5 March 2012
General Assembly
GA/AB/4022

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

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

26th Meeting (AM)


Fifth Committee, Opening Resumed Session, Takes Up Assessment Scale, Capital


Master Plan, Office of Internal Oversight Services, Joint Inspection Unit

 


Proposals to change the methodology to determine the scale of Member States’ assessments to the United Nations, concerns over the delay in implementing the Capital Master Plan and whether to make public reports of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) dominated the discussions of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today, as it opened its resumed session.


Several delegates also stressed the need to adhere to strict budgetary discipline and to continue consolidating and restructuring the Organization’s programme budget in order to ensure resources in every department were used effectively and efficiently.


Recalling the deadlock in the Committee last December over whether and how to change the scale of assessments, the European Union’s representative said it was crucial to create a more equitable system of financing the Organization according to Member States’ actual capacity to pay.  He repeated the European Union’s call that the Committee set up, without delay, a high-level group of eminent persons to review the matter.


Turkey’s representative supported the capacity-to-pay principle and said his country was ready to pay more to the United Nations, in line with its burgeoning economic power.  But he was not convinced that it was necessary to set up such a review group.


The representatives of both the European Union and Turkey joined other delegates in expressing dismay over the delays and subsequent cost overruns of the ambitious renovation of United Nations Headquarters in New York, known as the Capital Master Plan.  Chile’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, urged the Secretariat to do everything possible to adhere to the original budget and deadline.  The European Union’s delegate was more forceful, saying “let us be clear: the member States of the European Union are not in a position to accept new assessments on Member States”.


Delegates also argued over the proposal outlined in an OIOS report introduced today by Carman Lapointe, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, on disseminating and distributing internal audit reports to the general public.


Algeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, regretted that paragraph 12 of Assembly resolution 64/263, which stated that the reports should be made available only to Member States upon request, had not been respected.


The representative of the United States, however, said that, as Governments around the world were setting a new standard for accountability and transparency over the inner workings of public institutions, the United Nations must lead by example.  “Who among us could tell the journalists or researchers, for example, in our home countries that we in New York have the right to read these documents, but they do not?” he asked.


Opening up internal audit books to the public would show the United Nations was a mature, confident and competent organization, ready and able to identify and correct its own shortcomings, he said.  It would also improve the quality of audits, as managers took on a greater sense of ownership and impetus to effect change.


Also today, delegates scrutinized the 2011 report and 2012 programme of work of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) — the Organization’s sole independent external oversight body mandated to conduct evaluations, inspections and investigations system wide.  The reports were introduced today by JIU Chair Mohamed Mounir Zahran.


Algeria’s representative, speaking again on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, lauded the fact that 8 of JIU’s 11 recent reports and one note addressed to its participating organizations were of a system-wide nature.  That would help promote greater coordination among the United Nations organizations.  He implored all legislative organs of participating organizations to fully consider the JIU reports and their secretariat entities to fully implement the accepted recommendations.  He also lauded JIU’s development of a web-based tracking system to follow up on implementation of its recommendations.


Phyllis Lee, Secretary of the High-level Committee on Programmes, United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced the Secretary-General’s note on JIU’s 2011 report.


Also speaking today were the representatives of Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand), Japan, Peru, Russian Federation and Israel.


The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 March, to discuss the conditions of service of judges and enterprise resource planning.


Background


The Fifth Committee met today to begin the first part of its resumed sixty-sixth session and to discuss its organization of work and reports concerning the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) and activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).


The Committee had before it the report of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2011 and programme of work for 2012 (document A/66/34), whose five annexes contain JIU’s revised strategic framework for 2010-2019, its composition, its work plan for 2011 and its consideration of system-wide reports issued between 2008 and 2010 by legislative bodies, as well as a list of contributing organizations and their percentage share in JIU’s 2012 costs.


Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s note on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2011 (document A/66/684).


In its report on the proposal on the dissemination and distribution of audit reports (document A/66/674), OIOS asks the General Assembly to take note of that document and to endorse the proposal to make the internal audit reports available on the OIOS publicly accessible website.  OIOS states that the steps outlined in the report would enhance transparency and encourage more timely responses to critical and important issues.


