23 October 2012
General Assembly
GA/AB/4045

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

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee

9th Meeting (AM)


As Budget Committee Considers Reports on Pattern of Conferences, Delegates Laud


Cost-Saving Measures, Urge Action to Fill Vacancies at UN Office in Nairobi

 


As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) discussed today the pattern of United Nations meetings and conferences, delegates lauded the Secretariat’s recent steps to release documents on time, use less paper and increase the use of the Organization’s meeting facilities.


They were worried, however, about underuse of the conference centre at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the perennially high vacancy rate for interpreters and translators at the world body’s Nairobi headquarters.


Algeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, was encouraged that the timely release of documents at Headquarters had reached 88 per cent in 2011, but lamented that, at 74 per cent in Geneva, 42 per cent in Vienna and zero in Nairobi, rates were “far from impressive” at the Organization’s other main duty stations.  He supported the proximity rule of assembling the most cost-effective team to service meetings held away from Headquarters — a plan which had saved $1.1 million during the biennium 2010-2011 — and called for more analysis of the flex-time system before implementing it further.


Echoing other speakers concerned with maintaining the range and quality of conference services, Japan’s representative supported the introduction of the PaperSmart concept as long as it did not jeopardize transparency and accountability.  Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, who spoke on behalf of the African Group, criticized the Secretary-General’s relevant report for not providing the solicited information on how the shift to PaperSmart meetings would impact human resources, finances, the proceedings of intergovernmental bodies, and the transfer of costs to Member States.  He was also concerned that the request to provide hard copies of documents to Member States upon demand was not fully met.


Ethiopia’s representative lauded the publicity campaign in Africa and beyond to increase use of the ECA conference centre, but said more efforts were needed to reach the 80 per cent benchmark rate for its use.  Moreover, the centre must be appropriately maintained in the face of competition from the African Union’s new conference complex and other recently opened facilities in Addis Ababa.


Turning to the need for high-quality translation and interpretation standards, the Russian Federation’s delegate praised steps to recruit and train young interpreters and translators from universities to replace retiring staff.  He said reforms of the working methods of the Organization’s language services must focus on improving service quality in all six official languages, and expressed strong concern over the Department’s proposal to replace revisers and proofreaders of language documents with technical computer programmes — a move which could severely reduce quality.


Several delegates were disturbed by the vacancy rates of 35 and 30 per cent for translators and interpreters, respectively, at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, especially since the rate for all regular budget posts at the same station was 3.1 per cent.  Kenya’s delegate dismissed the Secretariat’s argument that security concerns, lack of educational and medical facilities and lowered hardship allowances in Nairobi were a deterrent to attracting staff.  On the contrary, Kenya’s capital was a “choice” destination for international professional personnel, with good schools, a safe environment and excellent health facilities.


Members of the Secretariat presented reports today for the Committee’s debate.  On the pattern of conferences, Jean-Jacques Graisse, Acting Head of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s annual report, and Collen Kelapile, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee’s report.  Carolina Popovici, Chair of the Committee on Conferences, introduced that body’s 2012 report.


Also making statement’s during today’s debate were the representatives of Cuba, Pakistan and the United States.


The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 October, to discuss the United Nations pension system.


Background


As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met to consider the pattern of conferences, it had before it the 2012 report of the Committee on Conferences (document A/67/32), which covers the work of that panel’s sixty-seventh session.  Annex I contains a draft resolution on the pattern of conferences.  Annex II contains the draft revised biennial calendar of conferences and meetings for 2013 of the United Nations and the principal organs of its specialized agencies, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and treaty bodies established under United Nations auspices.


In Chapter II of the report, the Committee recommended that the General Assembly explicitly authorize several United Nations bodies to meet in New York during that session with the understanding that all such meetings be allocated conference services on an “as available” basis and in such way as not to impede the work of the Assembly and its Committees.


The Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences (documents A/67/127 and A/67/127/Corr.1) gives information on progress related to conference management and the Secretariat’s initiatives to improve the quality of conference services.  It notes that in 2011, the overall utilization factor for meetings at all four United Nations duty stations was 85 per cent, the same level as during 2010.  But for the third consecutive year, the factor fell below 80 per cent for the New York-based Committee on Contributions, Commission for Social Development and Statistical Commission, and the Geneva-based Executive Committee of the Programme of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


The Committee on Conferences proposes that starting this year, its Chair write to the presiding officers of intergovernmental bodies based at duty stations other than New York if their utilization factor drops below the 80 per cent benchmark.  It also recommends that the Assembly urge the six agencies whose utilization rate has been below the benchmark for the past decade to take that track record into account when planning future sessions.


The report notes that as the Secretariat’s biennial calendar of conferences and meetings and the calendar of the Economic and Social Council on its meetings in economic, social and related fields are almost identical, the Committee on Contribution’s current practice of reviewing the Secretariat’s calendar in June and the Council’s in September may be redundant.  As such, the Committee on Contributions asks the Assembly to invite the Council to reconsider the need for that review.  Additionally, the Assembly may wish to reduce the number of annual informational meetings required by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management from two to one, while urging Member States to engage the Secretariat in a continuing dialogue on language services, including matters of terminology and usage and other issues of concern to them.


The related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/67/523) weighs in on the above-mentioned reports of the Secretary-General and the Committee on Conferences.  The ACABQ generally concurs, albeit with some notations and elaborations, with the Secretary-General’s recommendations.  It expresses disappointment over the persistent under-utilization of conference-servicing facilities, and expects that a more competitive pricing structure be considered and that the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) formulate and include in the next report on the pattern of conferences a clear, workable marketing strategy for further use of the conference centre.  The ACABQ calls on the Secretary-General to review and amend his relevant bulletins and reports to reflect progress in assembling the most cost-effective teams to service meetings held away from Headquarters, while urging him to look beyond travel costs when seeking further gains from the “proximity rule”, without jeopardizing the quality of services.  ACABQ says proper analysis is needed before further implementing the flex-time system.


On documentation and publications, the Advisory Committee asks the Secretary-General to address the low rate in submitting documents on time and to report on results in the next report on the pattern of conferences, as well as on trends in the past five years in sharing workloads at duty stations and on the personnel, financial and other implications of the PaperSmart model.


On translation and interpretation, the ACABQ trusts that the agreement between the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) and the International Association of Conference Interpreters will enable freelancers to provide translation services from anywhere in the world.  ACABQ also recommends that the Secretary-General give a five-year analysis of productivity trends in issuing documents and that he bolster efforts to address the perennial vacancy situation in Nairobi, while it welcomes efforts to digitally record meetings as a cost-saving efficiency measure.


Introduction of Reports


CAROLINA POPOVICI, Chair, Committee on Conferences, introduced the 2012 report on the body’s work (document A/67/32).  The Committee considered the Secretary-General’s relevant report, which was issued six weeks ahead of the beginning of the Committee’s substantive session and within the 8,500-word limit for reports originating in the Secretariat.  The Committee conducted its substantive session in PaperSmart fashion and all official pre-session and in-session information and reference documents were posted on a dedicated website.  The Secretariat provided laptops on loan and technical support in the meeting rooms, in addition to print-on-demand services as requested.


During a meeting with the Chair of the Committee on Contributions on 28 June, various suggestions for improving the use of conference rooms were discussed.  She said that these included advising the meetings management section before foreseeable cancellations, reducing meeting times based on past patterns, and starting meetings on time.  The Contributions Committee Chair welcomed the suggestions and explained that its work was frequently carried out during informal meetings over late and long hours because of the sensitive nature of the topics.  For its next session in 2013, the Committee tentatively would cancel interpretation service for eight of their meetings during the session’s final week.


Regarding the lack of growth in the use of the Economic Commission for Africa’s conference centre, which remained at 76 per cent in 2011, she said that the Committee recommended that the Secretary-General keep exploring additional ways to use the centre with other partners.  That could include the African Union, as well as encouraging heads of United Nations system entities to use the conference centre.


