29 November 2010
General Assembly
GA/AB/3972

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

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

18th Meeting (AM)


Budget Committee Takes Up Progress Reports on Enterprise Resource Planning

 

Project — ‘Umoja’; Information and Communications Technology Strategy

 


Also Takes Up Third Report Concerning United Nations

Adoption of International Public Sector Accounting Standards


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today debated the Organization’s ongoing efforts to overhaul an outdated information and communications technology system and carry out an enterprise resource planning project called Umoja, so it could deliver its services around the world more quickly and efficiently.


Approved by the General Assembly two years ago, the information and communications technology (ICT) strategy would add hundreds of millions of dollars and dozens of staff onto an annual ICT budget that already totals $774 million and covers more than 4,200 workers.  In introducing the Secretary-General’s reports on the issue, Controller Jun Yamazaki said the strategy aimed to overcome the difficulties stemming from a highly fragmented and outdated ICT system that had developed over years, and aimed to build the Organization’s technology capabilities by introducing improved systems, tools and methods.


Umoja, the Swahili word for unity, was a unique opportunity to transform how the United Nations delivered its mandates by using best-practice business processes, accountability throughout the system, improved staff skills and state-of-the-art information and communications technology, Mr. Yamazaki said.  The progress report now before the Committee, the Secretary-General’s second, was an account of Umoja’s advances and challenges during 2010 and needed little action from Member States.  While the Secretariat was looking for opportunities to reduce cost estimates over the project’s life, no dramatic cuts could be made now without substantially altering the plan and approach approved last year.  Overall funding for Umoja remained unchanged at $315 million over its life.


The United State’s delegate welcomed the progress made by the Umoja team and its attempts to lower costs.  “If done right, Umoja will vastly enable improved mandate delivery in Headquarters and in the field,” he added.  He and other delegates agreed with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that the timely recruitment of staff and experts was crucial, if Umoja was to deliver on time and within budget.


In introducing the Advisory Committee’s report, Chairperson Susan McLurg said she was concerned with the high level of vacancies in the Umoja project team, which could impact the project’s expected completion by the end of 2013.  The Secretary-General did not present options for lowering the project’s cost, as requested by the Assembly.  There were opportunities to work with other United Nations entities and share costs to develop common solutions, she added.


The Advisory Committee also stressed the need to collaborate with other information and communications technology units, including the Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT), especially as the project moved from the design to build phase.


Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, the representative of Yemen noted that, in addition to the $316 million required for the implementation of Umoja, the Secretary-General was asking for an additional $140 million for other information and communications technology initiatives.  The Group was very concerned that many of the Organization’s substantive areas were chronically under-funded, which often meant mandates were not implemented.  It recalled that, in resolution 54/15, the Assembly decided that savings achieved because of efficiency measures should be transferred to the Development Account.


Belgium’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, welcomed efforts to unify the communications technology system.  Yet, it also had questions about the details of proposed projects and why the proposals were being presented in an off-budget year.  The European Union agreed with the Advisory Committee that resource requirements for the ICT proposals should be introduced in the proposed programme budgets for 2012-2013 and 2014-2015.


In its report, the Advisory Committee noted that the Secretary-General was proposing that multiple large projects be carried out in phases over a four- to five-year period with a price tag of about $141 million over a five-year period from 2011 to 2015, and one project with a significant staffing increase (structural review project 4).  The Secretary-General was asking the Assembly to endorse the projects, with immediate approval for funding over multiple budget cycles and from multiple funding sources.


The Republic of Korea’s representative said information and communications technology systems could no longer be considered luxury goods or reform measures — they were necessary goods and services that let the Secretariat adapt to evolving environments.  “If we delay investments, we might save a little financially in the short-run, but we would lose much larger efficiency gains in the long-run,” he said.  He urged everyone within the United Nations to offer their full support without holding onto vested interests.


Mr. Yamazaki also introduced the Secretary-General’s third progress report on the Organization’s adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards.  He stressed that the timetables for fully implementing these standards by 2014 throughout the Organization had to be aligned with the timelines for Umoja.


Also speaking today on this issue were representatives from Switzerland (on behalf of Liechtenstein), Singapore, Japan, and the Russian Federation.


The representative of Cuba spoke on another matter.


The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 2 December, to discuss financing for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and revised budget estimates for the Human Rights Council, which is part of the agenda item programme budget:  biennium 2010-2011.