Statements


MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the need to thoroughly consider the proposed programme of work and to allocate adequate time to each agenda item.  The Group would carefully examine such important items as the Capital Master Plan, accountability and the various reports of JIU and OIOS.  He expressed concern over the status of documentation for the session, noting that important reports had been issued late, while some had yet to be issued.  The Secretariat’s failure to present those reports in accordance with the Assembly’s rules of procedure often forced Member States and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) to work under time constraints.  That seriously affected the quality of deliberations.  He strongly urged the Secretariat to rectify that recurring problem and he called on it, and ACABQ, to ensure that the remaining reports for the current session would be issued soon and the reports for future sessions would be available six weeks prior to the start of each session.


OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), stressed the importance of several issues concerning the programme budget for 2012-2013: the Capital Master Plan; conditions of service; judges; safety and security; programme criticality; and standards of accommodation for air travel.  He expressed deep concern over the anticipated delays in meeting the deadlines set for the Capital Master Plan and said such delays could be the basis for requesting more resources for the megaproject, which had already required a major financial effort from all Member States.  He urged the Secretariat to do everything possible to adhere to the budget and deadlines approved in the initial resolution on the Plan, in order to avoid rescheduling or extending time and/or resources to complete it.  The cultural and historical heritage of the Organization’s membership should be reflected equally in the Plan, he said, citing the Rio Group’s request that a space be identified for the region in the public areas of Headquarters.  He would begin studying the feasibility of that request.


He urged the Secretariat to ensure that resources approved for standards of accommodation for air travel were used as efficiently as possible, avoiding unnecessary expenditures and promoting efficiencies.  Also, he would consider options to provide adequate financing to fund unforeseen and extraordinary expenses arising from the Human Rights Council’s decisions and resolutions, taking into account the proposals contained in all relevant reports presented to the Committee, including those issued by ACABQ.


THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the Delegation of the European Union, said the programme budget for 2012-2013 illustrated that the United Nations was more relevant and needed than ever, while acknowledging the pressure and increasing constraints that currently affected national budgets.   The much needed consolidation and restructuring of the programme budget must be taken forward in 2012 to ensure the Organization’s resources were used in the most effective, efficient way and that strict budgetary discipline was applied.  He urged the Secretariat to keep its business methods in every department and programme under constant review and to apply business plans, in order to closely scrutinize recurring expenses.  He supported the need to more effectively deliver mandates through innovation and change management, and fully endorsed the Secretary-General’s five-year action agenda towards that end, which had been presented to the Assembly on 25 January.  He fully supported the goals of the Change Management Team to achieve a modern, engaged, efficient Secretariat that was transparent and accountable.


As more equitable financing of the United Nations according to Member States’ actual capacity to pay was crucial, securing a sustainable financing architecture should be a top priority of all Member States, he said.  He recalled that to bridge last December’s deadlock in the Committee on proposals to review the methodology for the scale of assessments in line with resolution 64/248, the European Union had proposed language to establish a high-level group of eminent persons to review the matter.  Such a process would safeguard the Committee’s competences and prerogatives.  He repeated his call that the Committee agree to the working group without delay, stressing that “the status quo is not an option”.


He acknowledged progress in renovating the Headquarters in line with the Capital Master Plan, but expressed concern over the Plan’s timing, budget and governance.  “Let us be clear: the member States of the European Union are not in a position to accept new assessments on Member States,” he said, expressing confidence that the Plan’s associated costs could and would be absorbed within the budget approved.  He supported efforts to create an effective accountability system.  The European Union would also focus on other important issues, such as striking the right balance between effective delivery and efficient use of resources for standards of accommodation for air travel and how to ensure adequate, timely funding for decisions of the Human Rights Council.


PHILIPPA JANE KING(Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, said she had always taken a pragmatic approach to negotiations in the Committee and would continue to work constructively with all delegations to reach outcomes that maintained fiscal discipline during the current uncertain economic environment, ensured the effective delivery of agreed mandates and promoted the important reforms announced by the Secretary-General.  An effective, highly professional and operationally independent internal oversight function at the United Nations was very important.  She looked forward to positive consideration of the proposal by the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services to make OIOS audit reports public, subject to certain safeguards.  Such an action would be consistent with her support for measures to promote transparency and accountability in the Organization and increase public confidence in it. She stressed the importance of the Capital Master Plan and remained concerned about its progress, adding that its efficient implementation within the allocated budget was very important.


