22 May 2012
General Assembly
GA/AB/4031

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

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

35th Meeting (PM)


Budget Committee Takes Up $8.77 Million Financing Proposal for Special

 

Political Missions in Syria; Sudan and South Sudan

 


Also Considers Plan for Construction of Criminal Tribunal Residual

Mechanism in Arusha, Board of Auditors Report on Performance Audits


As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) scrutinized the financing requirements for two special political missions today, delegates complained that the backstopping and support arrangements for such missions had to be considered in a more transparent and rational way, as it currently was diminishing the United Nations ability to give the missions the operational support they required.


This year, the Office of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian Crisis and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Sudan and South Sudan would need $8.77 million net to carry out their respective mandates, according to the Secretary-General’s report on the matter, which was introduced by María Eugenia Casar, Assistant Secretary-General and United Nations Controller.  In a related report introduced by its Chair, Collen Kelapile, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) backed that amount.


Syria’s representative expressed hope that the proposed funding for the mission in Syria would be approved across the board, so that the six-point plan introduced by the Joint Special Envoy in mid-March for a military pullback, establishment of temporary ceasefires and political dialogue could be implemented.


Chile’s representative, who spoke on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), expressed concern that the current arrangement for financing the Syria mission and the Organization’s three other special political missions was distorting the regular budget and would, if not addressed, worsen over time.  From an operational perspective, there was no difference between the requirements for special political missions, particularly those with a significant field presence, and peacekeeping operations.  In fact, the Departments of Field Support and Peacekeeping Operations provided support and backstopping to both in a way that was practically indistinguishable.


Mexico’s representative agreed and said that some Secretariat representatives seemed to be unaware of that contradiction when providing support to the missions from the support account or the strategic deployment stocks.  Even in the reports considered by the Committee today and the additional information provided to answer Member States’ questions, the terms “peacekeeping operations” and “field missions” had been used interchangeably to include both peacekeeping operations and special political missions.


Brazil’s representative said a clear distinction between the two types of entities was needed to ensure the missions received the requisite resources to be operationally efficient.  Given the importance of the issues at stake, the Committee should strive to come to a decision on the matter before year’s end. 


Also today, the Committee considered plans to build a new facility in Arusha for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.  Ms. Casar introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the status of the project management plan for the facility.  Mr. Kelapile introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report, which suggested that the Secretary-General find suitable entities to share office space and services with the new facility in order to reduce costs.


The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said his Government was working “around the clock” to provide the necessary support to facilitate the Arusha project and ensure its speedy implementation.


Ms. Casar also introduced the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the Board of Auditor’s report on proposals to clarify and enhance the Board’s role in performance audits as a way to enhance accountability, transparency and cost-effectiveness in the United Nations system.  Mr. Kelapile introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report. 


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 24 April, to consider ways to improve the United Nations financial situation, as well as discuss the United Nations common system, financing of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the 2012-2013 programme budget for special political missions and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.


Background


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this afternoon to discuss the Board of Auditors’ performance audit, the International Residual Mechanism, and the 2012-2013 programme budget for special political missions.


Financial Reports and Audited Financial Statements


LIU YU, Director of External Audit and Chair of the Audit Operation Committee, introduced the Board of Auditors’ report on enhancing accountability, transparency and cost-effectiveness in the United Nations system: proposal to clarify and enhance the role of the Board of Auditors in the conduct of performance audits (document A/66/747 and Corr.1).


He said the Board requested the General Assembly to endorse that, as the independent external auditors of the United Nations and its funds and programmes, the Board had a fundamental role to play in contributing to enhanced accountability, transparency, governance and value for money, through the conduct of performance audits; to amend regulation 7.5 to bring it in line with the current practice of public sector external audit and performance auditing when the Financial Regulation and Rules of the United Nations were next revised; and/or to endorse the Board’s proposals under the existing regulations for streamlining its current long-form reports, and balancing that with more topic-specific audit reports (no more than an additional three such reports within its current resources) based on the Board’s own assessment of the risks to cost-effective delivery and use of resources by United Nations organizations (having first sought the concurrence of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions).


“If the General Assembly were to support the Board’s proposals, the next step for the Board would be to determine a proposed programme of work showing the mix and timing of long-form, topic-specific and short-form reports that would ensue,” he said.  In very broad terms, the issues to be examined in topic-specific reports would be on areas which the Board considered — through its previous work, risk analysis and consultations — offered the greatest scope for improved cost effectiveness and were of the greatest strategic importance to the United Nations and its funds and programmes.  The Board considered that those arrangements could be instituted in 2013.


