BUDGET COMMITTEE OPENS FOUR-WEEK HEADQUARTERS SESSION WITH FOCUS ON PEACEKEEPING FINANCE

5 May 2008
GA/AB/3845

BUDGET COMMITTEE OPENS FOUR-WEEK HEADQUARTERS SESSION WITH FOCUS ON PEACEKEEPING FINANCE

5 May 2008
General Assembly
GA/AB/3845
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Fifth Committee

37th Meeting (AM)

BUDGET COMMITTEE OPENS FOUR-WEEK HEADQUARTERS SESSION

 

WITH FOCUS ON PEACEKEEPING FINANCE

 

2008/09 Peacekeeping Budget Estimated at More Than $7 Billion;

Speakers Express Serious Concern over Chronic Late Issuance of Documents

With the United Nations peacekeeping budget for 2008/09 period currently estimated at more than $7 billion, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) opened its second resumed session today by taking up the proposals on the disposal of the assets of several closed peacekeeping missions and full consolidation of peacekeeping accounts, as well as the budgets of peacekeeping missions in Georgia, Lebanon, Burundi and Sierra Leone.

The budget cycle for peacekeeping missions runs from 1 July to 30 June each year, and the Committee traditionally devotes its May session to peacekeeping financing in all its aspects.  As they debated the organization of work for the next four weeks, however, numerous speakers expressed serious concern over the chronically late issuance of documentation, which had a significant negative impact on the Committee’s work, supporting a recent letter by its Chairperson in that regard.

Illustrating the severity of the problem, the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Susan McLurg, said that, while the winter session of the ACABQ had started on 5 February, documentation on all but a handful of missions had not been submitted until after 15 March.  The documentation required for the consideration of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) had been received only after 10 April.

Introducing an updated report on the Secretary-General’s proposal to consolidate all peacekeeping accounts, United Nations Controller Warren Sach said that its acceptance would yield significant benefits to Member States, streamline administrative work and provide an improved framework for the financial management of cash resources.  Currently, the cash balance in peacekeeping operations was segregated in separate peacekeeping accounts for each mission.  As there was great variance in the cash balances of individual missions, that resulted in uneven reimbursements to troop contributors and unnecessary delays.

Outlining other benefits of proposed action, he said consolidation would also reduce the number of Assembly resolutions, performance reports and financial statements and rationalize the workload of several units of the Secretariat, while also reducing the costs for editing, translating and printing.

The representatives of Slovenia, on behalf of the European Union, and Switzerland lauded the proposed consolidation as an important part of the modernization of the Secretariat and a “straightforward reform proposal”, which would bring about obvious efficiency gains without the usual reform price tag.

Japan’s representative, however, had serious doubts about the effectiveness of proposed consolidation and was concerned that it could have a negative impact on some Member States’ obligation to pay their arrears.  The Secretariat argued that the consolidation could have some beneficial effect in terms of timely reimbursement to troop- and police-contributing countries, but the underlying cause of delayed reimbursement was the non-payment of dues by Member States, he said.

He insisted on the need to strictly observe the current requirement of having both an individual Security Council decision on each mission’s mandate and assessments corresponding to such action.  Any blurring of that requirement would create difficulties for certain Member States, including his own, to justify the payment of assessments.  Delinking assessments and specific mandates could also distort sound budgetary discipline and prejudice the consideration by the Council.

In connection with the situation of the United Nations 20 closed missions, 15 of which had cash surpluses in the amount of almost $182 million and 5 had deficits totalling some $88 million, Japan agreed with the Advisory Committee’s opinion that return of credits to Member States did not depend on acceptance of the proposal to consolidate the peacekeeping accounts and that the credits from closed peacekeeping missions should be returned to Member States.  Stating otherwise would be tantamount to putting expedience before fundamental rules of the Organization.  Closed missions with cash deficits should be addressed through timely and full payment of assessments by Member States.

On the same issue, Slovenia’s representative, on behalf of the European Union, said that the United Nations financial rules and regulations made it clear that the balance of any appropriations should be returned to Member States after a period of 12 months.  The Committee had come tantalizingly close to reaching agreement on that matter during its sixty-first session, only for an arbitrary link to be made between the return of credits and reimbursements from closed missions in cash deficit.  The Union did not believe such a link was appropriate.  Continued retention of funds was not acceptable.  That also applied to outstanding liabilities in closed peacekeeping missions.

