Under-Secretary-General for Management Presents ‘Mixed Picture’ of United Nations Financial Situation, in Briefing to Budget Committee

16 October 2009
GA/AB/3921

Under-Secretary-General for Management Presents ‘Mixed Picture’ of United Nations Financial Situation, in Briefing to Budget Committee

16 October 2009
General Assembly
GA/AB/3921
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

6th Meeting (AM)

Under-Secretary-General for Management Presents ‘Mixed Picture’ of United Nations

Financial Situation, in Briefing to Budget Committee

 

Committee Also Debates Pattern of Conferences; Late Documentation,

Integrated Global Management, Retirement of Language Staff among Issues

Reporting on the financial situation of the United Nations to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning, the Organization’s top management official presented, once again, “a mixed picture”, while noting some improvements and stressing the importance of timely and full payment of Member States’ dues to the United Nations.

The Under-Secretary-General for Management, Angela Kane, said that cash positions were projected to be positive at year-end for all funds, although the final outcome would depend on last-quarter contributions.  Unpaid peacekeeping assessments showed a decrease, as compared with October 2008, reflecting reduced amounts owed for peacekeeping by major contributors, as well as the lower level of assessments issued for the current peacekeeping fiscal year, pending the approval of a new scale of assessments for 2010.

While unpaid assessments had decreased for peacekeeping operations, there had been increases for the regular budget, the Tribunals and the capital master fund, she said.  Further, the number of Member States meeting their obligations in full was lower than one year ago across all categories.

Also this morning, as the Committee took up its pattern of conferences agenda item, speakers insisted that adequate conference facilities and the highest standards of language services in all six official languages of the United Nations were essential to the success of the work of the United Nations.

Among the issues discussed, in that regard, was the outcome of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) evaluation of the integrated global management initiative by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, which was launched in 2004 to establish common norms for conference servicing at United Nations Headquarters and Offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.

While supporting the innovative concept of global management, the representative of Pakistan was among the speakers who concurred with the OIOS that there should be a precise and consistent articulation of the initiative’s objectives.  Specific measurable targets should be set, with a certain time frame.  Managerial initiatives should not merely be some “face-saving mechanisms to cover up the administrative loopholes and to deflect the criticism from the governing bodies or divert the attention of Member States from the issues”.  The process should yield tangible gains in terms of greater coherence of delivery, financial savings and overall improvements in conference management.

He also highlighted the importance of being punctual in the conduct of meetings, pointing out that each hour of fully serviced conference time cost the Organization thousands of dollars.  In 2008, the average cost of one page of pre- or post-session documentation translated into all six official languages in-house at Headquarters had stood at $2,473.  One minute of interpretation cost approximately $65.

Numerous speakers also expressed concern over the fact that more than 20 per cent of the Department’s language staff were expected to retire in four years.  Members of the Committee welcomed the Department’s efforts to reach out to universities, provide training to its staff, and conduct national competitive examinations to find new highly qualified translators and interpreters.  At the same time, several speakers agreed with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the need to carefully explore financial and administrative implications of the proposal to raise or waive the age of separation for language staff, including from the perspective of equality of treatment.

While noting significant recent improvements in the issuance of documentation, the representative of the Philippines sought to avoid a recurrence of “the disaster caused by late issuance of documents in the second resumed 63rd session”, presenting several concrete proposals with regard to documentation.  Those included the institutionalization of the task force, which had been created to address the matter; adoption of stronger measures to ensure compliance with submission deadlines; and adjustments to the schedule of the Fifth Committee’s resumed sessions.  His delegation also encouraged Chairs of the Fifth Committee and the ACABQ to promote cooperation, coordination and communication on matters concerning documentation.

Presenting the report of the Committee on Conferences, its Chair, Barbara Kaudel, said that the Committee had considered proposals from several delegations on rescheduling the start of the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, in conjunction with that of the Committee on Programme and Coordination (CPC) and the Economic and Social Council, to provide more time for informal consultations.  Delegations had agreed that, if one or two weeks were to be added to the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, they should be taken from the beginning of its main session.  She also informed the Committee about proposed reallocation of the eight weeks available to the CPC in one biennium from four weeks a year to three weeks in budget years, and five weeks in off-budget years.

The representative of Mexico, who spoke on behalf of the Rio Group, was among the speakers who addressed the provision of services to the Human Rights Council, particularly the translation into the six official languages of the 13 documents of the universal periodic review.  On 14 September, during the fifty-third session of the Committee on Conferences, it had been decided that those 13 documents would be translated by the end of the year, providing that the Department would make proper use of the resources allocated for that matter for 2008-2009, after modifying its priorities.  The Group expected that the task force would offer a proposal for a definitive solution to the issue of resource requirements for the Human Rights Council in documentation matters.

Among the issues of particular interest, several delegations, including the representative of Angola (on behalf of the African Group), also addressed the efforts to reduce high vacancy rates in the language services at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, Kenya, and improve utilization of the conference facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa.

Also participating in the debate were representatives of the Sudan (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Sweden (on behalf of the European Union), Cuba, Ethiopia, Syria, Russian Federation, Kenya and Iran.

Reports before the Committee were presented by the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, Shaaban M. Shaaban; the Vice-Chairman of the ACABQ, Collen V. Kelapile; and the Section Chief of Inspection and Evaluation Division of the OIOS, Aril Hauge.