Background


The Fifth Committee had before it five reports relating to the implementation of the Organization’s system-wide information and communications technology strategy, the development of an enterprise resource planning project called Umoja, and the shift to international accounting standards to prepare financial statements throughout the Organization.


The Secretary-General’s 94-page report, Status of implementation of the information and communications technology strategy for the  United Nations Secretariat (document A/65/491) gives an update on the status of this strategy, including the outcomes of the information and communications technology (ICT) structural review.  This review is a comprehensive inventory of ICT capacities across the Secretariat that led to proposals to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of ICT activities.  It also includes a unified ICT disaster recovery plan and business continuity approach.  The report was issued on 5 October 2010.


The Secretary-General’s ICT strategy includes a long-term vision, management priorities and three strategic programmes.  These programmes are in the areas of knowledge management, resource management and infrastructure management.  The strategy’s goal is to overcome the difficulties stemming from a highly fragmented ICT environment and leverage the technology to boost the Organization’s effectiveness and efficiency in delivering United Nations services to the global community.


The overhaul’s aim is to improve the Organization’s effectiveness and efficiency and lay down an organization-wide approach to ICT that is consistent with the expectations of Member States.  This goal is unattainable under current conditions.  The optimal use of ICT resources will significantly benefit the Secretariat in meeting its mission and programme goals effectively.


The Secretary-General has proposed that four projects be undertaken from 2011 to 2015.  These include:  implement globalized service desks to improve quality of service and reduce costs; Streamline data centres to increase quality of service and reduce costs; rationalize ICT organization to improve ICT personnel planning, effectiveness and productivity; and strengthen the functions of the Office of Information and Communications Technology in overseeing strategic ICT activities, reduce fragmentation and promote ICT innovation across the Secretariat.


In the report, the Secretary-General asks the Assembly to take nine actions, ranging from reaffirming the ICT strategy’s role in meeting the Organization’s growing demands to endorsing the outlay of funds.


In regard to financing, the Assembly is asked to endorse the three ICT structural review projects (globalize service desks, streamline data centres and rationalize the ICT organization as described in section III of the report) and back the total cost of implementing these projects over the bienniums 2010-2011, 2012-2013 and 2014-2015.  The cost is estimated at $118.8 million at current rates.


The Assembly also is asked to endorse the strengthening of the Office of Information and Communications Technology (described in section III of the report) and back the total cost over the bienniums 2010-2011 and 2012-2013.  This cost is estimated at nearly $21.9 million at current rates.


The Assembly is asked to note that if the 28 new posts proposed for the biennium 2012-2013 were approved, the delayed impact is estimated at about $4 million, and to note that the total resource requirements for the biennium 2010-2011 described in the report were estimated at $8.5 million.  The report outlines how these resource requirements would be distributed through the regular budget, support account for peacekeeping operations, and extrabudgetary resources.


In regards to the ongoing enterprise resource planning project known as Umoja, the Committee had before it the Second progress report on the enterprise resource planning project and revised estimates under section 28A, Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, of the programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011, and under the support account for peacekeeping operations (document A/65/389).  In this 44-page report, the Secretary-General gives the Assembly its annual update of the project.


Umoja, the Swahili word for unity, is a continuous organizational transformation that will enable high-quality and cost-effective service delivery by the United Nations anywhere in the world.  It is the cornerstone of the United Nations administrative reform efforts.  The project aims to update employees’ skills, harmonize management practices and apply global technology in order to maximize the productivity of the United Nations’ human, financial and material resources.


Despite challenges during the current reporting period, it is still projected that Umoja will deliver within the time frame published in the first progress report (document A/64/380).  The two biggest issues have been the protracted negotiations to procure the preferred enterprise software package, which was completed, and the difficultly in filling staffing positions quickly enough.  As at 31 August, 46 out of 80 staffing positions had been filled.


As requested by the Assembly in its resolution 64/243 for “lower-cost options” for Umoja, efforts have been made to lower the project’s costs in the past year, while searching for ways to reduce future costs.  Progress in that regard, while incremental in nature, is summarized in the report.  No dramatic cuts can be made at this stage, while the project is being carried out, without substantially altering the plan and approach approved by the Assembly, the report states.  Therefore, the overall level of funding required remains unchanged.


According to the report, which includes a summary of the Umoja project’s resource requirements, the overall level of resources for its implementation remains unchanged at $315.79 million.  This would be funded with the existing cost-sharing formula of 15 per cent under the regular budget; 62 per cent under the support account for peacekeeping operations; and 23 percent under extrabudgetary resources.


