03/03/2003
Press Release
GA/AB/3553



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee (Resumed)

39th Meeting (AM)


NEED FOR INCENTIVES FOR TIMELY PAYMENT OF BUDGETARY CONTRIBUTIONS STRESSED,

AS FIFTH COMMITTEE BEGINS FIRST RESUMED SESSSION


Also Considers Sexual Exploitation of Refugees,

Human Resources Issues, Information and Communications Technology


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) began its first resumed session today, agreeing on the programme of work for the coming four weeks and taking up a large number of reports on its agenda.  Among the important issues before the Committee this month are human resources management, means of encouraging Member States to pay their arrears to the Organization, administration of justice at the United Nations, information and communications technology, and the matters related to the pattern of conferences within the United Nations system.


During the discussion of the measures to encourage Member States in arrears to reduce and eventually pay their debt to the Organization, speakers reaffirmed the countries’ legal obligation to bear the expenses of the Organization in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and pay their assessed contributions in full, on time and without conditions.  Several Committee members, however, also insisted on the need to be sympathetic to the Member States experiencing genuine economic difficulties.


While considering proposals to encourage payment, Peru’s representative (on behalf of the Rio Group) stressed the need to provide incentives and not to make it more difficult for countries willing to pay, but who were lacking the resources to do so.  In most cases, States in arrears were developing countries, and tightening the conditions of their debt would only result in increasing their load.  If the policies towards arrears were tightened, a growing number of countries would fall under Article 19 of the Charter, under which a Member of the United Nations in arrears in payment of its dues in an amount that equals or exceeds the dues for two preceding years can lose its vote in the General Assembly.  That would politically impact the Organization.  In fact, Article 19 already provided for a system of sanctions to ensure compliance with financial obligations to the Organization.


Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the representative of Morocco supported recent decisions on multi-year payment plans, which were a useful tool for reducing arrears, while remaining voluntary and not automatically linked to other measures.  As for the indexation of interest on


arrears, she said that although aimed at encouraging payment of arrears, such measures would impose an additional burden on developing countries already facing economic difficulties.  If interest were to be imposed on arrears due to the Organization, one could argue that the same should be done concerning the amounts due to Member States, many of which were developing countries.


Several speakers in today’s debate expressed serious concern over the survey by Save the Children (UK)-Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which asserted widespread sexual exploitation of refugees by humanitarian workers, including United Nations employees, in West Africa.   Canada’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said that the very thought that the poorest and most vulnerable should be exploited by those charged with protecting them was an affront to fundamental human rights.


Introducing the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the investigation into the matter, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Dileep Nair said that the allegation of widespread sexual violations by aid workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had not been confirmed, and no allegation against any United Nations staff member had been substantiated.  Although unable to verify initial allegations, however, the investigation team had identified and fully investigated 43 new cases, 10 of which were substantiated by evidence.


The team had identified several factors, which contributed to sexual exploitation in refugee communities and made 17 recommendations to rectify the situation.  Measures taken to address the issue included the establishment of a task force on sexual exploitation under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), which was now drafting a policy to prevent and address cases of sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises.  However, there had been difficulties in monitoring and implementation of the OIOS recommendations as responses were not always forthcoming, and non-governmental organizations had been reluctant to take action against the staff implicated, saying they would take action only if there was a successful criminal prosecution.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations, too, must ensure that strict measures were put in place to deal with peacekeepers found to engage in sexual exploitation.


As the Committee took up the implementation of the human resources management reform within the United Nations, the United States representative supported efforts to integrate recruitment, selection, promotion and mobility within the context of streamlined rules and regulations and modern career development.  Among the remaining challenges, however, he addressed the extensions to staff reaching mandatory retirement age and the need to review the current practice of giving preference to internal candidates over external applicants for jobs.


Other reports were introduced by Chairman of the ACABQ, Conrad S.M. Mselle; Officer-in Charge of the Office of Human Resources Management, Denis Beissel; Officer-in Charge of Central Support Services, Andrew Toh; and Chief of the Oversight Support Unit of the Department of Management, Alida Ferrena-Mahmoud. 


(page 1b follows)


Among other issues addressed this morning were the exceptions made in issuing first- and business-class air tickets to United Nations personnel, management review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Organization’s revised information and communication technology strategy, and gratis personnel provided to the United Nations. 


Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Greece (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), New Zealand (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), and Venezuela.


The Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 4 March.


Background


This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to open its resumed fifty-seventh session, taking up the issues of human resources management, the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), issues related to the review of the Organization’s efficiency and measures to encourage payment of Member States’ arrears, as well as several questions under the current programme budget of the United Nations.


Human Resources Management


By his note contained in document A/57/726, the Secretary-General transmits a report by the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the implementation of all provisions of resolution 55/258 on human resources management reform.  Initiated in 1998, the reform has recently gained significant momentum through the integration of separate reform initiatives into a comprehensive strategy involving new approaches to recruitment, selection, promotion, mobility and development of personnel, as well as streamlining of rules and regulations and improvement of management.


Although it is too early to assess the full impact of the reform, the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) has made significant progress in implementing a number of reform initiatives, the report states.  Promoting an integrated approach to human resources, introducing action plans, defining corporate values and competencies, introducing management development programmes and a variety of career development tools, the OHRM is moving from an administrative, oversight function to a more strategic, partnering role.  The launch of the human resources electronic handbook, the Galaxy staff selection system, the electronic performance appraisal system (e-PAS) and the generic job profiles on the Intranet are evidence that OHRM is also making effective use of information technology.


The OIOS believes, however, that in order for the reform to reach the next level, its elements should be linked systemically, not just with each other, but also with other reform initiatives at the United Nations.  With OHRM taking the lead in introducing new initiatives, their successful implementation at the organizational level will depend upon mutual cooperation between different partners and bodies throughout the Organization in support of a culture of change.  To be perceived as a strategic asset, the OHRM should strengthen its ability to measure the impact of its activities on the Organization’s performance and, if necessary, refocus initiatives to achieve stronger alignment with the Organization’s operational goals.


The report proposes specific actions to further advance the human resources management reform under the main four themes of strategic orientation; result-oriented evaluation systems; linkages; and maximized efficiency of administrative human resources processes.  Among the key recommendations are those related to the need to urgently establish appropriate mechanisms to cope with the increased number of applications received through the Galaxy system; support mobility through greater efforts to improve conditions of service at different duty stations and streamline administrative procedures; and link e-PAS with tangible consequences and rewards for the staff.  Staff contributions also need to be linked to organizational goals.