COLLEN KELAPILE, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s related report (document A/66/806).  He said that as the role of the external auditor was fundamentally different from that of internal audit, the Board’s independent opinions and performance audits continued to make a positive contribution.  While recognizing the limitations that the impact of implementing the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) might have on its capacity to carry out extra performance audits, ACABQ saw merit in an increased role for the Board to conduct such audits.  Since the United Nations Financial Regulations and Rules, as currently formulated, did not cause any notable impediment to the Board’s ability to carry out extra work in that area, there was no need to revise regulation 7.5, as proposed.


The observations and recommendations in the Board’s long-form reports provided important insights in terms of resource and management issues that benefitted the Assembly and other United Nations legislative and/or governing bodies, he said.  ACABQ, therefore, recommended that the Board should continue its current practice of producing both short-form and long-form reports for each entity.  It was not necessary to set up a formal mechanism by which the Board would seek the concurrence of ACABQ to produce topic-specific reports by giving ACABQ its work programme at the beginning on an audit cycle.  Rather, the Advisory Committee’s ongoing dialogue with the Board could include discussions on suitable topic-specific audit reports that may be requested of the Board, in line with regulation 7.7.


International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals


MARÍA EUGENIA CASAR, Assistant Secretary-General and United Nations Controller, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on construction of a new facility for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Arusha branch (document A/66/754).


The present report had been submitted in response to a General Assembly resolution 66/240 of 24 December 2011, which included a decision to appropriate an initial amount of $3 million for the construction, in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, of new facilities, she said.  The report provided the requested information and an update on the progress of the project, including details of a comprehensive project management plan, programmatic and functional requirements, a conceptual design and milestones from design to construction to occupation.  The project had begun in January 2012 and was expected to take about five years to complete, concluding with occupancy in 2017.  The report outlined key project milestones, including the recruitment of a project manager, identification of a site, the hiring of a design consultancy firm, planning and design activities and the hiring of a contracting firm.


Mr. KELAPILE, taking the floor a second time, introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/66/807).  Noting that the minimum amount of land required for the new facility was approximately 5 acres, he asked the Secretary-General to further engage with other suitable entities in Arusha to explore the possibility of co-locating, in order to share common services and/or space.  As the mechanism should be a small, temporary and efficient structure, whose function and size would diminish over time, ACABQ further recommended that the Secretary-General give comparative cost information for a temporary and a permanent structure as part of his report to the second part of the Assembly’s resumed sixty-seventh session.  A total of 90 staff had been used to estimate the space requirements for planning purposes.  Noting that the Assembly, in its resolution 66/240, approved 44 posts for the continuous functions of the Arusha branch of the Mechanism, he urged the Secretary-General to ensure that the new facility’s final space requirements reflect the number of staff needed to perform the Mechanism’s functions.


There was a risk that the proposed project schedule would not be adhered to, based on progress to date regarding the selection of the site, he said.  Moreover, several fundamental issues relating to the use of the future facility were unresolved.  The Secretary-General’s next report should contain more detailed information on the key decision points concerning the project’s conceptual design, as well as project plan and cost estimates.


JUSTIN KISOKA (United Republic of Tanzania) said his Government was committed to provide the necessary support to facilitate the project.  It was working closely and “around the clock” to ensure such an important project was delivered in a timely way.   The Secretariat, particularly the office responsible for the project, could and should work to expedite the project, which was taking longer than others to implement.  He said he would ask for specific information in that regard during the informal session.


Programme Budget for 2012-2013


Ms. CASAR introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the estimates in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the General Assembly and/or the Security Council (document A/66/354/Add.7), which concerns the Office of the Joint United Nations–League of Arab States Special Envoy for Syria, as well as the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Sudan and South Sudan.


She said that the estimated requirements for the Syrian operation for 10 months ending in December 2012 amounted to $7.49 million net ($7.93 million gross) and included $3 million in personnel costs for 18 staffing positions and $4.5 million in operational expenses.  For the Sudan and South Sudan mission, the resource requirements were estimated at $1.28 million net ($1.39 million gross), breaking down to $1 million in personnel costs for seven positions and $300,000 in operational expenses.  In total, the two missions would cost $8.77 million net ($9.32 million gross).  The General Assembly was requested to approve those budget proposals and to approve charging the equivalent amount against the provision for special political missions for the 2012-2013 period.


Mr. KELAPILE introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/66/7/Add.24) on the two special political missions.


He said that, on the proposed resource requirements for 2012 for the Syrian mission, the Advisory Committee recommended approval of the proposed budget of $7.49 million net for 10 months ending 31 December 2012 and approval of that amount to be charged against the provision for special political missions for 2012-2013.  ACABQ noted that initial resource requirements had been funded through the unforeseen and extraordinary expenditures mechanism of the Secretary-General, which was intended as a bridging scheme.  The Secretary-General had indicated that the primary task of the Joint Special Envoy was to provide good offices in search for a solution to the Syrian crisis.  The Office would be located within the United Nations Office at Geneva.


