BUDGET COMMITTEE ENDS REVIEW OF UNITED NATIONS COMMON SYSTEM; FOCUS ON STAFF PAY, BENEFITS, CONTRACTS, CONDITIONS OF SERVICE

9 November 2001
GA/AB/3479

BUDGET COMMITTEE ENDS REVIEW OF UNITED NATIONS COMMON SYSTEM; FOCUS ON STAFF PAY, BENEFITS, CONTRACTS, CONDITIONS OF SERVICE

09/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3479

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

27th Meeting (AM)

BUDGET COMMITTEE ENDS REVIEW OF UNITED NATIONS COMMON SYSTEM; FOCUS

ON STAFF PAY, BENEFITS, CONTRACTS, CONDITIONS OF SERVICE

Delegates Suggest Blend of Security, Competition

Helps Ensure Recruitment of High Quality Personnel

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) concluded its consideration of the United Nations common system this morning, the focus of attention was once again on the Organization’s pay and benefits system, contractual arrangements, conditions of service and the Standards of Conduct for international personnel.

[Those issues were among the items presented to the Committee by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) in its annual report.  The ICSC was established in 1974 to regulate and coordinate the conditions of service throughout the United Nations common system.]

The representative of the Russian Federation said that without a fundamental reform of the contractual system -– including the gradual phasing out of permanent contracts -– any change in the payment system was unthinkable.  Those issues should be discussed together, in order to ensure flexible use of human resources.

China’s representative said that while permanent contracts provided for better staff security, they did not encourage efficiency and the drive to excel.  The most rational arrangement would be a flexible system, which would encourage career staff, while preserving an element of competition.  He hoped the Commission would prepare a list of the different types of contracts for submission at the next Assembly session.

In his concluding remarks, the Chairman of the International Civil Service Commission, Mohsen Bel Hadj Amor, said that while it was too early to forecast the financial implications of the reform of the pay and benefits system, it was rarely cost-neutral.  Greater effectiveness and efficiency often came at a price, and in the end maintaining the status quo might be more costly than the reform.  It was the Commission’s goal to provide a system that would enable organizations to meet new challenges and to recruit and retain staff of the highest quality.  With the support of Member States, the Commission would arrive at the most appropriate pay and benefits system, which would meet those criteria.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Syria, Dominican Republic and Iran.

The Committee’s next formal meeting will be held on Monday, 19 November, when it is scheduled to take up the financing of several peacekeeping missions.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to conclude its consideration of the United Nations common system.  [For further information, see Press Release GA/AB/3476 dated 6 November].

Statements

VLADIMIR A. IOSSIFOV (Russian Federation) said his delegation attached great importance to the work of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which was called upon to play a leading role in regulating and coordinating conditions of service in the United Nations system.  In the context of the broad reform process throughout the common system, the significance of the conclusions drawn by the ICSC had increased.  Most important last year was the Commission’s work on human resources in the common system.  He was pleased that the updated Standards of Conduct had been completed and he recommended that the Assembly approve them on a consensus basis.  The Standards formed an arch of basic principles to be used by the organizations of the common system.

While the Commission was under constant pressure, it was important that it increase cooperation with partners.  He expected that the Commission would streamline its processes and report to the General Assembly on the application of the revised rules of procedure.  Regarding the review of the pay and benefits system, he noted that the idea of reforming the structure of reimbursement for senior workers was still under consideration.  The review was a serious beginning, the seriousness of which was difficult to assess at present.  He noted the Commission’s decision to continue its work on the topic and to arrive at concrete recommendations at a later stage.

Continuing, he said it was evident that the fundamental task of any reform was to increase the effectiveness of the work of secretariat organizations.  Without fundamental reform of the contracts system -– including the gradual phasing out of permanent contracts -– any change in the payment system was unthinkable.  That issue should be discussed in conjunction with the reform of the contracts system, so as to ensure the flexible use of human resources.  The Commission had not given that due attention so far and had relied mostly on payment systems borrowed from the private sector and certain national civil services.  He was not sure that they could be applied to the United Nations.  The existing proposals involve potential expenditure and Member States must take that into consideration without forgetting other priority tasks facing the United Nations.