Also recommended by the OIOS is establishment of ongoing client surveys and feedback mechanisms for different human resources functions in order to ensure that provided services add value to the Organization.  Resources for training, career development and knowledge management need to reflect increased demand for such activities against the backdrop of a new mobility policy.  The report also includes an overview of the new approach taken by the OIOS to support the OHRM in assessing and refining its primary objectives, current roles, responsibilities and core functions and aligning them with its ongoing reform efforts.


OIOS Reports


By his note contained in document A/57/488, the Secretary-General transmits to the Assembly the OIOS report on the management review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  According to this document, while the mandates and activities of the OHCHR have grown significantly in recent years, its regular budget has decreased.  Currently, almost half of its functions are supported by voluntary contributions, with project personnel in many core posts.


As the organization and structure of the OHCHR were initially based on regular budget activities, increased reliance on extrabudgetary resources has resulted in an opaque and cumbersome structure, which is characterized by “convoluted reporting lines”, the report states.  With their misleading names, the three branches  -- Activities and Programmes; Research and Right to Development; and Support Services -- are rendered unwieldy through the ad hoc creation of teams and units in response to new mandates and concerns.  Their strength ranges from about 50 to over 100 Professional staff -- well above the conventional strength of Secretariat divisions.  There is a clear need to streamline the OHCHR structure, forming more coherent and manageable substantive divisions and programme support services.


The report also focuses on the need to develop OHCHR-wide guiding strategies and make the management more consistent and coherent.  The strong aspect of the office management culture is its commitment to seeking improvements through internal examinations and external evaluations, which have resulted in numerous recommendations.  A persistent weakness, however, is inadequate follow-up on lessons learned.  Remedying this fault would greatly improve the effectiveness of the Office.


Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa (document A/57/465), which was initiated in 2001 in response to allegations of widespread sexual violations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.


According to the report, the problem of sexual exploitation of refugees is real.  Although unable to verify initial allegations, the Investigation Team identified and fully investigated 43 new cases, ranging from consensual relationships that resulted from the exploiter’s position of power to alleged rape and sodomy of refugees.  Of these, 10 cases were substantiated by evidence.  Among the culprits were a United Nations volunteer with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (action has been taken on this case), a peacekeeper who has been repatriated, and non-governmental organization (NGO) personnel, whose cases have been referred either for action by relevant organizations or for prosecution by local authorities.  No allegations against any United Nations staff could be substantiated.


Commenting on the investigation, the Secretary-General states that sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian staff cannot be tolerated as people displaced by conflict or other disasters are among the most vulnerable people on earth who look to the United Nations and its humanitarian partners for shelter and protection.  Anyone employed or affiliated with the United Nations who breaks that sacred trust must be held accountable and, when circumstances so warrant, prosecuted.


The document also contains observations regarding the factors contributing to sexual exploitation in refugee communities and presents 17 recommendations to rectify the situation, including those related to harmonization of codes of conduct; introduction of clear procedures and independent reporting systems; improvement of recruiting practices; and follow-up with the organizations, which have been provided with evidence that their employees have been using their position for exploitative purposes.


Currently, improved systems for recourse, investigation and discipline are being instituted, the report states.  Although the genesis of the report was in West Africa, the United Nations is addressing the issue on a global basis.  The humanitarian community has identified standards of behaviour applicable to all its personnel and is implementing a newly adopted Plan of Action to strengthen mechanisms for protecting those who depend on international aid.  In March 2002, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee established a Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises.


Administration of Justice in Secretariat


According to the Secretary-General’s report on the monitoring capacity of the Office of Human Resources Management (document A/57/276), as the Organization moves towards a results-based culture, monitoring is becoming an essential function of modern management.  Among particular measures in this respect, the report lists annual performance compacts between the Secretary-General and his programme managers, which set measurable goals in specific areas.  Each department and office agrees with the OHRM on human resources action plans, which record measurable targets in such areas as vacancy levels, geographic distribution, gender balance, mobility and staff development.


According to the document, important tools in ensuring monitoring are the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) and the Performance Appraisal System (PAS) which requires managers to specify staff performance expectations and monitor them on a regular basis.  Staff development programmes allow staff to enhance existing skills and develop new ones.  The OHRM conducts salary surveys for General Service in New York and in the field and reviews comprehensive salary survey conducted by specialists from various agencies.  It also ensures appropriate conditions of service by setting, monitoring and updating missions subsistence allowance rates and providing guidelines and advice to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

The report adds that in November 2000 an Accountability Panel was established within the Secretariat in order to reinforce other accountability mechanisms and ensure that the findings of oversight review bodies are adequately addressed.  To assist self-monitoring, the OHRM is also designing monitoring guidelines for the departments.


Reporting on the administration of justice in the Secretariat (document A/56/800), the Secretary-General addresses several proposals in connection with a review of the role of the Joint Appeals Board (JAB):  to maintain it as an advisory body; to maintain it as it currently functions; to change it from an advisory to a semi-judicial body with the power to take decisions; or to effect other changes that might flow from staff consultations.


The Secretary-General endorses the option of maintaining the Joint Appeals Board in its current form, while, at the same time, addressing its shortcomings.  As for the option to turn the Board into a semi-judicial body, he points out constitutional obstacles preventing staff members from rendering decisions binding on the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General believes that the creation of an ombudsman function will strengthen the informal mediation process and replace the panels on discrimination and other grievances.  He also emphasizes the need to strengthen the Panel of Counsel through the provision of a P-4 legal officer post. 


Other proposed changes concern the selection of the Board's chairpersons and giving the JAB the authority to decide whether a contested administrative decision should be suspended.  Currently, such decisions are made by the Under-Secretary-General for Management, based on the JAB advice.  The Secretary-General states that he would not support a change in the current power of the Board in that respect.  He also concludes that implementing a proposal to limit to three months the time available to the JAB to produce its report would be “not in the best interests of any of the parties”.  Neither would it be realistic, given the lack of adequate resources.  In that connection, the Secretary-General has requested the OIOS to conduct a management review of the entire appeals process.


Addressing the Assembly’s request to "close the gap" between the statutes of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal and the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILO) with respect to obligation and compensation limits, the Secretary-General suggests that either the statutes and practices of the two Tribunals should be fully harmonized, or the current system could be retained with an increase in the limit of compensation to be paid. 


