Fifty-seventh General Assembly
Fifth Committee (Resumed)
41st Meeting (AM)
NEED FOR TRANSPARENCY, FAIRNESS, INDEPENDENCE IN UNITED NATIONS
ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE HIGHLIGHTED IN FIFTH COMMITTEE
At a time of far-reaching reforms within the Organization, Member States would be remiss not to address issues concerning the functioning of the United Nations internal justice system, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was told this morning. The need for transparency, fairness and independence in the administration of justice at the United Nations was a central theme of the Committee’s deliberations.
Introducing the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) recommendations on the administration of justice via videoconference from Geneva, Inspector Wolfgang Munch said the Unit’s report presented a good opportunity to support the Secretary-General in his efforts to make the United Nations a model employer. Among the main concerns in connection with the functioning of the internal justice system was its independence. As the secretariat of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal operated under the aegis of the Office of Legal Affairs, and the Joint Appeals Board secretariat consisted of administration services staff, the possibility for putting pressure on the internal justice bodies could not be excluded.
He said that the central issue of the report concerned options for higher appeals beyond the Joint Appeals Board and the United Nations Administrative Tribunal. The elimination of recourse against Tribunal decisions before the Internal Court of Justice (ICJ) had suppressed the only existing remedy for flaws in the Tribunal’s decisions. Applications for review of decisions of the Tribunal were submitted to a special body, which had been abolished in 1995. That lacuna should be eliminated. One option would be for the Sixth Committee (Legal) to study the creation of an ad hoc panel, which could be composed of a chairperson designated by the ICJ President. Persons serving on the ad hoc panel should be eminent, internationally recognized jurists, and its determinations should be binding.
Today was not the first time that the Fifth Committee had addressed the need to improve the administration of justice in the Secretariat. The initial JIU report on the matter had been presented at the fifty-fifth session of the Assembly, with the Unit expressing concern over the current limitation on the amount of compensation that the Tribunal could award (twice the applicant’s net base salary), as well as the high proportion of unanimous recommendations of the Joint Appeals Board rejected by the administration. Among the Unit’s proposals was creation of the post of Ombudsman with the functions of conciliation,
mediation and negotiation. Other proposals concerned enhancing the authority of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal. In response to the stated need to improve mediation and conciliation machinery, a full-time Ombudsman position was established last October.
Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Morocco’s representative emphasized the right of all staff members to a transparent and just legal system, based on multilevel and impartial legal consideration. Serious problems within the current system of justice made it slow and cumbersome. The Group welcomed the proposal for the establishment of annual reporting on the outcome of the work of the Joint Appeals Board and the Joint Disciplinary Committee, as well as codification of practice concerning acceptance of unanimous recommendations of both the Board and the Committee.
While taking note of the view expressed by both the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee that there was no need to change the nature of the Board, Greece, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, expressed concern over the length of time elapsing between the filing of appeals before the Board and their actual handling. As it was essential to accelerate the procedure, he attached particular importance to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) management review of the appeals process, which would identify the causes of the delays and make proposals to remedy the situation.
The position of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal was presented by the President of that body, Julio Barboza, who supported the proposal to “close the gap” between the United Nations Administrative Tribunal and the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILO), as such a step would provide equity for all employees in the United Nations system. He also agreed with the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that instead of changing the nature of the Joint Appeals Board, it was preferable to maintain the positive elements of the current system while rectifying the problems there.
One way of improving the functioning of the Board was to increase the number of staff to rapidly dispose of the backlog, he said. Another way was to ensure the availability of members to serve on the panel, because now members of the Board served on their own time. Those remedies were simple, and considering the cost of a case when it reached the Tribunal, in the long run, the Organization would save money by investing in the initial part of the administrative justice process.
Also today, as the Committee continued its general debate on the implementation of human resources management reform, many Committee members agreed that, while it was too early to make a full assessment of progress in that regard, the Office of Human Resources Management should be commended for its efforts. Several speakers asked questions about the functioning of the new Galaxy staff selection tool and the extension of personnel reaching the mandatory retirement age of 60. Among other issues addressed in the debate were the questions of equitable geographical representation and the need to introduce incentives in implementing the Performance Appraisal System.
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Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Argentina, Syria, Dominican Republic, Sudan, United States, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Botswana and Algeria.
