9 March 2009
General Assembly
GA/AB/3891

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Fifth Committee

31st Meeting (AM)


Budget committee speakers urge quick action to fill vacant posts


in Office of Internal Oversight Services

 


Also Takes up Recommendations for Subvention for ‘Core

Diplomatic Training’, Report on Standards of Accommodation for Air Travel


Members of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), taking up three separate matters of concern this morning, urged that vacant posts within the Office of Internal Oversight Services be filled, while hearing a plea for funding from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) for its “core diplomatic training” programme.  It also heard a report on exemptions to standards of air travel.


On the issue of vacancies within the Oversight Office, several members expressed concern that 27 per cent of posts within the Office were unmanned, despite repeated calls by the General Assembly that they be filled.  Voicing a common view among speakers, the representative of Canada said it was “particularly troubling” that among the positions that were unfilled, three were at the level of Director.  Speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, he urged immediate action by the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services to fill those posts.


Also addressing that issue, the representative of Singapore recalled the wording ofGeneral Assembly resolution 63/265 from last year, which indicated that those vacancies had been unfilled since early 2008.  Lack of progress since that time was “troubling” and did not reflect well on the management of that Office, leading him to reiterated a provision of resolution 63/265 that “deliberate management decisions to keep a certain number of posts vacant should not be taken”.


He also remarked that over 600 internal OIOS reports had surfaced on the Internet.  They included documents marked “strictly confidential”, and it coincided with a growing contention over the recruitment and selection of the Director of the Investigations Division, raising the question, “What is really going on with OIOS?”


As did others, the representative of the United States, in calling for the posts to be filled, stressed the importance of the operational independence of oversight bodies within the United Nations, including for personnel matters.


The representative of the Sudan, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, suggested that the Fifth Committee consider the issue at its upcoming session in May, when it takes up the agenda item on the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations.  He added that the matter should not be considered piecemeal or in an ad hoc manner.


Earlier in the meeting, the Committee took up a report by the Secretary-General on the need for a $1.2 million subvention within the United Nations’ 2010-2011 programme budget for “core diplomatic training”, to be provided by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.


Introducing that report, Brook Boyer, Manager of the Institute’s Multilateral Diplomacy Programme, said that core diplomatic training was the only programme offered by the Institute that did not enjoy secure funding.


Mr. Boyer explained that UNITAR was supported, in large part, through voluntary funding.  But, Member States had fewer incentives to fund a programme that was not designed to benefit their own country, and so the programme was “chronically under-funded” as a result.  Private donors, meanwhile, were less driven to fund programmes directed at an overly narrowly defined group of beneficiaries ‑‑ diplomats.


Susan McLurg, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), said the Advisory Committee recommended that the Committee approve a subvention of $600,000, or half the amount requested for the entire biennium, pointing out that the Assembly had reaffirmed the voluntary nature of funding for the Institute.  She recommended that it hold activities only if funding was assured, and that, as the Advisory Committee suggested in its report, UNITAR should consider a cost-sharing arrangement with various United Nations funds and programmes that also benefited from core diplomatic training.


Also today, Nancy Hurtz-Soyka, Director of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on air travel standards enjoyed by United Nations-related personages and other exempted individuals.  There was a slight increase in the number of first and business class trips between 2006 to 2008, compared to the previous biennium.


Ms. McLurg ‑‑ presenting the ACABQ’s view once more ‑‑ recommended that the Committee take note of the report, though she suggested that future reports be less “purely statistical” and more analysis-oriented.


Others speaking today were the representatives of Japan, Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein) and the Republic of Korea.


The Fifth Committee will convene again at a date to be announced.


Background


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to discuss exemptions to air travel standards, the financing of core diplomatic training activities of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and a report by the Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC) on the high number of vacancies within the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).


On standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/63/524), the Secretary-General’s report provides an outline of authorized exceptions, including for eminent persons, prominent individuals who are donating their services to the Organization, security officials travelling with the Secretary-General, travel under circumstances that have been deemed to be arduous or when there have been upgrades for medical reasons, and travel under circumstances when the normal standard of accommodation is not available.  The report covers a two-year period ended 30 June 2008, and includes comparative statistics for the two-year period ended 30 June 2006.


The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report (document A/63/715) recommends that future biennial reports provide an analysis of the reasons for the increases and/or decreases in the number of exceptions.  An audit of all categories of authorized exceptions will be finalized in April 2009, and is being undertaken by the OIOS.  The ACABQ recalls its recommendation that the Secretary-General be requested to submit a report with proposals on how to harmonize standards of travel for staff of the common system, on the basis of a review by the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB).  The Committee recommends that the Secretary-General’s report also take into account the recommendations soon to be provided by the OIOS.


The Advisory Committee recommends that the Assembly take note of the Secretary-General’s report on the standards of accommodation for air travel, bearing in mind that the Secretary-General shall produce a more comprehensive report.


On financing of the core diplomatic training activities of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (document A/63/592), the Secretary-General requests the Assembly to consider a subvention of $600,000 per year, in the context of the 2010-2011 programme budget.  The request is made in light of concerns expressed by the Economic and Social Council over a lack of voluntary contributions to UNITAR in general.  The report recalls that a subvention would necessitate an amendment to the statute of UNITAR, which currently stipulates that the Institute’s expenses shall be met solely from voluntary contributions or income generated by the Reserve Fund.  The Assembly had already approved a subvention of $242,400 in 2005, because UNITAR could not absorb its rent and maintenance costs.


The report says core diplomatic training, estimated to cost $2.4 million in 2008-2009, includes courses on negotiation, public speaking and chairing, among other things.  Training takes place at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at the Organization’s offices in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.  The training is considered to be important for delegates from developing countries.


Core diplomatic training is historically funded through voluntary, non-earmarked contributions, the report says.  But, such contributions have declined in recent bienniums, to the point which recent shortfalls were covered by funds from special-purpose grants not related to core diplomatic training.  However, because of recent reform efforts, it is no longer possible from an accounting perspective to use funds intended for other purposes to cover such funding shortfalls.


The ACABQ, in a related report (document A/63/744), recommends that the Assembly approve that request, on an exceptional basis for the 2010-2011 biennium, and that it do so on the understanding that UNITAR would intensify efforts to raise funds for the programme and undertake a “prioritization exercise”.  Since training services provided by UNITAR are used by United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, the ACABQ also recommends that UNITAR explore the possibilities of cost-sharing.


The Independent Audit Advisory Committee’s report on vacant posts in the OIOS (document A/63/737) is summarized in Press Release GA/AB/3890.


Air Travel


Introducing the Secretary-General’s report relating to standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/63/524), NANCY HURTZ-SOYKA, Director of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, said the report compared the number of trips made in first and business class from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2006, and from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2008.  A separate set of tables provides the breakdown of such trips for United Nations entities such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations University (UNU) and UNITAR.


She said the report includes 11 annexes detailing exceptions owing to:  medical condition; unavailability of normal standard of accommodation; eminence of traveller; prominent travellers donating services; arduous journey; and those authorized by the Secretary-General, General Assembly, UNDP, UNICEF, UNITAR and UNU.


Overall, there was a slight increase in the number of exceptions granted compared to the previous biennium.  Some 217 exceptions were granted in the previous biennium compared to 243 for the biennium from July 2006 to June 2008.  The slight increase of 26 cases was due to exceptions made for eminent persons and for those donating services free of charge, as well as security officers.  Reductions in exceptions were registered for medical conditions, unavailable normal standards, arduous journey, and travel for the President of the General Assembly.


SUSAN MCLURG, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introducing the Advisory Committee’s related report, said that the ACABQ would recommend that the Secretary-General’s report be noted, though she remarked that its purely statistical presentation was of “limited usefulness”.  She reiterated that future reports on the matter contain an analysis of the reasons for the increase and/or decrease in the number of exceptions.


