3 March 2014
General Assembly
GA/AB/4097

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

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

27th Meeting (AM)


Fifth Committee Opens Resumed Session with Discussion

 

Of Joint Inspection Unit’s Oversight Role

 


Members Also Review Programme for 2014, Organization of Work


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) opened the first part of its resumed sixty-eighth session today with a review of its 2014 work programme and organization of work, and of the role of the Joint Inspection Unit in light of its importance in the “United Nations oversight landscape”.


Presenting the Joint Inspection Unit’s report was its Chair, Cihan Terzi, who said that 2013 had been an important year.  With the arrival of five new inspectors, the Unit had seized the opportunity to critically examine its functioning, undergo a self-evaluation and submit itself to an external peer review.  The comprehensive self-evaluation identified areas for further improvement and had resulted in the adoption of an action plan on implementation.  The analysis reflected the fact that the Joint Inspection Unit had contributed to most of the reforms under way in the United Nations system, he added.


He went on to explain that the peer review panel had comprised senior-level external oversight experts, who had found that the “effective internal reforms” undertaken by the Joint Inspection Unit had further professionalized the Unit.  Panellists agreed that there was strong support for it, with stakeholders concurring that it played an important oversight role within the Organization.  Included among the panel’s recommendations was that Member States should increase the Joint Inspection Unit’s budget because its current resource level was not commensurate with its mandate.  The Unit had “stepped up to the plate and attempted serious reforms”, in recent years, he said, stressing that it was now up to Member States to play their part.


The Joint Inspection Unit’s 2014 work programme, he continued, had been prepared with the aim of addressing critical system-wide risks and reforms through a more structured approach.  Ten new “projects” had been included on such matters as the safety and security of United Nations personnel and premises worldwide; a comprehensive analysis of activities and resources dedicated to climate change; implementation of initiatives relating to full and productive employment and decent work for all; and system-wide review of contract management and administration.


Kenneth Herman, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced a note of the Secretary-General on the Joint Inspection Unit’s report.  He recalled that in 2013, the Board had prepared comments for seven system-wide Joint Inspection Unit reports, and the Secretary-General’s cover note collated comments by organizations on the final versions.  The Unit’s secretariat worked “very closely” with CEB on the preparation of its annual work programme, he said, adding that the Board in turn maintained a constant dialogue with the Joint Inspection Unit to ensure a smooth reporting process.


Discussion on the organization of the Committee’s work centred on the inclusion of various items, such as procurement, mobility, civilian capacity in the aftermath of conflict, and the exclusion of others.  Some speakers called attention to the late issuance of reports and changes to grounds passes.  Several others recalled that the five months of negotiations in 2013 should remind delegations of the importance of flexibility and consensus, while one speaker decried the prevalence of “closed-door configurations”.


Fifth Committee Chair Janne Taalas ( Finland) extended condolences at the outset of the meeting, at the passing on 7 February of Zhang Wanhai, a member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) since 2011.


China’s representative expressed his delegation’s gratitude for the Chair’s remarks.


Participating in the discussion were speakers representing Bolivia (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Costa Rica (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Uganda (on behalf of the African Group), Japan, Mexico, United States, Cuba and the Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation.


The Fifth Committee will reconvene on a date to be announced.


Background


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to open the first part of its resumed session and to consider its agenda item concerning the Joint Inspection Unit (documents A/38/34 and A/68/739).


Statements


Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed its commitment to a thorough consideration of agenda items, including those deferred from the previous session, such as mobility and partnerships.  At the same time, the Group was concerned about the chronic problem over late issuance of documents.  Failure to ensure the timely submission of reports by the Secretariat and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in all official languages undermined the Committee’s ability to effectively undertake and complete its work.  Another issue concerned changes in grounds passes, which had resulted in the denial of access to both diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff, he said, expressing concern over the lack of consultation with Member States in that regard, and seeking further clarification of the matter.


Paula Coto-Ramírez ( Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) said the Committee’s work programme included issues of great importance, including procurement, mobility, civilian capacity in the aftermath of conflict, the accountability system within the United Nations Secretariat and the Partnerships Facility.  Concerning the mobility framework, she said the agreements reached so far should underpin the search for constructive compromises in the most transparent and pragmatic manner.  On procurement reform, CELAC underlined the importance of improving that system, especially with regard to increasing opportunities for vendors from developing countries.  It was also important to respect the session’s completion date, she emphasized, recalling, encouraging all delegations to avoid the “inconvenient” situation that had emerged during the 2013 resumed session.  That situation had forced five months of near-continuous negotiations, she recalled.  The timely issuance of crucial documents had a direct bearing on the quality of the Committee’s proceedings and on the set completion date, she added.