In a related report (document A/57/736), the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) agrees with the Secretary-General that there is no need to change the nature of the Joint Appeals Board and recommends acceptance of his proposal to “maintain the positive elements of the current system, that is, advice provided by a joint body of peers”, while rectifying the existing problems there.  The ACABQ also agrees that there is no need to strengthen the current advisory function of the JAB with regard to suspension of action on a contested administrative decision and recommends amending staff rules in order to provide for joint selection of the chairpersons of the Board by staff and management.  Welcoming the fact that the OIOS has been requested to conduct a management review of the entire appeals process, the Advisory Committee further makes recommendations regarding the focus of that exercise.


Turning to the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, the ACABQ recommends strengthening that body through an amendment to its statute requiring that candidates for the Tribunal possess judicial experience in the field of administrative law or its equivalent.  That change would obviate the need for the third tier, which had been recommended by the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU).  The appointments should continue to be done directly by the Assembly plenary.


Among the recommendations contained in the JIU report on the reform of the administration of justice within the United Nations (document A/57/441) is a proposal regarding introduction of an additional level of appeal through the establishment of an ad hoc panel responsible for reviewing the judgements of the existing two Tribunals.  As a general principle, the JIU promotes adopting the practice of accepting the unanimous recommendations of administrative justice bodies.


Contained in the report are proposed measures to ensure independence of all bodies concerned with the administration of justice; strengthen informal conciliation and mediation mechanisms; harmonize the statutes of the United Nations and ILO Tribunals; and publish the information on the number and nature of cases before the joint appeals boards.  Also recommended by the Inspectors is development of comprehensive legal insurance schemes covering legal advice and representation for staff.


An addendum to the JIU report (document A/57/441/Add.1) presents comments on the matter by the Secretary-General and the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB).  They express appreciation for the Inspectors’ useful input and proposals, which “essentially extend or revise many of the recommendations made in an earlier report” by the JIU (see document A/55/57) “with a view to strengthening the appellate mechanisms of the United Nations system”.  In its general comments, the CEB points out that any reform should take due account of the needs of individual organizations without compromising adequate mechanisms for swift and fair administration of justice.


Regarding the efforts to improve mediation and conciliation, the document points out that the Secretary-General has fulfilled his commitment in this respect by establishing the Office of the Ombudsman last October.  The CEB also notes that it appears that in the formulation of their recommendation to align the statutes and procedures of the two Tribunals, the JIU Inspectors have not taken into account the fact that the ILO Administrative Tribunal serves many organizations that do not belong to the United Nations system.


On another proposal, CEB members recall that since 1987 the Secretary-General has followed the policy of accepting all unanimous recommendations of the JAB, except where a major question of law or principle has been involved.  In all cases of non-acceptance, the reasons behind the decision are fully detailed.  As for organizations other than the United Nations, generally executive heads do not agree with the JIU proposal for automatic acceptance of appeal boards’ unanimous recommendations.  The CEB members also do not agree with the proposal to create “a higher appeal instance”, recalling that in 2001, on the recommendation of the United Nations’ legal advisers, it had decided not to pursue the introduction of a second-tier appellate mechanism.


Views of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal on the proposed changes are expressed in the letter of that body’s President to the Chairman of the Fifth Committee (document A/C.5/57/25).  The Tribunal does not support the recommendation for another layer of appeal as current procedures adequately protect staff members and afford them full justice and consideration of their claims.  Furthermore, the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman and ongoing consultations to enhance informal conciliation and mediation, as well as the proposals to intensify the authority of the JAB, provide appropriate machinery for the consideration of complaints before they are submitted to the Tribunal.  Adding another layer of appeal would also delay an already overly long procedure without providing obvious benefits to employees.


Turning to the proposal to “close the gap” between the two Tribunals, President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal adds that it would provide equity and equality for all employees working in the United Nations system.  The United Nations Administrative Tribunal maintains that if there is a need for further harmonization of the courts’ statutes, it cannot be a condition, unless all the articles and practices are fully harmonized.  In view of the overwhelming support for this proposal of various bodies of the system, and taking into account the far-reaching human resources reforms within the United Nations, the Tribunal strongly recommends amending article 9 of its statute in order to close the gap between the statutes of the two Tribunals and remove the restrictions on the authority of United Nations Administrative Tribunal.


Scale of Assessments


The Secretary-General’s report on measures to encourage Member States in arrears to reduce and eventually pay their arrears (document A/57/76) focuses on the possibility of imposing indexation of or interest on Member States’ debt to the Organization and possible retention or redistribution of budgetary surpluses applicable to Member States in arrears.


The report recalls the Committee on Contributions’ recommendation that it might be prudent to fix the deadline for payment of contributions from the date of the issuance of assessments, rather than from the date of their receipt.  That would involve a revision of financial regulation 5.4 to specify that assessments should become due and payable 35 days from the date of issuance, rather than

30 days from their receipt.  A similar suggestion is made in the report on multi-year payment plans.  The Assembly would also need to decide whether to define timely payment in terms of the due period specified in financial regulation 5.4 or from 1 January of the year following the date on which assessments became due and payable.


Regarding incentive payments to countries that pay their contributions promptly, the report states that some members of the Committee were opposed to rewarding Member States for meeting their obligations under the Charter.  The Committee on Contributions was informed that interest income under the regular budget, the usual source of such incentive payments, was fairly limited -–

$3.6 million in 1998-1999 and $5.3 million in 2000-2001.  In addition, the experience of other organizations was not generally encouraging in that respect.


On indexation of debt, the report states that should the Assembly decide to include indexation charges in the assessments of Member States, it should make it clear that the revised amount is the new assessed contribution and, thus, subject to Article 19 of the Charter.  Such a decision would involve an amendment to financial regulation 5.2, which defines assessments and how they are to be adjusted.  Indexation of arrears would pose more complex technical issues than imposition of interest.  One of the possibilities is fixing the interest rate at  3 per cent, with the Contributions Committee reviewing it periodically.


Yet, another proposal involves allocation of budgetary surpluses to Member States with no outstanding payments.  The document suggests that the Assembly may also wish to decide that the balance of the budgetary surpluses should be transferred to the United Nations Special Account in order to strengthen the Organization’s reserves.


Gratis Personnel


According to the Secretary-General’s 2002 report on gratis personnel provided by governments and other entities (document A/57/721), since the adoption of resolution 51/243, steps have been taken to improve management of gratis personnel and phase it out.  The only remaining Type II gratis personnel member is a hydrology expert from Germany whose contract expires on 31 December 2003.  A total of three such personnel was reported as of 31 December 2001.