Also speaking were representatives of Antigua and Barguda (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), New Zealand (also on behalf of Australia and Canada), United States, Japan, Sudan and Guatemala, as well as the Officer-in-Charge of the Peacekeeping Financing Division, Jayantilal Karia; and the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Ms. McLurg.  Mr. Karia and Ms. McLurg also introduced several reports before the Committee.

According to the programme of work for the first week of the session, which was approved today, on the understanding that adjustments would be made, as necessary, the Committee will take up cross-cutting peacekeeping issues and the Board of Auditors at 10 a.m. Thursday, 8 May.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to begin its second resumed session today by deciding on its programme of work and taking up financing of United Nations peacekeeping.

United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia

The Secretary-General’s report on the proposed budget for the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) for the period from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009 (document A/62/680) estimates its amount at $34.7 million.  The budget would provide for the deployment of 136 military observers, 20 United Nations police officers, 115 international staff, 211 national staff (including 1 temporary position) and 1 United Nations Volunteer.

According to UNOMIG’s performance report (document A/62/633), during the period 2006/07, the political situation in the Mission area was marked by escalation of tension and lack of regular dialogue between the parties.  Those factors have had a negative impact on the ability of the Mission to complete a number of planned outputs. With some $33.38 million approved for the maintenance of UNOMIG for the period from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007, actual expenditures for the period totalled some $32.3 million gross.

The unencumbered balance of $1.08 million gross reflects underexpenditures of $73,700 under military and police personnel; $375,900 under civilian personnel; and $630,400 under operational costs.  Key variances also reflect higher-than-budgeted vacancy rates; difficulties in recruiting discipline personnel; rationalization of the flight schedule for the Mission’s aircraft; and enhancements in the capability of the telephone system.  Underexpenditures were offset in part by the revision of the salary scale for national staff and the Mission’s unbudgeted share of the financing of the Procurement Task Force.

The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report (document A/62/781/Add.1), recommends approval of the budget for UNOMIG for 2008/09, but cautions that, in the interest of budgetary transparency, vacant posts that are no longer required should be abolished, and requests for new posts and upgrades should be fully justified.  The process of replacing outsourced guards with national staff should be carefully monitored, with the evaluation of the results reported in the next budget submission.  Other recommendations contained in the report relate to expanding the use of United Nations Volunteers and exploring the use of stock management capacities of the United Nations Logistics Base for the benefit of the Mission.

Commenting on the performance report, the Advisory Committee expresses concern over the precarious financial situation of the Mission, which had over $21.37 million in outstanding dues.  As of 4 February 2008, the Mission had cash resources of only $2.7 million (excluding a current loan of $1 million).  The Mission’s available cash balance, therefore, will not cover the three-month operating cash reserve of $8.73 million.

It also recommends that the unencumbered balance of $1.08 million, as well as other income and adjustments in the amount of $826,700, be credited to Member States in a manner to be determined by the General Assembly.

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

The Secretary-General’s budget proposal for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for the period from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009 (document A/62/751) amounts to some $688.81 million gross, representing a decrease of $24.77 million, or 3.5 per cent, compared with the apportionment of almost $713.57 million for 2007/08.  The budget provides for the deployment of 15,000 military contingent personnel, 415 international staff, including for 7 temporary positions, and 842 national staff.

According to the Force’s performance report (document A/62/632), the total 2006/07 appropriation for the mission amounted to some $496.62 million.  The unutilized balance of $879,900 is the net effect of underexpenditures and overexpenditures under various line items.  Underexpenditures of some $23.15 million under military personnel, for example, were mostly attributable to longer tours of duty and delays in deployment.  These were offset by overexpenditures of $14.36 million under civilian personnel, mostly attributable to the faster-than-anticipated deployment of international and national staff, with the average vacancy rate being 8 per cent for international staff and 13 per cent for national staff, against budgeted rates of 34 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively.

The Committee also had before it a report on the comprehensive review of the Strategic Military Cell (document A/62/744), which was created to ensure sufficient Headquarters support for UNIFIL during its expansion under Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  The Military Cell was established by drawing on the institutional expertise of the Office of Military Affairs (former Military Division) of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and augmented by officers from key troop-contributing countries.