It was necessary to consider additional measures to encourage more active workers, while at the same time solving the problem of incompetence.  The existing system of remuneration corresponded to the goals of the United Nations and assured a sufficiently attractive level of payment.  On the whole, the Commission’s report was balanced.  As for its technical recommendations, the financial implications of the recommendations were impressive and their level gave rise to concern.

On the base/floor salary scale, he said that at an increasing number of duty stations, post-adjusted indexes, which were supposed to ensure equal remuneration at different stations, were decreasing to the level of base salaries.  The Russian Federation would like the Commission to correct the problem, which would give rise to additional financial consequences.  It could consider establishing a base/floor salary scale at a lower level so as to exclude unjustified expenditures at duty stations where the correction was equal to nil, and remuneration had a greater purchasing capacity compared to New York.  Russia would continue to contribute to the central coordinating role of the Commission.  He hoped that the present system  would succeed in achieving more rational results.

LI TAIZHANG (China) said China had actively supported the fruitful work of the ICSC for development and improvement of the United Nations common system.  The Commission had focused on two core elements, the Standards of Conduct and contractual arrangements.  Regarding the new standards, China believed that along with expansions in functions of the United Nations system and changes in the international environment, international civil servants must also accept more accurately defined standards of conduct and more universal values.  Only then could they accomplish the sacred mission of pursuing peace.  The standards did meet the requirements of staff in the new century.  The ICSC had carried out useful work for human resources reform.  He hoped that the standards would be constantly improved so that international civil servants would stay motivated in their duties.

Regarding the issue of contractual arrangements, he said China believed such arrangements constituted a critical issue that had a direct bearing on work efficiency.  He was pleased to note that the Commission had emphasized flexibility of contracts while offering a degree of autonomy at the same time.  Different contracts should be commensurate with different tasks.  The nature of activities should determine nature of contracts.  Priority must be given to the quality of staff.  While permanent contracts provided for better staff security, they did not encourage efficiency and the drive to excel.  The most rational arrangement would be a flexible system, which would encourage career staff while preserving an element of competition.  He hoped the Commission would prepare a list of the different types of contracts for submission at the fifty-seventh session.

ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) said that he had expected the report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) to be presented this morning, as he had requested.  He had meant to make his statement after such a report had been introduced.  In principle, his delegation supported the report of the ICSC, which presented a good basis for further work. 

He also noted several aspects of the ICSC report, including those pointed out in its paragraphs 29 and 30, according to which it was a clear duty of all international civil servants to maintain the best possible relations with governments and to avoid any action which might impair them.  The report had stated that they should certainly not interfere in the policies or affairs of governments.  Originally, there had also been language about respect for local laws.  Perhaps, the Chairman of the ICSC could shed more light on the Commission’s understanding regarding the need for the civil servants to respect local laws and regulations.  He also welcomed the comments made by the representatives of the staff organizations, which were beneficial for the work of the Committee.

The Chairman of the Committee, NANA EFFAH-APENTENG (Ghana), reminded delegates that on 6 November, the Committee had been informed that the ACABQ had no objections to the financial implications of the decisions and recommendations of the ICSC, as contained in document A/56/485.

Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that at the preceding meeting, while fully aware of the position of the ACABQ, he had submitted a request for a report to be presented, and he hoped that his request had been transmitted to the Chairman of the ACABQ.  It was not a question of someone speaking on behalf of the Advisory Committee:  under the rules, the report of the ACABQ should be presented in all six languages.  Those rules must not be waived.  No report was available at the moment, and he could not refer to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee. 