Reports were also introduced by the Senior Legal Adviser of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Antigoni Axenidou; Jaime Sevilla, Principal Inter-Agency Officer of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination; and the Chairman of the ACABQ, Conrad S.M. Mselle. Responding to questions and comments to the floor was the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, Dileep Nair.
The Committee will continue its administration of justice discussion at
10 a.m. tomorrow, 6 March.
This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to take up a number of reports on the administration of justice within the Secretariat, and to conclude its general discussion of human resources management. (For background, see Press Release GA/AB/3553 of 3 March.)
According to the Secretary-General’s report on the monitoring capacity of the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) (document A/57/276), as the Organization moves towards a results-based culture, monitoring is becoming an essential function of modern management. Among particular measures in this respect, the report lists annual performance compacts between the Secretary-General and his programme managers, which set measurable goals in specific areas. Each department and office agrees with the OHRM on human resources action plans, which record measurable targets in such areas as vacancy levels, geographic distribution, gender balance, mobility and staff development.
According to the document, important tools in ensuring monitoring are the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) and the Performance Appraisal System (PAS), which requires managers to specify staff performance expectations and monitor them on a regular basis. Staff development programmes allow staff to enhance existing skills and develop new ones. The OHRM conducts salary surveys for General Services in New York and in the field and reviews comprehensive salary survey conducted by specialists from various agencies. It also ensures appropriate conditions of service by setting, monitoring and updating missions subsistence allowance rates, and providing guidelines and advice to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The report adds that in November 2000 an Accountability Panel was established within the Secretariat in order to reinforce other accountability mechanisms and ensure that the findings of oversight review bodies are adequately addressed. To assist self-monitoring, the OHRM is also designing monitoring guidelines for the departments.
Reporting on the administration of justice in the Secretariat (document A/56/800), the Secretary-General addresses several proposals in connection with a review of the role of the Joint Appeals Board (JAB): to maintain it as an advisory body; to maintain it as it currently functions; to change it from an advisory to a semi-judicial body with the power to take decisions; or to effect other changes that might flow from staff consultations.
The Secretary-General endorses the option of maintaining the Joint Appeals Board in its current form, while, at the same time, addressing its shortcomings. As for the option to turn the Board into a semi-judicial body, he points out constitutional obstacles preventing staff members from rendering decisions binding on the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General believes that the creation of an ombudsman function will strengthen the informal mediation process and replace the panels on discrimination and other grievances. He also emphasizes the need to strengthen the Panel of Counsel through the provision of a P-4 legal officer post.
Other proposed changes concern the selection of the Joint Appeals Board's chairpersons and giving the Board the authority to decide whether a contested administrative decision should be suspended. Currently, such decisions are made by the Under-Secretary-General for Management, based on the JAB advice. The Secretary-General states that he would not support a change in the current power of the Board in that respect. He also concludes that implementing a proposal to limit to three months the time available to the JAB to produce its report would be “not in the best interests of any of the parties”. Neither would it be realistic, given the lack of adequate resources. In that connection, the Secretary-General has requested the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to conduct a management review of the entire appeals process.
Addressing the Assembly’s request to "close the gap" between the statutes of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal and the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization (ILO) with respect to obligation and compensation limits, the Secretary-General suggests that either the statutes and practices of the two Tribunals should be fully harmonized, or the current system could be retained with an increase in the limit of compensation to be paid.
In a related report (document A/57/736), the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) agrees with the Secretary-General that there is no need to change the nature of the Joint Appeals Board and recommends acceptance of his proposal to “maintain the positive elements of the current system, that is, advice provided by a joint body of peers”, while rectifying the existing problems there. The ACABQ also agrees that there is no need to strengthen the current advisory function of the Board with regard to suspension of action on a contested administrative decision and recommends amending staff rules in order to provide for joint selection of the chairpersons of the Board by staff and management. Welcoming the fact that the OIOS has been requested to conduct a management review of the entire appeals process, the Advisory Committee further makes recommendations regarding the focus of that exercise.
Turning to the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, the ACABQ recommends strengthening that body through an amendment to its statute requiring that candidates for the Tribunal possess judicial experience in the field of administrative law or its equivalent. That change would obviate the need for the third tier, which had been recommended by the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU). The appointments should continue to be done directly by the Assembly plenary.
