BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF PEACEKEEPING FINANCE ISSUES, INCLUDING BRINDISI LOGISTICS BASE, CONTINGENT-OWNED EQUIPMENT

13 May 2003
GA/AB/3564

BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF PEACEKEEPING FINANCE ISSUES, INCLUDING BRINDISI LOGISTICS BASE, CONTINGENT-OWNED EQUIPMENT

13/05/2003
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3564

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee (Resumed)

50th Meeting (AM)

BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION OF PEACEKEEPING FINANCE ISSUES,

INCLUDING BRINDISI LOGISTICS BASE, CONTINGENT-OWNED EQUIPMENT

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) continued its discussion of the administrative and budgetary aspects of the financing of peacekeeping operations this morning, focusing on issues including the proposed budget for the United Nations Logistics Base at Brindisi, Italy, contingent-owned equipment and the peacekeeping support account.

Mindful of the crucial role played by the Brindisi Logistics Base for the rapid deployment and support of peacekeeping operations, the representative of Greece, on behalf of the European Union, supported the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the Bases’ proposed budget for 2003-2004.  In its report, the ACABQ recommends that the General Assembly approve cost estimates for the Logistics Base amounting to some $22.21 million gross for the biennium 2003-2004 in comparison to the $23.26 million proposed by the Secretariat. 

He expected, however, that increased resources for the Logistics Base would contribute, together with the implementation of Strategic Deployment Stocks -- a concept introduced last year, for which the Assembly approved some $141.55 million -- to improving the overall organization of peacekeeping logistics, as well as to creating a basis for future operational effectiveness and efficiency gains.  The Union also favoured the expanding role of the Base as a training centre for peacekeeping staff, and welcomed the emergence of the Base as a “global hub” for communications and information technology support for peacekeeping operations and for peacekeeping-related procurement. 

Noting the rapid pace of increase in the budget level for the Brindisi Logistics Base, Japan’s representative shared the opinion of the Advisory Committee that if the decrease in peacekeeping operations were to continue, it would be difficult, during the next period, to justify the current levels in the support account for the Base.  The delayed implementation of the budget for the establishment of the strategic deployment stocks was also a concern.

Regarding the reform of the procedures for determining reimbursement to Member States for contingent-owned equipment, he said several troop-contributors were finding it difficult to accept certain aspects of a model memorandum of understanding, which provide a legal framework governing the relationship between the United Nations and troop-contributing countries in the provision of equipment, service and personnel.  In that connection, he believed that a model memorandum should incorporate elements of flexibility to facilitate the negotiation process and early reimbursements to Member States.

Continuing its discussion of the peacekeeping support account, several speakers noted that the increase requested by the Secretariat for the support account –- some 15 per cent -– coincided with a reduction in the number and size of peacekeeping operations.  For the 2003-2004 biennium, the Secretariat is proposing a budget of some $115.86 million for the support account, or an increase of about $14.97 million over the previous biennium.  The increase is mainly due to changes in standard salary costs and the inclusion of posts for resident auditors.

Describing the support account as one of the Committee’s most important issues, Greece’s representative said that at a time of decreasing peacekeeping activity, the level of the support account must be commensurate with the number and size of active peacekeeping missions.  While there did not have to be a rigid mathematical ratio between the two, the support account needed to demonstrate responsiveness to the level of field activity.

Also speaking in this morning discussion were the representatives of the United States, Fiji (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Group), Turkey and Venezuela. 

Jan Beagle, the Director of the Office of Human Resources Management Specialist Services Division, responded to delegates’ comments.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 15 May, to continue its discussion of peacekeeping financing, as well as to discuss the financial situation of the United Nations.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to continue its discussion of various administrative and budgetary aspects of United Nations peacekeeping operations, including the support account for peacekeeping operations, gender mainstreaming, the United Nations Logistics Base at Brindisi, resident investigators and contingent-owned equipment. 

[For background information, see press release GA/AB/3563 of 12 May.]