OSIRIS BLANCO (Dominican Republic) endorsed the statement by the representative of Chile, on behalf of the Rio Group, and said his delegation supported the report of the ICSC in its fundamental aspects.  However, the document should also reflect serious work on the reform of the contractual system, which would create more attractive working conditions for the employees of the common system.  That would help the Organization bring in more competent staff.  He also expected speedy results in the work on the system of remuneration and benefits, and looked forward to the conclusion of the work on the code of conduct for the international staff.

The President of the ICSC, MOHSEN BEL HADJ AMOR, said he was grateful for the Committee’s support to simplify the pay and benefits system.  He wished to assure delegations who felt uneasy about measures being considered.  When reform of any kind was undertaken, it was only natural that there would be pros and cons, those who wanted evolution and those who were happy with the status quo.  Each point of view would be considered so that, at the end of the day, no one would feel left out of the process.  The ICSC and its working groups were committed to giving the fullest and fairest consideration to all ideas and views.  When it presented its report on the subject, it would have done so by taking account of the diversity and complexity of stakeholders' ideas and views.

He said it was too early to forecast the financial implications of the reform under way.  Reform, however, was rarely cost-neutral.  Any new system had associated cost.  Greater effectiveness and efficiency often came with a price.  The maintenance of the status quo might have greater financial implications than reform because it no longer served the organizations and their interests.  However, he went on, no one should worry unduly; the Commission was more than aware of its responsibility and intended to carry out its work with full respect for its underlying principles, the Noblemaire and Flemming principles.

Recalling why the Commission had embarked upon the review of the pay and benefits system, he said that the ICSC wanted to provide a system that enabled organizations to meet new challenges and to recruit and retain staff of the highest quality.  With the support of Member States, the Commission would arrive at a pay and benefits system that met those criteria and was most appropriate for the United Nations system.

The CHAIRMAN informed the representative of Syria that his request had been conveyed to the Advisory Committee.  There was no need to issue a report, however, that would say that there would be no report.  It was also a way to save resources.  He hoped that Syria understood that position.

Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) stressed the need for the Committee to observe the rules of procedure of the General Assembly.  It was a question of principle.  It was often the case that, as a result of mistakes made by staff, texts had to be reissued.  It was important to discuss a system of accountability to ensure that

staff members could be assured just treatment.  All he was asking for was one page.  Thousands of pages came out every day.

One of the foundations of the ACABQ was the rules of procedure of the General Assembly, which required that the Advisory Committee issue its recommendations.  The fact that he had not called for a report had shown his flexibility in the matter, but the Committee could not deal with the ACABQ by way of correspondence.  It was the third time he had had to ask for a representative of the ACABQ to present its reports.  Someone from that Committee should be present.  If the Committee were to take note of, or to endorse, the ACABQ recommendations, what document would it refer to?  Was there a symbol?

The CHAIRMAN said the summary records reflected the position of the ACABQ, and his understanding was that it was accepted.

MOHSEN BEL HADJ AMOR, Chairman of the ICSC, then informed the representative of Syria that, normally, the ACABQ did not provide its opinions on the whole common system, but only on the United Nations itself.   The financial implications of the decisions and recommendations of the ICSC, which had been submitted by the Secretary-General in document A/56/485, concerned all implications for the United Nations.  Individual costs for each organization were the concern of each governing body and its budgetary committee.  The ICSC report referred to the common system, and the ACABQ did not give its opinion on any other bodies, but the United Nations itself.

Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that the Committee needed a financial paper on the matter.  There was a document on financial implications, and under the rules of procedure, there should also be a report of the ACABQ on the matter.  However, respecting the position of the Chairman of the ICSC, he would accept an exception in this case.  As for the summary records, they sometimes contained mistakes and could not be relied on in the same way as an official document.

SEYED MORTEZA MIRMOHAMMAD (Iran) said that following a break, the Fifth Committee would resume its work in a week which coincided with the holiday of Ramadan.  Arrangements should be made for the Muslim delegations to break their fast in the afternoon. 

The Committee then concluded its consideration of the item.

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For information media. Not an official record.