AKIHIRO OKOCHI (Japan) expressed confidence that the Committee could and would finish its session by the 23 March deadline, provided all delegates made a serious effort to show flexibility during the discussions.  The current session was an opportune time for fostering a culture of mutual trust, because most of the agenda items on it were systemic issues, ranging from limited budgetary discretion to accountability and air travel.  He was encouraged by the positive feedback from some Member States regarding Japan’s proposal to allow Members of the Group of 77, Japan and other nations to sit side by side.  As the initiative of the Assembly President was still under way, leading up to a retreat in April, Japan would not ask for the proposal’s immediate implementation.  Still, given the increasing dynamism and diversity occurring in the world, existing practices should not be taken for granted.  In the Committee’s discussions, any efforts to reflect the reality of the world, however trivial they might appear, should not be spared.


ERTUĞRUL APAKAN (Turkey) stressed the need to improve and streamline the Committee’s internal working methods, avoid micromanagement and focus on strategic issues conducive to effective decision-making.  Reducing the number of requests for additional documents would be helpful, as would the avoidance of lengthy debates on topics already covered in other main committees.  He supported the Secretariat’s efforts to ensure timely issuance and distribution of documents.  He strongly supported the Secretary-General’s five-year action agenda and his effort to improve the Secretariat’s working environment, as well as the work of his Change Management Team.  It was necessary to strengthen accountability within the Secretariat by promoting a culture of institutional and personal accountability.  Enterprise risk management and internal control frameworks were also essential tools.  He expressed hope that all those initiatives, including results-based management, were fully harmonized and integrated. 


Turning to the scale of assessments, he said Turkey was contributing at a fair rate in line with the regular scale methodology.  The evolving economic strength of countries should be appropriately reflected in the scale of assessment process in line with the capacity-to-pay principle.  “In this respect, we are ready to assume further commitments in line with our economic dynamics,” he said.  The proposal to create an ad hoc intergovernmental group to facilitate Member States’ efforts to reach a common understanding on the scale of assessments methodology needed further examination.  At present, Turkey was not entirely convinced of the need to create such a body.  He lauded the important progress on the Capital Master Plan, and expressed hope that during the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session, a more accurate projection of the Plan’s overall budgetary requirements, including associated cost, would be put forth.


MARITA PUERTAS(Peru) said the timely delivery of reports to the Committee during the session was essential.  The Committee’s programme of work presented today was of great importance.  The programme budget for 2012-2013 must consider unforeseen and extraordinary decisions made by the Human Rights Council, as there was a problem with financing those resolutions and decisions.  For that reason, the Committee must ensure financial resources were allocated for implementing those decisions.  Peru would continue to participate constructively in the Committee’s deliberations during the resumed session.


JOSEPH TORSELLA (United States) stressed the need to be vigilant and realize the gains made in December towards a more responsible budget for the 2012-2013 period.  He called for structural and sustainable management reforms in 2012, building on the foundations established in December.  The current session was an opportunity to advance key parts of a reform agenda to strengthen the United Nations, move it forward and enhance confidence and trust in it.  Apart from the specific reform issues on the Committee’s agenda, the Committee must also continue to make clear to the Secretariat the importance of keeping the Headquarters’ renovation in line with its set schedule and budget.  He was carefully considering the Secretary-General’s proposal on extra financing sources for the project and looked forward to discussing it in the context of updated information on the project status as well as to an update on the feasibility study for the Headquarters’ long-term accommodation and the options being pursued.  The Organization must develop more detailed information on all alternatives and on underlying needs, so the Committee could make an informed decision.  He encouraged the Secretariat to move forward with the discussions necessary to give a full cost-benefit analysis of all the various options, without prejudice to any Assembly decision on the matter.


He supported the ACABQ recommendation regarding unforeseen and extraordinary expenses arising from Human Rights Council resolutions and decisions.  He was dismayed over the lack of implementation of resolution 66/246 and the Assembly’s directives on advancing the enterprise resource planning project.  He expressed concern over project delays and expressed hope that the appointment of an interim director would bring the project back on track.  He regretted that JIU had failed to propose the kind of bold, far-reaching reforms that would make it more influential and effective in promoting results and accountability at United Nations organizations.


