GROWING DISPARITY CITED BETWEEN RESOURCES AND INCREASING WORKLOAD IN UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE, AS FIFTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES RESUMED SESSION

4 March 2003
GA/AB/3554

GROWING DISPARITY CITED BETWEEN RESOURCES AND INCREASING WORKLOAD IN UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE, AS FIFTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES RESUMED SESSION

04/03/2003
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3554

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee (Resumed)

40th Meeting (AM)

GROWING DISPARITY CITED BETWEEN RESOURCES AND INCREASING WORKLOAD IN UNITED NATIONS

HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE, AS FIFTH COMMITTEE CONTINUES RESUMED SESSION

Scale of Budget Assessments, Information and Communications

Technology, Sexual Exploitation of Refugees, Gratis Personnel Also Discussed

The management review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had observed a growing disparity between the Office’s resources and its ever-increasing workload, Norway’s representative told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning, as it continued its consideration of the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on the comprehensive review of the United Nations Human Rights Office.

[Established by the General Assembly in 1993, the OHCHR is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization by all people of all rights established in the United Nations Charter and other international human rights instruments.  To address the gap between resources and the Office’s growing number of mandates and operational activities, the General Assembly authorized a comprehensive management review in its resolution 56/253.]

The OIOS report was a serious and honest effort to direct the Office of the High Commissioner towards improvement and greater efficiency, Norway’s representative said.  Implementation of many of its important recommendations was well under way.  Yet, it was important to secure regular budget funding for the OHCHR, as voluntary contributions accounted for 67 per cent of the total budget of the Office, and only 88 of the 155 Professional positions were financed from the regular budget.  He said, “It is not possible to do everything with so little resources and with the lack of predictability inflicted by such dependency on voluntary contributions.”

Japan’s representative said he valued the OIOS report on the OHCHR, and its recommendations, which related to organization and structure, executive management, information management, administrative and financial management and human resources management, overlapped with Japan’s concerns.  Japan was particularly concerned about the widespread assignment of project personnel and technical advisers to posts that should be performed by “core” staff and the absence of an established policy on assignments.  His country was also concerned about the serious geographical imbalance in the composition of the OHCHR secretariat

Also stressing his concern with the distortion in the system of funding the OHCHR, India’s representative noted the rapid increase in extrabudgetary funding in relation to regular budgetary resources in the financing of its operational activities.  Extrabudgetary resources had more than doubled from $36 million in 1996-1997 to $79 million in 2000-2001.  What was of even greater concern was that the mandated core activities of the Office were largely supported by voluntary contributions rather than by the regular budget.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services rightly pointed out that the priority status accorded to the human rights programme was not reflected in its regular budget resource base, Greece’s representative said on behalf of the European Union and associated States.  The Union was prepared to consider increased regular funding for the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures, taking into account the recommendations of the OIOS and keeping in mind that some elements were subject to the Secretary-General’s ongoing reform efforts. 

Also during today’s meeting, the Committee took up the Secretary-General’s revised information and communications technology (ICT) strategy.  [By resolution 56/239 of December 2001, the Assembly requested that the Secretary-General resubmit his plan of action for a system-wide ICT strategy, taking into account the need to develop a specific plan to improve efficiency and provide a clear definition of responsibilities within the Secretariat.]

Peru’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that information technology was one of the instruments that would allow the Organization to reach required standards for modernization and to provide Member States with adequate services.  The budgetary aspects of the report should be analysed by the Fifth Committee in the context of the negotiations on the next budget of the Organization. 

Greece’s representative, on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the Union would have preferred to consider the revised ICT strategy at an earlier stage, so that it could be taken into account in developing the budget proposals for 2004-2005.  Commenting on the work of the Information and Communications Technology Board, he said the Union supported that body as an interdepartmental body dealing with the coordination and harmonization of information and communications technology initiatives in the Secretariat.

