BUDGET COMMITTEE TAKES UP FINANCING FOR UNITED NATIONS BUSINESS CONTINUITY MANAGEMENT, AS FOUR-WEEK RESUMED SESSION OPENS

2 March 2009
GA/AB/3889

BUDGET COMMITTEE TAKES UP FINANCING FOR UNITED NATIONS BUSINESS CONTINUITY MANAGEMENT, AS FOUR-WEEK RESUMED SESSION OPENS

2 March 2009
General Assembly
GA/AB/3889
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Fifth Committee

29th Meeting (AM)

Budget committee takes up financing for United Nations business

Continuity management, as four-week resumed session opens

 

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning addressed the plans to ensure business continuity at the United Nations in the face of numerous possible risks, such as an influenza pandemic, terrorist attacks, technological failures and natural disasters.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the matter, Warren Sach, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Central Support Services, said that overall regular budget requirements for the implementation of the report’s proposals in 2009 amounted to about $3.72 million.  For 2008, appropriations had been sought but had not been approved, and arrangements had been made to use the Secretary-General’s discretionary authority, as had been the case in 2007.  Those ad hoc solutions had ensured a minimum capability of the Organization in taking first steps towards establishing business continuity management.  However, related resources and staff deployments had been of a strictly temporary nature.  The process could not be sustained under such an arrangement for more than a few months further.

He was looking to Member States to signal as to whether they would like a business continuity capability to be institutionalized as part of the Organization’s routine operations, he said.  The lack of clarity on that point would make it necessary to continue the current temporary ad hoc arrangements for the balance of this year, after which related resources would have to be returned to the areas for which they had been originally appropriated.

While supporting the strengthening of the United Nations’ ability to respond to risks and maintain continuity of critical business processes, representatives of the Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union) and the Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China) concurred with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that the Secretary-General should submit a fully justified request for post and non-post resources in the context of the proposed programme budget for the next biennium.

The Sudan’s representative said that, in order to ensure business continuity management, including the health and safety of staff, the United Nations needed to formulate a comprehensive, unified and multi-hazard approach.  He shared the views of the ACABQ on the need for the Secretariat to draw upon the experience of other United Nations entities in formulating its business continuity strategy, ensure cooperation with host country authorities at all duty stations and avoid a piecemeal approach.  Hence, he concurred with the Advisory Committee that the Secretary-General should pursue that issue within the framework of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination and that the approach set out in the Secretary-General’s report required further development and justification.

While welcoming the Secretary-General’s report, the representative of the Czech Republic said that it fell short of explaining the matter in sufficient detail and had treated some of the issues in too general a way for the delegates to be able to ponder the problem with the insight it deserved.  The ACABQ had assessed the report in a rather critical way and did not recommend the endorsement of the overall approach.  The Union was in a general agreement with the Advisory Committee and found it premature to conclude the consideration of the item without having a better picture of the whole matter.  The Union would also welcome a more comprehensive justification of the proposed posts.

With the subject of business continuity directly linked to other initiatives currently in progress at the United Nations, the Union was also concerned about possible duplications with such ongoing projects as information and communications technology, enterprise resource planning and the Capital Master Plan.

As it opened its first resumed session today, the Committee also agreed on its programme of work for the first two weeks of the session, on the understanding that the programme for the rest of the month would be reviewed by the Bureau, as needed.  The issues to be addressed by the Committee in March include the Capital Master Plan, safety and security, accountability and scale of assessments, as well as financing for the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) support package.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group), Japan and the United States.

The Committee will take up the Capital Master Plan and the report of the Joint Inspection Unit at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 March.

Background

On the first day of its resumed session, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to take care of organizational matters and consider the issue of business continuity management.

The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on business continuity(document A/63/359), which stresses the importance of ensuring that the United Nations is prepared to continue its critical operations at all times, including when facing serious incidents or interruptions.  Within the Organization, the concept of business continuity management originated as a response to the need to ensure pandemic influenza preparedness, but it has since expanded to a multi-hazards approach, reflecting the multiplicity of risks currently facing the Organization and its increasing dependency on information technology systems.

The report proposes the implementation of business continuity management in all offices of the United Nations Secretariat, including those away from Headquarters, and regional commissions.  It also identifies the links with ongoing reform initiatives, in particular the enterprise risk management (ERM) and internal control framework and the information and communication strategy for the Secretariat.

