29/10/2002
Press Release
GA/AB/3531



Fifty-seventh General Assembly                            GA/AB/3531

Fifth Committee                                             29 October 2002     

18th Meeting (AM)


DELEGATES EMPHASIZE NEED FOR MORE EQUITABLE GEOGRAPHIC


REPRESENTATION IN SECRETARIAT PERSONNEL


Accountability, Responsibility Both Lacking

In Implementation of Human Resources Reform Policies, Says Staff Union President


Career appointments were the cornerstone of the international civil service and necessary for a fully confident and independent staff, said Rosemary Waters, President of the United Nations Staff Union, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning continued its consideration of issues related to human resources management.  While continuing contracts lent more stability and financial support to staff currently on fixed-term contracts, they should not be seen as a replacement for career appointments.  All serving staff who met the criteria for permanent appointment at the time they were hired should be converted to permanent status. 


While accountability and responsibility were words repeatedly linked to the foundation of the current reform, there were clear examples of the lack of both in the actual implementation of policies, she continued.  Staff representatives fully supported the Secretary-General’s goal of creating a responsive and results-oriented culture that rewarded creativity and promoted learning, higher performance and managerial excellence.  However, in practice managers had been significantly empowered, while the ability of staff to influence and defend their futures had been weakened.  The internal justice system did not enjoy the confidence of the staff, and without major changes, true accountability of managers would never be achieved.


General Service staff, she continued, were highly qualified and motivated, and encouraging their promotion to the professional level would benefit the Organization.  The principle that general service staff be promoted to the professional category through the G-to-P examination should be restored, as should the former 30 per cent quota for filling posts through the examination.


In the debate on human resources reform, many delegates noted that the principle of equitable geographical distribution had not been adequately implemented and stressed the need for further efforts to achieve geographical diversity and gender balance throughout the Organization.  It was hoped that the new “Galaxy” system would help the United Nations to increase equity and transparency in the recruitment process, and the national competitive examination programme was also pointed to as an indispensable recruitment tool for selecting the best-qualified candidates from unrepresented or under-represented Member States.

Fifth Committee                     - 1a -            Press Release GA/AB/3531

18th Meeting (AM)                                      24 October 2002


Delegates further highlighted the need for a transparent system of delegation of authority, coupled with accountability and an effective system for administering justice.


The Committee also concluded its consideration of the capital master plan this morning, with most speakers agreeing that implementation should proceed as expeditiously as possible.  Most delegates also favoured relocation of United Nations operations to the proposed new building pending refurbishment of the present Headquarters complex.


Toshiyuki Niwa, Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, answered questions about the proposed plan.  The representatives of the Russian Federation, Indonesia, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea, China, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Croatia, Libya, and the United States also spoke.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 November to begin elections for appointments to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and other bodies.


Background


This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to continue its consideration of the agenda items related to the capital master plan for refurbishment of the Headquarters complex and human resources management, which were introduced at previous meetings of the Committee.  (For detailed information, see Press Releases GA/AB/3529 of 25 October and GA/AB/3530 of 28 October.)


Statements


VLADIMIR A. IOSSIFOV (Russian Federation) said that the Secretariat had carried out much careful work to prepare and present the plan to Member States.  He noted the serious efforts by the United States Administration and the City of New York to provide assistance in the implementation of the plans for refurbishing United Nations Headquarters.  He believed that, on the whole, it would be possible to take a decision on reconstruction.  However, several additional issues needed to be clarified before a decision was taken.  A clear strategy for further action was needed, and proper approaches needed to be defined by the Assembly. 


Continuing, he said that host State and city authorities should play an important role in providing financial support for the project.  He supported the comments of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that the first approach was the most feasible one.  The time factor in resolving financial and practical issues deserved special attention.  As seen from the Secretary-General’s report, a year’s delay would lead to additional expenditures of some $35 to $40 million.  For that reason, it was important to reduce the time for practical implementation of the project.  Taking the time factor into account, the Assembly should immediately take a clear look at all the conditions needed for the realization of the option it chose.  The Secretariat should prepare a detailed presentation of expenditures involved.  He also stressed the need to meet the latest modern requirements and future needs of the Organization, taking into account the needs for services. 