While the level of requirements for 2010-2011 remains unchanged at $175.35 million, the proposed establishment of 10 additional temporary posts — through the cost-neutral internal redistribution of resources — results in changes to the resources at the expenditure group level for 2010-2011 and 2012-2013.  The addition of 10 new temporary posts and the conversion of 36 general temporary assistance-funded positions to temporary posts will bring the total number of core United Nations posts for the Umoja team to 90.


In section VI.B of the report, the Secretary-General asks the Assembly to take several actions.  These include:  take note of progress in the project’s implementation; approve 90 temporary posts for the Umoja project under the special account for recording income and expenditure of the project; and appropriate $12.4 million, initially approved in resolution 64/243, as commitment authority.


He also asks the Assembly to note that the future remaining requirements, estimated at $18.67 million gross ($18.1 million net), for the implementation of enterprise resource planning will be considered in the context of the regular proposed programme budget for the relevant bienniums; future remaining requirements, estimated at $48.58 million gross ($47.185 million net), would be included in subsequent requirements for the support account for peacekeeping operations for the financial period from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012, and $57.65 million gross ($56 million net) would be included in requirements for the support account for the financial period from July 2013 to June 2014; and an estimated amount of $72.6 million of the total enterprise resources planning project cost would be financed from extrabudgetary resources.


In regard to the request for the 90 temporary posts, the report recalls that, although 36 general temporary assistance-funded positions were previously requested as new temporary posts in the project’s first progress report (see A/64/380, para. 94), there was no explicit approval by the Assembly to create them as temporary posts.  Therefore, this request is repeated.  In addition, the Assembly is asked to approve the redeployment of resources from contractual services to fund 10 temporary posts to:  (a) support the programme and project management function of the Organization; and (b) strengthen the delivery capacity of the Umoja team, bringing the total number of temporary posts for the project to 90.  The cumulative savings achieved from this and other incremental efforts will be reported at a more mature phase of the project implementation.


The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, in its related report Information and communications technology (document A/65/576), which was issued on 16 November 2010, considered the Secretary-General’s reports on enterprise resources planning and the information and communications technology strategy.


Among many detailed comments, concerns and recommendations, the Advisory Committee welcomed the provision of a detailed timeline for the project.  It notes that the timeline is divided into four major phases:  prepare (2009); design (2009-2010; build (2009-2011); and deploy (2012-2013).  The Secretary-General expects the project to be completed and deployed within the projected time frame, by the end of 2013, and the overall resource requirements remain unchanged at $315.8 million.


The Advisory Committee notes that, when the project is completed, the enterprise resource planning system will be supported under the resource management programme of the Office of Information and Communications Technology.  It believes it is important to plan for the effective transfer, to the Office of Information and Communications Technology, of the knowledge and expertise relating to the technical environment, as well as the functional areas of the enterprise resource planning system.


Regarding staffing, the Advisory Committee notes that only 46 of the 80 positions/posts approved for the project were filled by the end of August 2010, a vacancy rate of 42.5 per cent.  The Advisory Committee is concerned that delays in filling vacancies means project activities may not be accomplished on time because of insufficient staff capacity.  The Committee is particularly concerned by the high level of vacancies among professional staff in the enterprise resource planning project technical and functional teams.  Proper planning and coordination capacity and strong analytical skills are critical for the project’s progress.  The Committee urges the Secretary-General to make the filling of enterprise resource planning project team vacancies a priority.


Regarding the creation of the additional project teams, the Advisory Committee believes that it is necessary to create mechanisms to strengthen in-house capacity and shift knowledge from consultants to programme and project staff.  Accordingly, the Committee recommends approval of the Secretary-General’s proposals.


Regarding financing, the Advisory Committee notes that the Secretary-General is proposing multiple large projects to be implemented in phases over a four- to five-year period, with financial implications estimated at about $141 million over the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, and one project with a significant staffing increase (structural review project 4).  The Secretary-General is requesting endorsement of the projects with immediate approval for funding over multiple budget cycles and from multiple funding sources.  While recognizing that the Secretary-General’s report is timed in accordance with Assembly requests made in resolutions 63/262 and 63/269, the Advisory Committee notes that the proposals are being presented in an off-budget year.


The Advisory Committee considers it premature for the Assembly to make a decision on overall requirements for the proposed projects for the period from 2011 to 2015.  It believes all resource requirements for ICT should be considered in the proposed programme budgets for 2012-2013 and 2014-2015.  In making his proposals, the Secretary-General should indicate how the lessons learned in the early phases of the projects would be absorbed and used to adjust the planning and requirements of subsequent phases.