A small Business Continuity Management Unit, located within the Office of Central Support Services, Department of Management, was established in 2007, following a decision by the Senior Emergency Policy Team.  The Unit currently comprises three temporary positions (Chief of Unit, Business Continuity Management Specialist and Administrative Assistant), and is responsible for ensuring the viability of continuity planning carried out by the Secretariat, offices away from Headquarters and regional commissions and for coordinating continuity planning with United Nations organizations in New York.  The funding for the Unit’s initial activities was accommodated within the discretionary authority granted to the Secretary-General pursuant to General Assembly resolution 60/283.  Since no appropriations were approved for business continuity management for the biennium 2008-2009, the same funding arrangement was applied to accommodate the 2008 requirements.

In March 2008, a technical working group on business continuity management, which includes business continuity focal points from New York-based funds and programmes, the Business Continuity Management Unit and other relevant departments, was established.  One of the aims of the working group is to develop guidelines for a standardized multi-hazards approach to business continuity management at United Nations Headquarters.

The Assembly is requested to:  endorse the overall approach relating to business continuity management contained in the report; note that of the total additional requirements of $4.6 million for the biennium 2008-2009, the amount of $973,200 will be accommodated from within the resources appropriated for the biennium 2008-2009; approve the establishment of 12 proposed new posts necessary to implement and maintain business continuity management activities; approve a commitment authority for the net additional resource requirements amounting to $3.7 million for the biennium 2008-2009.  The Assembly is further requested to note that the requirements for business continuity planning and management for future bienniums will be incorporated in the proposed programme budgets.

Commenting on the Secretary-General’s proposals, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report (document A/63/584), recommends that the Assembly request the Secretary-General to submit a fully justified request for post and non-post resources in the context of the next proposed programme budget.

The Advisory Committee states that the Secretariat should draw upon the experience of other United Nations entities in formulating its business continuity strategy.  Furthermore, given that this is a matter of system-wide concern, it should be possible to achieve economies of scale through coordination within the United Nations system on such issues as the use of backup information and communications technology centres, commissioning consultants, procurement of specialized equipment and medical supplies and training.  The ACABQ, therefore, recommends that the Assembly request the Secretary-General to pursue this issue within the framework of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination and to report thereon as part of the annual Chief Executives Board overview report.

Upon enquiry, the Advisory Committee was informed that, while the United Nations Medical Services Division in New York was working closely with the New York State Department of Health on the specific issue of pandemic preparedness, cooperation between the United Nations and the host country on more general issues was still required.  Cooperation with host country authorities at all duty stations is essential to protect the interests of all concerned and to ensure an effective and coordinated response to potential disruptions.  The Advisory Committee, therefore, encourages the Secretary-General to pursue efforts in that regard, as a matter of priority.

While recognizing the need to address business continuity management, the Advisory Committee is of the view that the Secretary-General’s approach requires further development and justification.  It, therefore, recommends that this approach be refined to clarify the relationship among business continuity management processes, the overarching risk management framework and the proposals on information and communications technology, as well as the roles of various actors in the process.  In so doing, the Secretary-General should bear in mind the need to avoid a piecemeal approach to continuity requirements.  He should also clarify measures to ensure continuity of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in the event of a serious incident or interruption.  Until those issues are addressed, the Advisory Committee is not in a position to recommend endorsement of the Secretary-General’s approach.

The Advisory Committee is not convinced that the establishment of a dedicated permanent capacity within the Office of Central Support Services is warranted at present.  However, in order to ensure that the progress achieved to date is not lost and that business continuity planning is incorporated into the Organization’s standard operating procedures, it recommends the establishment of a business continuity focal point in the Department of Management consisting of three positions:  one P-5, one P-4 and one General Service to be funded under general temporary assistance.  The Committee recommends approval of two requested information technology posts, pointing out that the Secretary-General’s proposals on information and communications technology are currently before the Assembly.  Existing and planned future capacity in the area of information and communications technology should be sufficient to meet the business continuity needs.

Emphasizing the particular importance of health and safety aspects of business continuity management in the light of the global influenza pandemic alert determined by the World Health Organization (WHO), ACABQ recommends approval of the funding, under general temporary assistance, for three medical positions:  one P-4 and one P-3 Medical Officer, as well as for one General Service (local level) Administrative Assistant/Pandemic Team Assistant.  It also recommends approval of the resources associated with the travel of medical staff.  Also recommended in the report is approval of one P-4 post and one General Service (local level) post for the United Nations Office at Nairobi, to be funded under general temporary assistance.  However, ACABQ recommends against the establishment of the proposed P-3 Information Technology Officer post in the United Nations Office at Vienna.

With regard to non-post resources, the report notes that a large part of proposed additional requirements relates to the development of telecommuting capabilities and remote access for staff; however, the Secretary-General’s proposals do not provide a clear picture of who is intended to utilize this technology.  In the Advisory Committee’s view, related requirements should be absorbed from within existing resources.