Among the recommendations contained in the JIU report on the reform of the administration of justice within the United Nations (document A/57/441) is a proposal regarding introduction of an additional level of appeal through the establishment of an ad hoc panel responsible for reviewing the judgements of the existing two Tribunals. As a general principle, the JIU promotes adopting the practice of accepting the unanimous recommendations of administrative justice bodies.
Contained in the report are proposed measures to ensure independence of all bodies concerned with the administration of justice; strengthen informal conciliation and mediation mechanisms; harmonize the statutes of the United Nations and ILO Tribunals; and publish the information on the number and nature of cases before the Joint Appeals Board. Also recommended by the Inspectors is development of comprehensive legal insurance schemes covering legal advice and representation for staff.
An addendum to the JIU report (document A/57/441/Add.1) presents comments on the matter by the Secretary-General and the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB). They express appreciation for the Inspectors’ useful input and proposals, which “essentially extend or revise many of the recommendations made in an earlier report” by the JIU (see document A/55/57) “with a view to strengthening the appellate mechanisms of the United Nations system”. In its general comments, the CEB points out that any reform should take due account of the needs of individual organizations without compromising adequate mechanisms for swift and fair administration of justice.
Regarding the efforts to improve mediation and conciliation, the document points out that the Secretary-General has fulfilled his commitment in this respect by establishing the Office of the Ombudsman last October. The CEB also notes that it appears that in the formulation of their recommendation to align the statutes and procedures of the two Tribunals, the JIU Inspectors have not taken into account the fact that the ILO Administrative Tribunal serves many organizations that do not belong to the United Nations system.
On another proposal, CEB members recall that since 1987 the Secretary-General has followed the policy of accepting all unanimous recommendations of the JAB, except where a major question of law or principle has been involved. In all cases of non-acceptance, the reasons behind the decision are fully detailed. As for organizations other than the United Nations, generally executive heads do not agree with the JIU proposal for automatic acceptance of Appeals Board’s unanimous recommendations. The CEB members also do not agree with the proposal to create “a higher appeal instance”, recalling that in 2001, on the recommendation of the United Nations’ legal advisers, it had decided not to pursue the introduction of a second-tier appellate mechanism.
Views of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal on the proposed changes are expressed in the letter of that body’s President to the Chairman of the Fifth Committee (document A/C.5/57/25). The Tribunal does not support the recommendation for another layer of appeal as current procedures adequately protect staff members and afford them full justice and consideration of their claims. Furthermore, the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman and ongoing consultations to enhance informal conciliation and mediation, as well as the proposals to intensify the authority of the JAB, provide appropriate machinery for the consideration of complaints before they are submitted to the Tribunal. Adding another layer of appeal would also delay an already overly long procedure without providing obvious benefits to employees.
Turning to the proposal to “close the gap” between the two Tribunals, the President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal adds that it would provide equity and equality for all employees working in the United Nations system. The United Nations Administrative Tribunal maintains that if there is a need for further harmonization of the courts’ statutes, it cannot be a condition, unless all the articles and practices are fully harmonized. In view of the overwhelming support for this proposal of various bodies of the system, and taking into account the far-reaching human resources reforms within the United Nations, the Tribunal strongly recommends amending article 9 of its statute in order to close the gap between the statutes of the two Tribunals and remove the restrictions on the authority of United Nations Administrative Tribunal.
Introduction of Reports
ANTIGONI AXENIDOU, Legal Adviser of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the administration of justice in the Secretariat. She said the report addressed certain aspects of the internal system of justice in the United Nations based on General Assembly resolution 55/258 of June 2001.
On the creation of the Ombudsman function, following the staff’s endorsement to create that function and the Assembly’s approval, the Secretary-General’s bulletin outlining the Ombudsman’s terms of reference was issued and the Ombudsman had since assumed her functions. She added that the report also examined the role of the Joint Appeals Board, concluding that its essential premise -- fact-finding and advice provided by a joint body of peers -– surpassed other alternatives, and that it was desirable to maintain and strengthen the Board to make it more effective. The Secretary-General was pleased that the ACABQ had reached a similar conclusion on the matter.
She said the report made other proposals, including on legal backstopping to the Panel of Counsel. The last part of the report set out the Secretary-General’s position on the request that the United Nations Administrative Tribunal be strengthened and specific provisions of its performance be considered for alignment to corresponding provisions of the ILO Tribunal. In view of important differences between the two Tribunals, specific performance and compensation limits should not be viewed in isolation.