According to the document, the Cell has proven to be an extremely useful resource as a temporary means of augmenting overstretched capacities during the start-up of UNIFIL’s expansion.  A multifunctional military strategic capability is essential when an operation is conducted in a complex and politically sensitive environment, requiring the deployment of sophisticated assets, military capability and equipment.  In particular, the monitoring and assessment, crisis response, troop-contributing countries liaison and planning and maritime task force expertise activities of the Strategic Military Cell have borne out the value of such a resource for a peacekeeping operation.

The establishment of that entity has, for the first time, provided resources to ensure a dedicated and coherent strategic military planning and oversight capacity to a mission, the report states.  Given that the benefits that the Strategic Military Cell has demonstrated are applicable to all peacekeeping operations, it is important to capitalize upon this expertise and expand these benefits across all peacekeeping operations, while maintaining adequate support for UNIFIL.

Proposing to incorporate the Cell’s core capacities into the Office of Military Affairs, the Secretary-General states that complex missions will benefit from the additional military information-analysis capability and the aviation and maritime experts who will be able to establish requirements, plan appropriately, monitor implementation and draft rules of engagement.  These proposed adjustments would, to a large extent, be linked to the evolution of capacities within the Office of Military Affairs, the details of which are elaborated in the report of the Secretary-General on the restructuring of the Office.

The recommendations of the Advisory Committee on UNIFIL (document A/62/781/Add.5), would entail a reduction of some $20.44 million in the proposed budget for UNIFIL for the period from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, bringing the requirements to about $668.37 million.  ACABQ notes that the increase in the deployment factor would involve a reduction of some $16.87 million in the requirements for military contingents, as well as a reduction of $1.7 million in the requirements for contingent-owned equipment.  A further upward adjustment in the delayed deployment factor may be appropriate.  The Advisory Committee requests updated information on the planned deployment schedule, which would allow the Assembly to make a more informed decision in this regard.

In connection with the Strategic Military Cell, ACABQ notes that it was established to deal with a particular situation in implementing resolution 1701 (2006).  As UNIFIL has moved beyond the expansion phase, continued need for the Cell in its current structure and strength has not been clearly demonstrated.  The Committee recommends against the senior civilian component (1 D-2, 1 D-1), which is no longer required.  It furthermore recommends that the provision for daily subsistence allowance for 29 military staff officers be adjusted to provide for the gradual phased reduction of 50 per cent over the 2008/09 budget period, with the Office of Military Affairs progressively assuming responsibilities for providing assistance to UNIFIL as part of its established functions.

The Advisory Committee recommends that the unencumbered balance of $879,900, as well as other income and adjustments in the amount of $7.37 million for the period ended 30 June 2007 be credited to Member States in a manner to be determined by the Assembly.

United Nations Operation in Burundi

According to the performance report on the budget of the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) for the period from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007 (document A/62/668), the Mission’s total appropriation for that period amounted to about $128.54 million, with an unutilized balance of some $10 million remaining. With the mandate of the Operation having expired at the end of 2006, and the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) having been established in January 2007, ONUB’s final performance report will be submitted to the Assembly at its sixty-third session

ACABQ, in a related report (document A/62/781/Add.2), recommends that the amount of $24.34 million, representing net cash available in the Special Account of the Operation as at 30 June 2007 from the total amount of some $30.73 million, be credited to Member States in a manner to be determined by the Assembly.  Expressing its concern that the cash shortfall of $6.39 million continues to impede the return of full credits due to Member States, the Advisory Committee has no objection to the Secretary-General’s recommendation that a decision on the treatment of that amount be deferred to the sixty-third session.  ACABQ also emphasizes the need to settle all outstanding death and disability claims expeditiously.

United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone

In connection with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the Committee had before it a report the Secretary-General’s report on the final disposition of the assets of the Mission (document A/62/756) following the completion of its mandate.  The liquidation process was completed by 31 December 2007.  The entirety of the Mission’s assets, with a total inventory value of $61.91 million, has been disposed of in accordance with existing financial regulations.

ACABQ, in a related report (document A/62/781/Add.4) recommends that the Assembly take note of the Secretary-General’s report and notes that the final closure of UNAMSIL accounts is planned to take place in 2009.  At that time, the final performance report will be prepared and submitted to the Assembly.