The Committee is expected to take up the United Nations common system at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 20 October.

Background

Following a statement from the Secretariat on the financial situation of the United Nations this morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was scheduled to take up its “pattern of conferences” agenda item, which relates to the management of numerous conferences and meetings organized within the United Nations system.

The first document before the Committee was a 2009 report of the Committee on Conferences (document A/64/32), which contains the Organization’s calendar of conferences and meetings and presents the Committee on Conferences’ deliberations on the utilization of conference-servicing resources and facilities and the impact of the Capital Master Plan, as well as matters related to documentation, publications, translation, interpretation, and information technology.  Annexed to the report is a draft resolution that the Committee on Conferences is recommending to the Assembly for adoption.

Similar issues are addressed in the Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences (document A/64/136), which also outlines progress made in the implementation of various initiatives to improve conference services and makes suggestions as to what steps could further contribute to their optimal functioning and management.

According to the document, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management pushed ahead in 2008 with the implementation of its reform process.  Proactive management of conferences has continued to improve, thanks to combined efforts in the fields of integrated global management, proactive document management, and meetings planning and management.  However, external factors beyond the Department’s control continue to have a significant impact on its operations:  insufficient resources to speed the recruitment and development of a new generation of language staff, the implementation of the Capital Master Plan, and the continued unpredictability of intergovernmental processes requiring the provision of services.

On documentation, the Department reports that, while the management and orderly processing of documents continues to improve, circumstances such as increasing requirements of the Human Rights Council, in particular the inordinate length of some of the outcome documents emanating from the universal periodic reviews, have forced the Department to enforce applicable rules governing the length and timely submission of such documents.  All departments are expected to submit at least 90 per cent of their documents before slotted deadlines, and the Assembly may wish to request authors of documents not originating in the Secretariat to comply with the relevant requirements.

Also of significance to the Department is the impact of the Capital Master Plan, due to which Department staff is to be dispersed across six buildings in mid-town Manhattan.  The challenge is to maintain seamless delivery of services throughout the period of renovation of United Nations Headquarters.  The Assembly may wish to emphasize the importance of adequate resources for all temporary arrangements, including move support, information technology and space, as well as design features and appropriate amenities, so that staff of the Department can continue to provide services without interruption during the Capital Master Plan process.

On another issue, the report states that, with over 20 per cent of its languagestaff expected to retire from service in the coming four years, the Department has undertaken a major effort to reach out to universities and to provide training to its staff.  For 2009, through careful planning and coordination, an unprecedented 13 language examinations have been scheduled.  Where possible, multiple examinations in the same language for different professions are being held concurrently to maximize the use of scarce resources.

The report also notes an improvement in the overall utilization factor of conference services and facilities for 2008 of 2 percentage points over 2007, from 83 per cent to 85 per cent.  In connection with the provision of interpretation services to regional and other groupings of States, the document says that, in 2008, the creation of strategic reserves continued to have a positive effect on the provision of services to the meetings of bodies entitled to meet “as required”.  Therefore, the Department will continue this practice.

The Department also reports forging ahead with the establishment and implementation of integrated global management (IGM) in 2008, and -- while largely agreeing with the findings and recommendations of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) -- disputes “the pessimistic tone” of the Office’s evaluation of that initiative (document A/64/166), in which the OIOS notes that “to date, IGM’s major anticipated organization-wide benefits have not materialized”.

According to the documents before the Committee, the initiative was conceived as a collaborative enterprise to establish common norms for conference-servicing entities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the Organization’s Offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.  It was launched in 2004 with the goal of improving the performance of the Department.

With regard to the project, the OIOS recommends, among other things, a renewed articulation of the overarching objective, limitations and operational parameters of integrated global management and possible preparation of an eventual comprehensive and detailed strategy for that initiative.  The Department should also consider, after due cost-benefit analysis, interim information technology arrangements that would reduce both the resources spent and the proliferation of silo applications and utilize any existing applications to achieve savings.

In connection with IGM, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in its pattern of conferences report (document A/64/484),notes that greater knowledge of the costs of implemented activities would improve assessment of administrative efficiency, cost-effectiveness and the impact of new administrative systems.  Therefore, the ACABQ recommends further development of the Department’s existing methodologies for the collection and analysis of costing information.  It also recommends that the Secretary-General’s next report on the pattern of conferences outline specific steps taken to implement the findings and recommendations of the OIOS that have been accepted.

The ACABQ notes with disappointment that of three information technology projects indispensable to full implementation of IGM, project 3, on document planning and management, will have to be redone due to the disparity of working methods and systems at various duty stations, differences in workload predictability and uncertainty as to the overall information technology platform to be adopted throughout the United Nations.  The Advisory Committee urges the Department, in designing and implementing the next iteration of project 3, to cooperate closely with the Office of Information and Communications Technology to ensure that the selected platform fully meets the needs of all duty stations, and that it is compatible with other relevant applications Organization-wide.

On the Capital Master Plan, recalling that the Department has more than a dozen mission-critical systems which will be expected to operate smoothly with continued maintenance and support by the Information and Communications Technology Section during the construction period, the ACABQ stresses the importance of ensuring that proper support is provided throughout to ensure uninterrupted service.  The ACABQ also stresses the importance of timely submission of documentation and urges all author departments to comply with submission deadlines and page-limit requirements.

