21 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/AB/4078

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

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

9th Meeting (AM)


Concern over Unequal Geographical Representation, Contract Terms

 

Aired as Budget Committee Discusses Human Resources Management

 


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today discussed a wide range of hiring and workplace practices — from recruitment to ethics to consultants — as it considered nearly a dozen reports meant to monitor the management of tens of thousands of the Organization’s employees around the globe.


These detailed documents — introduced by officials from the Secretariat, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) — help the Committee gauge the Secretariat’s progress on numerous human resources management reforms.


Delegates voiced their long-standing concerns about the unequal geographical representation among the workforce, particularly in senior management posts, and the need to cast a wider net during the recruitment process.  Fiji’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Organization needed to boost the number of employees from developing countries, as well as women from these same nations, especially in senior posts.  He also backed greater transparency during the recruitment process.  “We are not asking the recruitment standards be compromised,” he said, but asking for the Organization to expand its pool so as to secure the best talent.


China’s delegate said candidates from unrepresented and underrepresented countries should be given priority during the recruitment and appointment process and wanted the Organization to implement relevant resolutions on equitable representation.  Like many other delegates, the United States’ representative stressed the crucial role a dedicated staff played in creating a successful Organization.  The United States joined ACABQ in lauding the work of the United Nations Ethics Office in outreach, training and education, and financial disclosure.


Catherine Pollard, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, introduced Secretariat reports on the composition of the Secretariat, practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters, and possible criminal behaviour.  Joan Dubinsky, Director of the United Nations Ethics Office, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Office.


Cihan Terzi, Inspector of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced the Unit’s report on the review of individual consultancies in the United Nations system, pointing out that the guidelines of many organizations did not include clear overarching criteria for staff and non-staff contracts.


Papa Louis Fall, another JIU Inspector, introduced two Secretary-General notes:  the first transmitting the Unit’s report on lump sum payments in lieu of entitlements, and a second note transmitting a JIU document that laid out a comparative analysis and benchmarking framework of staff recruitment in United Nations system organizations.


Finally, Kenneth Herman, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination, Secretariat of the United Nations System, Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced notes by the Secretary-General which transmitted his comments, and the Board’s comments, on the JIU reports.


Delegates from Singapore (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), Japan and Kuwait also spoke at today’s meeting.


A representative of the European Union also made a statement.


The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 October, to discuss the administrative expenses of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, as part of the 2014-2015 proposed programme budget item, and the After Service Life Insurance, as part of Programme budget:  biennium 2012-2013.


Background


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to discuss human resources management.  It had before it four reports of the Secretary-General, including Composition of the Secretariat: staff demographics (document A/68/356); Practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and possible criminal behaviour, 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013 (document  A/68/130); Amendments to the Staff Rules and Regulations (document A/68/129); and Activities of the Ethics Office (document  A/68/348).  Also before it was the accompanying report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) title Human Resources Management (document A/68/523).


In addition, the Committee considered several notes by the Secretary-General. The Review of individual consultancies in the United Nations system (document A/68/67), transmitted a report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) of the same name (document JIU/REP/2012/5).  There was also an eponymous addendum (document A/68/67/Add.1).


A second note by the Secretary-General titled Lump-sum payments in lieu of entitlements (document A/68/373), transmitted a JIU report by the same name.  There was an addendum A/68/373/Add.1).


Finally a third Secretary-General note, on Staff recruitment in United Nations system organizations: a comparative analysis and benchmarking framework (document A/67/888) transmitted the JIU document of the same name.  There was an addendum, (document A/67/888/Add.1).  Each of the three previous addendums transmitted the comments of the Secretary-General and the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) on the respective reports of the JIU.


Human Resources Management


CATHERINE POLLARD, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, presented the following reports: composition of the Secretariat (document A/68/356), practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and possible criminal behaviour (document A/68/130), and amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules (documents A/68/129).  On the report on the Secretariat’s composition, there had been an overall decrease in staff numbers, from about 42,000 to 41,000, representing a reduction of more than 3 per cent.  As requested by the General Assembly, tables were, for the first time, included to show US$1 per year contracts, with that information published online.  The report on the practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and possible criminal behaviour included an overview and statistics on cases.  This year, the report included data on appeals since the introduction of the new system of justice in 2009.  Information on proven misconduct was also included.  In introducing all three reports, she said the Office stood ready to continue its work on those issues.