Closed Missions

Another report before the Committee presents an updated financial position of closed peacekeeping missions (document A/62/757), indicating that some $181.78 million remained in the accounts of closed peacekeeping missions with cash surpluses as at 30 June 2007.  That amount is the net of loans that had not been repaid, totalling some $18.32 million, owed by two closed peacekeeping missions and one active mission, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  The report also indicates that five closed peacekeeping missions had cash deficits totalling about $88.04 million.

In the report, the Secretary-General proposes that, subject to the approval of the Secretary-General’s proposal to consolidate peacekeeping accounts effective 1 July 2008, the Assembly decide to return to Member States the credits available in closed peacekeeping missions with cash surpluses as at 30 June 2008.

In this connection, ACABQ (document A/62/816) notes that the return of such credits to Member States does not depend on acceptance of the proposal to consolidate peacekeeping accounts.  The Advisory Committee recommends that the credits be returned to Member States, bearing in mind that it is for the General Assembly to decide on the disposition of such balances.

The Advisory Committee stresses that payment of assessed contributions is an obligation of Member States under the Charter.  With regard to the problem of debts in cash-deficient closed missions, the Committee recommends that fresh proposals, apart from the proposal to consolidate the accounts, be presented to the Assembly for its consideration.

Consolidation of Peacekeeping Accounts

In his report on the consolidation of peacekeeping accounts (document A/62/726), the Secretary-General recalls that the proposal to consolidate peacekeeping financing into a single set of accounts had been initially presented in his “Investing in the United Nations” report in 2006 in order to improve cash management and operational flexibility.

In the report before the Committee today, the Secretary-General reiterates his proposal, which was further outlined in a detailed report on financial management practices (document A/60/846/Add.3) to consolidate retroactively all peacekeeping accounts of both active and closed missions, except for those of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), the United Nations Operation in Congo (ONUC), the Peacekeeping Reserve Fund and the strategic deployment stocks.  The Secretariat continues to consider this to be the preferred approach, which would lead to the greater flexibility in the use of peacekeeping resources with increased reimbursements to troop- and police-contributing Member States.  It would also simplify the administrative processes for the financing of peacekeeping operations.

Commenting on the document, ACABQ, in its report (document A/62/818) reiterates its view that it is for Member States to decide on this matter.

ACABQ recalls that the Assembly had requested an updated comprehensive report on the consolidation of peacekeeping accounts, including a simulation of options proposed, taking into account the views expressed, questions raised and information requested by Member States at its sixty-first session.  The report of the Secretary-General, however, is essentially a resubmission of the proposal contained in previous reports.  In partial response to resolution 61/278, new material is presented in the annexes to the report, which contain updated information on the effect of consolidation simulated for 2007 (annexes I and II), a table on credits available in closed peacekeeping missions with cash balances as at 30 June 2007 (annex III), a mock-up of financial statements for peacekeeping operations (annex IV) and an outline for the proposed consolidated performance report (annex V).

Organization of Work

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) first took up its programme of work for the resumed session.

CONROD HUNTE (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the Committee had a very heavy workload before it and Member States would have to consider about 100 documents in the coming weeks.  It was, therefore, regrettable that the Group of 77, once again, had to register its concern with the late submission of reports by the Secretariat.  The General Assembly, in its resolutions, had called for issuance of all documents in all official languages six weeks before the opening of the session.  That six-week rule had not been complied with and, contrary to the resolutions, very often no reason for the delayed issuance was given at the time of introduction of the reports.

While the peacekeeping budgets of the United Nations had increased significantly over the years, Member States were put in a position where they had less and less time each year to complete its consideration of the resource requirements and policy aspects of the peacekeeping operations, he continued.  As of 2 May, looking at the programme of work for the current session, the Committee was faced with a more acute situation than in previous sessions.   The reports on four of the operations would be introduced in the last couple of days.  ACABQ had not been able to prepare reports, except on five peacekeeping operations, so far.  The current practice of late issuance of documents was in breach of General Assembly resolutions, unacceptable and needed to be rectified.  The bottlenecks both in the Secretariat and ACABQ should be looked at in full detail among Member States, so as to reach a common understanding on how to address that long-standing concern of the Group of 77 and other delegations.  The Secretary-General and the Chairperson of ACABQ should respond formally to those concerns, in full accordance with the General Assembly resolution 50/206 C.

