15 March 2012
General Assembly
GA/AB/4025

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

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

29th Meeting (AM)


Budget Committee Takes Up Secretary-General’s Proposals for Better

 

Utilization of United Nations Air Travel Resources

 


Addresses Such Areas as Daily Subsistence Allowance, Frequent Flyer Miles,

With Delegations Stressing Need to Eliminate ‘Egregious’ Examples of Waste


Convening this morning to scrutinize proposals to better utilize resources for official United Nations air travel, delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) agreed that the Organization must do more to avoid “egregious examples of waste” in such areas as the daily subsistence allowance to United Nations staff travelling on official business and the use of frequent flyer miles.


Representatives agreed with the main thrust of the 20 proposals issued by the Secretary-General in his report on more effective utilization of resources for air travel, which was introduced by Warren Sach, Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Management.  Reacting to both the proposals and the existing practices that they were intended to improve, delegations noted that some current policies and practices in the area of air travel were wasteful and even “disturbing”, and welcomed proposed changes.  For example, the report of the Secretary-General recommends the discontinuation of the current policy of paying daily subsistence allowance to staff members travelling on official business even while they were in flight.


In lieu of that practice, the Secretary-General proposed paying daily subsistence allowance beginning at the arrival of an official at his or her destination and ending the last night spent at that location.  He also recommends, among other things, that frequent flyer miles gained as a result of official business not be used for personal travel, and that United Nations officials be encouraged to use such miles on official business travel.  The report also describes a study undertaken to evaluate the feasibility of creating a formal programme for the management of frequent flyer miles for official travel, concluding that such a programme was not cost-effective.


The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report, agreed with the proposal to scale back the payments of daily subsistence allowance, noting that such a simple change could result in a savings of approximately $1.36 million.  Moreover, the ACABQ report, presented this morning by Collen Kelapile, its Chair, stressed that resources for official travel should be used judiciously.  Before air travel was authorized, he said, a full account should be made to determine whether other means of representation and methods of communication could be used instead.


The report of the Advisory Committee also expressed concern over the lack of sufficient detailed information provided in the Secretary-General’s report, and called on him to submit an initial report to the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session of his proposals for cost savings and the impact on worker productivity resulting from prolonged absences from the office while travelling.  The Advisory Committee considered that, given the costs involved, the Secretary-General should be requested to explore other cost-saving options for acquiring air travel services, taking into account the experiences of other organizations.


As delegations took the floor following the presentation of the reports, the representative of the United States said that, overall, the United Nations had an obligation to ensure much more careful and common-sense use of finite travel resources.  He referred, in that regard, to the much-discussed daily subsistence allowance, as well as to the fact that there was an average of three to five changes made for every reservation before a ticket was issued.  Those were just two examples of waste “that cannot be justified and must be changed”, he stressed.


The representative of Japan commended the Secretariat’s efforts to effectively use resources for official United Nations air travel, saying the proposed measures were an important step “in the right direction”.  He welcomed, among other things, the Secretary-General’s proposals to change the conditions under which staff members were allowed to travel business class and said it was important to consider additional steps in that regard.  He also noted the Secretary-General’s extensive study on a formal programme that managed frequent flyer miles for official travel, but asked for further clarification on the feasibility of such a programme.


Statements were also made by representatives of Algeria (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) and the Republic of Korea.


The Committee is expected to reconvene in plenary 3 p.m. Friday, 23 March, to conclude the first resumed part of its sixty-sixth session.


Background


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met today to discuss standards of accommodation for air travel.


Before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on proposals for a more effective and efficient utilization of resources for air travel (document A/66/676).  In that report, the Secretary-General makes recommendations in a number of areas, including the use of frequent flyer miles gained as a result of official travel, the issuing of daily subsistence allowance, authorization for official travel and the mode, date and standard of accommodation.


The related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/66/739) stresses that resources for official travel should be used judiciously, and criticizes the Secretary-General’s report for not containing sufficient data and detailed analysis.  It further calls on him to submit an initial report to the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session of his proposals for cost savings and their impact on worker productivity resulting from prolonged absences from the office while travelling.


Introduction of Reports


WARREN SACH, Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Management, introduced the report of the Secretary-General for a more effective and efficient utilization of resources for air travel (document A/66/676).  The report presented a total of 20 reform recommendations, he said.  The Secretary-General recommended, among other things, that frequent flyer miles gained as a result of official business not be used for personal travel, and that United Nations officials be encouraged to use such miles on official business travel.  He also recommended that arrangements for individuals travelling on behalf of the United Nations be finalized 16 days in advance of travelling and that economy class be established as the standard of accommodation for air travel for consultants and individual contractors.  Additionally, the report noted that it was not cost effective to introduce a formal programme to manage frequent flier miles for official travel.


