FIFTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF FINANCING OF UN MISSION IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

12 March 2002
GA/AB/3499

FIFTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF FINANCING OF UN MISSION IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

12/03/2002
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3499

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

48th Meeting (AM)

FIFTH COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF FINANCING OF UN MISSION

IN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Secretariat Responds to Delegates’ Concerns

Over Rules Governing Evaluation, Award of Outsourced Contracts in DRC

The United Nations operation in the Congo was the most complex logistical mission ever undertaken by the United Nations, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was told this morning as it concluded its consideration of the financing of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC). 

The Assistant Secretary-General for Missions Support of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Michael Sheehan, said that MONUC was a massive operation of a size and scope never before undertaken by the United Nations.  Unlike all other peacekeeping operations, this “massive operation in a country broken by years of war and neglect” was also being undertaken without the participation of military units from developed countries.

Several speakers in the debate emphasized the need to normalize the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), providing the Mission there with adequate human and financial resources to fulfil its mandate.

While the representative of Uruguay supported the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) to appropriate an additional amount of $56.75 million for the smooth running of the Mission for the period from 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002, India’s representative requested further details concerning the implications of reducing the budget by over $85 million, compared with the Secretary-General’s request.

[In its report, the Advisory Committee found that an amount of $450 million would be adequate to cover MONUC’s requirements for the period in question.  As the Assembly, in its resolutions 55/275 and 56/252, had already authorized appropriations of some $393.24 million, the ACABQ recommended that an additional amount of $56.75 million should be appropriated at this point.]

The representative of Uganda said that the level of resources for MONUC was too low for a country the size of the DRC.  The pace of events was very slow, and his delegation would like to see greater progress in United Nations efforts there.

His country would like to withdraw fully from the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the United Nations took over.  In its current stage, however, the situation did not allow it to do so, however.

Several speakers drew attention to the shortcomings in the format and presentation of the budget proposals, referring also to the lack of transparency in the procurement system and poor justification of some of the requested posts.

Responding to questions raised on the $34 million air-services contract, which was awarded to the PAE/Daher company over the lowest bidder, Mr. Sheehan said that aggressive action had been taken to correct the problems identified.  The Logistics Chief and the new head of the DPKO Acquisition Cell were reviewing all aspects of the issue in coordination with the Department of Management and the Mission itself, which would ultimately be responsible for implementing the mandate entrusted to it.

On the same matter, Andrew Toh, Director of Procurement Division, Department of Management, said that in view of the level of interest in the air contract, he had gone through the whole process with the members of his staff and the offices involved.  He was satisfied that integrity had not been sacrificed and that the contract had been drawn in compliance with relevant procurement rules.  Under those rules, contracts were to be awarded on the basis of the lowest technically compliant bid –- not just the lowest bid.  After extensive discussions, the PAE/Daher bid had been considered to be the lowest technically compliant one.

Also responding to delegates’ questions was Catherine Pollard of the Peacekeeping Financing Division.

Participating in the discussion were the representatives of Morocco, India and Cuba.

The Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 13 March, when it is expected to hear a statement by the Under-Secretary-General for Management on the financial situation of the United Nations.

Background

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning, it was expected to conclude its discussion on estimates in connection with matters of which the Security Council is seized, and the financing of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  [For background information, see Press Release GA/AB/3498 of 11 March.]

Statements

ENRIQUE LOEDEL (Uruguay) said the item on MONUC was of particular importance to his country, which contributed some 1,062 troops to the peacekeeping mission.  Uruguay supported the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) recommendations and endorsed the appropriation of an additional

$56.75 million for the smooth running of the Mission. 

He said the lack of transparency and irregularities in the procurement system had once again been confirmed by the bidding of the air-service contract with PAE/Daher.  The process for purchasing water treatment plants had also not been clear.  The procurement process required major additional adjustments.  He fully agreed with the ACABQ on the importance of installing water purification systems as a way to reduce costs.  Regarding paragraph 23 of the ACABQ report, on the reductions in missions subsistence allowances for military contingents, it was necessary to take into account major differences in costs in the different zones of the region before implementing such reductions.  Regarding the reconversion of 147 voluntary posts within administrative sections, he wondered what the financial implications would be.  In general, the recommendations of ACABQ should serve as a guide to ensure that the Mission was given the proper resources to fulfil the tasks assigned to it by the Council.

OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) stressed the “seemingly unsolvable problem” of late submission of documents affecting the work of the Committee.  His country supported efforts to normalize the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The Mission there must have adequate human and financial resources to fulfil its mandate.  After reviewing the reports before the Committee, his delegation noted that there were shortcomings in the justification of posts.  In its next presentation of the budget, the Secretariat should take into account the recommendations of the ACABQ in that regard, as well as the need to rectify the “gaps and errors” in the budget report.  Like speakers from other delegations, he was also concerned about the situation regarding the granting of a contract for provision of airfield services to MONUC.  He hoped to receive additional information in that regard.

FRANCIS MUMBEY-WAFULA (Uganda) said that his delegation attached particular importance to the situation in the Great Lakes Region and the efforts of the United Nations to make MONUC fully operational.  While expressing appreciation for the efforts of the Secretary-General in support of African efforts in the area, he wanted to highlight his concern about the level of resources committed to MONUC.  It remained too low for a country the size of the DRC. 

He went on to say that the pace of events was very slow in the Democratic Republic, and his delegation would like to see greater progress in United Nations efforts there, including in the implementation of disarmament, demobilization, repatriation, resettlement and reintegration (DDRRR) efforts and the development of the inter-Congolese dialogue.  His country would like to fully withdraw from the DRC as the United Nations took over.  In its current stage, the situation did not allow it to do so.  He called on the United Nations to redress the level of resources allotted to MONUC.

He was surprised to learn that the Secretariat could not justify all the posts requested, he said, requesting clarification of the problem.  On the procurement and utilization of resources, like others, he supported efficient and effective resource use and supported the review of the air-services agreement in line with the recommendations of the ACABQ. 

Expressing concern about the slow pace of response to problems in Africa, he added that the strength and the level of resources allotted to the continent should be increased.  Increased participation of the United Nations in the implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement would help to alleviate the suffering in the DRC.

RAMESH CHANDRA (India) said that yesterday, format and presentation concerns of the budget document had been raised.  He had requested details of the implications of reducing the budget by over $85 million, as recommended by the ACABQ.  On the air-service procurement issue, the Committee had been assured that clarification on the $34 million contract would be provided.  Regarding paragraph 23 of the ACABQ report, on mission subsistence elements, he would look at that issue in informal consultations, keeping in mind the decision taken by the Special Committee on the subject, in particular the linkage with operating effectiveness in various peacekeeping operations.

Assistant Secretary-General for Missions Support of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), MICHAEL SHEEHAN, responding to questions on the air-service contract, said that competent authorities would be provided to the Committee to discuss contractual aspects of the matter.  He shared the Committee’s concern over problems with the contract.  Aggressive action had been taken to correct the problems identified.  The Logistics Chief and the new head of the DPKO Acquisition Cell –- both staff members new to the issue -- were reviewing all aspects of the problem in coordination with the Department of Management and the Mission itself, which would ultimately be responsible for implementing the mandate entrusted to it. 

He said he wanted to put the issue into the proper context.  The United Nations operation in the Congo was the largest, most complex logistical mission ever undertaken by the United Nations.  It was a massive operation of a size and scope never before carried out by the United Nations, and it was being undertaken without the participation of military units from developed countries, which all other peacekeeping operations had.  MONUC was a massive operation in a country broken by years of war and neglect.  Battalion-sized units were to be placed throughout the country.  The enormity of the logistics challenge confronting the Mission was extraordinary.  Everything in the DRC, which was the size of Western Europe, was going to be carried out by air because there was no infrastructure in the Congo.  Fixed-wing aircraft, full of fuel, would be landing on runways to provide jet fuel for helicopters and diesel fuel for vehicles.  The estimate for air operations for the next phase of the Mission was some $170 million for the 2002-2003 budget. 

When comparing air operations in the DRC, two examples could be used, he said.  On the one hand, there was an international airport, such as LaGuardia or JFK, which represented the highest standard of aviation.  On the other hand, there was bush-standard aviation, which was basically landing on a strip of asphalt with no communication or air traffic control.  In MONUC, the standard of air operation was somewhere between the two.  The DPKO was trying to increase safety levels from bush standards to international standards.  It was a reality that the Mission would have to move with some risk, flying and landing on patches of asphalt, gradually increasing its capacity to run as a professional airport. 