The overall number of Type I gratis personnel (interns, associate experts and technical cooperation experts obtained on a non-reimbursable loan), however, increased by 60.9 per cent to 301 persons last year, mainly due to a 108 per cent increase in the number of interns.


In a related report (document A/57/735), the ACABQ recommends that instead of presenting annual reports on gratis personnel, the Secretary-General should now be requested to report on the matter in the context of his report on the composition of the Secretariat, on a biennial basis.   The information on Type I personnel should now be expanded to include nationality, duration and functions performed.


Programme Budget for 2002-2003


Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report presenting hisreviewed information and communication technology strategy (document A/57/620), which was initially submitted in his plan of action contained in document A/55/780.  By resolution 56/239 of 24 December 2001, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to resubmit the plan of action, taking into account the recommendations of the ACABQ.  Those focused on the need to develop a specific plan to improve efficiency and provide a clear definition of responsibilities within the Secretariat, improve coordination and reduce duplication.


Outlining the proposed strategy, the Secretary-General states that tangible returns would be sought in such core areas as sharing and dissemination of the Organization’s institutional knowledge, administrative and management processes, and servicing the United Nations organs and governing bodies.  The main “building blocks” of the new plan of action include creating a robust infrastructure; putting in place security provisions to ensure business continuity and systems integrity; ensuring reliable connectivity with the field; and providing efficient utilization of personnel in possession of focused skills in key technologies and practices.


Under the new plan, the IMIS would continue to play a pre-eminent role in the administrative process of the Secretariat for at least another five years.  Also important would be such information systems as Galaxy, e-PAS, Human Resources Handbook and ProcurePlus.  In the area of knowledge sharing, the strategy envisions functioning of “information hubs” in focus areas, which would comprise global “communities of interest” dedicated to substantive subjects chartered by the Organization.  As part of the restructuring of the Department of Public Information, Web-based activities are being strengthened and centralized.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has taken a leading role in ensuring that the local infrastructure at all peacekeeping and political missions is adequate and capable of connection to Headquarters through satellite and land-based links.  The strategy also includes plans to connect the United Nations information centres to the Intranet by using secure virtual private network technology.  The Information Technology Services Division is responsible for the provision of central support and ensuring full connectivity to the Secretariat Intranet.


The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Board -- an interdepartmental body established through Secretary-General’s bulletin ST/SGB/2001/5 -- is entrusted with coordination and harmonization of ICT initiatives.  Chaired by the Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, the Board was fully constituted in October 2001, and its six subject area task forces began operating in January 2002.


On financing, the report states that the overall level of ICT-related expenditures for the Secretariat for the current biennium is approximately

$132 million (5 per cent of the total budget).  The Organization’s work in the area of ICTs was seriously affected by a series of budget cuts under the latest regular budget, especially in the areas of central services, including network and round-the-clock operations, as well as Help Desk and services associated with supporting meetings and conferences.  The outline of the budget for the next biennium contains provisions to restore an adequate level of funding for ICTs to ensure sustainable operations.  Those provisions are not sufficient, however, to enable the Secretariat to undertake all the projects and initiatives described in the report.


Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/57/485) for the period from 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002.  Standards of accommodation for air travel are governed by resolution 42/214 in which the Assembly decided that all individuals, with the exception of the Secretary-General and the heads of delegations of the least developed countries to the regular and special sessions of the Assembly, would be required to travel at the class immediately below first.  In the same resolution, the Secretary-General was authorized to exercise his discretion in making exceptions to allow first-class travel.


Altogether, from 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002, the Secretary-General, as an exception, authorized 33 cases of first-class air travel and allowed business-class travel in 43 cases.  Five first-class trips were carried out by the Deputy Secretary-General at a total additional cost of $12,412.  Also, in accordance with his authority in the use of budget funds for his Office under resolution 52/214, the President of the Assembly took four trips in the first class at a cost of $27,277. 


Organization of Work


Committee Chairman MURARI RAJ SHARMA (Nepal) welcomed the new Chairman of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the representative of Morocco; the President of the European Union, the representative of Greece; and the Chairman of the Rio Group, the representative of Peru, to the Committee’s deliberations.  Since the last session, changes in the Secretariat had also taken place.  Joseph Acakpo-Satchivi was no longer Committee Secretary.  Nora Benary would be acting Secretary of the Committee.


While spring was fast approaching, those who controlled the budget did not have room for sentimental flurries, he said.  The miracle of striking consensus on sensitive administrative and budgetary issues had taken place almost on a regular basis.  The Committee had shown what was possible during the main part of the session.  He called on members to complete the Committee’s work in record time once again.


He informed members that all documents for the current session had been issued.  However, the Secretary-General’s report on the clarification of his proposal in action 22 for a single-stage intergovernmental review of the programme budget and the medium-term plan, as requested by General Assembly resolution 57/300, would be submitted to the plenary in accordance with the decision taken by the Assembly President.


The programme of work, he said, had been adjusted by the Bureau this morning to take into account requests made by the different regional groups.  A new innovation had been introduced in the Committee’s work, namely, the use of videoconferencing.  Two reports would be introduced by inspectors of the Joint Inspection Unit through videoconferencing at the current session.


Following the Committee’s decision to allocate 10 meetings for informal consultations for the consideration of the draft resolution under item 116 –- pattern of conferences –- the Committee had concluded those consultations last week, and the draft would be issued within the next few days for final consideration and approval on Monday, 10 March.  He thanked, in particular, the draft’s coordinator, Gerard Ho of Singapore, for his efforts towards achieving a successful conclusion of the negotiations.


AICHA AFIFI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, thanked the Bureau for providing the draft programme of work and status of preparedness of documentation.  Regarding the status of documentation, it was with deep concern that the Group noted that some documents had been issued late.  That problem, which seemed to be chronic, would have adverse effect on the smooth functioning of the Committee.  If not corrected, the situation would lead to a waste of time and effort.


The Group urged all concerned parties to address the chronic problem and asked the Secretariat to strictly comply with the six-week rule, as well as with provisions of relevant Assembly resolutions and rules of procedure, in particular, rules of abstaining from publishing any document in hard copy or on the United Nations Web site before its being translated into all official languages.


In light of the successful conclusion of informal consultations on the “pattern of conferences”, the Group believed that items relating to human resources management and administration of justice should be accorded priority attention during the resumed session.  The Group requested the Bureau to ensure that adequate time was allocated to those two items.