The Secretary-General had submitted a good paper, representing significant progress in responding to the provisions of Assembly resolution 56/239, Canada’s representative said, also on behalf of New Zealand and Australia.  The effort to look at ICT on an enterprise-wide basis and to have mechanisms for central leadership and coordination was relatively new in the United Nations and progress should be acknowledged.  Although the strategy was broad, the identification of the areas of e-administration, knowledge-sharing and services to governing bodies, provided a useful tool for classifying ICT work.  Additional information would have been useful, however, including a more quantitative estimate of benefits of the various projects.

(page 1b follows)

Responding to delegates’ concerns about the OIOS investigation into allegations of sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa, the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, Dileep Nair, said there were 12 cases of such exploitation, none of which had been substantiated.  On their own, however, the investigators had investigated 43 new cases, and 10 of those had been substantiated by evidence.  There was no denying that other cases of abuse could have been investigated, but the limitations in human and other resources available to the OIOS had prevented the investigators from going any further.

Others participating in today’s discussion, which also addressed the issues of gratis personnel and the scale of budget assessments, included the representatives of Syria and Uruguay.

Mark Gilpin, Chief of the Contributions Service, Department of Management, and Eduardo Blinder, Director of the Information Technology Services Division, also responded to comments from the floor.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 5 March, at 10 a.m. to take up the administration of justice at the United Nations.

Background

This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to continue its debate on the reports related to human resources management, activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), gratis personnel, scale of assessments, information and communications technology strategy, and standards of air travel accommodation.  (For summaries of reports, see Press Release GA/AB/3553 of 3 March.)

Human Resources Reform

YOICHI NIIYA (Japan) welcomed the OIOS report on the implementation of human resources management reform.  Although it was premature to assess the full impact of the reform, as the report observed, his delegation saw that document as a highly valuable one.  However, it was regrettable that the report did not contain information on whether the introduction of the human resources action plan had achieved sufficient results.  Nor did it mention the specific target, especially concerning geographical representation in the Secretariat, which the Secretary-General was expected to set and present to the fifty-seventh session of the Assembly.

He asked if the introduction of the new staff selection system had actually speeded up the appointment process and requested a report from the OIOS on that question.  As for mobility policy, he commended the idea of the managed reassignment programme for young professionals, as that initiative would greatly benefit the career development of qualified staff members and enhance mobility on a larger scale.  At the same time, he wanted to request the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) to make further efforts to promote mobility so that it could complete its mobility policy by May 2007 in an organized manner, avoiding the situation of massive transfer of staff at the time of full application of the policy.

His delegation welcomed the streamlined rules and procedures on human resources management, he said, but those rules and procedures were quite difficult to understand for Member States as they did not clarify the status of delegation of authority.  He believed that the status of delegation of authority, especially where rule 104.14 (b) applied, should be made clear through the administrative instructions.

Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights

ADAMANTIOS TH. VASSILAKIS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the Union attached great importance to the smooth functioning of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to providing it with the sufficient means to carry out its mission, which constituted a priority activity of the Organization.  He appreciated that in its report, the Oversight Office had pointed out that the priority status accorded to the human rights programme was not reflected in the regular budget resource base.  The Union was prepared to consider increased regular funding for the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures, taking into account the recommendations of the OIOS and keeping in mind that some elements were subject to the Secretary-General’s ongoing reform efforts.  The implementation of many of them would contribute to the improved and more effective operation of the Office.

The Union, he said, had noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had agreed with the relevance of the recommendations.  The Union would examine them further in the context of the management review shortly to be presented by the High Commissioner as part of the follow-up to the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening of the Organization.

ARNE B. HONNINGSTAD (Norway) highlighted his delegation’s strong support for the OHCHR, saying that human rights should be firmly rooted and mainstreamed into all United Nations activities.  Words of support should be translated into concrete action, with the needed resources allocated to the human rights machinery.  The OIOS report was a serious and honest effort to direct the Office of the High Commissioner towards improvement and greater efficiency.  Many of its recommendations pointed to areas for improvement that were visible for all who had been following the Office closely over the past years.  The report had been received as a positive instrument for change and innovation, and implementation of many of its important recommendations seemed to be well under way.