Concerning the Organization’s shift to the use of international accounting standards, the Committee had before it two reports.  The first was the Secretary-General’s report, Third progress report on the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards by the United Nations (document A/65/308), which details the United Nations’ activities towards implementation of these standards between 1 August 2009 to 31 July 2010.  Issued on 18 August 2010, the report includes separate sections describing progress across the United Nations system and at the United Nations itself.


The General Assembly is requested to take note of the report.


In resolution 60/283, the Assembly had approved the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) for the presentation of the financial statements of the United Nations, in tandem with a United Nations system-wide move to adopt the standards.  As IPSAS-compliant accounting policies are put in place, there is a need to change procedures, workflows and instructions, as well as the control framework that underpins financial accounting and reporting.  The result will be a major organizational change that impacts business processes and general management.  It has been recognized that the vigorous information requirements needed to produce IPSAS-compliant financial statements for the Organization mean a change to a robust, global information system.


The Secretary-General already has submitted two progress reports on the adoption of these standards to the Assembly.  The first progress report (document A/62/806) covered the period from August 2006 to March 2008 while the second report (document A/64/355) covered the period from 1 April 2008 to 31 July 2009.


This report notes that the World Food Programme (WFP), which adopted IPSAS in 2008, is to date the only United Nations system organization to have successfully implemented the standards.  Over the review period, the WFP obtained its second unqualified audit opinion on its IPSAS-compliant financial statements.  All other United Nations system organizations continue to make progress towards implementing the standards.  As more experience was gained regarding the complexities involved in the standards implementation, concerns emerged regarding the readiness of the other United Nations organizations with regard to the 2010 timeline.  As of 31 December 2009, 13 organizations had revised their original timeline and the implementation dates now range from 2010 to 2014.


The United Nations IPSAS Implementation Project Team fully engaged with the Umoja Finance Team in the high-level design of the enterprise resource planning system to ensure that the requirements of IPSAS are incorporated in the “to be processes” of the new system.


With the new accounting standards dependent on a successfully deployed enterprise resource planning system across the system and Umoja’s full availability at the end of 2013, the IPSAS project modified its own timetable and delayed the issuance of the first full set of IPSAS-compliant financial statements to 2014.


One of the biggest challenges faced by the United Nations during the implementation period, which starts with the launch of the first enterprise resource planning pilot in 2011 and its full implementation by the end of 2013, is the production of financial statements based on a single set of accounting standards.


During the biennium 2010-2011, the Organization will continue to prepare financial statements using its current system, the United Nations system accounting standards.  The biennium 2012-2013 will be a difficult transition period as some offices operate under IPSAS policies and others use United Nations system accounting standards.


Financial statements must use the same accounting policies across all offices.  The Accounts Division and the United Nations IPSAS Implementation Project Team will determine, in conjunction with the Umoja Project Team, a process to produce appropriate United Nations system accounting standards-compliant reports for the offices that will have converted to Umoja during the transitional period.  This will be done to support the preparation of United Nations system accounting standards-compliant financial statements up to 31 December 2013.


Regarding peacekeeping operations, the current plan is to produce the first IPSAS-complaint financial statements as of 30 June 2014.


The related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (document A/65/577), issued on 16 November 2010, outlines its observations, concerns and recommendations on the Organization’s shift to international accounting standards.  For example, it shares the Board of Auditors’ concerns with the Organization’s inconsistencies in implementing these international standards.  The Advisory Committee underscores the importance of the work being done by the IPSAS Task Force.  This work will manage the diverse accounting policies emerging among organizations that stem from differences in such aspects as regulatory frameworks, implementation mandates and modalities, and business models.  This will ease the comparison of financial information across the different organizations of the United Nations system.


The Secretary-General had reported that the level of engagement by external auditors in the IPSAS implementation varies widely across the United Nations system (see A/65/308, para. 33).  The Advisory Committee considers it necessary that the respective external auditors of the different entities provide advice and guidance to the IPSAS implementation teams, particularly on complex issues and accounting policies.


The Advisory Committee also reiterates the need to determine, before the planned transition to international accounting standards in 2014, how their adoption will affect the reporting requirements of Member States, as well as on the role and activities of the Board of Auditors and any associated resource implications.  The Secretary-General should also consult with the Audit Operations Committee on this matter.  The Advisory Committee recommends that the Secretary-General be requested to report on this matter in his next IPSAS progress report.


