonization of operation policies and procedures on the part of the concerned United Nations organizations, as well as facilitate further collaboration with the specialized agencies and international financial institutions.
CONRAD M.S. MSELLE, Chairman of the ACABQ, introduced the Committee’s related reports in documents A/57/7/Add.2 and 3. With regard to the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Web site, he said that the Committee had considered the request for another 14 posts. The Committee believed that the activities proposed in the report should be carried out. However, such additional requirements should be reported in the context of the second performance report for the biennium 2002-2003.
ALBINA C. CHEBOMUI (Kenya) reiterated her delegation’s appreciation for the measures undertaken by the Secretary-General to enhance and strengthen the capacity of the conference facilities at Nairobi and increase their utilization. The steady rise in capacity utilization at Nairobi over the last few years, despite the serious challenges posed by inadequacy of resources and capacity requirements, was a clear testimony of the viability of Nairobi as an important venue for international conferences and programmes for the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies.
According to the report before the Committee, she continued, while there was a significant increase from the regular budget for the Office, from 2.5 per cent in 1998-1999 to 15.2 per cent in 2000-2001, a steep drop to 9.7 per cent had taken place in 2002-2003. She hoped that the envisaged budget proposals to be submitted for strengthening the Nairobi Office for 2004-2005 would address the inconsistencies in the provision of adequate, predictable and sustained financial resources for that Office. Similarly, she called for serious consideration of measures to enhance the capacities of UNEP and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) by increasing their regular budget components and reducing their over-reliance on unpredictable extrabudgetary resources.
Mr. CHRISTIANSEN (Denmark), on behalf of the European Union and associated States, took note of the Secretary-General’s approach to decentralized budgetary and financial arrangements to central services, whereby they would be introduced where practicable and would result in enhanced cost awareness and improved efficiency. The European Union remained convinced that it was the right approach in terms of greater financial responsibility within the Organization. There were clear advantages in introducing such a system in certain areas of work.
On the question of enhancing the regular budget component of the Nairobi Office, he took note of the information contained in the reports before the Committee, adding that the Secretary-General had made reference to that matter in his budget outline for 2004-2005. He expected the Fifth Committee to consider that issue at the fifty-eighth session of the Assembly. Regarding advisory services, he observed that the report before the Committee only contained information of a very general nature on efforts to utilize resources more effectively and avoid duplication. The matter merited further consideration.
Turning to ECLAC, he said that the level of expenditure for technical cooperation projects in 2000-2001 was higher than in previous bienniums. A considerable part of extrabudgetary resources came from the countries of the region. The European Union concurred that ECLAC should continue to keep under review the level of extrabudgetary resources available. Regarding cooperation with regional commissions, he said that the Union attached great importance to the establishment of a clear division of labour between Headquarters departments and regional commissions. He agreed with the ACABQ that the information provided on the matter was limited, and requested a full explanation in the context of the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005.
Continuing, he addressed the issue of multilingualism in the United Nations public relations and information activities. It was important to enhance the plurality represented by adequate use of the six United Nations official languages and also, to the extent possible, in other available languages. That applied to information provided through the United Nations Web site.
The European Union noted that the report of the Secretary-General called for additional resources in order for the DPI to achieve full parity in all official languages on the Web site. While prepared to discuss that question, the European Union was of the view that it should be seen in the wider context of the ongoing review of the Department. Earlier in the year, the Committee on Information had recommended that the Secretary-General prepare additional documentation on the most practical, cost-efficient and effective means of proceeding with the multilingual development of the United Nations Web site for submission to the Committee at its twenty-fifth session in 2003. The Fifth Committee would thus be better equipped to consider any budgetary implications of that proposal at its fifty-eighth session.
SANTIAGO WINS (Uruguay) addressed the issue of ECLAC’s extrabudgetary resources. The ECLAC had reached the highest level of efficiency with limited resources, and its activities were of great importance to the countries of the region, particularly at the time of the financial crisis. However, recently, the Commission had been unable to publish some important reports because of the lack of resources. Monetary fluctuations would have an impact on the available financial resources of the Commission in the current biennium, and he asked the Secretariat if it had a forecast on the concrete percentages, which would be affected as a result of recent devaluations.
PATRICIO DIAZ (Chile) concurred with the preceding statement regarding the budgetary situation of ECLAC. The devaluation of currency on the continent had had a severe impact on the situation of the countries of the region and would affect the extrabudgetary contributions to the Commission. The ECLAC had been highly efficient with limited financial resources, and its activities were of great importance.
HUSSEIN SABBAGH (Syria) said his delegation supported the efforts of the Secretary-General in strengthening the United Nations Web site in all official languages, and believed that it would be a modest step towards the full equality
of all official languages. His delegation, however, believed that excluding some press releases and treaties from translation requirements was a negative contribution towards parity in languages. Furthermore, some recommendations did not appear in bold type in many of the Arabic translations.
ISSOUF OUMAR MAIGA (Mali) recalled resolution 56/253 of the General Assembly, calling on the Secretary-General to continue to provide sufficient budget resources for Nairobi Office operations and to bring it to the same level as the other offices in Geneva and Vienna. He welcomed efforts that had been made so far, but believed that still more could be done. For example, the interpretation services at Nairobi were not operating at the same level as in other offices. His delegation would welcome the Secretary-General’s efforts to translate his intentions into tangible resources.
HAO BIN (China) said that since its inception in 1995, the United Nations Web site had become an important tool for understanding the mission of the United Nations. His delegation expressed its congratulations for this, but pointed out that in the use of the six official languages there was still an imbalance. As far as the Chinese-language Web site was concerned, there had been no official additional post approved; if that situation continued it would have a negative impact on development of the Chinese Web site. His delegation hoped that the necessary budget support would be provided for one additional official post in that regard. In China there had been an increase in the use of computers and the Internet over the past few years. Many users were interested in United Nations affairs, therefore investments made in the Chinese-language Web site would be worthwhile.
Mr. AL-ATRASH (Libya) stressed the importance of achieving parity among the six official languages of the Organization, particularly on the United Nations
Web site. That was an issue which had been considered at previous sessions, and a General Assembly resolution had been adopted to that end. Regrettably, progress on that important issue had been below par. He looked forward to concrete steps to enhance the United Nations Web site in all six official languages. That would allow Member States and large sectors of world society to become aware of United Nations activities.
As for the United Nations Office in Nairobi, his delegation believed that progress made in supporting it remained below the required level. Appropriate resources should be provided in order to enable the Office to take up its functions at the same level as other offices, in particular the Geneva Office.
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