The Member States must grasp the opportunity to support the process of change and improvement in which the Office had engaged, he continued.  Norway would support the High Commissioner in his effort to formulate a comprehensive strategy and clear priorities, to assess and improve the Office’s presence at the country level and, not least, to improve the organizational structures and management.  All of the OIOS recommendations were necessary, and were being addressed.  Although in the past few years many things had changed for the better, there was still clearly a job for the Office to do.  The Member States, however should give active support where they could do it best:  in being willing to improve the resource base of the Office. 

The OHCHR played a pivotal role and had increasingly been given more mandates and responsibilities, he said.  The resources, on the other hand, had sadly not followed suit.  The regular budget share of the Office had dropped to a mere 1.54 per cent in the period where the Office had been constantly presented with new demands.  Voluntary contributions accounted for 67 per cent of the total budget of the Office, and only 88 of the 155 Professional positions were financed from the regular budget.  “To make a resounding understatement, this is not satisfactory”, he said.  “The High Commissioner is not a magician.  It is not possible to do everything with so little resources and with the lack of predictability inflicted by such dependency on voluntary contributions.”  The OIOS report had finally observed a growing disparity between resources and workload.  Such a situation could not be allowed to continue.  It was necessary to at least ensure that the core functions of the Office were properly funded from the regular budget.  In the meanwhile, Norway would continue to contribute to the Office.

SHINICHI YAMANAKA (Japan) said his country recognized the important role played by the OHCHR.  Improvement of its management was indispensable to further enhancing its efficiency and effectiveness.  In that regard, Japan valued the OIOS report on the management review of the Office, as it contained a number of recommendations of critical importance to improving management at the OHCHR.  The recommendations, which relate to organization and structure, executive management, information management, administrative and financial management and human resources management, overlapped with Japan’s concerns.

On the issue of human resources management at the OHCHR, he was concerned about the widespread assignment of project personnel and technical advisers to posts that should be preformed by 100 series staff and the absence of an established policy on assignments.  Japan agreed with the OIOS recommendation contained in paragraph 74 of its report, namely, that systematic action should be taken to reclassify all posts in the new organization structure according to their levels and types of service and to decide whether they belonged to the 100 or

200 series.

Japan was also concerned about the serious geographical imbalance in the composition of the OHCHR secretariat, he said.  The principle of equitable geographical distribution should be respected by all heads of departments and offices, and programme managers, in accordance with relevant General Assembly resolutions.  It was imperative for the OHCHR to take necessary measures to rectify its practice of widespread use of project personnel.  The Office also needed to make further efforts to ensure equitable geographical distribution. 

Regarding the OIOS report on the investigation of allegations of sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa, he said Japan strongly condemned any form of sexual exploitation of refugees by humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers in refugee camps.  Japan invited the organizations concerned to continue to take preventive measures in light of the OIOS’ recommendations.  He requested the Oversight Office to continue monitoring the implementation of its recommendations and report on any developments in the Assembly.

JAIDEEP MAZUMDAR (India) said his delegation’s immediate concern was the distortion in the system of funding of the OHCHR.  There had been a rapid increase in extrabudgetary funding in relation to regular budgetary resources in the financing of its operational activities.  Extrabudgetary resources had more than doubled from $36 million in 1996-1997 to $79 million in 2000-2001.  What was of even greater concern was that the mandated core activities of the Office were today largely supported by those voluntary contributions, rather than by the regular budget.  That was not a healthy situation. 

He concurred with the OIOS observations that, over the years, the Office had acquired additional responsibilities and mandates in an ad hoc and uncoordinated way, which did not match its resources.  The General Assembly should be fully apprised of resource implications arising from additional mandates and activities proposed for the OHCHR before they were approved.  That had not been done consistently in the past.  The unplanned growth of mandates and activities had resulted in duplication of effort and inadequate follow-up.  Another unhealthy development was the creation of a cumbersome and unwieldy bureaucracy.  Along with the rationalization of the work of the Office, it was also necessary to address the issue of staff strength and bring their level in line with what the budgetary resources of the organization could sustain.  Assignment of line functions to the staff financed from extrabudgetary resources was most undesirable.

