General Assembly lifts spending cap from UN budget, allowing operations to go on

1 July 2006 –

The United Nations General Assembly has formally lifted a spending cap restricting budget allocations to the first half of this year, affirming a recommendation by its main administrative committee, which earlier this week achieved a breakthrough on the issue that had threatened financial crisis at the world body.

The move late Friday evening giving Secretary-General Kofi Annan authority to spend the remaining funds in the 2006-2007 fiscal period, with its $3.79 billion budget, came just as coffers were about to run dry; last week, UN Controller Warren Sach had warned that under the cap the “last dollar available” would be spent before mid-July.

But the decision was not without detractors, as three major contributors – the United States, Japan and Australia – all formally “disassociated” themselves from the authorizing resolution, while Canada's representative echoed their concerns in a statement urging managerial reform.

United Nations peacekeeping operations, which are funded individually and not as part of the overall budget, also received fresh allocations. The Assembly approved some $4.72 billion for peacekeeping missions deployed to deal with situations concerning Western Sahara, Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, Israel-Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Georgia, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Kosovo, Liberia and Sudan.

In another action, the Assembly adopted a lengthy resolution on the issue of development, addressing themes such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of antipoverty targets first agreed at a 2001 UN Summit, which appear to have long been the subject of international agreement. But despite the familiarity of UN delegates with the subject of development – put forward as a central pillar, along with security and human rights, in a landmark reform report submitted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year – diplomats held lengthy negotiations to forge agreement on the text.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson alluded to the difficult process in introducing the text. “This resolution is a result of your efforts, of your creative thinking, of your flexibility and of your ability to find possible ways forward,” he told those gathered for the late-night meeting, commending them “for having set aside your differences to reach an agreement, acceptable to all.”

This positive assessment was contrasted by the reaction of South Africa's ambassador, Dumisani S. Kumalo, who, on behalf of the 132 member “Group of 77” caucus of developing countries and China, said the resolution was just a reiteration of already agreed language from a summit meeting held last September at the UN and did not address how to make good on commitments regarding trade, agricultural subsidies and the transfer of resources to poorer nations.

Actions Friday evening on budget issues were accompanied by the adoption of measures aimed at further reforming the UN, particularly in the area of managerial accountability. For example, the 192-member Assembly called for the Secretary-General to ensure that the application and enforcement of accountability be carried out impartially at all levels and without exception.

But the Assembly did not take action on a proposed managerial overhaul of the UN submitted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in March. His recommendations, contained in a report entitled “Investing in the United Nations,” were geared to fundamentally alter the Organization in a bid to keep step with its shift in recent years from mainly Headquarters-based activities to extensive life-saving work in the field.

Among other proposals, Mr. Annan called for setting up a 2,500-strong core of mobile peacekeeping professionals, requiring greater mobility among staff members in order to create a more agile civil service, and making multimillion dollar investments in training and technology.

Despite intensive negotiations in recent weeks in what President Eliasson described as “an increasingly improved atmosphere,” Member States did not achieve agreement in the Administrative and Budgetary (“Fifth”) Committee, and so decided to extend its resumed session from 5 to 7 July with a view to recommending a resolution on the proposals to the Assembly.

Mr. Eliasson said some agreement had emerged. “There is agreement to establish the post of Chief Information Technology Officer in the Office of the Secretary-General,” he said, and delegates generally accepted the need to replace current information technology systems governing staffing. Other areas he cited included “support for the intention of the Secretary-General to submit a single, comprehensive annual report to the General Assembly, containing financial and programme information, aimed at enhancing transparency of the Organization and accountability of the Secretariat to Member States.”

The issue of “mandate review” – or examining just what tasks the UN has been asked to carry out by its Member States – was also on the agenda because the 2005 World Summit had asked for the Assembly to examine all mandates older than five years in order to strengthen and up-date the programme of work of the UN. Mr. Eliasson reported Friday evening that work would also continue on that issue. He said he would convene informal consultations of the Plenary on mandate review as soon as possible in the month of July to consider the way forward.

In closing remarks, the General Assembly President said that with the lifting of the spending cap, “the United Nations is now in a position to fully implement its programme of work during the remainder of the biennium 2006-2007 and deliver its services to peoples and crises areas all over the world.”

He stressed that “in order to do this effectively the work to reform, streamline and modernize the United Nations must be pursued with vigour and a sense of shared responsibility.”

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