WOLFGANG MUNCH, Inspector of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), introduced that body’s report via videoconferencing from Geneva. Videoconferencing, he said, was an impressive example of making better use of available resources.
Some years ago, the delegate of Sweden had stated that the United Nations should be a “model employer”, he said. The inspectors could not agree more. The Secretary-General made constant strides to achieve the goal of making the United Nations a real “model employer”. It was the Unit’s duty to support him in those efforts, and the current report presented a good opportunity to do so.
The report began with a preoccupation with the independence of the administration of justice, he said. The inspectors believed that one of the major steps towards strengthening the independence of all bodies concerned with the administration of justice was the establishment of offices grouping all bodies and institutions. The independence of those bodies suffered when their respective secretariats were apart of or under the aegis of administrative departments. For example, the secretariat of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal was under the aegis of the Office of Legal Affairs. The JAB secretariat consisted of staff members from administration services. The possibility of the administration putting pressure could not be excluded.
Another step towards a more efficient justice system was enhancing the Organization’s capacity for informal conciliation, mediation and negotiation, he continued. Every organization that had not done so should be encouraged to establish an independent ombudsman function, performed by a senior official for a single, non-renewable five-year term. That function should be completed at every major duty station by a person or panel for mediation functions under the guidance of the Ombudsman. The ILO Administrative Tribunal and the United Nations Administrative Tribunal should be enabled to mediate between parties. That power should be attributed to the Tribunals so that when appropriate they might resort to mediation to resolve disputes. The inspectors welcomed the establishment by the Secretary-General in October 2002 of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Concerning the harmonization of the work and procedures of the ILO Tribunal and the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, he said the statutory provisions of the two Tribunals differed in a number of respects, especially in the selection of members, competencies, jurisdictions and case laws. The JIU suggested that the role of joint consultative bodies be more widely recognized. It also recommended adopting the practice of accepting the unanimous recommendations of those bodies without prejudice to executive heads in the discharge of their duties. It would be judicious to publish reports on the number and nature of cases heard before joint bodies. Appropriate consideration should be given to the holding of oral hearings when they could contribute to the settlement of disputes.
On the central issue of the report, options for a higher recourse instance, he said the elimination of recourse against United Nations Administrative Tribunal decisions before the Internal Court of Justice (ICJ) had had the effect of suppressing the only existing remedy for flaws in the Tribunal’s decisions. The Court had played an important role for many years. Applications for review of decisions of the Administrative Tribunal were submitted to a special body, which had been abolished in 1995. That lacuna should be eliminated. One option would be for the Sixth Committee (Legal) to study the creation of an ad hoc panel, which could be composed of a chairperson designated by the ICJ President. The persons to serve on the ad hoc panel should be eminent, internationally recognized jurists. The determination of the ad hoc panel should be binding on executive heads of organizations and the Tribunals. It would review a judgement so that the Tribunal that had issued it could confirm or revise it in light of the panels’ conclusions.
On legal advice and representation for staff members, from the beginning of a legislative procedure, the staff member was not on an equal footing with the administration, he said. While the Secretary-General was assisted by administration officials, the appellant could only resort to the services of an adviser that might not be a lawyer or jurist. The executive heads should ensure collaboration with staff associations in the development of legal insurance schemes covering representation of staff on the understanding that the organization should contribute to those schemes only until such time that they were self-financing.
JAIME SEVILLA, Principal Inter-Agency Officer of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), presented the report containing the comments on the matter by the Secretary-General and the CEB (document A/57/441/Add.1). He said, in particular, that justice was a vital element of good management, and the CEB members found the analysis contained in the report extremely helpful. Given the seriousness of the question, the CEB could not support several recommendations, however, including the recommendation to attribute to the United Nations Administrative Tribunal “the power to mediate between parties”. The CEB members were unanimous in their view that mediation and conciliation should be exhausted before resorting to higher levels of justice. The CEB members were also not sure that unanimous recommendations of the Tribunals should be automatically implemented by the administration. It had also been decided not to pursue any further the introduction of the second tier of appeal.
A related ACABQ report (document A/57/736) was introduced by the Chairman of the Advisory Committee, CONRAD S.M. MSELLE.