The report also concluded that the current situation had adversely affected the geographical distribution of OHCHR staff and consultants, he said.  The bias in favour of representation from Western Europe and North America was on account of a direct correlation between voluntary contributions and staffing distribution.  Although no figures had been presented for field level Professional staff, it was reasonable to expect a very skewed representation since as many as 92 of 99 Professionals in the field were financed from extrabudgetary resources.  That was also highly undesirable and called into question the very rationale for maintenance of a large field-level presence when regular budgetary resources were inadequate to maintain it.

The enhanced use of information technology in the management system and the strengthening of administrative and financial management of the OHCHR were other important recommendations that should be considered a matter of priority.  Those were only some of the OIOS observations that merited serious attention.  He was heartened to hear yesterday from Under-Secretary-General Nair that the High Commissioner had submitted his report on strengthening the management of the Office.  He hoped that the present recommendations would not meet the same fate as over 100 recommendations resulting from similar exercises on improving the OHCHR management.

Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services Dileep Nair, responding to questions from the floor, said the fact that the Oversight Services’ report had resonated with Member States gave assurance of their value.  On the management review of the OHCHR, he was pleased that the report had been well received.  The fact that the recommendations had already been acted on and that implementation had started was a move in the right direction.  On the actual implementation of recommendations, it would be most appropriate for the High Commissioner to follow up, which he would do as a part of the follow-up to the Secretary-General’s report on the strengthening of the Organization.  The Oversight Office would also monitor the implementation of recommendations to their ultimate completion.

OIOS Report on Sexual Exploitation of Refugees in West Africa

DIMITRIOS ZEVELASKIS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, thanked the OIOS for its report.  It would have been appropriate, however, to have a gender-balanced composition for the investigation teams in such cases.  Sexual exploitation, particularly in the case of vulnerable persons dependent on international aid, was completely unacceptable.  Those who had been found to have engaged in such appalling acts must be held accountable.  The agency which employed them should terminate their contract, and, when there was sufficient evidence, legal action must be taken.

He underlined the importance of the plan of action developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) task force referred to in the report, which contained guidelines for humanitarian organizations when facing these problems.  The Union fully supported the recommendations in the IASC plan of action, which was recently adopted by the humanitarian community and would actively support its implementation.  Regarding the report, the way some cases were presented could have been more delicate.  The Union concurred with the OIOS’ recommendations.  Cases of sexual exploitation must be prevented.

Mr. HONNINGSTAD (Norway) said the starting point when dealing with the horrible issue of sexual exploitation must be the zero tolerance policy.  Humanism had failed when vulnerable individuals were sexually abused by those trusted by the international community to help them.  “We owe the victims not to be seen as trying to minimize or disguise” the fact that even humanitarian personnel sometimes were involved in sexual abuse of women and children. 

Preventing sexual abuse was a managerial challenge, he continued.  United Nations organizations and all their partners must have in place organizational structures that could prevent exploitation from occurring.  Individuals found guilty of such crimes must be brought to justice.  That responsibility rested with the entity they worked for and with local authorities.  However, local circumstances were often difficult, and particular responsibility, therefore, rested with international actors.  It could be up to countries to prosecute international personnel.  Victims of abuse must be given adequate help.  Norway welcomed the OIOS’ constructive recommendations for future work to prevent sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers.  Despite its inherent shortcomings, the report contributed to emphasizing the responsibility of the United Nations to prevent such totally unacceptable practices.  He was satisfied with the preventive efforts by the IASC and trusted that important work to increase accountability would continue.

Responding to comments from the floor, Mr. NAIR of the OIOS said there was concern over the disparity between the allegations and the results of the investigations.  What the consultants had done was a result of their findings from group interviews.  That was not an investigation in any sense of the word, and comparing their efforts to the OIOS investigations was like comparing apples and oranges.  From what the consultants had reported, there were 12 cases, none of which had been substantiated.  On their own, however, the investigators had investigated 43 new cases, and 10 of those had been substantiated by evidence.  As for the standards used by the investigators, they looked for sufficient evidence to initiate action against perpetrators.  Another concern was whether the investigation had been too narrow, he continued. 