JOAN DUBINKSY, Director of the United Nations Ethics Office, presented the report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the Office (document A/68/348).  The Office had, among other things, increased ethics education and awareness.  A record-high compliance rate of 99.9 per cent was achieved for the second year in a row.  The Office also continued its work to promote ethical conduct through the cycle, reaching out to staff worldwide, including in the United Nations offices in Geneva, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  To date, over 16,000 United Nations staff, including 5,000 in United Nations missions had participated in the Office’s services.  The Ethics Panel, formerly the Ethics Committee, also continued to promote ethics standards and serve as a knowledge base for the Organization.


CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), weighed in with the Advisory Committee’s view on the four Secretariat reports by introducing its own human resources management report (document A/68/523).  Starting with the composition of the Secretariat document, the Advisory Committee reiterated its previous recommendation that the Secretary-General supplement the report’s raw data with more analysis of demographic trends and any underlying factors.  It noted that the average age of the Secretariat staff continued to increase and the Assembly had previously indicated that the rejuvenation of the Secretariat was a priority.  The Advisory Committee recalled the Assembly’s recommendation that the Secretary-General continue his efforts to improve the geographic distribution of staff, noting that a comprehensive review of the system of desirable ranges was due in the sixty-ninth session.


Turning to the report on disciplinary matters, the Advisory Committee commended the elimination of the case backlog, but was concerned at the length of time taken to complete cases, he said.  It expected the Secretary-General to act to prevent future backlogs.  Regarding the report on proposed amendments to United Nations Staff Regulations and Rules and a proposed staff rule 1.2(e) that would prohibit sexual exploitation and abuse, the Advisory Committee believed the application of the zero tolerance policy would require continued efforts beyond this clause. 


On the annual activities of the Ethics Office, Mr. Massieu commended the Office for its efforts to increase awareness of ethics-related issues across the Secretariat.  The Advisory Committee requested that upcoming reports of the Ethics Office include additional information on the contractual oversight mechanisms used with some of the Secretariat’s critical service vendors.  It supported the Secretariat’s efforts to negotiate more favourable terms with the external contractor now reviewing the financial disclosure programme.  It recommended that the Assembly be given updated information on the cost savings and anticipated reduction in the Office’s operational costs for 2014-2015.


CIHAN TERZI, Inspector, Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), introducing the Secretary-General’s note on the review of individual consultancies in the United Nations system (document A/68/67), said the implementation of policies was a matter of concern because the rules and regulations of organizations did not have clear overarching criteria for staff and non-staff contracts.  Many consultants, including individual contractors, were working for the Organization for extended periods of time, working on the premises and provided with office equipment.  Those were objective indicators of an employer-employee relationship and, according to international labour principles, if there was an employment relationship, irrespective of whether it was a core function or not, the contract type had to be a staff contract.  Consultancy review indicated that organizations were facing great risks in the use of non-staff personnel.


“The pressure to deliver with inadequate funding and inflexible staffing models, coupled with permissive non-staff policies and the lack of oversight, leads organizations to resort excessively to the use of non-staff contractual modalities,” he said.  “This leads organizations to have two parallel workforces in their premises with much different entitlements and rights.”


Introducing different statuses for similar types of work in the system could have negative consequences in terms of fair employment practices, the reputation of organizations and the coherence of the workforce, he said.  The current practice allowing organizations to grant successive consultancy contracts, which add up to long-term assignments, with or without mandatory breaks, was not in line with the nature of a consultancy contract and created conditions for the inappropriate use of that contractual modality.  Although the number of consultants and other non-staff personnel working on the premises of the organizations was significant, they lacked a representation channel or access to administration of justice mechanisms.  “This is not a fair and sustainable employment practice.  The United Nations system organizations are value driven and must set a good example by applying the best employment practices.  Therefore, they need to align their policies with international labour principles,” He said.