MOHAMED YOUSIF IBRAHIM ABDELMANNAN (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group had taken note of the Secretary-General’s report and agreed on the need for the Secretary-General to be able to maintain his discretion on the issue.  It also supported the ACABQ’s view that every request be carefully scrutinized, especially in view of the rise in the number of exceptions for the period under review.  The Secretary-General should establish clear criteria for upgrading travel to first class, particularly for security officers.  The Group “keenly” awaited the comprehensive report and supported the view that it should account for the recommendations of the forthcoming audit review by the OIOS.


United Nations Institute for Training and Research


BROOK BOYER, Manager, Multilateral Diplomacy Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), introduced the Secretary-General’s report on financing of the core diplomatic training activities of UNITAR.  He noted that the report did not pertain to the financial viability of the Institute itself, which was on “solid footing”.  So far, UNITAR had served 80,000 beneficiaries and doubled its income in the last five years.  Funding for the programming for the current biennium had increased by 25 per cent, compared to expenditures of the previous period.  Around 93 per cent of the programming was funded through earmarked funding.


However, financing for core diplomatic training was not secure.  Those activities benefited 4,000 diplomats annually, from 186 States.  For the past two decades, it had been chronically under-funded, because only a few States and private donors contributed to it through the process of earmarked funding.  The small amount of earmarked funding from States could be explained through their tendency to fund country-level training, but not training offered internationally.  Thus, core diplomatic training’s principal strength was also its principal weakness ‑‑ that the universal nature of its courses meant there were fewer incentives for States to cover the costs.


He further explained that raising additional funds from private philanthropy was challenged by core diplomatic training’s narrow focus of targeted beneficiaries.  UNITAR had exerted a “concentrated effort” to mobilize funds; yet, as the narrow beneficiary base suggested, the burden of covering a portion of the cost should fall on the collective membership of the United Nations.


He said UNITAR had recently completed a reform process to improve its standards, resulting in the establishment of performance-based indicators and clearer lines of responsibility and authority.  It enjoyed better business practices in its daily functions.  It was in line with those reforms, that Member States were requested to support the costs of core diplomatic training, along the following proposed formula:  of the $2.4 million needed for the biennium, 25 per cent ‑‑ or $600,000 ‑‑ would be covered by voluntary contributions, while another 25 per cent would be covered through fund-raising for special purpose grants.  The remaining $1.2 million would, as the Secretary-General recommended, be covered through an annual subvention of $600,000 per year.


He added that feedback from delegates had revealed that a vast majority of missions did not have the budget to train their diplomats in multilateral settings.  He urged that the Committee examine the cessation or cutbacks in core diplomatic training in light of that fact.


Ms. MCLURG, introducing the ACABQ’s related report, said the Advisory Committee was pleased to note the reform of UNITAR’s overall operations.  It recognized, as well, the importance of core diplomatic training, but was concerned that UNITAR’s activities should be conducted only when funding was assured.  The ACABQ would recommend that UNITAR undertake a prioritization exercise and align its use of resources accordingly.  While the ACABQ would recommend approval of the subvention for 2010-2011 on exceptional basis, it must be done on the understanding that UNITAR would intensify fund-raising efforts, while exploring cost-sharing with other United Nations entities.  Finally, bearing in mind that the General Assembly had affirmed the voluntary nature of funding for UNITAR on several occasions, it would recommend against approval of the proposed amendment to the statute of UNITAR to include a subvention from the regular budget.


Mr. ABDELMANNAN (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and underscoring the importance the Group attached to UNITAR, said UNITAR played an indispensable role in promoting international cooperation and multilateral diplomacy through the provision of core diplomatic training.  It benefited all Member States and provided a forum for diplomats to interact and strengthen negotiation skills.  But, despite an increased demand for training, it had experienced chronic under-funding over the past two decades, due to the decline in voluntary non-earmarked contributions.  The lack of a reliable, predictable and sustainable source of funding could cause UNITAR’s core diplomatic training activities to cease functioning.  All efforts should be taken to avert that possibility and, in that regard, the Secretary-General’s report provided useful proposals to address UNITAR’s needs.