DARMANSJAH DJUMALA (Indonesia) supported the position of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and said that there was little doubt that it was necessary to implement the capital master plan, one way or another, and the sooner the better.  In principle, the plan should be financed through apportionment amongst Member States, but given the slowdown in the world economy, many countries were themselves finding it difficult to fund domestic programmes needed to reduce poverty and meet their development goals.  Developing States could not afford to pay additional contributions to finance the capital master plan.  If additional contributions were called for, they should be confined to Member States with the greatest ability to pay.


He went on to say that alternative means of financing should be explored.  The host city had indicated a willingness to extend its cooperation to the Organization.  Given the benefits that accrued to the host nation, it was reasonable to expect greater cooperation from it, including on financing. Voluntary contributions from governments and others should be considered.  It was also necessary to further explore the proposal that plan should be financed through no-interest loans.  The project should be carried out in the shortest possible time, with little disruption of the work of Organization.


JULIUS ANDEREGG (Switzerland) said that the Headquarters complex did not comply with modern security requirements and that it was imperative to act quickly on implementation and financing of the capital master plan.  Having hosted various international organizations, Switzerland had extensive experience with different financing options.  In light of those experiences, his delegation believed that commercial borrowing was not a viable option.  Switzerland would favour the option of interest-free loans from Member States, especially the host Government, and voluntary contributions could also be sought.  However, he agreed that the importance of the plan should not be predicated on the realization of voluntary contributions.


KANG JEONG-SIK (Republic of Korea) said that the scope of work on the capital master plan should not be limited to satisfying current building and safety requirements, but should be designed to address future needs as well.  Based on the realistic predictions of the Organization’s future needs for infrastructure and facilities, it would be wise to consider the possibility of adding certain elements of the proposed scope options to the baseline scope.


His delegation believed the first approach to implementing the capital master plan to be the most desirable in terms of reducing the risk of delays, disturbance, and the perceived risk of exposure to asbestos.  However, the second option was the most viable practical option, since the host city had indicated its willingness to consider construction of a new building immediately south of the current United Nations complex.  The key to successful implementation, he said, was to secure stable financing.  Any delays in any phase of its development could have a significant impact on the overall cost of the project.


Remarks by Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services


Responding to comments from the floor, TOSHIYUKI NIWA, Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, thanked the delegates for their valuable feedback on the matter and said it was fair to say that none of the statements had questioned the need to implement the capital master plan.  What the Secretariat was seeking was a direction which would allow the Secretariat and the host country to move ahead on the project.  Among other decisions, approval was needed for the funding needed for detailed design in 2003 and 2004. 


Several delegates had underscored the importance of oversight, he continued, and he fully agreed with the ACABQ in that regard.  In carrying out the project, it was important to fully comply with the Organization’s financial rules and regulations.  He was pleased to inform the Committee that the Board of Auditors had already initiated work on the plan, and the oversight process was already under way. 


Emphasizing the commitment of the city of New York, he said that its authorities had done everything possible to facilitate the plan.  The Assembly needed to respond to the city now, so that it could request the approvals which would make implementation of the project possible.  Also highlighted in the debate was the issue of funding.  It had been proposed that the precedent of building the present complex 50 years ago should serve as a model in that respect.  However, for any government to approve the financing of the project, the project must be defined. 


Regarding the role of donors and the private sector, he said that the Secretariat would try its best to mobilize resources, taking into account the time factor.  The hopes of donors needed to be balanced against the needs of the Organization.  Time was money, and delays could be costly.  To prevent cost overruns, good management was important; that subject was discussed in detail in the Secretary-General’s report.  Among other points that needed attention was the need for location and design of conference rooms, security and parking.


Human Resources Management


HAO BIN (China) associated himself with the position of the Group of 77 and China and said that reform of human resources management was an important component of the United Nations reform.  He was pleased with such measures as delegation of authority for recruitment and promotion, promulgation of a new mobility policy, streamlining of policies, institutionalized mobility, development of generic job profiles, and introduction of a comprehensive career development system.  It was crucially important to strengthen the monitoring function of the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) during the reform process.  He was in favour of empowering heads of departments and offices with authority over personnel matters in their own departments.  However, such empowerment should be complemented with administrative justice.  To achieve that, it was necessary to set up an effective check-and-balance system, which should prevent such problems as “black-box operations”, cronyism, abuse of power and discrimination. 