On the Secretary-General’s proposal to consider raising, or waiving, the mandatory age of separation for language staff, given the high number of retirements anticipated in coming years, the Advisory Committee believes that the financial and administrative implications of such action for one category of staff should be thoroughly explored, including from the perspective of equality of treatment.

According to the report, a conference on language staffing held in Nairobi in February 2009 produced offers of support for training by a number of European Union institutions and a commitment by the African Development Bank to find appropriate funding for the project.  A core group of African universities is currently working together to come up with a common approach to establishing relevant master’s degree programmes.   Nairobi University is due to pilot the programme in September 2009.  The Advisory Committee welcomes that proactive approach and trusts that it will yield concrete results.  Detailed information on the impact of measures taken on vacancy rates among language staff serving in Nairobi should be included in the Secretary-General’s next report on the pattern of conferences.

The Advisory Committee also notes steps in response to the Assembly’s requests concerning quality control for external translation and trusts that they will yield the expected results.  It also stresses the importance of robust workload planning as a means of ensuring that adequate numbers of freelance interpreters who can perform to the required standard are recruited sufficiently in advance.

The Committee also had before it a letter dated 8 September 2009 from the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General (document A/64/371), with regard to the Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences (document A/64/136).  It recognizes the work done by the interdepartmental task force on documentation in positively addressing the problem of issuance of documents for the Fifth Committee and proposes that the task force be made a standing mechanism in the Fifth Committee’s successive sessions.  There are no anticipated programme budget implications for its institutionalization.  The letter makes a number of other recommendations to allow for timely consideration of documents by the Committee.

Financial Situation of United Nations

Briefing the Committee, ANGELA KANE, Under-Secretary-General for Management, said that the picture was mixed, although there had been some improvements in some areas.

In connection with the Organization’s regular budget, she said that assessments and payments were both higher in 2009 than in 2008, by $619 million and $534 million, respectively.  Unpaid assessments amounted to $830 million on 13 October 2009, $47 million more than on 24 October 2008.  The number of States that had paid their regular dues in full by 13 October amounted to 120, 13 fewer than on 24 October 2008.  The corresponding figure for 31 December 2008 had been 145.  Payments received after 13 October had resulted in the addition of Guinea, Jordan and the Philippines to the list of Member States that had paid their regular assessments in full.

The breakdown of the $830 million outstanding showed that the total amount was highly concentrated, with 93 per cent owed by a single Member State [the United States] and 7 per cent owed by the remaining countries, she continued.  Clearly, the final picture for the year would largely depend on the action taken by those States in the coming months.  Cash resources for the regular budget comprised the General Fund, to which assessments were paid, the Working Capital Fund approved at $150 million by the Assembly, and the Special Account.

Turning to peacekeeping operations, she noted the unpredictable nature of the demand for peacekeeping, which made it hard to predict financial outcomes.  In addition, peacekeeping had a different financial period, running from 1 July to 30 June, rather than 1 January to 31 December.  Since assessment for each mission could only be issued through the mandate period approved by the Security Council, those were issued for different periods throughout the year.  All of those factors complicated a comparison between the financial situation of peacekeeping operations and those of the regular budget and the Tribunals.

The total amount outstanding for peacekeeping operations at 13 October 2009 had been over $2.1 billion, some $763 million lower than at the end of 2008.  The current level of unpaid assessments was, in part, related to a lower level of peacekeeping assessments for the 2009/10 fiscal year, pending approval of a new scale of assessments for 2010.  The decrease also reflected reduced amounts owed by major contributors.  She paid special thanks to the 19 Member States, which had paid all their peacekeeping assessments in full by 13 October:  Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, Congo, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Niger, Philippines, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden and Tajikistan.  After 13 October, Croatia and Iceland had joined that list.

The cash balance in peacekeeping accounts at 13 October had stood at some $3.3 billion, but there were restrictions on the use of those resources.  Only some of the cash available in the accounts of closed peacekeeping missions was currently available for cross-borrowing.  At 13 October, cash in the accounts of active missions had totalled approximately $2.8 billion, the Peacekeeping Reserve Fund had $142 million, and the accounts of closed missions had $470 million.  She expected the total cash available in peacekeeping accounts at the end of 2009 to total just over $2.2 billion, with some $1.6 billion in the accounts of active missions.  Those estimates were based on projected receipts and disbursements.

Of the $469 million expected to be available in the closed missions’ accounts at the end of the year, $218 million had been set aside for outstanding liabilities, such as troop and equipment payments and credits to be returned to Member States.  That left only $251 million for possible cross-borrowing by active missions and other accounts, including the regular budget and international Tribunals.  Cross-borrowing had been required in 2008 for seven active operations for a total of $148 million.  So far this year, cross-borrowing had been required for four active missions -- United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) -- for a total of $49 million.