DIMITRIOS ZEVELAKIS (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that at a time of far-reaching reforms within the Organization, the Member States would be remiss not to address the issues related to the functioning of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, mindful of the need to protect the rights of the members of the personnel and administration. The Union took note of the view expressed by both the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee that there was no need to change the nature of the Joint Appeals Board.
He regretted the particularly lengthy time elapsing between the filing of appeals before the Board and their actual handling. In that respect, he attached particular importance to the forthcoming outcome of the OIOS management review of the appeals process, which would identify the causes of the delays and make proposals to remedy the situation. It was essential to accelerate the procedure, possibly through the establishment of clear deadlines for the handling of cases. He also trusted that the institution of the Ombudsman would have a positive effect on the workload of the JAB.
Turning to the differences between the United Nations Administrative Tribunal and its ILO counterpart, he said that the issue merited attention and raised a number of questions. As for the proposal to add a third tier, he feared it would prolong the already excessively lengthy procedure and increase the cost by adding more attorneys’ fees, thus, leading to more frustration for the applicant. Reinforcement of administrative procedures in the context of the reform of human resources management would contribute to an improved system of administration of justice in the Secretariat.
Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, AICHA AFIFI (Morocco) said the Group attached great importance to the consideration of the administration of justice item, given its influence in defining a smooth and transparent relationship between the staff and the management. Any reform of the administration of justice system at the United Nations should be in conformity with the Charter and relevant resolutions of the General Assembly. Any proposals pertaining to the reform of the administration of justice should be considered by the Fifth Committee as an administrative and human resources management issue. The issue, in general, required an effective system of accountability and transparency.
Serious problems existed within the current system of justice, she continued, making it slow and cumbersome. In that connection, the Group noted that the Secretary-General, in his report A/56/800, presented possible amendments to staff rules and regulations aimed at reviewing the role of the JAB according to the options contained in section XI of resolution A/55/258. The Group welcomed the proposal for the establishment of annual reporting on the outcome of the work of the JAB and the Joint Disciplinary Committee, as well as the promulgation of an administrative issuance to codify practice concerning acceptance of unanimous recommendations of both the Board and the Committee.
She went on to welcome the establishment of a full-time Ombudsman position, with a view to strengthening the informal mediation process and reducing the backlog in the administration of justice at the Secretariat. The Group could not overstress the right of all staff members to a transparent and just legal system, based on multilevel legal consideration and guaranteeing impartiality. In that regard, the Group underlined the need for a concrete reform process to the administration of justice system. She noted with appreciation that the JIU had presented tangible recommendations in that vein. Those recommendations should be given due consideration by the Secretary-General and the General Assembly.
NONYE UDO (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said she attached great importance to the reform of the administration of justice, which was an integral part of the reform package of human resources management as proposed by the Secretary-General. Resolution 55/258 aptly described that administration of justice at the United Nations as slow and cumbersome. The Group appreciated the JIU’s concrete recommendations for reforming the current system. She concurred with the statement of the Group of 77 on the need for the Secretariat to carefully review the merits of the JIU’s recommendations to present viable alternatives for a speedy reform of the system, bearing in mind that the maintenance of the status quo was not a viable option.
The African Group had hoped that, almost two years after the adoption of resolution 55/258, the Committee would have been in a position to take a decision on the administration of justice, she said. The Group hoped that the informal consultations on the agenda item would provide more clarification on the matter, as well as avenues for implementing reform.
GUILLERMO KENDALL (Argentina) said the objective of the reform of the administration of justice would ensure that administrative disputes were carried out expeditiously and transparently. The JIU had presented a series of recommendations, some of which his delegation fully agreed with. To satisfy parties in an administrative dispute, the possibility of strengthening the first level, namely, reconciliation and mediation between the parties, should be studied. If the first phase were reinforced, the formal stage before the Tribunal could be dispensed with, thereby reducing the number of cases brought before that body.
Regarding the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, he highlighted the need to ensure its independence, especially that of its secretariat, noting that “no one should be a judge in their own case”. On the higher recourse instance, the Committee needed to explore the possibility of making the first level in a case more efficient. Reforms should cover all phases of the process. Although the ACABQ had proposed maintaining positive elements of the present system, the possibility of improving the role of the JAB should also be kept in mind. Discrepancies between the two Tribunals should also be eliminated.