Another recommendation to accommodate requirements from existing resources relates to the acquisition of medical supplies and materials, including vaccines and antibiotics.  The Advisory Committee also recommends that steps be taken to procure vaccines in the most cost-effective manner.  To that end, it recommends considering the feasibility of system-wide supply contracts, which should be sufficiently flexible to protect the Organization’s interests.  Where appropriate, unused vaccines should be donated before they reach their date of expiration.

Organization of Work

At the start of the meeting, the Committee approved its programme of work for the first two weeks, on the understanding that it would be reviewed and adjusted by the Bureau as needed during the course of the session.

Prior to its approval, the representatives of the Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), the Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Mexico (on behalf of the Rio Group) and Japan once again expressed disappointment over the late submission of documents.  In particular, the representative of the Czech Republic pointed out that two important documents ‑‑ the budget outline for 2010-2011 and first performance report ‑‑ had been introduced in the very last days of the main part of the sixty-third General Assembly session, which had sent the “wrong signal”.

The representative of the Sudan said the absence of documents had left the Group of 77 in the position of only being able to endorse the proposed schedule for the first and second week.  He requested the Fifth Committee Bureau to continue its consultations with Member States and members of the ACABQ in preparing the programme of work for the remaining period.

Both the representatives of the Sudan and the Czech Republic stressed the importance of the issuance of documents in all the six official languages.

The representative of the Czech Republic further highlighted several priorities for the European Union in the current resumed session:  the Capital Master Plan project; safety and security; peace and security; accountability; and scale of assessments.  Commenting on the topics individually, she said the European Union would have preferred an early introduction of the issue of safety and security, but had accepted its introduction in the third week as a compromise.  On peace and security, she stressed the need to decide on allocations for the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) support package.  She pledged cooperation on all remaining issues, saying that the discussion on accountability should be concluded during the resumed session since it ‑‑ along with risk management ‑‑ was an important element of a results-based management framework.

Mexico’s representative also identified the Capital Master Plan as an important issue, remarking on additional costs of $186 million, or 10 per cent of the total cost, which had not been included in the original project budget.  Although there had been a reported savings of nearly $100 million, he asked to know whether the savings were accrued from “value engineering”, or if they were the consequence of changes to the international market or other external causes.  He expressed concern over the fact that some proposals listed under associated costs were “actually not associated costs”, and the representative of Japan later suggested that some effort be made to distinguish those associated costs attributable to the Capital Master Plan and those that could be funded through regular department budgets.

On the issue of safety and security, the representative of Mexico voiced regret at the incomplete nature of proposals before the Committee, which he said had not fully incorporated the recommendations of the Report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel.  He pointed out that the Secretary-General’s proposal on the issue had a limited focus, and that posts requested in the area of safety and security were New York posts and not based in the field.  In terms of United Nations peacekeeping, he urged serious reflection on the need to share responsibility for peacekeeping operations, which had risen from $2 billion in 2001 to the current $8 billion.

The representative of Japan said the unprecedented financial crisis had caused Governments everywhere to tighten their reins on spending and that the United Nations must exercise a similar discipline.  In addition, Member States should be wary of a “piecemeal approach” to budgeting, as was seemingly the case in the handling of the issue on safety and security.  He questioned why the Secretary-General had chosen to take up certain issues, but not others, including important factors highlighted by the Independent Panel on Safety and Security, and added that issues should be presented in the format dictated by the budget cycle.

He said Japan’s request for increased accountability at the United Nations did not call for a new mandate, but merely called on the Secretariat to exercise its responsibility for any action it takes ‑‑ or indeed lack of action ‑‑ and not only to explain and justify those actions.  Unfortunately, the lack of accountability was revealed in various aspects of the activities of the current administration, including fragmented implementation of the recommendation of the Board of Auditors in peacekeeping operations and the delayed United Nations Office in Nairobi construction project.

He also touched on various issues relating to human resource management reform, including on the granting continuing appointments and the need to fill vacancies in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in an expeditious manner.  He noted that the topic of scale of assessments must be discussed in the resumed session, noting that the Committee was expected to take decisions on the regular budget scale, the peacekeeping budget scale and the biennium budget for 2010-2011.

The representative of the United States, who also spoke on the programme of work, said he looked forward to a constructive discussion with others, saying States must act to ensure the efficacy of reforms already enacted and to uphold the credibility of Member States, the Fifth Committee and the United Nations.  In terms of the Committee’s resumed session, he highlighted the importance of business continuity management, saying it was important to develop arrangements to ensure that the work of the United Nations could continue in the face of crisis.