PAPA LOUIS FALL, Inspector, JIU, introduced the Secretary-General’s note that transmitted JIU’s report on lump sum payments in lieu of entitlements (document A/68/373) and highlighted its consideration of whether the current and possible future application of the option saved on overhead and provided greater flexibility for staff without any significant financial implications.  The option, in effect since 1990, presumably quickened the administrative processes and generated major savings for the organizations, however most responses to JIU’s questionnaire attested to no cost-benefit analysis, which was confirmed by the Office of Internal Oversight Services’ (OIOS) comprehensive audit of air travel activities and related practices (document A/67/695).  Regarding the shipment of personal effects, a grant was given to staff but no proof of the actual shipment was required.


He said that in the spirit of equality, the JIU recommended suspending the additional daily subsistence allowance (DSA), with certain officials still entitled to the additional DSA.. A unified methodology for calculating home leave travel amounts in the lump sum option also needed to be implemented and there was a need to harmonize existing lump sum procedures and calculation criteria.  The lump-sum option was considered to be a “win-win” scenario for staff and organizations but its application was not at insignificant cost to Member States.  Organizations and their staff should exercise fiscal responsibility and work together towards eliminating or reducing unnecessary costs.


Turning to the Secretary-General’s note that transmitted JIU’s report on a comparative analysis and benchmarking framework of staff recruitment in United Nations system organizations (document A/67/888), he said dynamic improvements were needed to ensure the United Nations system’s high level of efficiency, competency and integrity.  JIU recommended a number of actions to address a range of areas.  On the issue of gender balance and geographic recruitment, efforts should be made for parity.  Unfortunately, those commitments had not always been met, particularly with higher level posts.  Progress had been made, but gender issues needed to be further implemented in, for example, recruitment.  JIU welcomed the Secretary-General’s overall comments and approval of its recommendations.


KENNETH HERMAN, Senior Advisor on Information Management Policy Coordination, Secretariat of the United Nations System, Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced the Secretary-General’s notes transmitting his comments and those of the CEB on the JIU reports just introduced, contained in documents A/68/67/Add.1, A/68/373/Add.1 and A/67/888/Add.1.  While each report focused on a different aspect of workforce policy, some of the comments from the agencies conveyed similar messages, he said.  He turned first to the JIU report focusing on consultancies, which the Unit assessed through an analysis of policies and practices within the agencies.  Even with some concerns about the JIU’s recommendations, the agencies generally welcomed the in-depth nature of the report and supported its recommendations.  Agencies expressed unqualified support for recommendation 5, for example, regarding the need for adequate policies on the use of retirees as consultants, as well as recommendation 7, calling for organizations clearly established policies on the roles and responsibilities for the use of consultants.


Turning to the report on staff recruitment, he said agencies appreciated its comprehensive documentation of current practices and operation across the United Nations system, which would help their recruitment efforts.  The agencies said they were fully committed to benchmarks.  On the report regarding lump-sum payments in lieu of entitlements, Mr. Herman said many agencies provided these lump-sum payments for some entitlements particularly travel costs, in an effort to reduce overhead costs.  Agencies largely accepted JIU’s five recommendations and its comprehensive analysis, and agreed that the use of these payments, if applied consistently and equitably across the system, would reduce the administrative burden of processing travel requests and save the agencies money.


He said one widespread reaction to the three JIU reports was the agencies’ appreciation of the in-depth analysis.  But agencies were concerned that the recommendations did not always consider their operating environment, particularly as Member States called for increased efficiencies and agencies strove to reduce overhead costs.  This left fewer funds to carry out activities such as JIU’s first recommendation in its report on lump-sum options, which called for an in-depth analysis of the use of lump-sum for home-leave travel.  While agreeing it would be useful, the agencies noted that these analyses were costly.  In the report of staff recruitment, some agencies noted that JIU’s recommendation to create assessments centres or an e-recruitment system would be costly.