The Group also attached high interest to a thorough consideration of the report of the OIOS on the investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa.  The Group emphasized the role of the Fifth Committee in the consideration of administrative and budgetary reform issues.  It was essential that the report on the single intergovernmental review be considered by the Fifth Committee.  Concerning the report on single-stage intergovernmental review of the programme budget and medium-term plan, had the documentation, including the report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), been made available in all official languages, the Group would have been disposed to consider the issue.  As that was not the case, the Group was not prepared to discuss the issue during the first resumed session.


Regarding OIOS reports, she said it would be appropriate to cluster reports dealing with personnel issues in the context of agenda item 118 on human resources management.  On the administration of justice, the Group was looking forward to discussing the related reports of the Secretary-General and the ACABQ, as well as the report of the JIU.  The Group requested that the item on the possible discrimination due to nationality, race, sex, religion and language in recruitment, promotion and placement be deferred until such a time that the report was presented in a manner consistent with the provisions of resolution 53/221.  She asked for clarification of the inclusion of the report on the revolving credit fund, as it had been considered in the context of resolution 52/22B.


The Committee CHAIRMAN said it was his duty to ask the Secretariat to abide by the six-week rule.  All of the Group’s suggestion would be given due consideration by the Bureau.


DIMITRIOS ZEVELAKIS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, expressed satisfaction at the positive outcome of the consultations on the pattern of conferences.  It was essential to concentrate efforts to address issues related to the Secretary-General’s report on the reform of the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM), as well as to the OIOS reports.  The Union would consider issues related to the administration of justice, mindful of the need to protect the concerns and rights of both personnel and the administration.  The Committee would also have to address a variety of issues, ranging from information and communication technologies (ICTs) to OIOS reports, to improving the United Nations financial situation.


He said that in the last year the Fifth Committee had achieved considerable results in the rationalization and streamlining of its work methods by abolishing night and weekend meetings, proving that the Committee entrusted with the oversight of effective functioning of the Organization could set the example of optimum use of available resources.  The resumed session had started under good auspices.  That, combined with the record-setting timeliness of the conclusion of the Committee’s work at the regular session, gave reason to believe that the Committee could conclude its deliberations by 21 March.


MARIA ARCE DE GABAY (Peru), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group of Latin American countries, said the programme of work reflected a relatively balanced distribution of time to priority themes.  While the delay in documentation was a concern, he recognized the efforts of the Secretariat to correct that situation.


Regarding specific themes, he said the Rio Group would appreciate the Bureau giving more time to the consideration to the human resources item.  On the scale of assessments, it appeared that the assigned time exceeded the time needed to discuss the issue.  The Group recommended, therefore, redistributing time for themes that required further treatment in informal sessions.  Regarding the administration of justice, the Group hoped that the Secretariat could present all reports established under resolution 55/258 which had not been considered for about two years due to lack of documentation.


The Committee CHAIRMAN said all the concerns expressed would be taken into consideration by the Bureau.


The Committee then approved the programme of work on the understanding that it would be adjusted by the Bureau as necessary.


Human Resources Management


The Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, DILEEP NAIR, introduced the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the OIOS report on the implementation of all provisions of Assembly resolution 55/258 on human resources management by the Department of Management (document A/57/726).  He said that the major challenge facing OHRM was developing links between the different initiatives and also developing measures to gauge progress towards the desired outcomes.  Accomplishing that would assist their efforts to either validate current strategies or refocus initiatives to ensure better alignment with goals.  The OHRM had continued the process of developing a strategic focus and partnering with client departments to determine human resource management needs.  However, in addition to continuing the client survey on an ongoing basis, it needed to  further institutionalize mechanisms that would allow it to measure the impact of initiatives and provide information on whether set goals had been achieved. 


He said he was pleased to inform the Committee that OHRM had taken immediate and decisive steps towards implementing many suggestions of the report.  It had set a number of priorities in the technical, administrative and policy areas.  For example, in recognition of certain limitations of the Galaxy system, it would be releasing an enhanced version in the near future that should correct the current shortcomings.


PATRICK KENNEDY (United States) welcomed the Secretary-General’s report before the Committee and said that the evaluation of the OHRM had demonstrated significant progress in implementing the human resources management reform.  He supported the effort to integrate recruitment, selection, promotion and mobility within the context of streamlined rules and regulations and modern career development.  He also noted that the report presented the initiative to introduce mobility as one of the most successful elements of human resources management reform, and he supported enhancing the programme, as suggested in the report.  Among the important activities, he noted the efforts to create improved conditions of service at various duty stations, address work/life issues more effectively, cut red tape and improve management training.


He said that the organizational culture was already becoming more responsive and results-oriented, more innovative and certainly more sensitive to issues of accountability, transparency and fairness within the Secretariat.  However, there were remaining challenges that still needed to be addressed.  One of those involved the question of the granting of extensions to staff to work beyond their mandatory age of retirement.  While it was difficult to determine how pervasive the practice was, it was clearly contrary to the whole concept of OHRM reform to waive the rules for certain individuals.  Therefore, he requested the Secretariat to provide the Committee with information on the number of professional staff who had retired in the last three years and how many of them had received extensions to continue working in their jobs. 


Another challenge reported by the OIOS was the vastly increased number of applications received through the Galaxy system, he said.  It was necessary to review the current practice that gave overwhelming preference to internal candidates over external applicants for jobs.  He asked the Secretariat to provide information regarding the number of professional jobs advertised and offered to external candidates.  It was important for the United Nations to promote the infusion of new blood at all levels, at the same time offering current staff members fair and reasonable opportunities for advancement.


He went on to say that it was also necessary to take advantage of the record number of people applying for professional jobs in the Organization to promote gender balance and more diverse geographic distribution of jobs, especially for countries that were under-represented or close to being under-represented.  His delegation had raised that issue during the fall session, and he reiterated that there continued to be a dramatic decline in the number of Americans employed in the Secretariat, especially at the senior professional levels.  In fact, the United States was close to becoming under-represented among the professional posts subject to equitable distribution.  As it was not the only country in such a position, the issue needed to be addressed in the near term.


His delegation believed that the innovative reform ideas introduced by the Secretary-General and adopted by the Assembly in resolution 57/300 comprised a major step in making the United Nations more efficient and responsive.  In order for that to happen, however, the United Nations must have the best and brightest staff.  Full and speedy implementation of resolution 55/258 would make the Organization much more competitive in hiring and retaining the talent from around the world.


Ms. AFIFI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that, despite its importance, the report had only been issued at the end of February.  For that reason, it was impossible for her delegation to comment on that document today.  She wanted to return to the report at a later date.