Continuing, he said that, with regard to the issuing of daily subsistence allowance, the report took note of the current practice of paying allowances beginning while United Nations officials were in flight.  It recommended the discontinuation of such a practice, instead advocating for the paying of daily subsistence allowance beginning at the arrival of an official at his or her destination and ending the last night spent at that location.  The report also listed recommendations in the areas of authorization for official travel and the mode, date and standard of accommodation.  In that respect, the Secretary-General recommended that the standard of accommodation for air travel for each journey be determined independently, and on the basis of flying time of each leg individually, unless travel was resumed or continued on the same day to the final destination.  Other recommendations were also made in areas including travel time on home leave or family visits, and “lump sum” amounts for travel.


COLLEN KELAPILE, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), then introduced the related report of ACABQ, in which it makes overall observations and addresses the individual measures put forth by the Secretary-General (document A/66/739).  He said the report stressed that resources for official travel should be used judiciously and that before it was authorized, a full account should be made to determine whether other means of representation and methods of communication could be used instead.


Due to the insufficient details in the Secretary-General’s report, the Advisory Committee had had to request additional information in order to assess the merits of each measure, he continued.  The Advisory Committee also dealt with other air-travel-related issues.  It noted that the tracking of all air travel costs in the Secretariat was contingent upon the implementation of the Umoja solution, and noted that the Secretary-General had also provided information on the delegation of authority for granting exceptions for first-class travel. The Advisory Committee would examine that issue further in the context of the Secretary-General’s biennial report on the standards of accommodation for air travel, he said.  Finally, on procurement, the Advisory Committee considered that, given the costs involved, the Secretary-General should be requested to explore other cost-saving options for acquiring air travel services, taking into account the experiences of other organizations.


Statements


MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said he would closely examine the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report.  He expressed concern over the late issuance of the related Advisory Committee’s report, saying that hindered the ability of delegations to carefully consider the issues at hand.  There was a need for continued, enhanced accountability in the Organization’s air travel requirements.  Further efforts could be made to harmonize practices across the United Nations system wherever possible.  Policy formulation remained the exclusive domain of the Assembly.


STEPHEN LIEBERMAN (United States) commended the Secretary-General’s leadership in presenting recommendations to spend the United Nations more than $73 million airfare budget more efficiently and encouraged him to implement the measures outlined in the report as soon as possible.  He encouraged the expanded use of technology, such as video conferencing, but recognized that technology could not replace the value added of all face-to-face meetings.  Where travel was required, the United Nations had an obligation to ensure much more careful and common-sense use of finite travel resources.  The Secretary-General’s report brought to light a number of disturbing facts, which demonstrated the need for the Secretariat to update the United Nations standards of accommodation for air travel to more closely align with Member States’ air travel policies.  For example, the report noted that there were, on average, three to five changes per reservation before a ticket was issued, and that daily subsistence allowance was currently payable to officials of the United Nations while in flight.  “These are just two egregious examples of waste that cannot be justified and must be changed,” he said.


Furthermore, the United Nations should immediately clamp down on the costly, wasteful practice of excessive use of business and first-class travel, he said.  That was an easy way to meet the Organization’s travel requirements at a reduced cost.  Member States were also obliged to more responsibly scrutinize practices, such as Member State representatives’ entitlement to an additional 40 per cent above the standard daily subsistence allowance.  He shared the Advisory Committee’s concerns over the lack of transparency on system-wide travel data.  In order to achieve maximum savings, it was necessary to have a comprehensive view of patterns of waste and abuse across the United Nations system.  While encouraged by the assurances that Umoja would be up and running in 2015, he urged the Secretary-General to find ways to track the overall expenditure in the interim.  United Nations personnel and Member States must set an appropriate example, at a time when so many people around the world faced economic hardship.


SUNG-YUON SOHN (Republic of Korea) said that as all Member States were suffering from the ongoing, unprecedented economic crisis, the United Nations must more effectively utilize resources.  He recalled that the Secretary-General had also introduced the spirit of “doing more with less” as part of United Nations reform.  He supported the initiatives towards that end set forth in the Secretary-General’s report on air travel and concurred with the proposals to discontinue the application of the 9-hour rule on consultants, individual contractors and trainees, and the in-flight daily subsistence allowance, and to instruct staff not to use frequent flyer miles accrued from official travel for personal travel, among other suggestions.  Efforts to reduce the Organization’s overall air travel expenses should not seriously hamper staff productivity and morale.  A balanced approach was needed to find a “win-win” solution for both Member States and United Nations staff.  He agreed with the Advisory Committee that, to achieve that, the Secretary-General’s report needed more data on which to base decisions.  More studies were needed on cost savings and the impact on productivity and effective mandate implementation.  He also called for more scrutiny of air travel practices and travel standards of major Member States with different levels of economic development and of other comparable organizations.


HIROSHI ONUMA (Japan) commended the Secretariat’s efforts to effectively use resources for official United Nations air travel, saying the proposed measures were an important step “in the right direction”.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposals to change the conditions under which staff members were allowed to travel business class, and said it was important to consider additional steps in that regard.  He noted the Secretary-General’s extensive study on a formal programme that managed frequent flyer miles for official travel, but asked for further clarification on the feasibility of such a programme.


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