Introduction of Reports


MOHAMED MOUNIR ZAHRAN, Chair of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), introduced that body’s annual report for 2011 and programme of work for 2012 (document A/66/34).  He said the reforms JIU initiated in 2003 focused on the relevance of JIU reports, follow-up to recommendations, working methods, staff professionalism and JIU’s composition.  He noted progress in all areas not requiring further resolutions by Member States, such as that concerning JIU’s composition.  Progress had been made in the remaining four areas through internal management changes in the Secretariat and enhanced quality assurance measures formalized within the revised JIU internal working procedures, adopted in early 2011, with a view to ensuring increased performance, efficiency and effectiveness in delivery its mandate.  An internal review of established JIU evaluation practices and methods confirmed they were well in accordance with the norms and standards of the United Nations Evaluation Group.


In 2011, JIU had completed 11 reports and one note, bringing the total number of outputs for the biennium to 23, he said.  It had also devoted significant human and financial resources to develop a web-based tracking system to follow up on implementation of recommendations among its participating organizations.  That system would become operational in mid-2012, and targeted training and briefing sessions would be set up to teach the focal points of participating organizations and Member States to use it.  JIU had invested in revamping its website and digitizing its archives, so that all JIU products would be made available online to the public by year’s end.


In 2011, JIU had introduced a pilot approach for defining the programme of work for 2012 and 2013 to reduce the workload of its secretariat and of participating organizations, he said.  Such changes would enhance the planning of resources approved for the biennium; the preliminary list for the 2013 programme of work would be revisited in December 2012.  JIU had also hosted two meetings in Geneva on the “Delivering as One” evaluation and provided one inspector as a member of the Deputy Secretary-General’s reference group on system-wide evaluation.  He lauded the outcome of the review on system-wide evaluation carried out by independent external consultants.  The report had a key recommendation — provide JIU with the opportunity to show its capacity to coordinate system-wide evaluation — and he expected that that would become a central part of discussions on how to progress on JIU reform and on implementing the consultants report to be submitted later in the year.


PHYLLIS LEE, Secretary of the High-level Committee on Programmes, United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced the Secretary-General’s note on JIU’s 2011 report (document A/66/684).  She said that, of the 11 reports and one note completed by JIU, eight reports and the note were of a system-wide nature and the CEB secretariat had coordinated input for them.  One report concerned several organizations and two were “single organization” reviews.  For each report, the CEB secretariat had collected and collated responses from agencies, and then prepared a Secretary-General’s note that synthesized those comments.  The already close collaboration between JIU and CEB had intensified as a result of JIU’s increased study of issues that had a system-wide impact.  For completed reports, the CEB Secretariat had continued its efforts to more quickly produce its companion notes of the Secretary-General to system-wide JIU reports.


The subject of closer coordination between CEB member organizations and JIU continued to be a priority, she said.  The CEB secretariat encouraged member organizations to ensure a good information flow between each organization and JIU, as well as to coordinate action on JIU’s recommendations and programme of work.  It was increasingly common for the CEB secretariat to work closely with JIU inspectors during the preparation of draft reports, a process that contributed to a more comprehensive and agreed-upon outcome.  The Secretary-General would continue to pursue a closer working relationship with JIU and examine further methods to enhance cooperation, particularly in light of possible measures to strengthen the CEB secretariat.  CEB would be guided by the Committee’s advice on that matter.


Statements


Mr. BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, noted JIU’s progress in carrying out its 2011 work programme and said he was encouraged that 8 of the 11 reports and the note addressed to its participating organization were of a system-wide nature.  That would help promote greater coordination among the United Nations organizations.  The legislative organs of all participating organizations should fully consider and discuss JIU reports and their secretariat entities should fully implement the accepted recommendations.  He lauded JIU’s development of a web-based recommendation tracking system.  He lauded those participating organizations for bolstering their contributions and called on the rest to follow suit expeditiously.


He noted with concern, however, that JIU was unable to meet all the expected accomplishments for the medium-term of its strategic framework for 2010‑2019 due to the lack of necessary budgetary resources, except for the web-based follow-up system.  He asked for clarification on the strategic framework, which had been approved by the Assembly and aimed to enhance the accountability of the managers of participating organizations.  He noted with interest JIU’s 2012 work programme, which included 12 new projects, and its commitment to address the backlog of ongoing projects.  He lauded JIU’s decision to establish a preliminary list of topics for 2013 and trusted that move would facilitate the planning of resources approved for the biennium.  He was encouraged by the sharing of information and best practices among JIU and other oversight bodies.  He regretted instances in which Member States had not abided by Assembly resolutions on the issuance of visas for the official travel of some inspectors and JIU secretariat staff.  He urged all Member States to facilitate that travel and refrain from interfering in JIU’s affairs.