Introduction of Report


Mr. NAIR, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced the OIOS report on the management review of the OHCHR.  In order for the OHCHR to reflect on persistent problems and prepare for new challenges, it needed to concentrate on three problem areas:  overall strategy, organizational structure and management.  Any revitalization effort must take advantage of the proposals and ideas put forth by OHCHR staff in the course of change management exercises.


The report provided 17 recommendations, he said, on issues such as working methods, human resources and administrative and financial management.  The High Commissioner had concurred with OIOS recommendations and had taken prompt, decisive and enthusiastic remedial measures to address them.  He expressed his sincere appreciation to the High Commissioner for his responsible and forthcoming attitude in addressing OIOS recommendations.


FELICITY BUCHANAN (New Zealand), also speaking on behalf of Australia and Canada, said the report on the management of the OHCHR was a solid piece of analytical work.  Such management evaluation was an important part of the internal oversight function and added value to broader efforts to improve and streamline management performance in the Organization.  The OIOS had identified both strategic and operational issues that needed to be addressed in the OHCHR.  Many of those recommendations related directly to the capacity of the Office to deliver on its substantive mandates; the coherence and focus of its management and work planning; the ability to evaluate and monitor implementation, structure and accountability of organizational units; and the importance of human resources within the Office.


The delegations she represented strongly supported the work undertaken by the OHCHR and welcomed those recommendations, she said.  She also welcomed early indications that many of the recommendations had been acted upon.  From a management perspective, she placed particular importance on the need for an integrated strategy to guide priority setting across operational activities, technical cooperation and mainstreaming of human rights.  She also encouraged the Office to establish a dedicated information management and communication section, as recommended by the OIOS, to improve coordination.  It was hoped that the streamlined structure of the Office would be reflected in the presentation of its resource bid for 2004-2005.


MELANIE ATTWOOLL (United States) said the report was concise, targeted and exactly what her delegation was looking for.  As a priority activity of the Organization, the human rights programme was important for the United States.  A well defined, targeted programme with clear lines of authority was essential for the programme’s effective functioning.  The management review under way had identified shortcomings in the OHCHR and had prescribed a course of action to tighten operations for a more focused report.


The report emphasized its concern with the Office’s funding arrangements, she said.  The United States was pleased that voluntary contriutions had increased in recent years.  She congratulated the Office on maintaining a high level of voluntary contribution and encouraged it to continue its fund-raising efforts.


Regarding the increasing number of mandates, she wondered whether the Office reviewed mandates to see if any had become obsolete or irrelevant.  While Member States were adept at creating mandates, they relied on programmes managers to identify those mandates that were no longer necessary.  A systematic reversal in trend of documentation should also be undertaken.  The large number of thematically duplicative documents should be a prime target in the Office’s reform efforts.


The report also noted, she said, that some sections of the Office were stretched thin in an attempt to fulfil increasing number of responsibilities.  Yet, there was no shortage of posts at the OHCHR.  With proper reorganization and thorough follow-up to the recommendations of numerous external and internal reviews, however, the Office would be equipped to carry out its highest priorities.  The OIOS recommendations must be implemented as soon as possible.  It was her understanding that many issues were already being addressed in Geneva, and she wondered if the Committee could be updated on those measures.


Introducing the report on the sexual exploitation investigation (document A/57/465), Mr. NAIR said that the allegation of widespread sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers had not been confirmed.  However, the OIOS had established that the conditions in the camps and in refugee communities in the three countries involved made refugees vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation, and such vulnerability increased for female and young refugees.  While no allegation against any United Nations staff member had been substantiated, the team had identified several factors, which contributed to sexual exploitation in refugee communities.


Measures taken by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others to address the issue included the establishment of a task force on sexual exploitation under the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), he continued.  The IASC was drafting a Secretary-General’s bulletin setting a policy to prevent and address cases of sexual exploitation and abuse in humanitarian crises.  The OIOS had made 17 recommendations to assist the UNHCR and its partners in further following up on the cases with the relevant organizations employing staff that had been using their positions for exploitative purposes.  However, there had been difficulties in monitoring and implementation of those recommendations and obtaining information on measures to address sexual exploitation.  Responses were not always forthcoming, nor were they satisfactory.  In addition, non-governmental organizations had been reluctant to take action against the staff implicated, saying they would take action only if there was a successful criminal prosecution.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations, too, must ensure that strict measures were put in place to deal with peacekeepers who were found to engage in sexual exploitation.

He added that the UNHCR and its implementing partners must broaden the scope of their remedial and preventive programmes on sexual exploitation to coordinate meaningfully.  The OIOS would continue to work with the aid agencies through the UNHCR and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to ensure that its recommendations were fully implemented.


Speaking on behalf of the African Group, KAREN LOCK (South Africa) said that the management review conducted by the OIOS on the OHCHR had provided a further opportunity to evaluate and monitor the administration of the Organization’s resources.  She was encouraged by the assurances of the OIOS that the OHCHR had observed the provisions of the Financial Rules and Regulations of the United Nations and that the acceptance of voluntary contributions was consistent with the mandate, policies and activities of the Office.  The African Group noted the declining trend in funding certain core activities of the Office through the regular budget and the heavy reliance on extrabudgetary resources.


The Group shared the concerns that a reduction in voluntary contributions could disrupt the core activities of the Office, she continued.  It had always joined others in the Group of 77 to express concern about the growing tendency to fund core activities of the Organization through voluntary contributions, including the cases of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) offices in Nairobi.  The overall adverse impact of such tendencies should be addressed in a broader context, rather than through ad hoc reviews.  The OIOS should be tasked to undertake an all-encompassing comprehensive review of that question for appropriate action by the Assembly in the context of the 2006-2007 budget.


She added that any organizational and structural changes in the OHCHR should be done in consultation with Member States, reflecting the mandated activities of the Office and ensuring a high quality of reporting.  She noted with concern that the geographical distribution of project personnel and consultants at the OHCHR was skewed and did not reflect the international character of the Organization.  The Office should devote more attention to human resources management issues.  The African Group also supported the findings of the OIOS that pointed towards the need, among others, for a petition system, as an avenue for individuals to bring human rights violations to the attention of relevant bodies.


The Research and Right to Development Branch needed to be strengthened, she continued.  Also, the Group had welcomed the proposals to streamline the management of the Office.  On previous occasions, it had also stated that, in addition to upholding the principle of universality, interdependence, non-selectivity and impartiality were equally important elements to the mandate of strengthening human rights.