Turning to the issue of broad geographical representation within the Secretariat, he expressed concern over the fact that although the number of unrepresented Member States had been reduced from 24 to 16 in the past five years, the situation of under-represented States had not been improved satisfactorily.  In particular, the ratio of developing countries to the total posts and middle and senior levels remained low.  He hoped that effective measures would be taken to improve that situation.  The OHRM should further enhance its communication and coordination with the functional departments and offices of the Secretariat and urge them to recruit young professionals who had passed national competitive examinations.  He appreciated the fact that those young professionals had been placed on the roster of candidates through the Galaxy system, but an overview of the qualified potential candidates in 2001 had shown that 54 per cent were yet to be recruited.  Full consideration to equitable geographical distribution should also be given in carrying out external recruitment for posts and middle and senior levels.


On the issue of the mandatory age of separation, he expressed concern about the ageing profile of United Nations staff.  Extension of the required age of separation to 62 might further exacerbate that trend.  It could also affect the job prospects and career development of younger professionals as well as gender parity.  On contractual arrangements, he supported a more flexible and balanced system, which should be responsive to the organizational needs of the United Nations.  It was appropriate for the Secretary-General to consult fully with the Member States and the staff.


YEAN YOKE HENG (Malaysia) said that whilst the “hardware” portion of United Nations human resources should be acknowledged, the “software” component, in other words, the United Nations personnel itself, should not be neglected.  Without them, even with the most advanced information technology available, the Organization would find it difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil any of its important work and the mandates entrusted to it.


The introduction of the automated electronic tool, Galaxy, for the recruitment of new staff members into the United Nations, symbolized the Organization’s desire and will to move forward with the times, he continued.  Its full operation would not only ensure the reduction in the time spent on recruitment but -- coupled with the new staff system -- would further increase transparency and efficiency in the placement process.


YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan) said that under the new staff recruitment system heads of departments were responsible and accountable for making final selection decisions on new staff recruitment.  They were required to take into account the Organization’s human resources objectives, especially with regard to geographical representation and gender.  However, his delegation believed that those requirements might in many cases be treated as non-binding recommendations leaving room for arbitrary selection, based mostly on the operational needs of their departments, without due attention to the factor of geographical representation.  That could be one of the reasons some Member States were over-represented and many were under-represented or indeed, unrepresented.


His delegation also attached importance to the issue of attracting suitable young professionals to the Organization, which in many cases was done through national competitive examinations.  However, developing and transitional countries that were represented below the mid-point of their ranges with the lower limit equal to “1” were at a disadvantaged position.  Even a single representative from those countries employed within the Secretariat would exclude them from a list of countries where national competitive examinations could be held.  Those countries would have practically no chance to reach the mid-point and could even become under-represented again if their single representative chose to leave the Organization.


IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) shared the position of the Group of

77 and China.  He fully supported the ongoing human resources management reform, and was pleased that considerable progress had already been achieved in that direction.  However, it needed to be consolidated and institutionalized further.  The reform should ensure a fair system of recruitment, placement and promotion; a transparent system of delegation of authority coupled with accountability; and an effective system of administration of justice.  The reform should attract high-quality staff able to meet the demands of our times.  The staff should meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity and be recruited on the basis of equitable geographical distribution.  In that context, it was regrettable that at present, more than 72 per cent of United Nations staff members were from only 25 Member States.  That situation needed to be addressed.


Welcoming innovative uses of information technology, he said that introduction of the Galaxy system this year was noteworthy.  He hoped that it would ensure merit, transparency, responsibility and timeliness in the recruitment process.  Together with the electronic performance appraisal system, electronic resource handbook and generic job descriptions, it was likely to revolutionize work in the global secretariat.  He found merit in the recommendations concerning mobility.  Fresh blood brought in fresh ideas, and in his view, a balanced approach had to be found to encourage staff mobility through adequate training, which at the same time would benefit the Organization. 


Receiving wide authority over fund management, staff recruitment, mobility and promotion, the managers should be also made accountable for the decisions they took, he continued.  Monitoring would be critical for the delegation of authority to succeed.  Concerning the national competitive examination, he said that the situation was still far from satisfactory.  Closer collaboration with under-represented and unrepresented Member States would be essential to attract young professionals from those countries.  That would make the United Nations truly representative and global in nature.