VLADIMIR N. PROKHOROV (Russian Federation) stressed the importance of improving JIU’s activities.  He noted progress towards that end and welcomed greater interaction between JIU and other oversight bodies, including the Board of Auditors.  That would also avoid any possible duplication of work and lead to the reduction of expenditures.  Any changes to the method of recruiting JIU inspectors must be agreed upon with Member States.  Such changes must not limit in any way the role of Member States in proposing candidates for JIU, in line with its statute.


Responding to those interventions, Mr. ZAHRAN said JIU had to abide by its statute.  It had the responsibility of improving its work, which it had and would continue to do.  The selection of inspectors was the prerogative of Member States.  The most important thing was to introduce the best qualified candidates, in accordance with the statute, in order to strengthen JIU.  JIU’s composition today reflected a high standard.


Introduction of Reports


CARMAN LAPOINTE, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced the OIOS report on the proposal on the dissemination and distribution of audit reports (document A/66/674), which set forth parameters and methods for making internal audit reports available to the general public.  OIOS had taken due care to provide measures meant to safeguard the sensitivity and confidentiality of information, guided by Assembly resolutions 59/272 as well as the Secretary-General’s bulletins on Staff Rules and Regulations (document ST/SGB/2011/1) and on Information Sensitivity, Classification and Handling (document ST/SGB/2007/6).  OIOS had consulted management, particularly the Department of Management, the Office of Legal Affairs and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee, and had carefully and appropriately considered their advice and comments when finalizing the present report.


The publication of audit reports would enhance transparency and accountability in the United Nations operations, she said.  Internal audit reports also drew attention to operational strengths, which would have a positive impact on public opinion and improve public awareness of the Organization’s commitments and actions to address deficiencies in a responsible, timely way.  She called on the Assembly to endorse the proposal.


Statements


Mr. BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, reiterated his support for OIOS’ operational independence within the context of Assembly resolution 48/218B and reaffirmed the separate and distinct roles of internal and external oversight mechanisms.  To that end, he encouraged continued regular coordination and consultations among OIOS, the Board of Auditors and JIU.  He regretted that paragraph 12 of Assembly resolution 64/263, which stated that OIOS reports were made available upon request only to Member States, had not been respected.  He took note of issues outlined in the report and said he would seek specific clarification on a number of issues, including definitions of terms as well as how the proposal fit into the agreed mandates related to OIOS and oversight in the Organization.


Mr. TORSELLA (United States) said the United Nations was at a critical juncture in how it responded to transparency.  Many Governments had set a new standard for public openness and had shed light on the inner workings of public institutions, while others had made national pledges to join them.  “When people around the world are demanding greater accountability and transparency, the United Nations should lead, not lag, in these efforts,” he said.  It should be held to the same standard and the Committee should support the Organization’s efforts in that direction.  The United Nations was accountable to its Member States, as well as to the public.  “Who among us could tell the journalists or researchers, for example, in our home countries that we in New York have the right to read these documents, but they do not?” he asked.  Audits would, on occasion, make public some uncomfortable facts.  They would also become public as long as human nature was curious.


The difference, he said, was whether they would be made public in a way that suggested the United Nations had something to hide or in a way that said the United Nations was a mature, confident and competent organization, ready and able to identify and correct its own shortcomings.  Such transparency would, in fact, improve the quality of audits.  Official publication of audits would give managers a greater sense of ownership and impetus to effect change, and citizens would be able to read both audit findings and management responses.  He called for great deference to Ms. Lapointe, a well-regarded and accomplished auditor of international standing, who believed that the step to make audits public would make her Office and the Organization function better.


ISI YANOUKA (Israel) stressed the importance of the work of the United Nations internal oversight services, saying that in many respects the work of OIOS was the most difficult, but least rewarding, job.  He appreciated the intention to upload and make public the audit reports on the OIOS website.  That move would further serve to improve public opinion of the Organization.  Citing Israel’s Supreme Court, he said controlled exposure was a means to ensure good governance.  Good governance was defined by the existence of criticism.  For that criticism to be effective, findings must be subject to public inspection and public scrutiny.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record