It now appeared that the Organization’s debt to Member States at the end of 2009 would amount to some $944 million, which was higher than the projection made in May and above the amount of $431 million outstanding at 31 December 2008, she said.  New obligations in 2009 were up, due mainly to the deployment of troops in the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), deployment of a military component in the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and of additional military contingent and formed police units in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), partly offset by the termination of United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)’s mandate, downsizing of formed police units in the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and reduction in the military strength of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

She went on to describe the situation with quarterly payments to troop contributors, adding that delays in the receipt of contributions affected the Secretariat’s ability to make such payments, as it had to first ensure adequate provision of cash to meet ongoing operating cost requirements.  Having said that, she wanted to reassure troop contributors that the cash flow of peacekeeping operations was being constantly monitored, with a view to making quarterly payments as soon as sufficient cash was available.  The Secretary-General was committed to meeting the Organization’s obligations to Member states that provided troops and equipment to peacekeeping missions as expeditiously as possibly.  To do so, however, he depended on Member States to meet their financial obligations in full and on time, and on the finalization of the memorandum of understanding with troop contributors for the provision of equipment.

Regarding the international Tribunals, she said that their financial position had worsened slightly.  Assessments in 2009 were somewhat higher than those in 2008, and the amount outstanding was higher by $10 million.  The number of Member States paying their assessments for both Tribunals in full by 13 October was 83, and she urged other States to follow their example.  The final position of the Tribunals would obviously depend on the payment of assessed contributions by Member States during the balance of the year.  The breakdown of unpaid dues for the Tribunals also showed a high degree of concentration, with one Member State accounting for 35 per cent.  As far as cash was concerned, the Tribunals should end the year with positive cash balances, but, once again, the actual outcome depended on the payment of assessments in full and in time.

The total $1.9 billion budget of the Capital Master Plan had been approved in December 2006, she continued.  As of 13 October, payments totalling $1.1 billion had been received against assessments due and payable, with $86 million still outstanding.  In addition, a number of States that had not opted for one-time payments had nevertheless made advance payments.  She wanted to thank the 119 Member States that had paid their Capital Master Plan assessments in full as of 13 October.

In conclusion, she paid special tribute to those 18 Member States that had paid all their assessments in full as of 13 October:   Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, Congo, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Niger, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden and Tajikistan.  Subsequent payments had also been made by Croatia, Iceland and the Philippines.

Introduction of Reports

BARBARA KAUDEL, Chair, Committee on Conferences, introduced the Committee’s report on its work in 2009.  The Committee had considered proposals from several delegations on rescheduling the start of the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, in conjunction with that of the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) and the Economic and Social Council, to provide more time for informal consultations.  Delegations had agreed that, if one or two weeks were to be added to the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, they should be taken from the beginning of its main session.

She reported that, in informal discussions held on the matter with the Chairs of the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) and the Fifth Committee, the CPC Chair had proposed reallocation of the eight weeks available to the CPC in one biennium from four weeks a year to three weeks in budget years and five weeks in off-budget years.  According to the proposal, the report of the CPC in off-budget years would be considered by the Economic and Social Council at its resumed session, rather than at its annual session.  The Chair emphasized that a one week break between the end of the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee and the start of the annual session of the CPC was needed to provide time for document preparation.

The bureau of the Fifth Committee had indicated it would respond on the matter, she said.  Further, she would be meeting with the President of the Economic and Social Council later on today and would inform the Fifth Committee of the outcome of those discussions in informal consultations.

On improved utilization of conference services and facilities, she noted that three of the General Assembly’s main committees had reached and/or surpassed the established benchmark of 80 per cent in 2008.  Consultations had been held with two intergovernmental bodies that had underutilized conference resources during the period from 2006 to 2008 and various suggestions made for improvements, including reducing the impact of foreseeable cancellations by providing advance notice, starting meetings on time and reducing meeting time in advance when it could be anticipated.

On the provision of interpretation services, she expressed regret at the drop in their provision at the four main duty stations from 84 per cent in 2007 to 77 per cent in 2008.  She cited the draft resolution requesting “the Secretary-General to ensure that, as far as possible, all requests for conference services are met, and request[ing] the Secretariat to inform the requestors as early as possible about the availability of conference services, including interpretation as well as about any changes that might occur before the meeting”.  On the Capital Master Plan, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management had updated the Committee on staff relocations and provided tours of two swing sites.  She requested the Secretary-General to keep the Committee updated on all matters relating to conference services and facilities during the Capital Master Plan.

On documentation, she said that the Committee on Conferences had held discussions on the reports of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, which had resulted in two operative paragraphs in section IV of the draft resolution.  They called for all reports adopted by that body at its fourth and fifth sessions, and additional information submitted by States under review, to be issued in all official languages of the United Nations and for all reports adopted by the Working Group to be issued in all official languages in a timely manner before their consideration by the Council.

Regarding documents for the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, the Committee on Conferences recognized the work done by the task force chaired by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management and welcomed the continued efforts of the task force to shepherd the submission of documents by author departments.

SHAABAN M. SHAABAN, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the report of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.  Commenting on the OIOS report, among other things, he said that, while he agreed with many of the report’s findings, he differed with the Office’s lack of acknowledgement of integrated global management’s existence and acceptance by all its stakeholders, its initial achievements and potential for further results.

He further said financial savings had never been integrated global management’s overarching objective.  As noted in the draft resolution that was being submitted to the Fifth Committee, he said, the Department’s major goals had been and would continue to be “to provide high quality documents in a timely manner in all official languages in accordance with established regulations, as well as high quality conference service to Member States at all duty stations and to achieve those aims as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible”.