Turning to Chapter IV and the material on integrated global management, the Committee, she said, appreciated the Secretariat’s efforts to use common performance indicators and single information technology systems (such as gData, gMeets, gDoc and gText) in the four main duty stations.  The Committee repeated its request that the Secretariat include, in its next report, information on the financial savings achieved by implementing integrated global management projects, she said.


Turning next to the documentation and publication issues contained in Chapter V, Ms. Popovici said the Committee had asked the Secretariat to enforce the slotting system more rigorously and urged author departments to meet the goal of 90 per cent submission compliance.  As part of its work to prod the Organization into holding more PaperSmart meetings, the Committee held a videoconference with conference management staff at all four duty stations.  The Committee had asked the Secretariat to expand the PaperSmart concept so it would become a more comprehensive concept using modern technology and better serve Member States.  It had asked the Secretariat to report on the issue at its sixty-eighth session.


Regarding the translation and interpretation matters contained in Chapter VI, she said that the Committee noted the Secretariat’s efforts to replace retiring staff in the language services and the signing of agreements with two universities in Africa and one in Latin America.  It asked the Secretary-General to continue to promoting outreach programmes, such as traineeships and internships, and to use innovative methods to increase awareness of these programmes, she said.  It also repeated its request to the Secretariat to provide adequate, appropriate levels of staff at all duty stations.  An aim would be to ensure appropriate quality control for external translation, considering the principle of equal grade for equal work, she said.


JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE, Acting Head of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences (documents A/67/127 and A/67/127/Corr.1).  He said the report was 7,388 words, below the 8,500-word limit for Secretariat reports.  That was important because the volume of documentation and often late submission of manuscripts for author departments was one of the Department’s greatest challenges.  The lateness of documentation was not due to reduced resources for nightshifts, weekend work and posts in the printing services.


“The cost-saving measures taken by the Department did not create this bottleneck, which was observed during previous sessions before any of the above-mentioned measures had been taken,” he said, adding that “we are seized with the matter, much concerned with it, are working with other stakeholders to alleviate the problem”.  He would welcomed less compressed calendars, more predictable output from their authors and documents that had no more than the prescribed 8,500 words.


The Committee on Conferences had conducted its session in a PaperSmart fashion this year and last year, he said.  PaperSmart was a better, cheaper, faster, more sustainable — and therefore smarter — way to do business.  It would reduce the volume of printing and distribution operations at Headquarters and elsewhere.  Thanks to several new electronic distribution tools, a switch to digital printing and overall demand reduction, the production of parliamentary documents had been reduced significantly in the past three years.


He said that in the first half of 2012, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management printed 32 million page impressions, down from 136 million during the same period in 2009.  An estimated 60 million page impressions would be printed in 2012, less than half of the Secretary-General’s projections for the current biennium, or a reduction of 76 per cent since 2009.  As outlined in the Secretary-General’s budget for the current biennium, the Department was moving from a high volume, large batch and resource-intensive printing operation to a high speed, low volume, small batch and low-cost operation.  The overall aim was greater efficiency and quality gain through technology use.


In the area of translation, in line with Assembly resolution 66/233, the Department had initiated the “gText” project, which streamlined the documentation workflow by maximizing the automation of key processes, he said.  It aimed to increase efficiency and quality of translation and related processes, and to facilitate remote working arrangements.  The project would develop and implement a system that would give internal and contractual translators at all four of the Department’s duty stations complete, uniform Internet-based language tools, as well as seamless access to background information needed for translation.


The Secretariat also was actively exploring multilingual meetings with remote participation — a new approach piloted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) that would make United Nations meetings more accessible and greener, and would allow the Organization to work around physical and cost limitations.  The new meeting format was accepted by interpreters, he added.