NAJIB ELJI (Syria) said he was convinced that the reform of human resources management should be aimed at transparent relations between the administration and personnel using a fair system of recruitment and mobility. That could be only achieved with simultaneous reform of the system of the administration of justice. He regretted the delay in the publication of documents on the subject, however, because it hindered the consideration of the matter.
He said that the establishment of the post of Ombudsman should play an important role in improving the system. Despite that fact, however, the current justice procedure was extremely lengthy and cumbersome. The appeals system was also in need of improvements. The United Nations Administrative Tribunal needed to be reformed as currently no legal experience was required for the judges. Elimination of recourse against the Tribunal decisions before the ICJ was a great loss for the United Nations administration of justice. Staff members who were truly a great asset to the Organization should have specialized bodies at various levels. He also emphasized the need for adopting the ILO criteria for determining the award in disputes, and said his delegation was pleased at the reform proposals to make the system more transparent and independent.
JOSE RAFAEL PIMENTEL (Dominican Republic) agreed with the ACABQ’s recommendations, in particular, the need to find ways to improve the system for the administration of justice. He stressed the need for greater efficiency on the part of members of the Tribunal.
ANAS ELTAYEB ELGAILANI MUSTAFA (Sudan) said his delegation attached great importance to the administration of justice at the United Nations. He asked for information on the question of honoraria for the members of the different Tribunals. His question was based on information he had received that honoraria for members of the Administrative Tribunals dated back to the 1980s. What were the criteria for the evaluation of honoraria? A better understanding of the issue would impact the performance of the Administrative Tribunals and the way in which they decided on the cases brought before them.
Ms. AFIFI (Morocco) then posed several questions to the President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, saying that the administration of justice was a controversial subject, and she wanted him to elaborate on his vision of the future role of the Tribunal.
Presenting the position of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, the President of that body, JULIO BARBOZA, said that the system consisted of two parts: an internal phase of the administration of justice per se and judicial review. Alternative forms of dispute resolution included mediation efforts, including those by the Ombudsman, the office of which had been recently established at the United Nations.
The JIU report on the role of the JAB and the Joint Disciplinary Committee in resolving staff/management disputes was extremely important. He agreed with the Secretary-General and the ACABQ in that, instead of changing the nature of the Board, it was preferable to maintain the positive elements of the current system while rectifying the problems there. He also agreed that the OIOS should conduct a management review of the whole appeals process in order to find out the causes of the delays and make recommendations to improve the process. In view of the critical financial situation of the United Nations, it was necessary to be realistic and “make do with the elements we have”, he added.
At present, the average time for a case to reach the Tribunal was about three years, he continued, and urgent measures were needed to speed up the process. Reinstatement of a staff member after such a long lapse of time was often practically out of the question. Moreover, such reinstatement implied retroactive payment of salary and benefits, which made the reinstatement extremely onerous to the Organization. The current award limit amounting to a staff member’s two years’ salary exacerbated the problem.
One way of improving the functioning of the Joint Appeals Board was to increase the number of staff to rapidly dispose of the backlog, he said. Another way was to ensure the availability of members to serve on the panel, because now members of the Board served on their own time. On the other hand, a proper reply should be presented by the administration on the review of cases, and more attempts should be made at conciliation. Those remedies were simple, but considering the cost of a case when it reached the Tribunal, in the long run, the Organization would save money by investing in the initial part of the administrative justice process.
He also agreed with the ACABQ that the process of submitting claims and counter-claims should be simplified. The JIU had justly emphasized the need to ensure the independence of the Tribunal, which at present depended on the Office of the Legal Affairs for its functioning –- the same office that represented the administration in many cases before the Tribunal. The Tribunal’s budget was part of the Legal Office budget. He wanted it to be very clear that such a statement did not represent a complaint about the current situation, but, objectively speaking, such a situation should not continue in the future. An independent budget and the capacity to select its own staff would be important steps in ensuring the independence of the Tribunal.
As presented in several reports, closing the gap between the statutes of the United Nations and ILO Tribunals was an important goal, he said. One inequality, which was an object of many comments, was the fact that while the ILO Tribunal had the power to order specific performance, including reinstatement, the United Nations Tribunal decisions in that respect could be set aside by the Organization if it decided to pay compensation as an alternative. There should not be such a discrepancy within the international system. That affected the principle of the equality under the law, as some employees could be reinstated and others did not have such an opportunity.