Noting improvement in the timely issuance of documents, he said that the Department continued to grapple with the voluminous workload generated by the Human Rights Council.  As “prevention is far better and often far cheaper than cure”, he welcomed the establishment in Geneva of a task force, led by the Chairman of the Human Rights Council, to find a solution which would satisfy the rightful concerns of Member States, while enabling the Secretariat to address a predictable workload in an orderly fashion.  Once that outcome would be achieved, he said, whatever budgetary implications the task force’s proposals entailed should be addressed in a timely manner by the General Assembly.

On the Committee of Conferences’ draft resolution regarding the Human Rights Council, he noted that the Committee had been informed that the 15 reports were done through the contractual work unit, in consultation with the Human Rights Council’s President, and would be processed not later than the beginning of the seventh universal periodic review session.  Some reports, he noted, might be ready before the end of the year.  The Department could process all reports if they respected the 10/4/6-week rule and the guidelines for word limits cited in General Assembly resolutions.  As calculated by the Human Rights Council substantive secretariat, there would be a shortfall of $5,371,400 for both the sixth and seventh sessions, which could be offset if the issuance of summary records remained suspended.

In closing, he noted that the annual survey of Member States was being revised in order to harmonize its contents across all duty stations and to unify the methodology used to secure Member States’ feedback.  He invited any suggestions Member States might have to improve the quality of the survey and the level of response.  He expressed disappointment at the low attendance level by Member States at the periodic informational meetings, noting that these too provided an opportunity for Member State feedback.

COLLEN V. KELAPILE, Vice-Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the report of that body and noted that it should be considered in conjunction with ACABQ’s first report on the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011 (document A/64/7), as it had commented in detail on matters relating to conference servicing in that earlier report.

Introducing the OIOS evaluation of the integrated global management initiative of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, Aril Hauge, Section Chief of the Inspection and Evaluation Division, OIOS, said that the objective of the evaluation had been to assess, as systematically as possible, the relevance and efficiency of integrated global management.  It looked at progress made on the initiative’s objectives since 2004, when it had been undertaken as a collaborative, norm-setting enterprise of conference servicing entities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and the Organization’s Offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna.

The OIOS found that the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management had undertaken integrated global management through two main initiatives, he said:  the preparation of the compendium of administrative policies, practices and procedures for conference services during 2005 to 2007; and the development of three Global Information Technology projects relating to conference management activity.  However, the OIOS noted that, to date, while much time and effort had gone into those initiatives, the overall desired achievements of the harmonization of the business practices and the implementation of the information technology systems at the four duty stations has not occurred.

Furthermore, he continued, human and financial resource sharing across the four duty stations had been limited since 2004.  The duty stations focused on catering to a local constituency of client bodies, with few formal incentives or potential spare capacity for sharing.  Some workload sharing had occurred on an informal basis through professional peer groups.  Also, he said, statistical data on service delivery was maintained at the individual duty stations and was embedded with their respective differences in definitions.  Therefore, that data was inconsistent in terms of quality, comparability and reliability.  The OIOS concluded that the integrated global management initiative had possibly resulted in highlighting, rather than resolving, differences among duty station work processes.  There were no overall financial savings associated with integrated global management.

Since 2004, neither the total cost nor the total volume of combined conference-service delivery had changed significantly, he said.  A remaining constraint for the implementation of integrated global management was the fact that the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management lacked formal control over staff outside New York and did not have budgetary responsibility for the four duty stations.  In practice, the process of financial planning and budgeting allowed him little scope for strategically managing funds across duty stations and outside Headquarters.  “Without someone at the centre with appropriate responsibility and authority, no real reform is likely to take place”, he said.

Statements

MAGID YOUSIF (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, praised the work of the Committee on Conferences and expressed support for the recommendations contained in its report.  He emphasized that the 2009 draft resolution on the pattern of conferences submitted by the Committee should continue to serve as the framework for negotiations.  He further said that Department for General Assembly and Conference Management’s mission, among other things, was to ensure equal treatment of all six official languages of the United Nations.  He then noted the overall rise in utilization of conference facilities from 2007 to 2008 and expressed the hope that improved coordination between planning officers and technical secretariats would lead to a further rise in the coming year.

He expressed appreciation for the fact that all Nairobi-based agencies had held their meetings at the Nairobi Office in 2008 and hoped that that would continue in 2009.  However, he remained concerned that Nairobi was the only duty station that relied on extrabudgetary resources, a practice contrary to the General Assembly’s recognition that all duty stations should be treated equally.  He further said that he appreciated efforts to address staffing problems in Nairobi and trusted that Member States would adopt specific measures to alleviate the problem.  He also noted the increased utilization of the conference facility at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) from 2007 to 2008 and commended efforts by the Assistant Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management to increase its utilization.

He noted the decline in the provision of conference services to regional groups in 2008 and expressed regret that some meetings of the Group of 77 at the ambassadorial level had not been provided with interpretation services, although requests had been made.  He encouraged the Department to make greater efforts to ensure that adequate services would be provided to regional groups.  On the Capital Master Plan, he noted staff movements it had already caused, as well as the Department’s contingency plans to respond to disruptions.  He emphasized the importance of information and communications technology to the Organization’s work and stressed the importance of ensuring proper support throughout the implementation of the Plan.