As to whether the investigators should look beyond refugees to internally displaced persons, that was an issue of priorities and resources available.  There was no denying that other cases of abuse could have been investigated, but the limitations in human and other resources available to the OIOS had prevented the investigators from going any further.  Many issues still required follow-up.  Sometimes it was difficult to ascertain if the measures to rectify the situation were being implemented on the ground. 

JERRY KRAMER (Canada) thanked Mr. Nair for responding to the specific questions he had posed yesterday.  When an urgent and unplanned case, such as the one before the Committee today, required rapid action, how did the Oversight Office deal with the resource side of such cases?  Where did the money come from?  Was it from OIOS’ regular resources or was there another funding mechanism?

Mr. NAIR said the question of resources was most delicate.  The easy answer was to say that the OIOS did not have the resources.  It begged, borrowed and stole.  It redeployed people.  Every OIOS investigator was currently deployed in some case.  The investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees had been given top priority as it could affect the credibility of the Organization.  The OIOS had had to reallocate its resources, in this case, people.  Some investigators had had to drop the cases they were conducting in order to be put on the investigation.  The Oversight Office had also tried to get people from other areas, including human rights experts and a paediatrician.  The core of investigators had been supplemented by co-opting people with useful and necessary skills.

On funds, including for travel, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had provided additional funds, he said.  Not all the expenses had been paid, however.  The resources already budgeted and planned had to be reallocated.  At the end of the day, other investigations would suffer, but it was a matter of prioritization.

Gratis Personnel

On the subject of gratis personnel, NAJIB ELJI (Syria) insisted that resorting to gratis personnel could only take place when the Organization lacked sufficient resources because some countries did not pay their financial obligations.  The phenomenon of gratis personnel was very unhealthy and should be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances.  He was concerned that there were an increasing number of such personnel.  As annual reports did not include the exact number of such individuals, he wanted to receive an answer to that question. 

While appreciating contributions by Member States in cash or personnel, he affirmed that this phenomenon must be nothing more than temporary, in cases when the United Nations did not have sufficient expertise available among its staff.  Instead, countries should make their contributions to trust funds or the regular budget, and then the Organization could hire the required experts in the field.

The proposal to change the reporting was in contradiction with the exceptional nature of the gratis personnel category, he said.  Unless reports were provided regularly, it would be difficult to monitor the situation.  Thus, reports should be provided every three months, mentioning all relevant information, including the country of origin of gratis personnel.

Scale of Assessments

Mr. VASSILAKIS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that in adopting reformed regular budget and peacekeeping scales in 2000, the General Assembly had also decided not to change the elements of the scale methodology for the upcoming scale period, thus, providing Member States with a much-needed period of stability.  The elements of the methodology, therefore, were not for discussion in the fifty-eighth session.

The reformed scales should ideally have contributed to the Organization’s financial health, he said.  Regrettably, that goal remained out of reach in the absence of the accompanying measures.  Compliance with the provisions of

Article 19 must be encouraged.  The issue of adopting provisions to ensure payment of assessed contributions in full, on time and without conditions must be addressed.  Member States should continue the consideration of issues such as the computation of payments and arrears on the basis of net-net calculations and the merits of biannual calculation of arrears.  At its fifty-sixth session, the Assembly had stressed the importance of Member States in arrears providing a schedule of payment or an explanation of intentions regarding payment.

It had been the Union’s long-standing position that Member States should examine the possibility of introducing incentives, he said.  The Secretary-General’s report contained several pertinent proposals.  The Union had taken note of the proposal that budgetary surpluses be allocated to Member States on an “account-by-account” basis and their respective shares credited to those Member States with no outstanding, due and payable assessments.  The Union concurred with the recommendation of the Committee on Contributions on introducing interest on arrears, a measure that could further be explored.  The Union also endorsed that Committee’s recommendation concerning multi-year payment plans and would like an in-depth examination of the application of such plans.