Beatrice Keronga Pacunega Manano (Uganda), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said Committee negotiations should be open, inclusive and transparent, occurring within the allocated time and without “small, behind closed doors configurations”.  During the session, the African Group would participate actively in procurement issues while paying close attention to all other agenda items.  She reaffirmed Africa’s determination to spare no effort to re-establish security in the Central African Republic and to ensure the provision of all the resources required.  Regarding documentation, she said that in order to give the Committee enough time to make informed decisions, the increasingly late issuance of documentation must be reversed  The African Group was also concerned about the closure of the Vienna Cafe in the North Lawn Building and hoped that appropriate arrangements for refreshments would be put in place.


IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation, also expressed disappointment over lateness in issuing reports of the Secretary-General and of ACABQ, which risked undermining the Committee’s thorough and timely consideration.  The failure to agree on managed mobility was also disappointing and, he said, adding that his delegation looked forward to overcoming remaining obstacles.  Voicing regret at the disagreement over the Partnerships Facility, he said that he hoped there would be an agreement to allow the initiative to move forward.  Turning to accommodation needs at Headquarters, he said his delegation was keen to discuss, among other issues, flexible workspace arrangements — including telecommuting — staggered work hours and compressed work schedules.  The European Union was also concerned about the last stages of the capital master plan and related final financial developments, including the costs for the 2008-2013 period and the future of the South Annex Building and Dag Hammarskjold Library, which required thorough discussions in the Committee.


JUN YAMAZAKI (Japan), emphasizing that his delegation supported management reform initiatives that could make the Organization sustainable, efficient and effective, said it was “very unfortunate” that agreement on the mobility proposal had proved elusive, and called for the swift resolution of all outstanding issues through a consensus resolution.  There was limited time allotted for the resumed session, but many important items remained on the table, including the serious financial difficulties of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, as well as accountability and construction issues relating to the capital master plan.  A sense of urgency should pervade discussions on such items, he stressed.  Last December’s hard deliberations were a reminder of the importance of flexibility for consensus outcomes, he said, pointing out that, rather than a “loss” for some, collective efforts meant a win for “all”.  The difficult tasks before the Committee should be addressed in cooperation rather than opposition, he added.


Gabriela Colín Ortega ( Mexico) said the Partnerships Facility could become a valuable instrument for complementing efforts to finance the Organization’s growing activities, adding that the lessons learned would boost the initiative’s usefulness, in particular.  Concerning the Committee’s working methods, he said programme planning and the budget process required serious reflection, emphasizing that delaying tactics should be avoided.  Many subjects needed to be addressed, particularly those relating to support for and financing of political missions.  The delegation of Mexico was committed to constructive deliberations, particularly in terms of strategic matters, with a view to giving the Secretariat the instruments necessary to ensure its effective compliance with mandates from Member States.


STEPHEN LIEBERMAN ( United States) said Member States and the Secretariat focused too often on immediate needs and not enough on the long-term vision.  The Secretary-General’s staff mobility proposal would allow the United Nations to more nimbly and ably address challenges around the world, he said, urging the Committee promptly to resume negotiations, expeditiously close the agenda item and charge the Secretary-General with implementing a solution.  The Partnerships Facility would harness private and Government resources, he said, adding that other proposals close to agreement included one relating to a full-time representative of the Security Council for the investments of the assets of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund and the subvention for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.  The United States delegation also looked forward to discussions on civilian capacity and on such matters as organizational resilience.


Oscar León González ( Cuba) said it was essential that all delegations built on lessons learned in 2013, which had clearly shown that there were serious challenges in moving the Committee’s work forward.  As a result, the decision-making process and the use of Conference Services had been affected negatively, resulting in unnecessary stress.  The time had come to take a hard look at the Committee’s working methods and to review efficiency.  Among the Cuban delegation’s concerns were the abolished posts in the Publishing Section of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, he said, adding that it looked forward to discussions on that and other matters.


Introduction of Documents/Joint Inspection Unit


CIHAN TERZI, Chair of the Joint Inspection Unit, said that with the arrival of five new inspectors, members had seized the opportunity for a critical examination of the Unit’s functioning, a self-evaluation and a review by external peers.  A review of long-term procurement agreements showed significant financial savings and better contract conditions derived from the effective use of long-term agreements, both within organizations and across the United Nations system.  Still, it recommended better management of attendant risks.  Another Joint Inspection Unit report indicated a key risk area in the system bearing on implementation partners, he said, adding that billions of dollars had been spent through those partners, several of whom lacked a strategic partnership framework and increasingly operated under ad hoc and incoherent arrangements.