MESHAL A.M.A. AL-MANSOUR (Kuwait) concurred with the position of the Group of 77 and China and said that his delegation attached great importance to the vital issue of human resources management, which was essential for the achievement of the Organization’s goals.  The OHRM reform was a continuous process.  It included many initiatives to enhance administrative systems and increase the effectiveness of improving human resources management within the United Nations.  He was pleased that some progress had already been achieved, particularly in the areas of the planning, promotion and appointment system and career development. 


Improvements could not be achieved without proper accountability and development of staff, who should be capable of performing their duties and meeting the Organization’s challenges.  Without staff members’ participation, the process of reform would remain abstract.  Regarding the composition of the Secretariat, there seemed to be some progress as far as under- and unrepresented States were concerned.  His country had one staff member in a senior post, and he hoped that it would be able to reach the desirable range set for it.  In filling posts, priority should be given to unrepresented and under-represented States in accordance with the principle of fair geographical representation, particularly at senior levels.  Those posts should not be filled by a number of countries at the exclusion of others.


Mr. KANG (Republic of Korea) said that human resources reform in the current context of globalization was a sine qua non for strengthening the United Nations. In order to attract the talent needed for the twenty-firstcentury, the Organization must pursue policies that would invigorate and rejuvenate its human resources.  He was of the view that delegation of authority should be accompanied by a clear understanding of the mandates and responsibilities of the managers, and by a sound mechanism for monitoring accountability.


He supported the general objective of managed mobility to ensure a more versatile and multi-skilled staff, and believed that managed mobility would improve the activities of the regional offices and strengthen inter-staff partnership.  However, further measures needed to be taken to promote mobility between Headquarters and regional offices.  With regard to geographical distribution and gender balance, he believed that the national competitive examination programme was an indispensable recruitment tool for selecting the best-qualified candidates from Member States that were unrepresented or under-represented.


SINGGIH YUWONO (Indonesia) reiterated the need to make further efforts to reduce the level of under-representation of Member States in the United Nations Secretariat, and to do so without lowering the quality of the personnel recruited.  In addition, Indonesia supported efforts to ensure adequate representation of women in the United Nations and to see that qualified woman were found to fill senior positions in the United Nations system.


A key resource of the Organization was, of course, the people who made up the Secretariat.  Efforts to recruit, train, maintain and develop staff were essential to building the future of the United Nations.  Management of that resource was of equal importance, and so efforts to empower managers, improve their skills, and increase their responsiveness to the objectives of the Organization were extremely important.  Furthermore, thorough integration of the use of electronic media into the everyday efforts of the Organization was essential if it was to remain abreast of developments in this age of high technology.


JASMINA VRHOVAC (Croatia) supported the Secretary-General’s programme of reform.  She noted with satisfaction the changes and major initiatives introduced so far, and encouraged further improvements aimed at ensuring that human resources management policies and practices were fully in line with operational needs.  Her delegation was aware that every change required time, especially in an organization as complex as the United Nations.  


In order to achieve greater efficiency, it was of utmost importance to have qualified staff, she continued.  All 191 Member States should be represented at the Secretariat.  Although the number of unrepresented Member States had been lowered, further steps should be made to improve geographical representation.  With the total number of seven Croatian nationals within the Secretariat, her country found itself within the desirable range of representation, but it was still below its mid-point regarding the element of weighted staff position.  That fact raised another problem pertaining to new countries:  the lack of national staff at higher levels of appointment. 


Croatia supported the concept of national competitive examinations as an efficient method for recruiting qualified people from inadequately represented Member States, she said.  She was pleased to learn that a greater number of examination candidates had been recruited in 2002, but it was unclear whether the length of the recruitment procedure had been shortened.  Also, the introduction of the new Galaxy system would truly enable the United Nations to recruit and retain staff of the highest quality.  Acknowledging the Organization’s efforts to improve gender distribution within the Secretariat, she also said that much more remained to be done, particularly in order to achieve an acceptable gender balance at the senior level.


KHALIF AL-ATRASH (Libya) concurred with the statement by Venezuela on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and stressed the important role of the OHRM within the reform of the United Nations system.  He believed that the staff of the Organization in both professional and general service categories were the main tool of implementing the proposed reform.  Therefore, improving their work conditions and taking their views into account were particularly important. 


