16 May 2007
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR MANAGEMENT ON CAPITAL MASTER PLAN


In the latest of her periodic press conferences to update correspondents on developments in the Department of Management, Under-Secretary-General Alicia Bárcena Ibarra said, at Headquarters this afternoon, that much had been accomplished in reforming the internal justice system, implementing the Capital Master Plan, achieving “managed mobility” of personnel and restructuring United Nations peacekeeping.


She said that, based on the “very good” resolution adopted by the General Assembly last December, the Department would submit to the General Assembly tomorrow a document containing a proposed outline for refurbishing the internal justice system.  The proposal centred on three elements: dealing with the backlog of cases in the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, the Joint Appeals Board and the Joint Disciplinary Committee; reinforcing the counselling service for staff; and strengthening the role of the Office of Ombudsman and its mediation capacity.  The second part of the refurbishing would begin with the presentation of the formal system, including the creation of two tribunals, the terms of reference and determining the number of judges, among other things.


Moving on to the Capital Master Plan, she said it was set to be in full swing by early 2008, with construction beginning on the North Lawn and swing space rented to house staff temporarily while renovation of the Secretariat building proceeded in blocks of 10 floors from the top down, and with measures to “green” the United Nations also included in the budget.  The renovation would be financed through assessment of Member States, with their interests a primary concern alongside the safety and health security of staff.


She said the General Assembly building and main chambers would be renovated so as to create minimum disruption to the activities of Member States.  Swing space would be secured on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where the majority of Permanent Missions to the United Nations were located.  The Dag Hammarskjöld Library and other services that were more indirectly related to the activities of Member States would be moved temporarily to more distant locations, such as Long Island City.


Emphasizing that special attention would be paid to eliminating risks to health, finances and security during the complicated process, targeted for completion by 2014, she said the “greening” process was a good example of the limitations of working with an old building rather than starting to build a new one.  The target was to achieve 30 per cent energy efficiency over the present conditions, in line with existing standards, and possibly an environmental audit, as had been performed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi.  Attempts would be made to achieve higher efficiency, but that would depend on how well conditions could be addressed, for example the levels of asbestos used in earlier construction.


Fire security at Headquarters presented a good example of how “greening” was being worked into the Capital Master Plan, she said.  The United Nations Fire and Safety Unit was working with the Fire Department of New York City to improve fire safety and, at the Organization’s invitation, the latter had conducted an audit.  Not surprisingly for such an old building, it had come up with 150 “directives”, otherwise called fire-code violations.  Those conditions, including elements in the kitchen, the sprinkler system, the fan shut-down mechanism and emergency lighting, were being addressed systematically and improvements were already included in the renovation budget.


Turning to the staff mobility programme, which appeared to have caused some concern, she said the approach now was to achieve “managed mobility”, focusing on training and support of staff to be relocated, either within a single duty station or between two duty stations.  While some staff were resistant to change, it was also true that change was often good.  Furthermore, the number of staff involved was quite small.


Regarding the restructuring of peacekeeping operations, she said her Department’s outline was now before the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which was expected to turn the document over, with its recommendations, to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) by tomorrow or Friday.  In a nutshell, the restructuring was to be cost-neutral but with an increase of $65 million to the Support Account that would provide back-up services to the field in such areas as procurement, human resources and administration.


She said the increase in the Support Account was intended to raise the ratio of staff support to field operations, which presently stood at 1 to 149, or 1 Headquarters staff member for every 149 in the field.  The ideal level proposed in the Brahimi report on United Nations peace operations was 1 to 91, and the goal now was to achieve a ration of 1 to 106.  The main point was that the Support Account increase would be required even without the restructuring.


On accountability and oversight, she said financial statements had been prepared and forwarded to PricewaterhouseCoopers for evaluation.  Final questions would be answered and final reports returned to those who had filed statements.


In response to a question, she said the increase in the number of Support Account staff would amount to 495 additional posts, 80 of whom would be assigned to strengthening the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  The Department of Management would be moving 40 posts to field operations support.


Asked if there was any plan to move United Nations Headquarters to some distant city such as Bonn, she said the Crisis Operation Group and the Emergency Professional Team set up after “9/11” constantly considered four scenarios in the event of a catastrophe, including a pandemic.  However, the contingency for United Nations operations in locations other than New York were for emergencies, not for the Capital Master Plan.


Asked about the audit process, the Under-Secretary-General said the United Nations had an external Board of Auditors under the auspices of Member States.


Responding to a question about human-rights guidelines for procurement, she said there were guidelines for labour standards.  The listing of contract awards on the procurement website was missing temporarily pending restructuring of the site.


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For information media • not an official record