The DPKO had higher standards than most other United Nations agencies involved in aviation, he added.  When the East Timor operation was put into effect, the Australian Army had set up air operations for the Mission on strips of asphalt dating back to World War II.  They had put in place a professional air operation, with state-of-the-art equipment.  When Australia wanted to leave, the United Nations replaced its equipment through contractual arrangements.  The Australian Government had been patient, staying longer than it had wanted to, until the United Nations was able to provide a professional operation in UNTAET.  In East Timor, a good air operation was now running, much of it through contractual services.  There was still some risk, however.  The Government of East Timor would benefit from the United Nations effort in the future.

In MONUC -- he had been to the Mission area twice already, he said -- Kindu was the centre of gravity.  Kindu was a strip of pavement with no government and infrastructure, except an army conducted by a young officer far from his capital.  That army officer ran the runway.  The United Nations was moving in, landing jet-fuel-laden aircraft every day.  As the Mission moved east, the United Nations was trying to increase the professionalism of air operations.  The DPKO had very little cooperation on the ground.  The young army major controlled the airstrip, and would continue to do so, as was also the case in Kisangani.  The United Nations would basically be trying to jointly run an air operation in a tenuous environment. 

If the old system were to be followed, it would take from 18 months to two  years to set up the MONUC operation, he continued.  That was why contractual services had to be used.  The DPKO would prefer a Member State government to step in.  South Africa had entered the picture, but it was not enough.  Until this year, there had been no contracts section in the Field Administration and Logistics Division.  A small cell was now coming on board and was reviewing acquisitions management.  DPKO knew it was weak in the area of field procurement.  There had been problems with the MONUC contract.  It was necessary to bear in mind, however, the context of the Mission.  Without contractual services, a bush system would have to be used.  That would be a shame for United Nations staff flying in every day on planes laden with jet fuel. 

His fear was that staff members already on shaky ground, would become paralyzed with fear and unable to make any decision.  The safety report coming out of the Congo was the worst of all field operations.  While the infrastructure and management of airfield operations had to be improved, it was demoralizing for his staff to feel that their professional integrity was being questioned.  And while the Mission could continue to operate at bush standards, when an accident occurred, it would be questioned for taking unnecessary risks.  A balance between standards must be found.  He hoped staff would not be asked to continue to operate in fear, from the seat of their pants, so to speak.

ANDREW TOH, Director of Procurement Division, Department of Management, said that in light of the interest in the air-services contract, he had gone through the whole process with the members of his staff and the offices involved.  He was satisfied that the contract had been drawn in compliance with relevant procurement rules, and integrity was not sacrificed in its conclusion.  The contract was not done in a flippant manner.  In view of the uncertainty of the situation, it took many months to finalize the contract.  At the beginning, it was “a stop and go operation”, which had to change as the situation evolved.  Although the contract discussions had started in the summer of 2000, they were not completed until the spring of 2001 -– not because of delays on the part of any person involved, but as a result of “how the operation was approved” and mandated by the Council.

Responding to questions, CATHERINE POLLARD of the Peacekeeping Financing Division said that the ACABQ had recommended an appropriation of some $450 million gross.  The net amount recommended by the Advisory Committee amounted to some $442.77 million.

Regarding paragraph 75 of the ACABQ report, disclosure on contractual services, she said that the provisions for the air-services contract were included as contractual services under air operations, rather than part of contractual services in supplies and services.  Regarding the adequacy of the amount of

$450 million recommended by the ACABQ to support operations, she said she could provide that information in informal consultations.

LOIPA SANCHEZ LORENZO (Cuba) asked if specific steps had been taken with the staff responsible for the air contract within the context of the accountability system. 

NANA EFFAH-APENTENG (Ghana), Chairman of the Committee, said that the question had already been answered in the context of the explanations provided by the Secretariat.

RAMESH CHANDRA (India) expressed gratitude for the information provided by the representatives of the Secretariat and reminded those present that yesterday a question had been raised in connection with paragraph 89 of the ACABQ report, regarding erroneous information provided to the ACABQ in connection with the choice of the air contractor. 

Mr. TOH said it was important to remember that procurement rules referred to awards on the basis of the lowest technically compliant bid -– not just the lowest bid.  After extensive discussions, the PAE/Daher bid was considered to be the lowest technically compliant one.  In the new and evolving working environment faced by the DPKO, he could only sympathize with the problems of the procurement officer in an unknown situation.  As the Mission evolved, no one could ensure that every contract was going totally in accordance with what had been anticipated.  In this case, the contract allowed sufficient flexibility to match the requirements of the operation in the field.

The Committee thus concluded its discussion of the item.

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For information media. Not an official record.