Turning to the exploitation of refugees, she said that as of January 2002 Africa had hosted the largest refugee population and had many displaced persons of concern to the UNHCR.  Member States had a collective responsibility to ensure that those vulnerable groups were not traumatized further and were able to reintegrate into their societies.  Even one isolated incident of exploitation or abuse was one incident too many.  She noted that the investigation had demonstrated that the allegations of widespread exploitation by aid workers were untrue and misleading.  However, she concurred with the OIOS that the problem of sexual exploitation of refugees was real, and that the conditions in the camps  and refugee communities made refugees vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation.


She urged the humanitarian community to take every possible measure to prevent the risk of exploitation in every sector of refugee operations, to improve the conditions of refugees and to bring the perpetrators to justice.  She also trusted that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would institute similar measures to ensure that peacekeeping personnel did not engage in such activities.  To that end, she welcomed the assurances by the Secretary-General that he was taking measures to correct the issues raised in the OIOS report, such as instituting an improved system for recourse, investigation and discipline, as well as identifying a code of conduct and developing a new plan of action.  In view of the findings, the Group wished to encourage the OIOS to consider broadening the scope of its investigations and monitoring efforts to include refugee camps in other regions, as well as other vulnerable groupings and refugees who were older than 18 years of age.  At present, 52 per cent of female refugees and others of concern to the UNHCR were older than 18 years of age.


JERRY KRAMER (Canada), also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said it was not surprising that the international community was alarmed by the survey by Save the Children UK and the UNHCR which asserted widespread sexual exploitation of refugees by humanitarian workers, including United Nations employees.  The very thought that the poorest and most vulnerable should be exploited by those charged with protecting them was an affront to fundamental human rights.  He hoped that the investigation conduced by the OIOS was correct in its conclusion that sexual exploitation by United Nations-related personnel was not widespread.  Canada, Australia and New Zealand  strongly condemned any form of sexual violence or exploitation.  It was imperative to know how to prevent such unacceptable behaviour, reduce vulnerability to exploitation and hold misconduct to account. 


He said it would be useful to clarify some aspects of how the OIOS had gone about its work.  It was not absolutely clear how many cases identified by the consultant had, in fact, been investigated.  Had all additional cases that the OIOS had come across been investigated?  The OIOS report, it had been suggested, was limited in its approach.  Had the investigative lens been too narrow?  Was there any way to know if the findings would have been different if they had been less narrow?  It was also hard to know from the report exactly how the investigation team was staffed.  What arrangements had been made for the confidentiality and protection of potential complaints?


The OIOS had made thoughtful and important recommendations covering a wide range of issues, he said.  It had identified an overall protection gap in the refugee camps in West Africa, which made them more insecure than they should be.  That was a concern which could apply to humanitarian operations more globally and should be addressed worldwide.  He asked for detailed information on the status of implementation of recommendations, not only from the OIOS, but also from the entities to which they were directed.


Canada, Australia and New Zealand welcomed the efforts of the IASC, led by OCHA and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and its Task Force on

Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, he said.  The Plan of Action was a credible response, and he supported its follow-up and implementation.  The OCHA and UNICEF had correctly pointed out complexities surrounding the question of who was a “humanitarian worker”.  There were many different types of staff who carried out specific tasks in a camp environment governed by different laws.


Peacekeeping operations constantly interacted with local populations, and the United Nations had established a code of conduct aimed precisely at governing such engagement, he said.  The issue being discussed today was not new to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  The OIOS had made specific recommendations for Department of Peacekeeping Operations to improve procedures for reporting sex-related offences and for their investigation.  He was interested in detailed information from Peacekeeping Department on the outcome of the review of previously existing policies and procedures. 


Clear disciplinary and accountability guidelines for peacekeepers were essential, he said.  Accountability should not stop with repatriation.  Troop- contributing countries needed to discharge their own responsibilities by taking necessary disciplinary action.  The United Nations shared a responsibility with those countries to ensure that appropriate actions were taken.  It was important for the United Nations to use its public information mechanisms to be frank and transparent when cases arose.  The United Nations was most associated with peacekeeping and humanitarian action.  That positive association must not be jeopardized.  He appreciated the insights provided by OIOS on the scale of the issue, but more importantly on how to respond in the future.


Ms. ATTWOOLL (United States) commended the OIOS for its thorough investigation of allegations of sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa.  That was a serious topic, and her delegation would like to commend the OIOS for its quick response and thorough investigation into the allegations made by consultants commissioned by the UNHCR and Save the Children UK.  She noted that none of the 12 cases made in the consultants’ report had been substantiated, but 10 new cases had been verified.  The United States was deeply concerned by the situation in the refugee camps as described in the OIOS report.  While relieved that none of the allegations against the United Nations staff had been substantiated, she expected the United Nations response to the matter to establish an environment that would prevent any future intimidation and violation of personal rights in the camps.  It was also important to take measures to prevent sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and children within camps.  Empowering women with education, jobs and better access to health care should be both a short- and long-term goal for the successful management of refugee camps.  She was pleased that new measures had been initiated, including guidelines to govern the conduct of all staff, and she wanted to find out more about them.


Gratis Personnel


DENIS BEISSEL, Officer-in-Charge of the Office of Human Resources Management, introduced document A/57/721 on gratis personnel.


The Chairman of the ACABQ, CONRAD S.M. MSELLE, introduced a related report of the Advisory Committee.


Scale of Assessments


The Committee CHAIRPERSON reminded delegates that the report on the scale of assessments had been introduced during the main part of the fifty-seventh session at the Committee’s seventh meeting on 14 October 2002, by the Chief of the Contribution Services, Mark Gilpin.  As stipulated in Assembly resolution 56/243, the report had been presented to the Assembly during the main part of its fifty-seventh session for subsequent consideration at its resumed fifty-seventh session.


Ms. AFIFI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, reaffirmed the legal obligation of Member States to bear the expenses of the Organization in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and pay their assessed contributions in full, on time and without conditions, while recognizing the need to extend sympathetic understanding to those Member States that were temporarily unable to meet their financial obligations because of genuine economic difficulties.


She said that the decisions contained in resolution 57/4B regarding multi-year payments were a useful tool for reducing unpaid assessed contributions and a way to demonstrate a commitment to meeting financial obligations of Member States, while remaining voluntary and not automatically linked to other measures.  She noted that the Committee on Contributions had not agreed on the merits of the proposal regarding early reimbursement of troop-contributing countries and that the Secretary-General considered it would not be productive for the time being to consider the matter any further.  The Group concurred with that view.  The Group also noted that other measures, such as ineligibility of Member States in arrears for election to certain committees or the restriction on those States’ access to opportunities of recruitment and procurement, did not fall within the terms of reference of the Committee on Contributions and posed a variety of complex issues.