As participation in the two annual mandated informational meetings had been low, he welcomed the Committee on Conference’s recommendation to mandate only one meeting instead of two.  The Department for General Assembly and Conference Management needed dedicated resources to continue its outreach and training efforts and to expand and mainstream its training programme.  The Department’s budget had been cut by $42 million for the current biennium and the Secretary-General was committed to achieve additional savings.  That meant that covering some costs within existing resources — including for conference services — could no longer be taken for granted.  The holding of several high-level meetings close to the annual general debate in September required better coordination of scheduling, as called for in Assembly resolution 66/294.  “We are working with all stakeholders to modernize our practices and operations, to adapt them to changing requirements, and yet to maintain the highest possible quality in our services,” he said.


COLLEN KELAPILE, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s report on the pattern of conferences (document A/67/523), which addressed meetings management questions, mainly progress in using conference servicing resources and facilities.  The ACABQ reiterated its concern over the low average utilization rate of conference service facilities and recommended that the Committee on Conferences’ Chair be urged to step up her engagement with the concerned bodies in order to resolve underlying issues.


Regarding integrated global management, he said that the ACABQ highlighted the need to review the relevant Secretary-General’s bulletins in order to delineate and codify the dual responsibility of the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management and the Directors-General of the United Nations offices at Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi in relation to conference management.  Concerning documentation and publications, the ACABQ noted the reported benefits of the PaperSmart method of conducting meetings, based on experience from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).  On translation and interpretation, the ACABQ called for greater efforts to identify and address the root causes of the high vacancy rate for translators and interpreters at the United Nations Office in Nairobi.


Statements


ABDELHAKIM MIHOUBI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended the high quality of the Committee on Conference’s report and welcomed its recommendations.  While the overall utilization rate of conference servicing resources and facilities at the four main duty stations remained at 85 per cent in 2011, the rate at two duty stations decreased last year due to time lost during meetings rather than cancelled meetings.  He called for efforts to address the causes of such underutilization.  The use of the ECA conference centre remained at 70 per cent in 2011 due to competition from other conference providers.


He said that the inauguration this year of the African Union conference centre would increase competition further.  With more innovative marketing, the ECA conference centre’s usage rate could be improved.  When harmonizing work methods, care must be taken to respect the unique aspects of each duty station and language group and to observe the “equal grade for equal work” principle.  Implementation of integrated global management must comply with relevant Assembly resolutions.


He noted that $1.1 million was saved during the biennium 2010-2011 by implementing the proximity rule, and concurred with the ACABQ on the need to develop a terminology that encompassed all factors for servicing meetings outside the four main duty stations, such as the cost of travel and the need for expertise specific to the particular meeting.  The flex-time system required deeper analysis before further implementation.  He was interested in the results of the evaluation of the initiative mandated in Assembly resolution 66/233, on the need to uniformly apply the Organization’s rules and regulations governing human resources.


He said his delegation supported the work of the Inter-departmental Task Force on Documentation in addressing the perennial late issuance of documents.  Author departments should comply with the report format prescribed in Assembly resolutions, in which the Assembly reiterated its request to the Secretary-General to direct all departments to include in their reports a summary of the report, consolidated conclusions, recommendations, proposed actions, relevant background information and actionable parts in bold print.


He was encouraged that the rate of timely submission of slotted pre-season documents at Headquarters had reached 88 per cent in 2011, but regretted that rates were “far from impressive” at the other main duty stations:  with Geneva at 74 per cent, Vienna at 43 per cent, and Nairobi at zero.  The Secretary-General must take steps to ensure author departments met submission targets.  The backlog called attention to the investment authorized by the Assembly in off-set printing since digital printing only did not meet demand.


The Secretary-General’s report contained a “self-congratulation” exercise regarding the PaperSmart initiative, but it did not give details on its personnel, financing and operational indications, as requested by the Assembly last year.  He called for clarification on that matter.  To achieve the highest standards of quality in translation and interpretation, a successful management plan, including outreach to universities worldwide and streamlining the competitive examination, in language services was critical and urgent.


He reiterated concern over the high vacancy rate for interpreters and translators in Nairobi, which stood at 35 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, versus the 3.1 per cent rate for the duty station overall.  The reasons cited for the high rate included perceived insecurity, lack of medical and educational facilities and lack of spousal employment.   But since such factors affected all staff, the Group of 77 sought explanation as to why they were particularly critical to the Nairobi language staff and not across the board, he said.