Statements

DIMITRIOS ZEVELAKIS (Greece), on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the support account was one of the most important issues the Committee would examine during its session.  The number, quality and performance of United Nations personnel at Headquarters responsible for managing peacekeeping missions were critical to effective performance in the field.  At a time of decreasing peacekeeping activity, the level of the support account had to be commensurate to the number and size of active peacekeeping missions.  While that did not mean there was a rigid mathematical ratio between the two, the support account needed to demonstrate responsiveness to the level of field activity and it was essential that that be a salient feature of future peacekeeping support account budgets.

Investments in training and in communications and information technology should improve efficiency and performance, he said.  Returns on investment needed to be demonstrable –- not implicit -– and reflected in all future peacekeeping budgets.  The Union expected the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to come forward with a comprehensive plan on training and training-related travel costs, to ensure that those investments were made on the basis of need-analysis and specific demand.  While he welcomed the Secretariat’s efforts to ensure the presentation of the support account in results-based format, he concurred with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that further improvements should be made.  In view of efforts already taken to streamline procedures, he had expected concrete information on the actual workload.  Indicators of achievement should be more specific and the link between resources, expected accomplishments and outputs more clear.

Concerning the issue of gender mainstreaming, he said the Union was convinced of the necessity of establishing the post of a Senior Gender Adviser in the DPKO.  He looked forward to receiving information on how the Adviser would guarantee close cooperation between the DPKO and the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues. 

Regarding the proposed budget of the Brindisi Logistics Base, mindful of the Base’s crucial role for the rapid deployment and support of peacekeeping operations, he concurred with the ACABQ’s recommendations.  The Union expected the increased resources of the Base for 2003-2004, as requested by the Secretary-General, would contribute, together with the progress to be achieved in the implementation of Strategic Deployment Stocks, to improving the overall peacekeeping logistics organization.  The Union favoured the expanding role of the Logistics Base as a training centre for peacekeeping operations’ staff and welcomed its emergence as a global hub for communications and information technology support for peacekeeping operations and for peacekeeping-related procurement. 

He said the concept of regional investigators for most field investigations appeared to have merit, as the investigators would be close to the missions and operationally independent.  The Union would carefully examine the request for 12 posts for a regional investigation capacity in Nairobi and Vienna, in addition to those based in New York.

On contingent-owned equipment, the Union would welcome further review by the Board of Auditors of such issues as memoranda of understanding, pre-deployment inspections, arrival inspections, verification reports and personnel resources.  He reiterated the Union’s support for mandatory pre-deployment inspections.  He agreed with the Advisory Committee on the need to streamline the process of negotiation and approval of memoranda of understanding, with a view to signing them before deployment.  Regarding death and disability benefits, the Union welcomed the fact that almost all claims were now processed within the 90-day timeline established by the General Assembly.  In future, information on the issue should be included in the overview report on peacekeeping operations.

He noted with concern that the recruitment process of professional staff in the DPKO had shown little improvement between the previous audit of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in 1999 and the new audit in 2002.  Given the fact that the OIOS report was already partly outdated, he would welcome a new audit on the actual recruitment policies and procedures.  The Department should take the necessary steps to fill vacancies within the 120-day time frame.  He welcomed the target of 95 days from the posting of vacancy announcements.  He concurred, in principle, with the ACABQ recommendation that posts that were not filled within 12 months after becoming vacant or being approved should be deemed to have lapsed.

Regarding mission liquidation activities, he was concerned with the delays in the liquidation of missions and the OIOS view that those were mainly due to the absence of systematic planning and monitoring mechanisms.  The Union looked forward to the submission of the Secretary-General’s report on strenghtening the role of the Brindisi Base in procurement.

CHRISTOPHER WITTMAN (United States) said that he was grateful to the Secretary-General for providing the detail the Assembly had requested on the position of a Senior Gender Adviser to the DPKO.  He regretted that progress on that issue had been delayed in part because of uncertainty on how the position would relate to other gender mainstreaming positions within the Secretariat.  The information provided was a great use to his delegation. 