He noted that resolution E/2008/35 of the Economic and Social Council stated that “training and capacity development activities should be accorded a more visible and larger role in support of the management of international affairs”, while General Assembly resolution 62/210 affirmed “the relevance of the Institute, in view of the growing importance of training and capacity development within the United Nations”.  Indeed, 97 per cent of Member States had benefited in recent years.  Responding to those resolutions, the Secretary-General requested an annual subvention of $600,000 in the context of the programme budget 2010-2011 to supplement UNITAR’s core diplomatic training budget, which could provide a possible basis for addressing UNITAR’s needs.


CHERITH NORMAN ( United States) said her delegation appreciated the core training activities provided by UNITAR.  Yet, as a matter of principle, it strongly opposed subventions of any kind to organizations that were intended to be funded from voluntary contributions.  The United States strongly hoped that efforts could be made to increase voluntary contributions to UNITAR, and looked forward to continuing the discussion during informal consultations.


JUN YAMADA (Japan), expressing support for UNITAR’s efforts to fulfil its mandate by providing training and research to the United Nations community, noted with appreciation the Institute’s efforts to meet rising demand for its core diplomatic training courses.  While Japan hoped that UNITAR would continue to fulfil its mandate, his delegation was deeply concerned about the Secretary-General’s recommendation to provide the Institute with an annual subvention of $600,000 within the context of the programme budget 2010-2011.  It was also concerned with the Secretary-General’s proposal to amend article VIII, paragraph 2 of UNITAR’s statute to include this subvention from the regular budget.


Japan’s concerns were based, he said, on three considerations.  First, article VIII, paragraph 2 of the statute clearly stated that the Institute’s expenses should be met from voluntary contributions and the Secretary-General’s proposals were in contravention of that principle.  The rules governing UNITAR’s financing were unambiguous and had been followed and supported by the Institute and Member States.  Thus, Japan strongly opposed those proposals.  Second, Japan believed the Committee should not commit to a certain amount of expenses for the regular budget, when consultations on that budget had not yet begun.  To approve a subvention now prejudged approval of certain resources for the budget for the biennium 2010-2011.  Regardless of the amount, expenditures for the next biennium should be considered during the main part of the General Assembly’s sixty-fourth session.  Third, UNITAR’s management resources should be given careful scrutiny.  Further, the Secretary-General’s report evoked many questions concerning how the Institute formulated its work programme and budget for the biennium 2008-2009, and that point would be examined in detail during informal consultations.


Vacant Posts in OIOS


Turning to the issue of vacant posts, Mr. ADBELMANNAN (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, suggested that the Committee consider the issue of vacant posts within the OIOS at the May resumed session, when it takes up the agenda item on the “review of efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations”.  The matter should not be considered piecemeal or in an ad hoc manner.


IVANA KRAHULCOVÁ ( Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, recalled that, given its terms of reference, as contained in Assembly resolution 61/275, the Independent Audit Advisory Committee may report its findings and other matters of importance to the Assembly at any time.  As such, the Union supported the decision to consider its report on vacant posts at the current resumed session.


She noted that the recruitment for OIOS vacancies was at various stages of the hiring process.  But as the General Assembly, in its resolution 63/265, had requested the Secretary-General to make every effort to fill those vacancies as a matter of priority, Secretariat officials should take immediate action to fill them.


CHRIS PLUNKETT (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said he attached great importance to an effective and efficient internal oversight function in the United Nations.  The OIOS was key in the Organization’s governance and provided confidence to Member States that resources were being used appropriately.  It was with great concern, therefore, that he had learned that 27 per cent of the posts were not filled, despite repeated calls by the General Assembly that those vacancies should be filled post-haste.  It was particularly troubling that all three Director-level positions remained vacant.  Those vacancies could have an adverse impact on the ability of OIOS to carry out its work, increasing the risk to the Organization.  Immediate action should be taken by the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services to fill those posts, particularly those at the Director level, in an expedited and streamlined manner.