He welcomed the conclusions of the OIOS on integrated global management and looked forward to consideration of the Secretary-General’s report in the context of OIOS recommendations.  He went on to say that the timely issuance of documents in all six official languages remained a concern and, among other things, welcomed the proposal to convene an interdepartmental task force within the Secretariat on the problem.  He further supported the institutionalization of the task force as a standing mechanism to handle documentation for the Fifth Committee at its subsequent sessions.  The task force, however, was only one component of what must be a multi-pronged approach to finding a solution to the perennial difficulties of late issuance of documents for the Fifth Committee.

He further emphasized that departments should comply with the format of reports as prescribed by General Assembly resolutions, particularly in resolution 63/248, which called for the inclusion, in the Secretariat’s reports, of a report summary; consolidated conclusions; recommendations; proposed actions; relevant background information; and actionable parts in bold print.  He encouraged the Chairpersons of the Fifth Committee and the ACABQ to promote cooperation on documentation matters, so that there would be sufficient time to consider documents issued.  In that way, the programme of work could be determined by the importance Member States accorded items, rather than by the date of issuance of reports.

He expressed concern that, to date, some reports of the periodic review mechanism of the Human Rights Council had not been translated into all six official languages, and he would seek updated information on the Department’s progress on that particularly sensitive issue during informal consultations.  On language services, he expressed the hope that measures taken to address the pressing vacancy rates at all duty stations, especially Nairobi, would yield positive results.  Further, he cautioned that the use of interns and freelance interpreters must not compromise the quality of interpretation.

HENRIC RASBRANT ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, welcomed the report and draft resolution submitted by the Committee on Conferences and expressed appreciation for the progress made in the context of integrated global management.  He welcomed the fact that the Department was in agreement with the findings and recommendations of the OIOS.  The Union also welcomed continuing efforts of the Secretariat to avoid late submission of documentation, including to the Fifth Committee, and asked the Secretary-General to continue his efforts in that regard.

Concerning the calendar of conferences, the Union would like to add one or two weeks after the traditional ending of the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee, to be taken from the main session, he said.

He further recalled that adequate conference facilities and the highest standards of language services in all six official languages of the United Nations were essential to the success of the work of intergovernmental and expert bodies of the United Nations.  He welcomed the steps taken by the Secretary-General to more effectively address that issue.  The Union further recognized the progress achieved across duty stations in many areas of reform and noted the comments of the Committee on Conferences in that regard.  The Union relied on the Secretary-General to ensure that the implementation of the Capital Master Plan was in conformity with the high quality of linguistic and conference services that Member States justifiably expected.

ELSA DE JESUS PATACA (Angola), speaking on behalf of the African Group, supported the position of the Group of 77 and noted with appreciation that all Nairobi-based bodies had conformed with relevant Assembly resolutions in 2008, including the provisions relating to the holding of all their meetings in Nairobi.  The African Group encouraged the Secretary-General to continue to ensure adherence to those texts.

Turning to the utilization of the conference facility at ECA, she noted the steady increase in the utilization from 60 per cent in 2006 to 76 per cent in 2008.  While appreciating the efforts of the conference management at ECA of advertising the conference facility, he noted with concern that the facility would be facing new challenges; the conference industry was getting more competitive, owing to a number of anticipated four- and five-star hotels with built-in conference facilities in Addis Ababa.  However, the Group stressed the importance of avoiding any regress, as a result of that development.  She encouraged conference management to continue its efforts towards reaching the 80 per cent benchmark for utilization of United Nations conference facilities.

The Assembly had consistently recognized meetings of regional groupings of Member States as pivotal to the smooth functioning of sessions of various bodies, she continued.  Noting with concern that 50 per cent of requests for services by the African Group in New York had not been met, she requested an explanation on that matter.  She also addressed the question of vacancies at the Nairobi Office, which remained a source of concern for the Group.  She welcomed the proactive approach of the Division of Conference Services in Nairobi, including its intention to classify some interpreter and translator posts at a higher level; provide incentives to staff serving in Nairobi for longer periods; and explore the possibility of providing training to potential professional translators and interpreters on the African continent.  If implemented, those measures would yield positive results.  The Group would follow up on other measures, which were aimed at reducing vacancy rates within the context of the proposed 2010-2011 budget

INGRID BERLANGA VASILE (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, praised the efforts of the Department to ensure publication of documents of the Fifth Committee and expressed appreciation for the work carried out by the task force in that regard.  For the Rio Group, timely issuance of documentation in the six official languages was essential for the work of the Committee.  In that sense, she looked forward to the implementation of resolution 63/248, which had requested the Secretary-General to elaborate a report on the work of the task force.

The Group had pronounced itself on the importance of solving the issue of the resource requirements for the Human Rights Council, particularly the translation into the six official languages of the 13 documents of the universal periodic review, she continued.  On 14 September, during the fifty-third session of the Committee on Conferences, it had been decided that those 13 documents would be translated by the end of the year, providing that the Department would make proper use of the resources allocated for that matter for 2008-2009, after modifying its priorities.  The Group expected that the task force would offer a proposal for a definitive solution to the issue of resource requirements for the Human Rights Council in documentation matters.

Continuing, she expressed concern over the demographic changes in the Department, noting that more than 20 per cent of the Department’s staff would retire in four years.  That situation had led to the hiring of free-lance and temporary staff.  She encouraged the Department to explore further ways to fill the vacancies.  On the other hand, she agreed with the ACABQ that the financial and administrative implications of raising or waiving the age of separation for one category of staff should be thoroughly explored, including from the perspective of equality of treatment.