He shared the views of the ACABQ that the dual system of accounting for contingent-owned equipment was cumbersome and looked forward to further discussion of possible solutions to that issue, he continued.  He also supported moving the OIOS peacekeeping oversight resources to the support account, but questioned the need to appoint new positions to provide administrative support for such a transfer.  Delays in filling vacant positions impacted on the Organization’s ability to move forward with better management, and he remained concerned that many support account positions were unfilled, under-filled, or occupied by temporary staff pending the completion of recruiting.  He supported the Secretariat’s efforts in hiring qualified personnel as quickly as possible. 

The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations had requested the Secretariat to present the results of an independent review of the status of implementation of the reform initiated by the Brahimi Panel at the fifty-ninth session, but his delegation would like to request that the report be advanced for presentation to the fifty-eighth session of the Assembly, he said.  He was also intrigued by the ACABQ request for a comprehensive examination of the merits of establishing a procurement hub for all peacekeeping missions at Brindisi.  A sole depot model for procurement could be cost-effective, but his delegation was cognizant of the fact that questions on geographic participation in contracting and other supply activities would be raised. 

With the level of peacekeeping declining from previous highs, at a certain point reductions in the number and complexity of missions called for a similar reduction in the resources, he continued.  His delegation was sympathetic to the difficulties that the Secretariat faced in planning for those surges and retreats.  All the same, reforms enacted in recent years had been intended to allow the Secretariat to respond to surges in peacekeeping activity.  It was important for the Committee to remember that reforms were not intended to create a larger organization immune to changes, but to better respond, so that member contributions were spent in the most efficient manner.

ISIKIA R. SAVUA (Fiji), on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum Group, said the Group attached great importance to the significant role of peacekeeping operations for the maintenance of international peace and security.  As a core function of the United Nations, peacekeeping activities needed adequate resources.  Member States must meet their obligations to pay their fair share of peacekeeping costs in full and on time.  Whatever the outcome on the treatment of peacekeeping accounts, the Group would be interested in streamlining the frequency and number of peacekeeping assessments.  A simpler and more predictable system of peacekeeping assessments would be particularly beneficial for small- and medium-sized delegations.

He said the support account played a vital role in ensuring that field operations received adequate backstopping and guidance from Headquarters.  Overall, the Group was satisfied with both the allocation of resources and performance of the DPKO and other dimensions of peacekeeping support.  One or two areas required attention this year.  In particular, he supported the proposal to establish a dedicated gender advisory capacity in the DPKO.  The United Nations had done excellent work in the field of gender mainstreaming.  The gender mainstreaming strategy provided a compelling case for the necessity of the function and he was encouraged that it had received the ACABQ’s support.

The Group was concerned that a small number of troop-contributors had large sums owed to them by the United Nations for troop or contingent-owned equipment costs, he said.  He welcomed the fact that progress had been made over the past year in reducing those debts.  He urged, however, the Secretary-General to continue efforts to streamline the reimbursement process and encouraged all Member States to meet their peacekeeping assessments in full, so that troop-contributors did not suffer lengthy delays in receiving payments.  The presentation for the first time of the new results-based format of the budget and performance reports had proved useful for the Group.

MEHMET SAHIN ONANER (Turkey) said that his country attached great importance to peacekeeping as an important tool in the maintenance of international peace and security.  Turkey participated in a number of missions in various parts of the world.  He agreed with the view that the decreasing trend in peacekeeping should be reflected in the level of the support account.  The logistics dimension of rapid deployment required special attention, and he noted the particular importance of the Brindisi Base in that respect.  He also concurred with the ACABQ that the report on strategic deployment stocks should be consolidated with a report on the Base.

SHINICHI YAMANAKA (Japan) noted that the Secretariat was requesting a 15 per cent increase in expenditures for the support account, while the number and size of peacekeeping operations were being reduced.  He supported the recommendations of the ACABQ contained in its report, document A/57/776, with the following comments.  Considering the need to strengthen effective administration and transparency for internal oversight, his delegation could support the proposal to move resources for resident auditors from individual mission budgets to the support account.  At the same time, however, criteria existed for establishing resident auditor posts, and those had to do with the financial level of relevant peacekeeping operations.  In that context, his delegation noted the proposal to abolish two posts in the United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one post in the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor, while adding three others at a higher level for three peacekeeping operations.  His delegation needed clarification in that regard.  