Accelerated implementation of the Capital Master Plan must not negatively impact the quality and availability of conference services, or the equal treatment and working conditions of language services in all six official languages.  He expressed concern that only 92 per cent of requests for interpretation services for meetings of regional and other major groupings were met in 2011, versus 96 per cent in 2010.


Speaking on behalf of the African Group and aligning with the statement of the Group of 77, BROUZ RALPH COFFI ( Côte d’Ivoire) said the draft resolution submitted by the Committee on Conferences provided a good basis for negotiations.  It would welcome the adoption of the draft revised Calendar of Conferences and Meetings for the United Nations for 2013 and would stress that effective delivery of quality of conference services was critical to the work of intergovernmental bodies and helped the Organization meet its goals.


The Group urged the Secretariat to boost the overall 85 per cent conference use rate and wanted to know what measures were being undertaken to address the underuse of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) conference centre.  Regarding the flex-time system, he reiterated the information contained in paragraph 16 of Section III of Assembly resolution 66/233, which stressed that the rules and regulations governing human resources should be applied uniformly.  The Group believed the timely issuance of documents was very important and welcomed the increased rate at Headquarters, which had reached 88 per cent in 2011, up from 78 per cent in 2010 and 73 per cent in 2009.  Yet, the Organization’s other three duty stations reported low rates:  74 per cent in Geneva; 43 per cent in Vienna; and 0 per cent in Nairobi.


Concerning the concept of PaperSmart meetings, he noted that the Secretariat had not provided the information requested by the Assembly in paragraph 23 of Section IV in resolution 66/233.  Additional details were needed on how that shift would impact human resources, finances, the proceedings of intergovernmental bodies, and the transfer of costs to Member States, he said.  The Group was very concerned that the request to provide hard copies of documents upon demand by Member States was not fully met.


Stressing the importance of achieving the highest standards of translation and interpretation services, he said the “G-77” remained deeply concerned by the slow pace of outreach activities with African universities that trained language professionals.  It welcomed the second Pan-African Conference on the Training of Translators, Conference Interpreters and Public Service Interpreters held in Addis Ababa in May.  Conference participants examined the draft administrative structure and budget of the African universities consortium, which would be in charge of implementing an assistance programme for training translators and interpreters at African universities. “We hope that training of language professionals in Africa would alleviate the problem of high vacancy rates for language professions at UNON and ECA,” he said.


The Group was very disturbed about the current high vacancy rates of 35 and 30 per cent for translators and interpreters, respectively, at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, he said, especially since the rate for all regular budget posts at the same station was 3.1 per cent.  The reasons for those high vacancy rates provided by the Secretariat were not acceptable as they did not apply to all positions.  Finally, he said that the Group stressed that audio recordings of meetings should not substitute for the summary and verbatim records, which were an important part of documentation used by most Member States for intergovernmental decision-making processes.


HIROSHI ONUMA ( Japan) said maintaining the appropriate quality of conference services was essential for proper decision-making by Member States.  Yet these services should be provided in the most efficient and effective manner and the Secretariat should keep seeking cost-effective ways to deliver conference services by introducing new measures.  At the same time, Member States should refrain from adding unnecessary resources when deciding the arrangements for new meetings in Assembly resolutions.


Regarding the PaperSmart concept, Japan gave great importance to the lessons learned during the initiative’s preliminary use at the Rio+20 Conference.  He said his delegation wanted to learn more about those lessons as the information was not available for the Committee on Contribution meeting.  Japan supported the introduction of the PaperSmart concept as long as it did not jeopardize transparency and accountability.  Japan was concerned that it could increase the total cost of documentation and publication as human resources were duplicated.