Introduction of Reports


JUN YAMAZAKI, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller, introduced three reports of the Secretary-General:  Status of implementation of the information and communications technology strategy for the United Nations Secretariat (document A/65/491); Second progress report on the enterprise resource planning project and revised estimates under section 28A, Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, of the programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011, and under the support account for peacekeeping operations (document A/65/389); and Third progress report on the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards by the United Nations (document A/65/308).


He said the Deputy-Secretary-General would have liked to introduce the reports because of their significance for the Organization’s work, but could not because she was representing the Secretary-General at the annual meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  She had asked him to deliver the remarks on her behalf.


The goal of the ICT strategy was to maximize the value of ICT across the global Secretariat in order to improve the Organization’s overall effectiveness and efficiency in delivering United Nations’ services to the world.  The main goals of the strategy were to overcome the difficulties attributable to what had become a highly fragmented ICT environment at the Secretariat and build ICT capabilities through the introduction of improved systems, tools and methods.


Since the Assembly’s approval of the ICT strategy in December 2008, the Secretariat had made significant progress in implementing various aspects and the ICT management structure was now fully operational and had been implementing high-impact projects under three strategic programmes:  knowledge management; resource management; and infrastructure management.  The Umoja/ERP project was one that would have long-term positive effect on the Secretariat’s global operations.  But, progress had not been easy since the Office of Information and Communications Technology Office, the entity leading the change, was created on a budget and staff neutral basis, while its mandate had been broadened and the demand for services had increased.  As requested by the Assembly, the Secretariat had completed a comprehensive structural review of ICT capacities across the Organization, which showed the depth and complexity of the ICT operation, he said.


The Secretariat was recommending four projects that needed to be implemented together.  Three projects — globalize service desks, streamline data centres and rationalize ICT organization — were intended to address the fragmentation that had proliferated throughout the Organization.  The fourth project, strengthen OICT, looked ahead to put proper mechanisms in place to prevent future fragmentation with better planning and coordination.  The Organization was facing a unique opportunity and a critical junction on the road to implementing ICT reform.  “Despite the current economic climate, support for these improvement opportunities, that can produce significant qualitative and quantitative benefits for the Organization, is crucial,” he added.  He hoped that Member States would send a strong signal that the Secretariat was moving in the right direction by endorsing all four proposals.


Turning to Umoja, Mr. Yamazaki said this enterprise resource planning project was a unique opportunity to transform how the United Nations delivered its mandate, enabled by best-practice business processes, systemic accountability, superior staff skills and state-of-the-art information and communications technology.  Last December, the Fifth Committee endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommended “Pilot First” approach for Umoja’s implementation.  This meant that the complete Umoja solution would be deployed at a pilot site in 2012, before going live, “wave by wave”, across the Organization.  The progress report before the Committee was an account of Umoja’s progress and challenges in 2010 and little action was requested of Member States, he said.  While the Secretariat was looking for opportunities to reduce cost projections over the project’s life, no dramatic cuts could be made now without substantially altering the plan and approach approved last year.  The overall funding level for Umoja remained unchanged at $315 million over the life of the project.


Turning to the adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), Mr. Yamazaki said some of the key challenges found across the system were:  the need to align IPSAS timetables with enterprise resource planning project timelines; problems in recruiting and retaining project staff; and the lack of formal feedback for external auditors on proposed accounting policies.  The Secretary-General’s report highlighted the numerous initiatives within the United Nations that were addressing these challenges in order to ensure the standards were fully implemented in 2014.  Three other significant developments were:  the very close collaboration with the Umoja project in synchronizing the strategies and timelines of the IPSAS and Umoja projects; the progressive implementation of IPSAS requirements wherever existing systems and accounting standards permitted; and active engagement with the Board of Auditors.


SUSAN MCLURG, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), noted that the enterprise resource planning remained on track to be completed and deployed within its resource requirements and timeline, by the end of 2013.  The ACABQ welcomed progress, but was concerned by the high level of vacancies in the project team and emphasized the need to expedite the filling of positions to minimize any adverse impact on implementing the project.  Efficient and speedy procedures were also needed to select and make subject matter experts available, in accordance with the constraints and timetable of the project.  The ACABQ also recommended approval of a series of proposed changes in project staffing to address gaps in the enterprise resource planning team structure, emphasizing the need to strengthen in-house capacity and transfer knowledge from consultants to programme and project staff, she said.