THOMAS GÜRBER ( Switzerland), speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, welcomed the introduction of the IAAC report on vacant OIOS posts.  In its resolution 61/275, the Assembly had approved the terms of reference of that body and assigned it the responsibility to advise the Assembly on the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the audit activities and other oversight functions of OIOS.  The Advisory Committee had also been requested to report key findings and matters of importance at any time.


The fact that 27 per cent of the authorized posts within the OIOS were currently vacant, including all three Director positions, adversely affected the Office’s capacity and ability to fulfil its important mandate.  He was seriously concerned about that situation and demanded that all vacant posts be filled expeditiously.  With regard to the disagreement concerning the appropriate recruitment and selection process, he recalled resolution 48/218B, in which the Assembly had set down the principle of the Office’s operational independence.  That principle was an indispensable prerequisite of effective implementation of the OIOS mandate.  He also acknowledged the IAAC’s reference to the administrative instruction, which governed the delegation of the Secretary-General’s authority to the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services regarding personnel matters, including the appointment of staff up to the D-2 level.


He was pleased that, by submitting its report, the IAAC continued to discharge its mandate in a professional and responsible manner, he added.  It was the responsibility of Member States to do likewise and ensure that OIOS could continue to fulfil its oversight function effectively and efficiently.  Given the importance of the matter, his delegation proposed that informal consultations be scheduled during the current session.


BRUCE C. RASHKOW ( United States), stressing that the report of the IAAC had raised serious and important issues, said those vacancies should be filled without delay.  It was also important that the operational independence of oversight bodies within the United Nations be respected when dealing with personnel matters.  For that reason, it was important for the Fifth Committee to address the issues raised in the report.  It was expected that the IAAC would be available to brief the Committee on the matter.


MASATOSHI SUGIURA (Japan) said that, in light of the unanimous agreement for General Assembly resolution 63/265, in which Member States had expressed concern over a number of vacancies in the OIOS and requested the Secretary-General to make every effort to fill those vacancies as a matter of priority, his delegation was deeply concerned to learn of the high number of vacant posts, including all three Director-level positions, reported by the Independent Audit Advisory Committee.  There was no doubt about the importance of filling those vacancies as expeditiously as possible within the range of current regulations, rules, procedures and practices, in order to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of OIOS activities.


LOY HUI CHIEN ( Singapore) expressed consternation at the high rate of vacant posts in OIOS, noting it was not a new problem.  The General Assembly, in its resolution 63/265, had indicated that it had been a long-standing issue and had been so since the beginning of 2008.  The lack of improvement in the staffing situation was troubling and did not reflect well on the management of OIOS.  He reiterated, in accordance with resolution 63/265, that “deliberate” management decisions to keep a certain number of posts vacant should not be taken.


He said Singapore was disturbed to learn that over 600 internal OIOS reports had recently surfaced at the website “wikileaks.org”, a number of which were marked “strictly confidential”.  Those documents appeared online at about the same time that contention over the recruitment and selection of the Director of the Investigations Division had become apparent.


He said:  “What is really going on with OIOS?  My delegation feels that the Secretariat should start putting its own house in order.”  The OIOS had an important oversight role and he looked forward to further clarification on those issues.


LIM KI-KEUN ( Republic of Korea) said the work of the OIOS was critical to enhancing the independence and efficiency of the Organization.  It was, therefore, regrettable that the IAAC report showed that posts remained vacant, particularly those at the Director level.  His delegation believed that those issues should have been resolved through internal discussions among the relevant bodies.  Moving forward, discussions on the matter should be held in a streamlined and expedited manner.


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For information media • not an official record