As for the second tier of appeals, he said that there was already a revision procedure in the Tribunal’s statute when new evidence presented itself. Also, in a certain way, the Tribunal was already an appeals body, as it revised recommendations of the JAB and the Joint Disciplinary Committee. The establishment of the office of the Ombudsman and ongoing consideration of mediation procedures should also be considered as important factors within the administration of justice system.
ELIZABETH NAKIAN (United States) asked for more information on recommendation 6 regarding a comprehensive legal insurance scheme. Clarification on the logistics of implementing such a scheme, including its cost implications, was needed in order to discuss the recommendation.
Mr. ZEVELAKIS (Greece) said he had benefited from the comments by the President of the United Nations Tribunal and wondered if he could pose further questions during informal consultations.
Mr. FARID (Saudi Arabia) said the administration of justice in the United Nations was not adequately functioning. In most cases, staff members lost their cases. He suggested two options, including the establishment of independent legal bodies with binding judgements. Another option was to refer all cases to a legal firm on a piecemeal basis, on the understanding that its decisions would also be legally binding. That approach would guarantee fair examination of the cases and decrease the time needed to determine outcomes.
Mr. ELJI (Syria) asked for clarification on the two tiers of the administration of justice system. The first tier, which was administrative and voluntary, was a binding administrative body, namely, the Joint Appeals Board. The second tier was the judiciary, in which case staff members resorted to the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, which issued a final binding judgement. As there was only one judicial body, the Tribunal, there was no higher authority to mitigate possible errors by that body. Most systems were comprised of two, three or even four tiers.
Responding to questions and comments, Mr. MUNCH said the report was a bit sketchy regarding recommendation 6. It did not require major imagination, however, to understand what the inspectors had in mind. The current scenario consisted of almost “unarmed” international civil servants, on the one hand, and the Secretary-General, equipped with a “strong army of brilliant lawyers”, on the other. That situation was not very encouraging. The Joint Inspection Unit’s report was an attempt to influence the discussion on that subject in more general terms. An insurance scheme for covering the costs for legal advice would be a natural solution. Such a scheme would be for the completion of a start-up phase that would be self-financing, perhaps from staff contributions. During the start- up phase, the scheme might need funding from the employer. The Secretariat could work out the elements of such a scheme, and identify what amount of monthly or quarterly contributions would be needed to safeguard long-term financial viability.
Ms. AFIFI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the Group appreciated the Secretary-General’s recent efforts to reform human resources management. She reaffirmed the importance of the central role of the Office of Human Resources Management in achieving that objective. The reform process should be conducted in accordance with relevant resolutions, in particular, resolutions 53/221 and 55/258. It was too early to assess the full impact of the human resources management reform. The OHRM had already taken a number of reform initiatives, and the Group was ready to consider the matter once it had received sufficient information on the implementation of those initiatives.
On human resources planning, she noted that the OHRM was establishing a new Planning, Administration and Monitoring Service to support the human resources planning capacity throughout the Secretariat. The OIOS had encouraged the OHRM to include more indicators in the action plans to enhance planning at department levels. Such service needed further refinement, as well as strong alignment with the department’s operational goals and a stronger link to new staff selection system. Additional targets and indicators would improve the value of action plans as planning tools.
The Group welcomed the introduction of the new recruitment and selection method through the Galaxy system as means of implementing the initiatives of human resources management reform, provided that it enhanced the transparency and effectiveness of the recruitment process. Despite the significant advantage of the Galaxy system, a lack of accessibility posed a risk to the achievement of the objectives of the new staff selection method. Appropriate mechanisms to process the growing number of applications received through the system had to be urgently introduced. The system should improve equitable geographical distribution among Member States. A lack of access to information technology might pose a problem for some developing countries.
On the issue of mobility, she noted that the OHRM had introduced several mechanisms to promote mobility. The Oversight Office considered the offering of incentives as the most effective way to ensure the smooth implementation of the new mobility policy. Voluntary mobility also needed to be encouraged through streamlined administrative procedures that facilitated staff transfers and integration into new duty stations. Since increased mobility could negatively impact the institutional memory of the Organization, it was essential that mechanisms for knowledge transfer and continuity of expertise were built into the mobility process. Staff mobility must ultimately enhance the productivity of staff through broadening experiences and increasing work satisfaction.