He stated the tentative nature of the programme of work and said it was the Group of 77’s expectation that the Bureau would amend it throughout the session to reflect the status of preparedness of reports, as well as progress made in negotiations.  The Group of 77 was not in a position to accept the programme of work as presented beyond the first week at the present stage.  It was impetrative to ensure that adequate time and conference services were provided to the Committee to consider the reports.

ALEŠKA SIMKIĆ (Slovenia), on behalf of the European Union, expressed deep concern over the fact that some very important reports of the Secretary-General and, therefore also reports of ACABQ, some with budgetary implications, would be again be coming to the Committee very late, even in the final days of the session.  The European Union had already stressed many times that timely availability of reports was essential if the Committee was to perform its functions effectively.  It commended the Chairperson for his letter to the Secretariat’s high officials and to the Chairperson of ACABQ, in which he described the Committee’s concerns accurately.

The present session was mainly devoted to the financing of peacekeeping operations, which was a priority area for the European Union, she stated.  The Union was deeply committed to the primary role of the United Nations maintaining international peace and security and to its core function of peacekeeping.  There were large numbers of troops, civilian police and other personnel from its member States in United Nations peacekeeping missions, and the Union, collectively, also contributed a very large percentage of the peacekeeping budgets.  That political commitment should go hand in hand with budgetary discipline and sound financial management.  The Union would examine the budgets of the peacekeeping mission with a view to providing adequate resources to implement their mandates.

CLAUDE HELLER (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said it was alarming that, even before the session began, the Committee was already considering the possibility of extending it because of the issue of late presentation of reports both by the Secretariat and ACABQ.  The Rio Group believed that the Committee should provide the Secretary-General with adequate resources that would allow him to carry out the mandates of the peacekeeping operations in accordance with the aims and principles of the United Nations Charter.

The Rio Group was, however, concerned by the level of resources that those operations were requiring.  That level should be fully justified and they should aim at the most efficient use of resources.  More than ever, oversight and transparency were of the essence in the allocation and use of those resources.  The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was of special importance to the Rio Group.  Even though the Group agreed that the United Nations should have coherent and standardized policies regarding peacekeeping operations, it felt it was also necessary to take into account the different mandates and specificities of each mission.

JOSIEL MOTUMISI TAWANA (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed full support for the Chairperson’s letter, which expressed concern about the perpetual late issuance of documentation to the Committee, and said that the African Group was reluctant to work under such conditions.  The current practice had a negative impact on the level of achievement recorded by the Committee.  Managers should not only be held accountable, but should be made to appear before the Committee to explain the reasons behind the late issuance of documents, to enable the Committee to take the appropriate steps to address the problem.  The Secretariat should take action in compliance with the General Assembly resolution that states “should a report be issued late, the reason for the delay should be indicated when the report is introduced”.  It should also comply with the six-week rule for the submission of documents stipulated in the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions and rules of procedure of the Assembly.

The African Group attached vital importance to peacekeeping issues, he continued.  It was mostly concerned that the reports on the two recently established missions (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID)), budgeted at approximately $2 billion, would most likely be introduced only two days before the end of the session.  For that reason, the African Group planned to give priority to peacekeeping and time-bound issues during the session.  The sheer number of missions, issues, documents and the huge amount of money to be decided upon required the allotment of sufficient time for thorough reflection.  The unfortunate reality of late issuance of documents compounded the problem and was not acceptable.

PHILLIP TAULA (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, joined in expressing concern about the late issuance of documents for the work of the Committee.  Since the Committee had to deal with many important issues, that situation made it difficult to it to take informed decisions.

BRUCE C. RASHKOW ( United States) noted that the proposed budget of several large and expensive peacekeeping operations, including UNAMID and MINURCAT, would not be introduced and examined by the Committee until late in the four week session.  He said that, while his delegation understood the challenges faced by those at Headquarters and in the field that were tasked with preparing those budgets, it fully endorsed the concern expressed by the Chairperson regarding the submission of reports.  The Secretariat needed to find ways so that the members of the Committee, as well as members of ACABQ, would have the time required to deliberately and closely examine those important budgets.  Members of the Committee should not be asked to conduct a responsible review and approve proposed budgets in a matter of a few days. The ultimate responsibility for ensuring timely performance by the Secretariat rested with the Secretary-General and he should work with the heads of the relevant departments to ensure that the recurrent problem of late reports was effectively addressed.