The Joint Inspection Unit had undergone an independent peer review by external senior oversight experts in 2013, the findings of which were included in its annual report and available on its website, he continued.  The review had stemmed from a comprehensive self-evaluation which identified areas for further improvement, and an action plan for implementation had been adopted.  The Unit had contributed to most United Nations reform initiatives through high-quality reports containing reform-oriented recommendations, he said.  The average rate of acceptance for suggestions by the largest participating organizations — representing more than 80 per cent of the United Nations system in terms of budgetary spending — had reached 75 per cent and the average rate of implementation was at 66 per cent.  Those rates were commendable, given the complex, cross-cutting nature and system-level implications of the recommendations, he said, adding that use of the Unit’s reports was the shared responsibility of heads of participating organizations, Member States and the Unit, itself.


He went on to say that some recommendations were addressed directly to Member States and others to the Unit.  Among the findings was that the Joint Inspection Unit’s current resource level was “not commensurate with its mandate”, and it was thus recommended that Member States increase its budget.  The United Nations had “stepped up to the plate and attempted serious reforms” in recent years, he said, adding that it was now time for Member States to play their part fully.  Outlining the work programme for 2014, he said it included 10 new projects reflecting a clear focus on topics of system-wide relevance.  It also included both administrative and development-oriented inspections and evaluations, such as the safety and security of United Nations personnel and premises around the world.  Also included were a comprehensive analysis of activities and resources dedicated to climate change, implementation of the initiative for full and productive employment and decent work for all, and a system-wide review of contract management and administration.


Overall, the Unit’s work was still affected by its resourcing, he said.  Among the most pertinent recommendations of the peer review panel was for Member States to safeguard the Unit’s independence and ensure that its original proposals reached the Fifth Committee “without change by the entities it oversees”.  The continuing resource constraints were a source of concern, and Member States should consider providing extrabudgetary resources for the reports on safety and security and on climate change.  “Without additional resources, there is a risk that these reports will suffer from lack of field realities and expertise,” he warned.  The Joint Inspection Unit would maximize application of the web-based tracking system to follow up on the recommendations and, with approval of the policy for independent system-wide evaluations of operations activities for development, it stood ready to host those “large evaluations” once extrabudgetary resources were provided for pilot reviews.  The Unit, he added, had already invested considerable time into shaping and start-up of that initiative.


KENNETH HERMAN, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination, Secretariat of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced a note of the Secretary-General on the Report of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2013 (document A/68/739), saying it was in response to the General Assembly’s request to the Secretary-General in his capacity as Chair of the Chief Executives Board.  He reported that the Board had prepared comments for seven Joint Inspection Unit system-wide reports in 2013.  The Secretary-General’s cover note collated comments by organizations on the report’s final versions and reflected the United Nations system’s overall consensus.  Each organization might choose to address the specific recommendations within the framework of their governing bodies, he added.  The CEB secretariat continued to work “very closely” with the Unit on the preparation of its annual work programme by providing substantive inputs on specific proposals and facilitating the work of the Unit’s secretariat.  The Board also maintained a constant dialogue with the Unit to ensure a smooth reporting process.


Following those presentations, the Committee resumed its discussion.


DAYANA ANGELA RIOS REGUENA ( Bolivia), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the Committee could and should continue to benefit from the quality inputs provided by the Joint Inspection Unit, and the Group of 77 welcomed the self-evaluation process.  However, despite its solid institutional framework, the Joint Inspection Unit’s independence had been negatively affected by its inability to present its budgetary requirements to the Committee, and the Group looked forward to engaging on that issue.  It also supported the use of the web‑based tracking system to follow up on the acceptance and implementation of recommendations, and commended the Unit’s progress and efforts to improve its work.  The Group valued an enhanced role for the Unit in principle, and reiterated its strong support for its mandate and its important and unique role as the only external and independent system-wide inspection, evaluation and investigation body.


Mr. LIEBERMAN (United States) said that oversight bodies such as the Joint Inspection Unit played a key role in ensuring the effectiveness of the United Nations system, and his delegation was particularly interested in how it would improve the quality, relevance and utility of its reports, which should be issued in a more timely manner and be better aligned with issues under consideration by the General Assembly.  The United States looked forward to learning more about the Unit’s concerns regarding resources and how they could be addressed, given the current constrained budget environment.  Welcoming the Joint Inspection Unit’s role in working with other oversight bodies on the two proposed pilot evaluations of operational activities for development, he recalled that his delegation had long advocated for a greater system-wide focus by the Unit and remained concerned that acceptance rates of recommendations contained in system-wide reports were relatively low compared with single organization reports.  Member States should present candidates with senior level, high-quality inspection, evaluation and audit expertise to the Unit and hold inspectors to high professional standards, he stressed.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record