The Advisory Committee also recommended approval of the budget for the Sudan and South Sudan mission for 2012 in the amount of $1.28 million net and approval of that amount to be charged against the provision for special political missions for 2012-2013.  While ACABQ did not object to the Secretary-General’s proposal to locate the Special Envoy in New York, it was of the view that locating him in the region would bring him in closer contact with the parties and could possibly generate savings under operational costs.  The Advisory Committee thus recommended that the location of the Special Envoy be kept under review.


Mr. CABEZAS (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said it was clear that, from an operational perspective, the current arrangements for special political missions were far from optimal.  CELAC was particularly concerned about how the financing of such missions was distorting the regular budget.  Unless properly addressed, the problem would worsen over time.  Recent exchanges with the Secretariat had made clear that both the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations provided support and backstopping to peacekeeping operations and special political missions in a way that was practically indistinguishable.  That situation confirmed CELAC’s previously stated view that special political missions, particularly those with a field presence, were very closely related to peacekeeping operations.  However, that reality was not reflected in the current legislative arrangements.  CELAC would consider in a positive, constructive manner the budgets of the four special political missions on their own merit, but the underlying situation must be addressed.


ERIKA MARTÍNEZ LIEVANO (Mexico) said there was a fundamental contradiction that could not be ignored.  It was evident that, from an operational perspective, there was no difference in requirements between special political missions — particularly those with significant presence in the field — and peacekeeping operations.  Until now, it was obvious that those two types of activities had not been clearly differentiated.  That reflected the dilemma faced by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support, as they risked violating existing legislative provisions in order to fulfil their responsibility to provide support to missions with a field presence, as mandated mainly by the Security Council.


Some Secretariat representatives that had interacted with the Fifth Committee in recent informal consultations seemed not to be even aware of that contradiction, nor of the absence of mandates by the General Assembly, when support was provided to special political missions with resources from the support account or from the strategic deployment stocks, she said.  Even in the reports under consideration by the Assembly, and in additional information provided to answer some questions posed by Member States, the term “peacekeeping operations” or “field missions” had been used to refer to both peacekeeping operations and special political missions.  The Secretariat did its best to fully comply with contradictory mandates given by different organs.  Nevertheless, Member States had been unable to cope with the circumstance and find a solution that might effectively allow the Secretariat to provide, with all transparency and legality, the operational support needed for those important missions.


It was clear that the Committee had to address issues related to special political missions in practically all of its sessions, which indicated that their cycles were completely different from the regular budget’s biannual cycle, she noted.  Mexico, which had agreed to postpone discussion on the issue in the understanding that the topic would be fully and adequately addressed during the upcoming main session of the General Assembly, would be ready to present its suggestions on the matter at that time.


ISMAIL BASSEL AYZOUKI (Syria) lauded the mission of the Joint Special Envoy to Syria.  Since the crisis threatened territorial integrity and stability, it was a threat to the State, with regional and global implications, and it must end.  The Syrian Government had taken a series of measures to honour its obligations under the six-point plan, keeping the Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, informed of steps taken.  He expressed hope that Mr. Annan would take a holistic approach to ensure its success.  He stressed the Syrian Government’s official commitment to that end.  In addition, Mr. Annan must make contact with regional Arab partners to ensure their support for Council resolution 2043 (2012), as well as to ensure that they refrained from taking any action that would result the Mission’s failure.  People could not claim that Syrians were suffering at the hands of their Government, while those same people closed their eyes to the 23 million other Syrians targeted by illegal sanctions.  He reiterated his Government’s commitment to the Joint Special Envoy’s plans and to continue to work with him.  He hoped that the budget was approved across the board, so that the plan could be implemented.


JOÃO AUGUSTO COSTA VARGAS (Brazil) called for a clear distinction between peacekeeping operations and special political missions, in order to achieve transparency and ensure those missions has the necessary budgets to address concrete operational challenges in the field.  The limitations in backstopping arrangements for special political missions must be addressed, and the current arrangements for funding the missions must be considered in a more transparent, rational way.  Special political missions would achieve more if they were given the necessary resources and mechanisms to improve operational effectiveness.  As mandates and the safety of United Nations personnel became increasingly complex, it was crucial to implement relevant Assembly resolutions.  The transition from a peacekeeping mission to a special political mission also deserved attention, he said, noting that during that process, several essential support mechanisms could be closed immediately, even though challenges on the ground remained.  Given the importance of the issues at stake, the Committee should strive to make a decision on the matter before year’s end. 


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