She noted that the Secretary-General did not present options for lowering the cost of the project as requested by the General Assembly, but had proposed a number of measures for containing the costs of the project.  The ACABQ had been told it was not possible to make significant cuts to costs without substantially altering the implementation plan, yet there were opportunities to partner with other United Nations entities and share costs for the development of common solutions.  “The Committee recommends that the Secretary-General pursue his analysis of the systems that could be replaced by the ERP and to provide a definitive inventory of such systems,” she said.


There was a need to collaborate with other information and communications technology units, and the ACABQ recommended that activities related to the planning of the decommissioning of those systems be coordinated by the Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT).  Greater collaboration with the OICT was also needed as the project moved from the design to build phase.  “The ERP should be viewed as the central Organization-wide system of record and authoritative data source for all key data related to the management of human, financial and physical resources,” she said.  There had been progress in the OICT’s knowledge, resource and infrastructure management to implement the information and communications technology strategy, as well as efforts made towards system-wide harmonization, she said.


The ACABQ also welcomed the comprehensive structural review and the first-ever presentation of an Organization-wide perspective on information and communications technology resources and environment.  Clear job boundaries defining what constituted an information and communications technology activity, determining where those activities should be performed, and the development of a global staffing model were critical to changing the information and communications technology organizational structure.  The Secretary-General should be requested to review the remaining three projects and present alternative implementation approaches in the context of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2012‑2013.  Pending consideration of those proposals and recognizing the need to address the level of fragmentation of the information and communications technology environment, the Committee recommended that the Secretary-General pursue project 1 — globalize service desks — and that he be authorized to proceed with the project activities planned during 2011.


In regard to project 4, the strengthening of the OICT, the Secretary-General should articulate a longer-range process of building up the capacity he considered required for ICT in the Organization.  A more staged approach would ideally involve redeployment of resources released as a result of efficiency gains, rather than only increments in overall staffing levels.  General temporary assistance equivalent to seven P-4 positions should be provided as additional capacity for OICT.  All additional requirements should be provided from within the approved resources for the biennium 2010-2011, and actual expenditures should be reported in the context of the second performance report, she said.


Statements


WALEED AL-SHAHARI ( Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the Group welcomed the more detailed timeline for the enterprise resources planning system, known as Umoja, and its progress toward completion of the design phase.  He urged the Secretary-General’s direct involvement in the project’s execution.  The Group was concerned that only 46 of the 80 positions/posts had been filled by the end of August.  He agreed with the Advisory Committee that it was a serious problem and expected the Secretary-General to fill the vacancies as a matter of urgency.


The Group noted that annual information and communications technology expenditures at the United Nations were $774 million and information and communications technology staff totalled 4,219, including international staff, volunteers and contractual staff.  The Group noted that, in addition to the $316 million required for the implementation of the enterprise resource planning system, the Secretary-General was requesting an additional $140 million for additional information and communications technology initiatives.  The Group was very seriously concerned that many of the Organization’s substantive areas were chronically under-funded, which often led to the lack of implementation of mandates.  It recalled that, in resolution 54/15, the Assembly decided that savings achieved because of efficiency measures should be transferred to the Development Account.


Among other concerns, the Group noted that the Secretary-General had not provided a solid rationale to justify the current placement of the OICT in the structure of the Organization.  The Group wanted additional clarification on the information, provided by OICT to the Advisory Committee, that only structural review projects 3 and 4 were of first priority.


Turing to the IPSAS standards, the Group believed the Organization should use the shift to the standards to overcome some of the existing problems in the current accounting standards.  It was very important that staff be fully trained in the standards before their implementation and the Secretary-General should carry out a comprehensive training strategy.  Recognizing that a timetable for implementation of the IPSAS should be realistic, and synchronized with the introduction of enterprise resource planning, the Group stressed the need for the Secretary-General to make all efforts to ensure that the enterprise resource planning project followed the proposed timetable.


JAN DE PRETER ( Belgium), on behalf of the European Union, said Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, the Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia aligned themselves with his statement.  The implementation of the enterprise resource planning project was an opportunity to improve the work of the Organization and make it more effective and efficient through streamlined information management and business processes.  “The [European Union] believes that sustained and long-term commitment will be vital for Organization-wide acceptance and realization of the benefits of the new system,” he said.


He also welcomed the work being done by the IPSAS Task Force to manage the emerging accounting policy diversity among organizations, which arose from differences in regulatory frameworks, institutional arrangements, implementation mandates and modalities, business models and alternatives allowed by IPSAS standards.  “These important steps will facilitate comparisons of financial information across the different organizations of the United Nations system,” he said.