Mr. IIDA (Japan) said that measures to encourage Member States in arrears to reduce and eventually pay their arrears should, in fact, facilitate the completion of payments by Member States in arrears.  He also pointed out the differences that existed between the cycles of respective countries’ fiscal year and that of the United Nations.  When considering measures to encourage payment of arrears, it was important not to ignore the technical difficulties emerging from such differences.  Needless to say, Japan was making its utmost efforts to pay its contributions to the United Nations, notwithstanding the difference in the fiscal cycles and the country’s difficult fiscal situation.

He expressed doubts about the value of introducing such punitive measures as imposition of indexation or interest on unpaid assessed contributions, as they could, in effect, hinder the efforts of Member States to make payments. They could also be detrimental to the goal of encouraging Member States to pay their arrears.

SANTIAGO WINS (Uruguay) said that no thorough analysis had been made on options if measures did not encourage the payment of arrears.  While it was true that methodology had been frozen in the calculating of assessments, outdated information had been used.  The fact that outdated economic data was used in calculating arrears was problematic.  The economic situation in several countries was not in consonance with their assessments.  Would it be possible to use more recent data, including data from 2002, in calculating assessments?

MARK GILPIN, Chief of the Contributions Service, Department of Management, said that in terms of information available, the normal practice was to include data through 2001 for the consideration of the scale by the Committee on Contributions in June this year.  A more technical explanation of the constraints would be best provided by colleagues in the Statistics Division.  While data would be available for 2002 for some countries, it would not be for a number of others.  Even 2002 data was subject to significant revision.  In terms of a complete database, it was agreed that there had to be a certain lag in terms of the data used.

Information and Communications Technology

Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States,

Mr. ZEVELAKIS (Greece) said that, ideally, his delegation would have preferred to consider the revised information and communications technology (ICT) strategy at an earlier stage, so that it could be taken into account in developing the budget proposals for 2004-2005.  The Union supported the work of the Information and Communications Technology Board as an interdepartmental body dealing with the coordination and harmonization of information and communications technology initiatives in the Secretariat.  Strengthening the planning and evaluating authority and operational capability of that central coordinating body was urgently needed for the establishment of common standards.  That would contribute to addressing the Union’s major concern regarding ensuring compatibility between systems and avoidance of duplication. 

The Board should designate clear points of authority and responsibility for all aspects of information technology in the Organization, he continued.  He also favoured some form of external evaluation of the return of investment indicators during the period covered by the strategy.  The information technology was already a powerful tool in promoting efficiency within the Organization, delivering optimal quality in the programmes, respecting the Assembly’s mandates on multilingualism.  However, the Assembly should keep the issue under review.

The Union attached the highest possible priority to the information technology’s ability to improve the Organization’s allocation of resources to priorities, to generate increased flexibility, remove dysfunctional working practices and improve the quality of the United Nations information work, including the effectiveness of the United Nations information centres.  He trusted the Secretary-general would move ahead urgently with those initiatives.  The Union would want to return to that issue in the context of the discussion of the next budget.  In that context, he urged the sharing of knowledge and the flow of information within the Secretariat and among the organizations of the system with the use of the Extranet and other software applications.  He would like to hear more about the status of the project concerning the United Nations system-wide search engine.

He envisaged the information technology integrating already existing infrastructure across the United Nations system as a whole, and in particular peacekeeping missions.  Cost efficiency and the use of standard equipment to ensure compatibility had to be an objective.  He also stressed the need to prioritize the preparation of an information security policy.  Significant training of staff was required in order to successfully implement the proposals.  Appropriate resources should be allocated to the development of the new comprehensive strategy.

Mr. KRAMER (Canada), speaking also on behalf of New Zealand and Australia (CANZ), said the Secretary-General had submitted a good paper, representing significant progress in responding to the provisions of Assembly resolution 56/239.  The effort to look at information and communication technologies (ICT) on an enterprise-wide basis and to have mechanisms for central leadership and coordination was relatively new in the United Nations, and progress should be acknowledged. 