As for the regional investigators, he supported the establishment of a regional OIOS investigative capacity for the Nairobi hub.  He also supported the ACABQ recommendations regarding the gender adviser functions in which the post should be set at the P-4 level, rather than at P-5, and the establishment of an additional general service post was not recommended.

Turning to the proposed budget for the Brindisi Base, he noted the rapid pace of increase in the budget level for the Base.  He shared the opinion of the ACABQ that if the decrease in peacekeeping operations were to continue, it would be difficult, during the next period, to justify the current levels in the support account for the Base.  His delegation was also concerned about the delayed implementation of the budget for the establishment of the strategic deployment stocks, and wished to have clarification in that regard. 

On the results-based budgeting, he commended the Secretariat’s efforts to present the proposed budgets in the new format and looked forward to further improvements in the future.  It was important to provide proper information to Member States.  In that connection, once again his delegation wanted to express its concern about the criteria for preparing estimates for, and charging items to, miscellaneous expenses.  He supported the conclusions and recommendations of the ACABQ contained in paragraphs 134 to 136 of document A/57/772, requesting the Secretariat review the criteria. 

Finally, regarding a model memorandum of agreement, his delegation agreed with the Secretary-General’s observations regarding the situation the Organization was facing, particularly as far as the reform of the procedure for determining reimbursement to Member States for contingent-based equipment was concerned.  As some troop-contributors were finding it difficult to accept certain elements of a model memorandum of understanding in connection with legal and constitutional constraints, his delegation believed that a model memorandum should incorporate some elements of flexibility in order to facilitate the finalization of the negotiation process and lead to early reimbursements.

Mr. WITTMANN (United States) asked when the item on resident investigators would be taken up, as his delegation had requested information on the issue.

The Committee was informed that written information would be presented on Thursday.

The Committee then turned to issue of the salary of the Secretary-General and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, as well as compensation and conditions of service of other than Secretariat officials of the United Nations.

ADAMANTIOS TH. VASSILAKIS (Greece), on behalf of the European Union and associated States, concurred with the ACABQ’s recommendations concerning the salary and retirement allowance of the Secretary-General and the relevant recommendation on the salary and pensionable remuneration of the UNDP Administrator.  He approved of the financial implications of the recommendations concerning the gross and net salary of the Secretary-General and the retirement allowance for the three former Secretaries-General, as well as the proposed amendment to the United Nations staff regulations.

Regarding the conditions of service and compensation for full-time members of the International Civil Service Commission and the Chairman of the ACABQ, he took note of the Secretary-General’s proposal and asked for clarification on the cycle of revision. 

Regarding members of the International Court of Justice, and the judges of the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Union had examined the issue concerning the existence of any provision that would bar payment of a retirement pension to judges who had previously served in any one of those organs, while serving as judges of another of those organs.  In that respect, he endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendations and the proposed amendments to the pension scheme regulations of the Court and the two Tribunals.  In light of three different pension regulations in the Tribunals, a newly designed common pension scheme, taking into account the regulations of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund, was needed.    

ASDRUBAL PULIDO LEON (Venezuela) said that the absence of the Secretariat officials in the room while the Committee was discussing the matter was a sign of discourtesy to Member States.

JAN BEAGLE, Director of the Office of Human Resources Management Specialist Services Division, said that the text of her statement yesterday and responses to the questions from the floor had been prepared in writing and would be circulated today.

THOMAS A. REPASCH (United States) thanked Ms. Beagle for that information and asked if the Secretariat could also provide the delegates with information on the number of instances where base pay of the officials involved had been adjusted outside the consumer price index adjustments and five-year reviews.  He believed that such information could help the Committee in its consideration of the matter.

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For information media. Not an official record.