KENICHIRO MUKAI ( Japan) joined in expressing concern about the late issuance of reports and expressed support for the Chairperson’s letter to the Secretariat and ACABQ.  All documents for the Committee’s work should have been available two weeks before the beginning of the session.  Sufficient time was necessary to study and consider documents on important subjects.  The late submission of the documents was totally unacceptable.   Japan shared the view that communication between the relevant parties should be strengthened in order to ensure better synchronisation.

MOHAMED YOUSIF IBRAHIM ABDELMANNAN (Sudan), associating his delegation with the statements on behalf of the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that late issuance of reports, particularly with regard to time-bound issues such as financing of peacekeeping operations, had become a source of concern.  Appeals had been made to the Secretariat to issue documents on time and the Chairperson had written on the issue, but those efforts had been to no avail.  It was, therefore, necessary to move to a higher stage.  Member States should discuss the issue among themselves and reach decisions.  They could consider including an item on the late issuance of documents on the agenda of the General Assembly or to consider the late issuance of documents as a separate item on the reform agenda, treating it as a separate item and not as a subitem.  A working group could also be established on the issue.  Those steps would represent a practical way to deal with the issue.

KARLA SAMAYOA-RECARI (Guatemala), associating her delegation with the statement of the Group of 77, said it would be a good idea for the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Alicia Bárcena, to come down to the Committee and say what the problem was with regard to the late issuance of documents.  That way, the Committee would know where to go to get the solution.

JAYANTILAL KARIA, Officer in Charge of Department of Peacekeeping Operations, said that the Secretariat took deadlines very seriously.  However, there had been some legitimate reasons for the delay in the issuance of the reports for the Committee.  Those included the need for consultations and delays in seeking information from offices away from Headquarters.  The Secretariat also attempted to ensure the reports met quality standards.  He pledged that the Secretariat would make greater efforts to facilitate the work of Committee.

SUSAN MCLURG, Chairperson of ACABQ, also commented on the serious effect that late submission of documentation had on the work of the Advisory Committee during its winter session.  For all but a handful of missions, the documentation required had been submitted after 15 March for a session that had begun on 5 February.  The documentation required for the consideration of UNMIS, UNAMID and MINURCAT had been received only after 10 April.  It should also be borne in mind that the Advisory Committee worked almost entirely with advance, unedited versions of the Secretary-General’s reports, which were available in English only, but those were often subject to correction, revision and updating.  Among other things, it also had an impact on the timing and scope of the Advisory Committee’s general report on peacekeeping operations, which had to be prepared before the Committee’s review.

Unlike 10 or 15 years ago, there were now well-established standards for the preparation of reports, even for complex missions.  Also, officials in the field needed to be made aware of the need to provide the relevant information to Headquarters in a timely manner.  There also needed to be more coordination within the Secretariat in producing the reports.

The Committee then agreed to approve its programme of work for the first week of the resumed session, on the understanding that adjustments would be made as necessary during the course of the session.

Peacekeeping Financing

Mr. KARIA, Officer-in-Charge of the Peacekeeping Financing Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on the financing of UNOMIG, UNIFIL, ONUB and UNAMSIL.  He said the peacekeeping mandate continued to grow in size and complexity, with the Security Council recently authorizing two new operations (UNAMID and MINURCAT).  Those two operations were unique as they called for extensive collaboration with partner organizations, especially with the introduction of a hybrid framework in the case of UNAMID.

He said the United Nations peacekeeping budget for the 2008/09 period was currently estimated at $7.35 billion, including the Peacekeeping Support Account and the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy.

A related report of the Advisory Committee was introduced by its Chairperson, SUSAN MCLURG.

In regard of operational requirements of UNIFIL, she said the Advisory Committee had recommended that the provision for communications be decreased by $927,000.  ACABQ had been informed that a decision had been made to initiate the upgrade of the Observer Group Lebanon communications equipment during the current budget period, in view of security considerations.  In that commission, the Advisory Committee welcomed the existing regional mission cooperation.  However, while noting that parts of the capacity of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) came under the umbrellas of UNIFIL (Observer Group Lebanon) and UNDOF (Observer Group Golan), ACABQ was requesting the Secretary-General to review the administrative arrangements for UNTSO and reflect that review in his proposed budget for 2010-2011.  The Advisory Committee also indicated in its report that, due to insufficient oversight capacity, several audits and investigations had been delayed.