The overall strategic vision was attractive, he said.  Although broad, the identification of three areas of e-administration, knowledge-sharing, and services to governing bodies provided a useful tool for classifying ICT work.  The paper was also very helpful in stressing the need to assess return on investment and in identifying criteria for such assessment.  Certain additional information would have provided a more comprehensive picture, however.  He wondered what the relative priorities were and if there was a logical sequencing.  A more quantitative estimate of benefits of the various projects would have been helpful.  Also, if the United Nations spent far less than others, what was the consequence of that?  There was no discussion of the resources the strategy would require.  Although the ICT strategy was for the Secretariat, were there plans for cooperation with the funds and programmes?

ICT governance in an organization as complex and decentralized as the United Nations was of central importance, he said.  While CANZ appreciated the progress made by the Information and Communications Technology Board, it also recalled the importance of central leadership for policy, strategic guidance and standard setting.  In the context of the 2004-2005 programme budget, the Secretary-General should address how better to project the leadership required in the Organization’s organizational structure.

Speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, MARIA ARCE DE GABAY (Peru) said that information technology was one of the instruments that would allow the United Nations to reach the required standards for modernization of the Organization and provide Member States with adequate services.  Furthermore, it would allow the Organization to achieve efficient communications with the offices abroad. 

The budgetary aspects of the report should be analysed by the Fifth Committee, once the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) had presented its report on the matter, he said.  The best opportunity in that regard would be in the context of the negotiations on the next budget of the Organization.  Without anticipating the financial implications, however, she considered that other aspects of the report, such as those relating to the focus areas, building blocks and governances, should be considered during the current session.

She thanked the Secretariat for its up-to-date and detailed presentation of the report, saying that the Group supported, in general, its content.  Governance was an essential element of information technology, and she agreed on the need to have a central body tasked with the promulgation of standards throughout the Organization.  The work of the Information and Communications Technology Board was of great important in that respect. 

Mr. ELJY (Syria) welcomed the use of ICT in the United Nations and encouraged its development.  He stressed, however, that technology must be consistent with the Organization’s mandates.  The ICT should enhance the Organization’s legislative mandates.  The application of ICT should be based on economic and efficient standards.  Any use of ICT should be within the budget and not pose any further financial burden on the Organization. 

Responding to questions from the floor, EDUARDO BLINDER, Director of Information Technology Services Division, said that a multilingual system-wide search engine had been implemented in the Secretariat, and he expected its full implementation for the Web sites in the next six weeks.  The next step was to begin a pilot with all the United Nations organizations to use the same software.  That would allow the system-wide search on content stored in individual sites. 

A security strategy was being completed, he continued.  An expert had finally been recruited in the field of information security, who had been working on the strategy for four months now.  It was also necessary to provide the training to the users of technology. 

Responding to questions regarding prioritization, he pointed out that the strategy itself presented the methodology to project return on investment, which was a driving force for prioritizing the activities.  The criteria of total economic impact, opportunity costs and a series of qualitative indicators of return were being applied.  The methodology alone, however, could not determine the start date of projects.  In fact, the availability of resources would be a determining factor. 

He also informed the Committee that electronic inventory of current systems available was being implemented in the Secretariat.  That had already allowed the Division to identify a number of systems that were redundant or duplicated each other.  As for the consequences of the low level of expenditure on ICT, he said that it was felt in many areas, specifically following the budget cuts implemented for the current biennium.  As a result, although there had been no significant disruptions in everyday operations, the Organization was operating under a heightened level of vulnerability. 

Turning to the issues of governance and harmonization, he said that the ICT Board, which had started operations at the end of last year, was the coordinating body in that respect.  It was working on the standards and policies of the ICT strategy.  Once those were in place, he would propose to expand its activities to the individual funds and programmes of the system.  The funding for ICT-related projects and initiatives would be included in the proposed budget for the next biennium, he added.

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For information media. Not an official record.