MACHARIA KAMAU ( Kenya) said his country had always championed strengthening of the United Nations Office at Nairobi.  He pointed to steps in recent years to strengthen it, including creation of a dedicated post of Under-Secretary-General/Director-General and the upgrading of 11 language posts from P-4 to P-5 in the programme budget for 2012-2013.  He was concerned that, notwithstanding such steps, vacancy rates in the language services were 35 per cent for interpreters and 30 per cent for translators.  Careful analysis was needed to rectify that situation, and then Member States must give credible, verifiable information to finally resolve the vacancy problem.  The information provided by the Secretariat — which ascribed the problem to security concerns, lack of educational and health facilities and lowered hardship allowances — was neither technically credible, nor realistic.


Indeed, as host to over 3,500 United Nations employees and 70 bilateral diplomatic missions, and scores of multilateral, regional and international institutions and companies, Nairobi, he said, was a “choice” destination for international professional personnel, with good schools and excellent health facilities.  He challenged anyone to present data that suggested that Nairobi, on a per capita basis, was less secure than other major United Nations commercial capital.


It was an “open secret” in Kenya that many international staff decided to remain in Kenya at the end of a tour of duty rather than return home, he continued, also emphasizing that it had never been officially brought to the Kenyan Government’s attention that security, educational or health facilities in Nairobi were a deterrent to attracting staff.  On the contrary, the reverse had been the case.  He was “shocked and dismayed” that the Secretariat would attribute its failure to recruit staff in Nairobi to that city’s upgrading from category C to B, citing lowered hardship allowances as a credible reason worth noting.   That categorization was set independently by United Nations bodies and meant to reflect the actual situation in a duty station based on established criteria.  “That some staff would like the criteria compromised so as to afford them financial gain is not only unfortunate, but patently unprofessional,” he said.


AMAN HASSEN ( Ethiopia) aligned his intervention with the statements made earlier on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the African Group.  He commended the Secretariat’s efforts, particularly the publicity campaign in Africa and outside the continent, to boost the use of the ECA conference centre.  But more efforts were needed to reach the benchmark rate of 80 per cent as the rate remained at 70 per cent for three consecutive years from 2009 to 2011.


To remain competitive, the Commission’s conference centre had to be appropriately maintained, as the number of conference facilities in Addis Ababa had expanded and the African Union’s conference complex had opened in 2012.  That situation required innovative marketing strategies and ongoing promotional activities.  The management experiences of other United Nations conference centres located in cities with high numbers of competitive facilities also could be utilized, he added.


DAYLENIS MORENO GUERRA ( Cuba) said she hoped for more coherence and consistency in the Secretariat’s information on the current important topic, as conference services were essential to the normal functioning of intergovernmental bodies.  “The objective [is] to facilitate the deliberations of Member States”, she said.  Cuba repeated its firm rejection of the use of United Nation facilities by some States to carry out clearly hostile actions against other Member States.  While stressing that resources for conference services should not be squandered, he said that Cuba was concerned by recent tendencies to exert pressure on certain intergovernmental bodies on the matter.  Some intergovernmental bodies needed time for extensive informal consultations.


Regarding the reduction of reports and documents, Cuba believed an arbitrary decision to drastically reduce the extension of documents, by strictly applying word or page limits, would have serious implications.  It could negatively impact the level of information provided to Member States and the transparency of the Secretariat’s management, which restricts the Assembly’s monitoring capacity, she said. Regarding any decision on the application of the PaperSmart concept, Member States needed detailed information on the budgetary and personal implications.  Cuba reaffirmed its position taken as an observer during the recent session of the Committee on Conferences, and said the technological divide between developed and developing countries had to be considered.  It also wanted information on the investment the Assembly authorized in recent bienniums for offset printing.  While not opposed to digital printing, Cuba believed the Organization should maintain its capacity for offset printing.


MUHAMMAD IRFAN SOOMRO (Pakistan), associating his delegation’s statement with that made earlier on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said efficient management provided the necessary tools by which the Organization worked.  Pakistan was concerned that important bodies based in New York had an average use factor below the 80 per cent benchmark for the past 10 years and he agreed with the ACABQ that that perennial negative trend in conference servicing had to be resolved.  The intended benefits of the Integrate Global Management concept could only be achieved when there was a clear delineation and codification of the responsibilities and accountability of senior managers.