Regarding integrated global management, the Group looked forward to being briefed on concrete measures carried out to execute those conclusions and recommendations of the OIOS already accepted by the Department.

HILARIO G. DAVIDE ( Philippines) associated himself with the position of the Group of 77 and stressed the vital role of conference management, specifically the provision of interpretation, translation and documentation, in the operations of the United Nations.  Those services must be kept up to par.  In particular, the clamour for reform in the area of documentation was irresistible.  Delegations had experienced first hand the disaster caused by late issuance of documents in the second resumed sixty-third session of the Assembly.  While the problem had been addressed, resulting in significant improvements, the spectre of relapse was not at all remote if Member States were lulled into complacency.  It was unfortunate, and even embarrassing, that the problem in documentation had been with the United Nations for decades.

It was necessary to build upon the incremental progress achieved, he continued.  The Philippines had submitted several proposals in that regard, which were contained in document A/64/371.  Recognizing the work done by the Independent Task Force on Documentation, his delegation remained convinced that the Task Force should be institutionalized as a standing mechanism to handle the documents of the Fifth Committee.  The Philippines had also proposed the adoption of stronger measures to ensure compliance with submission deadlines by author departments.  He was pleased that the ACABQ had recognized that timely submission of documentation was key to the effective implementation of the Department’s mandate and urged all author departments to comply with submission deadlines and page limits.

Since further improvement of documents management was also dependent on adequate intervals between the adoption of new mandates and the time of consideration of relevant documents, he suggested adjusting the biennial calendar of conferences, so that the first and second resumed parts of the Fifth Committee would begin later than their customary commencement in the beginning of March and May, respectively, every year.  He also encouraged Chairs of the Fifth Committee and the ACABQ to promote cooperation, coordination and communication on matters concerning documentation.  Enhanced interaction would facilitate the preparation of a programme of work for the Fifth Committee to allow sufficient time for proper consideration of the issued documents.  That was the first step towards reaching the goal of issues being taken up by virtue of Member State priorities, and not by the date on which reports were issued and available.

The Committee on Conferences had discussed the Philippines’ proposals last month and had incorporated elements of those proposals in the draft it had submitted for adoption, he added.  His delegation strongly endorsed that text as the basis for negotiations.  He expected his delegation’s proposals to be seriously and dutifully considered by the Committee.  He hoped that Member States endeavoured to take a positive, practical and proactive approach, and adopt concrete solutions to that embarrassing perennial problem.

JORGE CUMBERBATCH ( Cuba) endorsed the position of the Group of 77 and reiterated his delegation’s strong rejection of the use of United Nations facilities by some States, with cooperation of various authorities of the Secretariat, to undertake clearly hostile actions against other Member States.  Such actions flagrantly contravened the Charter of the United Nations, as well as the rules and procedures of the Organization.  They also damaged the reputation and credibility of the United Nations, and put in question the professionalism and neutrality of the Secretariat.  The General Assembly had made a statement on that matter in paragraphs 12 and 13 of resolution 63/248.  Nonetheless, incidents of that sort continued to take place, and the Secretariat just did not take the necessary measures to prevent them.

He added that it was particularly regrettable that even senior officials of the Secretariat were directly involved in defamatory campaigns against some Member States, clearly violating Articles 100 and 101 of the Charter and other standards regulating the performance of the Secretariat’s members.  Cuba would continue to thoroughly follow up the developments on that matter and reserved the right to undertake the actions it considered convenient, in a timely fashion and in the framework of the United Nations, to address that disturbing situation.

He went on to express satisfaction at the publication status of the reports from the sessions of the Human Rights Council universal periodic review and the way the Secretariat had dealt with that matter.  The universal periodic review had been established to avoid a repetition of the shameful situations leading to the disappearance of the discredited Human Rights Commission.  He expected not to see again deplorable scenarios where unimaginable justifications were given for an inexcusable mistake that should not have been made in the first place.  In that connection, he said that the role of the Secretariat was to facilitate intergovernmental work, not hinder it.

His delegation would closely follow the debate on any other question of special significance for the Organization, like the stabilization of the use of conference services, support to regional and other negotiation groups, particularly the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement, the impact of the Capital Master Plan on conference services, and factors that might affect the publication of documents requested by various entities of the Organization.  He hoped the current session would produce fruitful results for the creation of conditions for a more effective use of resources by those who must ensure logistical support for the Organization’s legislative bodies.

YOSEPH KASSAYE ( Ethiopia) associated himself with the statements of the Group of 77 and China and the African Group and, commenting on the utilization rate of the Conference Centre at ECA in Addis Ababa, noted a rise to 76 per cent in 2008 from 60 per cent in 2006.  Regarding a reference in the Secretary-General’s report to the challenge of competition from new five-star hotels with conference facilities in the area, he said that, in the course of development, competition was inevitable and should be viewed as an opportunity, rather than a challenge.  Similar challenges must have been faced at some point by other duty stations.  The lessons learned should be applied to the Conference Centre.