On ONUB, she informed the Committee that, based on the interim financial statements as at 31 March 2008, there was now sufficient cash in the mission’s account to return to Member States the full amount of the credits.  As that information had come to light following ACABQ’s session, she would need to inform the Advisory Committee of that development.  Should they disagree with the Secretary-General’s proposed course of action to return the full amount of credit to Member States, she would inform the Fifth Committee accordingly.

United Nations Controller WARREN SACH then introduced the reports on closed peacekeeping missions and consolidation of peacekeeping accounts.  He said that, as at 30 June 2007, there had been 20 closed missions, 15 of them with a net cash surplus of $182 million and 5 others with a net cash deficit.  The Secretariat had proposed that, in the context of the updated consolidation report, the cash surplus be returned to Member States prior to consolidation.  The 5 cash-deficit missions showed a total cash balance of $6 million against total liabilities of $94 million.  There had been virtually no change in those cash balances from the previous year.  Should the proposed consolidation be approved, those long outstanding liabilities -- mostly claims from troop contributors -- would finally be discharged.

On the consolidation proposal, he said the Secretariat continued to be of the view that full consolidation of all peacekeeping accounts would be the option that would yield the most significant benefits to Member States.  It would also streamline all related administrative work and provide an improved framework for the financial management of cash resources.  Currently, the cash in peacekeeping operations was segregated in separate peacekeeping accounts for each mission.  As there was great variance in cash balances of individual missions, that resulted in uneven reimbursements to troop contributors and unnecessary delays.

At the end of April 2008, the total cash balance of $3 billion had remained in all peacekeeping accounts, sufficient to meet all the requirements.  However, as the cash balance was segregated, the payments to troop-contributors had been constrained by the amount of cash in each account.  A simulation had showed that, with consolidation, 20 per cent more payments would have been possible in 2007.  If consolidated, outstanding amounts due to troop-contributing countries and police contributors for the 5 closed missions, amounting to $68.2 million, would have been possible.  The consolidation would also discharge long outstanding liabilities in the cash-deficient closed missions.

In conclusion, he said that the current proposal maintained the linkage of assessments with Security Council mandates by having assessments to Member States on a quarterly basis, thereby removing a concern that had been expressed previously.  The consolidation would also reduce the number of Assembly resolutions, performance reports and financial statements and rationalize the workload of the Contributions Service, the Accounts Division and the Peacekeeping Financing Division.  It would also reduce the costs for editing, translating and printing, as a result of fewer reports.

Related ACABQ reports were introduced by Ms. MCLURG, who said that, in addition to recommending that credits available in closed missions be returned to Member States, bearing in mind that it was for the Assembly to decide on the disposition of such balances, the Advisory Committee noted that there was a need for fresh proposals to deal with the problem of debts in cash-deficient closed missions, apart from the proposal to consolidate the accounts.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, BORUT BLAJ ( Slovenia) supported the view of ACABQ that the United Nations financial rules and regulations made it clear that the balance of any appropriations should be returned to Member States after a period of 12 months.  The Committee had come tantalizingly close to reaching agreement on that matter during its sixty-first session, only for an arbitrary link to be made between the return of credits and reimbursements from closed missions in cash deficit.  He did not believe such a link was appropriate.  Continued retention of funds was not acceptable.  That also applied to outstanding liabilities in closed peacekeeping missions.  Thus, the European Union once again urged all Member States to pay their outstanding dues in full, on time and without conditions.  He looked forward to engaging fully with colleagues with a view to agreeing an acceptable way forward, which would allow for the balances from closed missions to be returned to Member States, to which they rightfully belonged.

On the consolidation of funds, he said the Union believed that was an important part of the modernization of the Secretariat, as it would give the Secretary-General greater flexibility in using peacekeeping resources.  At the same time, it would bring more timely reimbursement to troop-contributing countries and reduce bureaucracy.