But, even though the Union welcomed and encouraged efforts to seek further cohesiveness across the United Nations system, it had questions about the details of projects being proposed and also wondered why the proposal by the Secretary-General was being presented in an off-budget year.  A piecemeal approach that substantially increased an already agreed upon programme budget needed to be avoided, and the Union concurred with the ACABQ when it stated that resource requirements for the ICT proposal should be introduced in the context of the programme budgets for 2012-2013 and 2014-2015.


THOMAS GÜRBER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said impressive progress had been achieved during the design phase of the enterprise resource planning system and he trusted it would keep the project on track, as well as within, or even below, envisaged budgets.  “Our delegations encourage the Umoja team to continue to explore ‘cross-cutting’ issues and opportunities for interaction with other efforts to improve the Secretariat’s administrative functions and service delivery.  This would add further to the value of the new solution,” he said.


He remained convinced that modern information and communications technology was key to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of management within the United Nations, but information and communications technology efforts remained fragmented throughout the Organization.  “Too many entities run too many customized applications, resulting in duplications and inefficient use of resources,” he said.  The creation of the OICT was a first step in the right direction, but a lot of work remained to be done.  It was also necessary to find intelligent timing of the four projects, to reduce up-front costs while realizing benefits in the most urgent areas.  The recommendations of ACABQ provided a good starting point for that discussion.  The introduction date of IPSAS had been put off repeatedly and was now 2014.  “We will not accept another postponement of the 2014 deadline,” he said.


TAN FANG QUN ( Singapore) said the structural review that took stock of the information and communications technology capacities across the Organization was useful in identifying where shortcomings lay in the current situation.  Singapore appreciated the Secretary-General’s efforts in proposing solutions to address those problems in a comprehensive manner, but it was important to keep one eye on the long-term strategic needs of the Organization.  Proposals needed to be carefully scrutinized and prioritized to ensure that those delivered the best outcomes were selected and provided the necessary resources.  “As with any changes, there will be resistance to the new systems and uneasiness among staff members on the new processes.  All [United Nations] staff must have the same shared vision, and there must also be active long-term buy-in from all stakeholders,” he said.  Success would hinge on strong leadership to generate support and cooperation from all levels in the Organization.


His delegation also welcomed the report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations adoption of IPSAS as a step towards improving governance, accountability and transparency.  Rigorous accounting standards were essential, and the proposed strategy of progressive incorporation of IPSAS requirements was a balanced and practical approach that could help a smooth transition to IPSAS.  Yet, given that IPSAS adoption was dependent to some degree on progress made towards the implementation of Umoja, it was important to ensure that there continued to be close coordination and alignment of activities between the two projects, so their objectives remained on track.


STEPHEN LIEBERMAN ( United States) welcomed the progress made by the Umoja team and its attempts to lower costs.  “If done right, Umoja will vastly enable improved mandate delivery in Headquarters and in the field,” he said.  As noted by the Advisory Committee, the timely recruitment of staff and subject matter experts was crucial, if Umoja was to deliver on time and within budget.  He noted that the ACABQ stressed that the technical standards for Umoja and OICT had to be aligned and it might also be necessary to review and clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of the enterprise resource planning team, OICT and the Department of Field Support/Information and Communication Division.  The United States agreed with the Advisory Committee’s recommendations.


He called the Secretary-General’s report on the information and communications technology structural review a comprehensive accounting and broad analysis of the Organization’s information and communications technology inventory and its capacity to meet these needs.  He welcomed the Secretariat’s efforts in preparing the informative report.  He noted that the amount spent on infrastructure in the $774 million annual information and communications technology budget was disproportionately higher than solution delivery, and management and administration.  The review also found that the 4,219 information and communications technology staff employed by the Secretariat were working under 173 unofficial jobs titles, which limited organizational transparency.  The United States agreed with the Secretary-General’s view that greater transparency was needed to improve the management of information and communications technology resources.  It agreed with the Advisory Committee’s view that information and communications technology requirements in field missions, particularly communication activities, needed to be taken into account in the information and communications technology strategy.


The United States was committed to ensuring an efficient and effective United Nations information and communications technology programme.  He agreed with the Advisory Committee that the Secretary-General should move deliberately and within existing resources.  The United States propose that, before any project was launched, the OICT should develop a thorough plan of action that included a complete budget, detailed timeline, and meaningful and quantifiable benchmarks for monitoring progress and improvements.