Introduction of Documents

The Secretary-General’s report on business continuity was introduced by WARREN SACH, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Central Support Services, who stressed the importance of the Organization being prepared to continue its critical functions at all times and said that the nature of risks faced by the United Nations had changed in the past decade, due in part to climate change, globalization, the current geopolitical order and a growing dependency on highly technological systems.  Recent emergencies, such as localized sudden onset disasters, technological failures and military or terrorist-related incidents had increased the need to strengthen continuity management programmes.

The overall resource requirements under the regular budget for the implementation of the report’s proposals in 2009 amounted to about $3.72 million.  As regards 2008, he recalled that the appropriations that had been sought had not been approved, but arrangements had been made to use the Secretary-General’s discretionary authority, as had been the case in 2007.  The ad hoc budgetary solution for the last one and a half years had ensured a minimum capability of the Organization in taking first steps towards establishing business continuity management.  However, related resources and staff deployments had been of a strictly temporary nature.  As a result, the process itself was fragile and could not be sustained under such an arrangement for more than a few months further.

He was looking to Member States to signal as to whether they would like a business continuity capability to be institutionalized as part of the routine operations of the United Nations, he said.  Absent clarity on that point would make it necessary to continue the current temporary ad hoc arrangements for the balance of this year, after which related resources would have to be returned to the areas for which they had been originally appropriated.

SUSAN McLURG, Chair of the ACABQ, introduced that body’s report.  She said that, in sum, the Advisory Committee was recommending approval of commitment authority for the net additional resource requirements for the current biennium in the amount of some $1.24 million.  The ACABQ pointed out, however, that its recommendations had been made in December 2008 on the assumption that general temporary assistance would be required for the duration of 2009.  Given that only nine months of the biennium now remained, the Assembly might wish to consider adjusting the resource requirements for general temporary assistance accordingly.  As to possible future requirements for business continuity management, the Advisory Committee recommended that the Secretary-General be requested to submit a fully justified request for post and non-post resources in the context of the budget proposal for the next biennium.

Statements

MOHAMED YOUSIF IBRAHIM ABDELMANNAN (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, supported the strengthening of the United Nations’ ability to respond to risks and maintain continuity of critical business processes following disruptive events.  In order to ensure business continuity management, including health and safety of staff, the United Nations needed to formulate a comprehensive, unified and multi-hazard approach.  He shared the views of the ACABQ on the need for the Secretariat to draw upon the experience of other United Nations entities in formulating its business continuity strategy, ensure cooperation with host country authorities at all duty stations and avoid a piecemeal approach.  Hence, he concurred with the Advisory Committee that the Secretary-General should pursue that issue within the framework of Chief Executives Board for Coordination and that the approach set out in the Secretary-General’s report required further development and justification.

He also asked for clarification on the complementarities and linkages between disaster recovery for information technology and business continuity management, especially in the light of the Assembly’s resolution on information and communications technology and enterprise resource planning.  He also had questions on the proposed additional resource requirements relating to the development of telecommuting capabilities and remote access for staff:  how was it going to function and who was intended to utilize that technology?  He wanted to know how the Secretariat intended to achieve economies of scale through coordination within the United Nations system on relevant issues, including the use of backup centres for information and communications technology, commissioning of consultants, procurement of specialized equipment and medical supplies and training.

The Group generally agreed with the Advisory Committee’s observations and recommendations on non-post resources, he said, such as the acquisition of medical supplies and donation of vaccines before they reached their date of expiration.  He also concurred with the ACABQ that, in the event of possible future requirements for business continuity management, the Secretary-General should submit a fully justified request for post and non-post resources in the context of the proposed programme budget.

IVANA KRAHULCOVÁ ( Czech Republic), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the Committee was considering business continuity management in a comprehensive way for the first time, and its members should be aware that the approach they adopted would set the stage for future deliberations, as well.  There was a strong need to respond to the new risks and the European Union welcomed the Secretariat’s efforts in that regard.  While welcoming the Secretary-General’s report, she found that it fell short of explaining the matter in sufficient detail.  Several issues tackled in the report had been treated in too general a way for the delegates to be able to ponder the problem with the insight it deserved.  The ACABQ had assessed the report in a rather critical way and did not recommend endorsement of the overall approach.  The Union was in general agreement with the Advisory Committee in that respect, and found it premature to conclude the consideration of the item without having a better picture of the whole matter.  The European Union would also welcome a more comprehensive justification of the proposed posts.

She added that the subject before the Committee was directly linked to other initiatives currently in progress at the United Nations.  The European Union was concerned about possible duplications with other ongoing projects, for example information and communications technology, enterprise resource planning and the Capital Master Plan.  She would like the Secretariat to clarify how possible overlaps could be avoided.  Several United Nations agencies had already established business continuity policies and she encouraged the Secretariat to utilize their experiences to the highest extent.

* *** *

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