THOMAS GÜRBER ( Switzerland) said the Fifth Committee’s agenda was “more than packed”.  Many important projects on the reform agenda were progressing at a very low pace, while more were yet to be introduced in the following session.  Recalling the disappointing overall outcome of the first resumed session, he urged all delegations to accelerate the work of the Committee and make real progress in the course of the next four weeks.  One important step would be to take forward the proposal on the consolidation of peacekeeping accounts without further delay.  That was a straightforward reform proposal that brought about obvious efficiency gains, without the usual reform price tag.  It would facilitate planning and administration, permit more consistent and timely reimbursement to troop- and police-contributing countries and reduce the number of resolutions required, giving the Committee more time to discuss general trends and important cross-cutting issues.  The need to maintain a direct link between peacekeeping assessments and specific mandates of each mission had been taken into consideration.

The Fifth Committee was responsible for taking decisions on administrative and budgetary questions from a managerial point of view, he added.  In many cases, progress was lacking due to excessive politicization of administrative issues and constant deferral of items, while asking for more reports from the Secretariat.  Giving priority to the managerial and administrative advantage of the proposed solution, he deemed that political deliberations should not prevent the Committee from taking a rapid decision based on the Secretary-General’s proposal.

JUN YAMADA (Japan) recalled that, as at 30 June 2007, 15 of the 20 closed missions had reflected cash surpluses totalling about $181.78 million as credits available to Member States.  Five closed missions reflected cash deficits totalling $88.04 million.  The current status of closed missions should be addressed following the principles that payment of assessments was an obligation of Member States under the Charter and that unencumbered appropriations should be returned to Member States in accordance with the financial regulations and rules.  Therefore, ACABQ had every reason to state that return of credits to Member States did not depend on acceptance of the proposal to consolidate the peacekeeping accounts and that the credits from closed peacekeeping missions should be returned to Member States.  Stating otherwise would be tantamount to putting expedience before the fundamental rules of the United Nations.  He also highlighted General Assembly resolution 57/323, which specified the timing and amount of the credits to be returned to Member States.  Closed missions with cash deficits should be addressed through timely and full payment of assessments by Member States.

On the consolidation of accounts, Mr. MUKAI ( Japan) said he had serious doubts about the effectiveness of proposed consolidation and was concerned that it could have a negative impact on some Member States’ obligation to pay their arrears.  The Secretariat argued that the consolidation could have some beneficial effect in terms of timely reimbursement to troop- and police-contributing countries.  However, the fundamental and underlying cause of delayed reimbursement to troop and police contributors had been the non-payment of assessments by Member States.  Without payments, that issue could not be solved.

Peacekeeping operations had unique budget and assessment arrangements, he said.  Assessed contributions for each mission were justified by an individual decision by the Security Council to create its mandate.  The Council’s decision on the mandate then allowed the issuance of assessment letters to States for each mission.  In other words, the requirement of both an individual Security Council decision for a mandate and assessments corresponding to such action must be strictly observed.  Any blurring of that requirement would create difficulties for certain Member States, including his own, to justify payment of assessments.  Delinking assessments and specific mandates could also distort sound budgetary discipline and prejudice consideration by the Council.  Treating individual missions as a section of the total peacekeeping budget, as in the case of the regular budget, was unrealistic and lacked justification.

Furthermore, as ACABQ correctly pointed out, the scope and quality of information provided on the financing of peacekeeping operations should not be dismissed, he continued.  That applied to both the budget and the performance reports of peacekeeping operations.  From the viewpoint of enhancing accountability and justification of the ever increasing peacekeeping budget, more detailed information was needed, as well as breakdowns of resource requirements for each item, mission by mission.  His delegation would not be ready to accept the proposals for those reasons, but wished to take part constructively in the informal consultations on the matter.

Ms. SAMAYOA-RECARI ( Guatemala) referred to the issue of the return of the balance of appropriations to Member States and said that the time had come to discuss the matter.  On the issue of the consolidation of funds, she stated that, while Guatemala had always supported that to give flexibility to Secretary-General, it believed that, ultimately, there should be full reimbursement to troop contributors on time.  In that regard, the Secretariat needed to provide more information to the Committee, as huge amounts were now owed to Member States from those missions.

She wondered if consolidating accounts would truly improve reimbursements.  When that proposal had been made, Member States had been seeking a better solution to the problem, but things had changed.  As had been said by many delegations, the number of peacekeeping operations had continued to increase and the debts had continued to grow.  She wondered whether having a single amount from a single account would really be able to lead to the recovery of money from those States that did not pay on time.  She requested that an answer to that question be provided to the Committee during informal discussions.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.