Continuing, he noted with concern that the principle of equitable geographical distribution was not adequately implemented.  The distribution of staff in senior- and medium-level posts did not reflect that principle, and he hoped that the new Galaxy system would help the United Nations to rectify the situation, increasing equity and transparency in the recruitment process. 


Welcoming the appointment of the Ombudsman, he said that increased coordination between the Organization’s internal justice mechanisms could enhance the administration of justice and increase efficiency at the United Nations.  He stressed the importance of those bodies’ independence.  Delegation of authority required full accountability.  Programme directors should fully comply with the staff rules of the Organization.  It was also necessary to improve recruitment of young qualified staff, particularly in view of the high number of vacancies occasioned by retirements.


LIZ NAKIAN (United States) congratulated the Secretary-General and the Secretariat staff for the considerable progress that had been made to date in efforts to create an organizational culture that was more responsive and results-oriented, that rewarded creativity and innovation and that promoted continuous learning, high performance and managerial excellence.  Much had also been done to improve accountability, transparency, fairness and efficiency in the global Secretariat.


While the next few years would see the consolidation and institutionalization of the changes introduced to date, improvements must be constantly pursued and the vitality of the Organization constantly strengthened. She agreed that more efforts needed to be made to achieve geographical diversity and gender balance in full accordance with the United Nations Charter.  She had read with great interest the report on the composition of the Secretariat, and was disheartened to learn of an increase in the number of staff from countries that were over-represented, whilst many countries remained under-represented or unrepresented. The Secretariat must take appropriate measures to address that situation. 


ROSEMARIE WATERS, President of the United Nations Staff Union, said that the staff representatives of the United Nations fully supported the Secretary-General’s goal of creating an organizational culture that was responsive and results-oriented, rewarded creativity and organization, and promoted continuous learning, higher performance and managerial excellence.  Over the last five years, however, managers had been significantly empowered while the ability of staff to influence and defend their futures had been significantly weakened.


Staff representatives were aware that much attention had been given to career support in the form of workshops and the recently published Career Support Guide.  However, those were not replacements for a true career development system.  A career development system must identify clear career paths and assist qualified staff in placement.  General Service staff, she continued, were highly qualified and motivated, and encouraging their promotion to the professional level would benefit the Organization.  The Staff Union requested that Member States restore the principle that general service staff be promoted to the professional category through the G-to-P examination, and restore the former 30 per cent quota for filling posts through the examination.


Staff representatives believed that the basis for individual accountability began with the internal justice system.  However, the current system did not enjoy the confidence of the staff, which needed to be independent and directly under the authority of the Secretary-General.  Without major changes in the internal justice system, true accountability of managers would never be achieved.


Accountability and responsibility were words repeatedly linked to the foundation of the current reform, she said.  But there were clear examples of the lack of both of those concepts in the actual implementation of policies.  For example, interpreters sat in booths the size of closets, with air that circulated poorly, and they had recently been denied water in their booths.  All members of the administration agreed that interpreters were working under horrendous conditions and that water was essential, yet no one had solved the problems.  Until such time as simple accountability issues were addressed, it would be

difficult for staff to believe that more serious issues would be dealt with appropriately.


The September 11 tragedy, she continued, had brought the issue of safety to the foreground, but the answer to safety and security was not to build walls around delegates, treat the staff with suspicion, cast retired colleagues out, and deny the public entry.  The United Nations belonged to the people of the world and should not be seen as a prison to keep staff in and keep the world out.  Care should be taken that the United Nations did not become an organization that hid behind walls in fear, but rather, an organization that showed its determination to faithfully continue its mission.


The Staff Union, she said, still considered career appointments to be the cornerstone of the international civil service and necessary for a fully confident and independent staff.  However, career appointments did not equal "appointment for life".  Meaningful reviews could be conducted every five years to ensure that staff continued to merit their career appointments.  She appealed to the Committee to develop a proposal that would allow staff to retain career appointments in a sufficient number. 


Best practices in the world indicated that the most successful enterprises were the ones that heavily relied on the wisdom of those who performed the work, she concluded, and if the United Nations was to become more relevant and its reform policies were to succeed, its staff must be one of its primary considerations.


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