LUKE DAUNIVALU (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve human resources management.  It knew the efficient and effective delivery of the Organization’s mandates hinged on the quality of its staff and availability of its resources.  The Group supported reforms that contributed to a highly motivated, diverse and dynamic workforce.  During this process, staff welfare had to remain a central consideration.  Reform and changes had to be completed in a consultative and non-discriminatory manner that reflected the Organization’s Member-State driven nature.


The Group reiterated the need to increase the representation of developing countries and women from developing countries, particularly at the senior levels; to improve geographic distribution in the Secretariat; and to generate more transparency in the recruitment process, he said.  Equitable representation at the Secretariat, especially at the senior level, was a key issue for the Group of 77 and China and vital for the Organization’s effectiveness.  The Group regretted that developing countries were still underrepresented at the Professional level and above and urged the Secretariat to take remedial action. “We are not asking the recruitment standards be compromised,” he said, but asking for a wider net to be cast to recruit the best candidates from the widest pool possible.


MARK SEAH (Singapore), speaking on behalf of Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said he was concerned that developing countries and women remained under-represented at the Under-Secretary-General and D-1 levels.  The principles of equitable distribution should not conflict with ensuring the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, however, the Secretary-General should present proposals to the Assembly to ensure more equitable gender and geographic distribution.  The United Nations needed the best talent in its service, however motivation and management were equally important, and the United Nations should better review its performance management system.  This was especially important given the proposed framework for mobility and career development.  Turning the ethics, he said that while United Nations entities had improved their financial disclosure, he was concerned that the participation in such disclosure by peacekeeping operations had decreased.  That issue must be addressed.


Ms. POWER a representative of the European Union delegation said she would be presenting a statement on human resources-related reports at a later time.


XIE XIAOWU ( China) said uneven representation and under-representation of developing countries within the Secretariat had been a matter of concern.  It was imperative to implement relevant resolutions on equitable representation and candidates from unrepresented and under-represented countries should be given priority in recruitment and appointment.  The evolvement of human resources management policies showed tremendous efforts had been made, and he encouraged the Secretariat to make further use of those policies to stabilize the workforce by employing in an integrated manner tools such as contracts management.  On mobility, he called upon the Secretariat to seek views and proposals of the staff, management and all other stakeholders on the new framework in a comprehensive, objective and timely manner to make the goals of reform more aligned with the core of the issue of staff distribution.

ERIKO YAJIMA (Japan) said human resource management was a core element of the effective and efficient operation of the Organization.  Resolving the issue of non-representation and under-representation of Member States in the Secretariat had been a long-standing challenge.  As one of the main under-represented countries, Japan asked the Secretary-General to continue efforts to ensure the attainment of equitable geographical distribution.  She also stressed the important role of the Young Professionals Programme in improving the geographical representation of under-represented and non-represented Member States and anticipated receiving details of its progress.


KHALIL AL ENEZI ( Kuwait) said real wealth was based on developing human resources and the ongoing reform was a vital element of strengthening the United Nations.  Improving the equitable geographic representation in the United Nations was essential, he said, highlighting that doing so would add to the Organization’s credibility.  He hoped that the reform would include the work of all nations and would not be monopolized by a few countries.


STEPHEN LIEBERMAN ( United States) said his delegation would reserve most of its comments for the 6 November formal meeting.  It agreed with its colleagues that the United Nations could not do its critical work without a dedicated staff. The United States viewed human resources management as crucial to the Organization’s success and looked forward to working with all delegates on these issues.  Regarding the proposed amendments to staff rules and regulations, the United States supported the inclusion of sexual exploitation as a specific instance of prohibited conduct under the basic rights and obligations of staff.  It believed this action would help move toward full adherence of the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy.  Turning to the Ethics Office report, the United States joined ACABQ in commending the Office’s efforts in ethics outreach, training and education, procurement ethics and financial disclosure. The United States also commended the Office’s efforts to begin a report on an independent and comprehensive review of the existing protection-against-retaliation policy and practices.


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For information media • not an official record