Pakistan believed that regional group meetings were important to the Organization’s work and their requests should be a priority for the provision of conference and interpretation services to the extent possible.  He was seriously concerned with a recent incident in which a regional group was denied the provision of conference services for its meeting and had instead been asked to pay for the services.  Pakistan would seek clarification on the issue from the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Noting that the overall timely submission of documents remained below the targeted compliance rate, Pakistan looked forward to the outcome of ongoing discussions among the duty stations on how to achieve the 90 per cent compliance rate.


DMITRY CHUMAKOV ( Russian Federation) commended the work of the Committee on Conferences, and its objective consideration of conference management.  He supported implementation of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management’s initiative to strengthen controls of conference resource spending, introduction of a conference services system, the proximity rule and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with institutions for translation and interpretation services.  He trusted other Secretariat departments would draw from the experience in Vienna and New York of training young graduates to become interpreters and translators.  He urged the Secretariat to allocate the necessary resources to ensure a smooth handover from older to younger staff in that regard.


The focus must be on increasing the quality of interpretation and translation in all the United Nations official languages and to provide all language services with the same working condition, financing and staffing levels.  He called for bolstered efforts to find solutions to replace retiring interpreters and translators, and for being especially cautious when reforming the working methods of language services.  He was seriously concerned by the Department’s plan to partially and then fully replace revisers and proofreaders of language documents with very limited technical computer programmes.  That could have an extremely negative impact on the quality of documents issued.


He said that his delegation did not object to the proposal to hold one instead of two information meetings on language services annually as long as the meetings took place before the start of session on Committee on Conferences.  Nor was the delegation opposed to implementing other initiatives to slowly move to the PaperSmart system and introduce other measures to increase effectiveness of conference services, as long as they did not reduce the quality and range of such services.  All approaches taken must be as balanced as possible.  The Russian Federation was striving to work with e-documents as much as possible.  He urged others to follow suit.  At the same time, the practice of providing interpreters with written copies of delegates’ statements had changed in the Fifth Committee and other committees.  That was a specific example of an extreme situation, which might impact the quality of conference services.  He called on his colleagues to actively participate in the discussion on those and other issues.


STEPHEN LIEBERMAN ( United States) commended the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management’s efforts to use resources in the best way possible, including through better management of meetings and conference services, or modernizing printing practices.  He noted with interest the efforts by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Legal Subcommittee at the United Nations Office at Vienna to use digital recordings of meetings in the six official languages, as an alternative to printed meeting records.  Such efforts led the United States to strongly support the Secretary-General’s proposal last year to eliminate antiquated summary records.  He looked forward to the Secretary-General’s report on the PaperSmart concept and said it was clear that needs could be served in better ways “without destroying forests”.


He asked the Secretary-General to work with United Nations bodies that underutilized meetings services to attain, and eventually surpass, the 80 per cent benchmark.  He supported the flex-time concept and looked forward to the Secretary-General’s report on its use in Vienna and its implementation at other duty stations.  Regarding Assembly resolution 66/246, of 4 December 2011, on recosting for the 2012-2013 regular budget, he noted that in operative paragraph 24, the Assembly explicitly decided to defer consideration of recosting projections to the first performance report on the budget for the biennium 2012-2013 to ensure the ultimate assessment would be in line with actual expenses.


All delegates had agreed to that language with the understanding that the point of deferral was not a simple delay, but rather to enable the Secretariat to take steps to find savings to minimize and offset any recosting impact, he said.  The Secretary-General had stated that the task at hand was “to do more with better and less”.  The United States had supported the 2012-2013 budget on that explicit understanding.  Should that understanding change, so would its support for certain aspects of the budget agreement.  While the Committee could reopen the issue of conferences and others, such moves to retroactively unravel an agreement would clearly be detrimental to its work.  “We urge colleagues to avoid advancing arbitrary and alternative interpretations of past agreements,” he said.


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For information media • not an official record