AKIHIRO OKOCHI ( Japan) said necessary steps must be taken to correct the situation in which a lack of coordination within the Secretariat had produced fragmentation of the ICT system, manifested in inconsistent processes, duplication of efforts, disparate technologies and a lack of integration, among other problems.  But, reforms should not be undertaken for their own sake — they should be based on a sound cost-benefit analysis and placed in the context of overall budgetary discussion within the United Nations.  “My delegation wishes, therefore, to remind once again that this is an off-budget year and the General Assembly approval should, in principle, be limited to some prioritized projects of high urgency whose benefits have been fully demonstrated,” he said.


The disposal of staff resources released as a result of efficiency gains was also critical in determining the real benefits which the structural review projects may yield.  In that respect, he said, Japan was not entirely reassured by the Secretariat’s explanation that all those would be redeployed towards high-value information and communications technology functions or other substantive activities within the Secretariat.  “My delegation is, therefore, of the view that the outcome of the review on prioritization and phasing of structural review projects requested by the ACABQ should include a feasible and efficiency-oriented plan to address the disposal of staff resources that can be released as a result of the implementation of those projects,” he said.


KIM YOON SANG (Republic of Korea) said information and communications technology systems could no longer be considered luxury goods or reform measures — they were necessary goods and services that enabled the Secretariat to adapt to ever-evolving environments and prevent it from lagging behind other organizations.  “If we delay investments, we might save a little financially in the short-run, but we would lose much larger efficiency gains in the long-run,” he said.  Strong leadership from the Chief Information Technology Officer would ensure efficient use of resources, and he should increase efforts to coordinate within the Organization.  At the same time, full support and unreserved commitment from everyone within the United Nations was crucial to establish globally integrated, transparent and accountable ICT systems, without adhering to long vested interests.


His delegation would carefully review the Secretary-General’s proposals of four projects to realize improvement, and compare immediate costs with future benefits to ascertain whether required resources for the projects were appropriate.  On implementation of the enterprise resource planning project, he noted considerable progress had been made and welcomed the Secretary General’s initiative that some functions that were outsourced would be executed more effectively by internal staff at a budget savings of $1.7 million.  His delegation would also carefully review the proposed establishment of 10 additional temporary posts, as well as the conversion of 36 general temporary assistance-funded positions into temporary posts.  “There is a saying that goes:  ‘Two men look out through the same bars:  one sees the mud nearby and the other sees the stars far away.”  When discussing the proposed information and communications technology initiatives, a balanced mindset was needed to take into account both financial implications in the short-term and efficiency gains in the long-term.


ALEXANDER A. PANKIN (Russian Federation) said his delegation, like many that had spoken before, attached great importance to the information and communications technology reform within the United Nations.  Information and communications technology had yearly expenditures of more than $832 million and more than 400 workers assigned to it, but, in spite of the scale, the work seemed at a lower level when compared with similar organizations.  It also now appeared that without additional expenditures the United Nations might not be able to achieve expansion in information and communications technology.  The Russian Federation found appeals for further funds for ICT “strange”, since the plan for ICT had been devised to be carried out over a period of years.


He noted with regret that the appeals for further funds were being made in an off-budget year and, thus, undermined the “financial discipline” of the Organization.  The Russian Federation believed it was important to take a careful look at those outlays, which might be based on arbitrary outlooks.  In an organization like the United Nations, where administrative functions took up a large share of its activities, information and communications technology reform should result in a reduction in expenditures.  His delegation intended to work in the most constructive manner with others on the matter and take a detailed look at information and communications technology reform.


In other business, Ms. SANCHEZ-LORENZO (Cuba) drew attention to a problem — the growing use of the words “within existing resources” and similar expressions in the context of negotiations for different resolutions.  Those phrases were being used when discussing drafts put forth by developing countries.  She noted that initiatives put forth by the South were meant to promote cooperation within the Organization and were not very costly.


Cuba reaffirmed the validity of Section VI of Assembly Resolution 45/248 B, which reaffirmed the role of the Fifth Committee in administrative and budgetary matters and the work of ACABQ.  Cuba expressed great concern at the ongoing trend in substantive committees and other intergovernmental bodies to deal with administrative and budgetary questions.  More than once, ACABQ had mentioned the issue and that had been endorsed by the Assembly.


Some delegations were quick to block draft resolutions promoted by the countries of the South by using those phrases.  They were violating the mandates and roles of the substantive committees.  Cuba urged those who were promoting the use of the phrases “within the limits of existing resources” to end the double standards being applied.


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For information media • not an official record