As for the indexation of interest on arrears, she said that, although aimed at encouraging payment of arrears, such measures would impose an additional burden on developing countries already facing difficulties in meeting their financial obligations.  Such measures could undermine the full participation of increased number of Member States in the activities of the Organization.  If interest were to be imposed on arrears due to the Organization, one could argue that interest should be paid on the amounts due to Member States, many of which were developing countries.


As for the retention of budgetary surpluses due to countries with outstanding contributions, the Group was not convinced of any added value resulting from introducing changes to the current system.  Occasional surpluses due to Member States from the Organization were credited against their outstanding contributions.  It should also be noted, as stated by the Committee on Contributions in its 2001 session, that surpluses often did not reflect cash resources, and that in 2002, members of the Contributions Committee had not agreed on the merits of that suggestion.  Therefore, the retention of surpluses had not been proven to be beneficial to the Organization, but it would be an administratively burdensome operation, leaving accounts open for longer periods.


Speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, Ms. ARCE DE GABAY (Peru) reiterated  the political will of the Group members to fulfil their commitments to the Organization, according to the applicable provisions of the Charter, including their obligation to pay their dues on time, in full and without conditions.  At the same time, the Group also recognized the need to examine with solidarity the situation of those countries, which were temporarily unable to meet their obligations due to legitimate economic difficulties.  The reason behind examining proposals to encourage Member States to reduce and eventually pay their arrears to the United Nations was to provide incentives and not to make it more difficult for those who were willing to pay, but lacked the resources to do so.


In considering the proposed measures, it was important to take into account their impact on the financial situation of the United Nations, she continued.  Any amendments to the financial rules and regulations must be fully justified.  Another consideration to be taken into account was the fact that, in most cases, States in arrears were developing countries that had not been able to keep up with their payments due to internal economic crises.  Consequently, tightening the conditions of their debt would only result in increasing their load.  Most of the countries that did not pay their arrears were suffering from economic difficulties beyond their control.  That did not mean that the Group supported keeping arrears with the Organization.  Many of its members were founding Members of the United Nations and were old and regular troop contributors.  From the budget perspective, they contributed more than 5 per cent of the regular budget, having borne significant increases in assessments following the amendments to the scale in 2000.


The issue of incentives should be given deeper thought, she said.  As for priority reimbursement to troop-contributing countries, it did not seem fair   that countries actively contributing to peacekeeping should be penalized and discriminated against for their financial situation.  That could bring serious consequences to the United Nations peacekeeping activities, since it could disencourage current troop contributors.  Imposition of interest on the arrears was not acceptable to the Group.  Also, if the United Nations policies towards arrears were tightened, a growing number of countries would fall under Article 19, and that would politically impact the Organization.  Regarding retention of budgetary surpluses, he said that it was necessary to detail to what point the financial situation of the Organization would improve.  In practical terms, today’s surpluses were credited to Member States, but remained in the Organization’s accounts.  Based on the information provided, the Rio Group believed that it was not necessary to modify the current system.  Finally, she recalled that a system of sanctions was already in place to ensure compliance with financial obligations to the Organization, and it was contained in Article 19 of the Charter.


ADRIANA PULIDO SANTANA (Venezuela) reiterated her Government’s commitment to honouring its commitments to paying its arrears.  She requested the Committee to ensure that countries such as her own be temporarily exempt from paying arrears due to difficult economic situations.  The devaluation of Venezuela’s national currency by more than 100 per cent had impacted the national budget, as well as its ability to pay its assessments for 2002.  Paralysis in the economy had impacted Venezuela’s capacity to pay its arrears.  The reduction in the country’s resources was so drastic that it had become impossible to meet not only its external but also its internal obligations. 


She thanked the Secretariat for having submitted the report.  However, an initial consideration of the issue should include an analysis of the real impact

of arrears on the financial situation of the United Nations.  Undertaking a reform of the Financial Rules and Regulations must be fully justified.  A large number of States in arrears were developing countries.  The broad majority of countries that did not pay arrears did so because of economic situations beyond their control.


She said the suggestion to charge interest on arrears was unacceptable.   She could not see how charging interest on arrears would justify the tremendous challenges such a system would impose on some Member States.  Such a practice would also lead to a growing number of countries falling under Article 19, which would also have a political impact on the United Nations.  If the Organization were to charge interest on arrears, it would also mean that it would have to pay interest on the arrears it were owed to Member States.  For these reasons, it would hard to adopt any measure this year.  New options of a voluntary nature that would not aggravate the problems facing some Member States must also be studied.


Information and Communication Technologies


ANDREW TOH, Officer-in-Charge, Office of Central Support Services, introducing the report, said that as the Secretary-General’s reform programme relied significantly on ICTs, the strategy was designed to support the reform process.  The strategy focused on “doing what mattered” by building the essential ICT infrastructure and systems within a matrix of standards and best practices.  It envisioned “serving Member States better” by supporting multilingual enhancements and improved meeting and document management.


The vision, framework and specific proposals contained in the ICT strategy supported the Secretary-General’s reform initiatives and were consistent with the substantive needs of the Organization.  The revised strategy also addressed the observations and recommendations in Assembly resolution 56/239 of December 2001 and the observations of the ACABQ.


The ACABQ Chairman, Mr. MSELLE, said the Advisory Committee would consider the Secretary-General’s report when it took up the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005.  Traditionally, the ACABQ had used the programme budget to make detailed comments on ICTs.  The origin of the report, in fact, was from various comments by the ACABQ submitted in the context of its first report on programme budget.  It would help the ACABQ if the Fifth Committee, during the current session, made policy statements and guidelines, which the ACABQ would use it took up the proposed programme budget.


Standard of Accommodation for Air Travel


The Secretary-General’s report on the matter was introduced by ALIDA FERRENA-MAHMUD, Chief of the Oversight Support Unit of the Department of Management.  Although continuous oversight had kept the exceptions to a minimum, some first- and business-class travel exceptions were unavoidable, she said.  In granting each of the exceptions on medical grounds, sufficient documentation had been sought.  In addition to usual exceptions, several trips for witnesses for the Tribunals had been allowed, as explained in the report. 


Mr. MSELLE orally introduced a related report of the ACABQ, saying that the Advisory Committee recommended to take note of the Secretary-General’s report, subject to such guidelines that the Assembly might wish to provide.