Regarding competencies, continuous learning and career development, she said the Group shared the OIOS view that the foundation of a high-performing organization was well-trained staff with clearly defined competencies and core values. In a relatively short period, the OHRM had implemented a number of programmes to promote such characteristics within the United Nations. Concerning the introduction of e-PAS, the application of the system faced major obstacles that required organization-wide solutions.
On streamlined rules and procedures, one of the most visible initiatives taken by the OHRM was the dissemination via Internet of the revised administrative documents and Personnel Manuel and the establishment of a human resource-policy service to enhance uniform application of rules throughout the Organization. Such a system left significant potential for increasing the efficiency of administrative procedures, she added.
She concurred with the view of the OIOS that further advancing the human resources management reform would necessitate the continuous commitment of the OHRM and the Organization to the reform process. She requested that the OIOS report be considered in the context of the agenda item on human resources management.
JERRY KRAMER (Canada) said the OIOS report before the Committee was very helpful. The sense was that the OHRM had accomplished a lot, and while much remained to be done, it should be commended. He had several questions, however. The staff Performance Appraisal System (PAS) in real life was not connected either to staff members’ contribution to the Organization or any tangible results. It did not affect either the salary or promotion prospects. He wondered if the OHRM had investigated the usefulness of the PAS. He also wanted to know about the importance attached to continuous training and the low level of investment in that respect. Should the training be offered entirely in-house or should arrangements be made to give the staff opportunities to learn outside the Organization?
COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE (Botswana) agreed that the OIOS report constituted a good basis for further consideration of the issue. While it was premature to make a full assessment of the implementation of the reform, he acknowledged the achievements of the OHRM to date. Aligning himself, on behalf of his African colleagues, with the United States’ questions on Monday, he said that he, too, would like to get information about the number of extensions beyond the mandatory retirement age. How many jobs had been advertised and offered to external candidates? Many countries were facing the problems of being under-represented, especially at high levels? In that connection, he wanted to receive projections of separation of staff in connection with retirement. How would the Member States be affected in that respect?
Responding to comments, the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, DILEEP NAIR, said much improvement was needed in terms of initiatives already started. Although the Galaxy system was good, it had many bugs. The
e-PAS also needed to be improved. Regarding the PAS, the OIOS found that the PAS was used as a stand-alone system. Individual work plans, for example, were not connected with what department had to do as a whole. If departments established their work plans before staff did, there would be a cascading effect. In the case of promotion, the question was what credibility was put on the PAS ratings system. The way people rated staff left something to be desired. The ratings were skewed to everyone being average or above average. A credible rating system was needed to determine who was eligible for promotion.
Regarding training, he said that the money invested in training was not commensurate with the importance placed on it. In many other organizations, some 4 to 5 per cent of budgets went to training. That was not the case with the United Nations. The Oversight Office felt that the United Nations’ focus on training was below the norm as compared with other organizations.
ABDELMALEK BOUHEDDOU (Algeria) asked for information on follow-up to paragraphs 8 and 9 of resolution 55/258, specifically on management irregularities and attempts to recoup losses suffered by the Organization. The Oversight Office had indicated that the Secretary-General envisioned the establishment of a new administrative instruction regarding those issues. Did Mr. Nair find it reasonable for the issuance of an administrative instruction to require two years?
Ms. UDO (Nigeria) asked for further information regarding promotions of staff under the new human resources management system. Also, yesterday, the Committee had been told that the new Galaxy recruitment tool was working very well, and she would like to receive statistics regarding its functioning.
Mr. NAIR replied that it would be more appropriate for the OHRM to answer most questions, particularly those related to statistics.
Ms. AFIFI (Morocco), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, raised a point related to the programme of work of the Committee. The Group felt that it was extremely important for administrative and budgetary matters to be considered by the Fifth Committee, and the Committee Chairman should request that the single-stage intergovernmental review of the programme budget and medium-term plan should be assigned to the Committee instead of the General Assembly plenary.
The representatives of Greece (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), the United States and Canada said they would present their positions on the matter at a later date. Greece’s representative also requested that the comments by the President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal be circulated as a conference room paper.
The representatives of Australia, Algeria and Venezuela asked for clarification regarding the assignment of that agenda item.
The Committee’s Chairman, MURARI RAJ SHARMA (Nepal), said the Bureau would attach the highest importance to the issue. He would also ask the President of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal to make his statement available to the Committee members.
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