He called on the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, in collaboration with the Conference Centre, to outline the measures the Secretary-General intended to take to increase the Conference Centre’s utilization rate.  “[T]he perennial language that appears repeatedly on resolutions vis-à-vis this agenda item and which calls upon the Secretary-General to continue exploring ways… to increase the utilization rate of the Center should… be based on… clearly identified strategies”, he said.  Further, recommendations should be provided with adequate resources for their implementation.  Finally, he requested the secretariat of the Department to reply to written questions submitted by his delegation during the Committee’s deliberations last September.

IFRAN SOOMRO ( Pakistan) aligned himself with the position of the Group of 77 and said that his delegation believed in equitable treatment of all duty stations and all six official languages of the United Nations.  He took note of the expected high number of retirements of language staff in the coming years and said that he was concerned that staff shortages could significantly hinder the management of conference services, given the high vacancy rate, severe depletion of rosters and increase in demand for conference services.  Therefore, the number of competitive examinations, as the only means of recruitment of language staff, should be further increased in the next biennium.  He also highlighted the importance of being punctual in the conduct of meetings.  Each hour of fully serviced conference time cost the Organization thousands of dollars.  In 2008, the average cost of one page of pre- or post-session documentation translated into all six official languages in-house at Headquarters had stood at $2,473.  One minute of interpretation cost approximately $65.

While supporting the innovative concept of integrated global management, he concurred with the OIOS that there should be a precise and consistent articulation of the initiative’s objectives.  Specific measurable targets should be set, with a certain time frame.  Managerial initiatives should not merely be some “face-saving mechanisms to cover up the administrative loopholes and to deflect the criticism from the governing bodies or divert the attention of Member States from the issues”.  The process should yield tangible gains, in terms of greater coherence of delivery, financial savings and overall improvements in conference management.

Regarding the inadequate provision of services to the Human Rights Council and its universal periodic review, he said that proper methodologies were needed to ensure that the Council’s work was not hindered.  It was also important for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to get the information accurately reflected in the budget document.  Experience accumulated over the years should help the Office to present better and more concise requests.  With regard to paragraph 67 of document A/64/136, he reiterated the prerogative of Member States and intergovernmental bodies regarding the length and timing for the provision of inputs to the United Nations as they deemed necessary.  He also looked forward to the OIOS report on the incidence of inadequate allocation of resources for the Human Rights Council.

On the staffing in Nairobi, he emphasized the need to address the situation expeditiously.  Also, while the overall utilization of conference facilities in 2008 had remained at 85 per cent, the provision of conference services for meetings of regional groups had declined.  Unused resources reflected managerial weaknesses that must be addressed.  Regional group meetings were important in facilitating the work of the Organization, also recognized in resolution 63/248.  Therefore, they should be prioritized for the provision of conference and language services to the extent possible, without waste of resources.

Turning to the documentation, he expressed appreciation for the steps taken to improve timely issuance, but noted that a number of important documents were being issued very late.  He would like to see early results for the measures envisaged to address the underlying reasons for the situation and for the improvement in the planning of documentation needs of the Fifth Committee, including through the institutionalization of the task force as a standing mechanism.  Some departments were issuing reports in conformity with relevant resolutions, but he noted with concern that certain departments were not complying with the reports’ prescribed format.  Resolution 63/248 had reiterated the Assembly’s request for the Secretary-General to direct all departments to include in their reports a summary, consolidated conclusions, recommendations, proposed actions, relevant background information and actionable parts in bold print.  That was important for facilitating the work of Member States, especially smaller delegations.  He expected all departments to strictly comply with resolutions on the format of reports.

YASSAR DIAB ( Syria) associated himself with the statement of the Group of 77 and China.  He said that the Organization’s work depended on the timely provision of documents, and the highest quality of interpretation services -- whether for formal or informal negotiations -- and stressed the importance of the Committee on Conferences, as the intergovernmental body entrusted with following up on those matters, particularly for non-English-speaking delegations.  He concurred with the report’s recommendations except in regard to section I, paragraph 7, of General Assembly resolution 40/243, on allowing some bodies to hold meetings during the main part of the Assembly’s sixty-fourth session.

He praised the improvement in the utilization rate of conference facilities and encouraged the Committee on Conferences to work with those bodies whose implementation rate was below the 80 per cent standard.  He supported the use of strategic reserves for interpretation services to bodies that meet as required, and said their availability should be increased from the current three to four meetings a week.  Strategic reserves could also be used to increase services to regional groupings.  Noting that General Assembly resolution 63/248 had acknowledged the importance of such meetings, he drew attention to the decrease in the rate of provision of service to those groups from last year and called on the Secretary-General to increase utilization rates of meetings for which interpretation services were provided.

He expressed satisfaction with the utilization rate of conference services in Nairobi, as well as at the improved utilization rate at the ECA Conference Centre.  On implementation of the Capital Master Plan, he said that the temporary relocation of staff must not have a negative affect on the quality of language services or the equal treatment of all six languages.

He welcomed the OIOS report on integrated global management and agreed that that initiative was still in the implementation stage and that its main benefits were yet to be determined.  In that regard, he looked forward to the next Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of recommendations and on the fundamental objective of IGM, as well as the potential global strategy for the initiative.

Noting continued delays in issuing General Assembly documents, he said there must be adherence to the six-week rule.  He expressed appreciation for the interdepartmental task force and welcomed its continuing efforts to ensure timely submission by author departments.  He further expressed deep concern at how services were provided to the Working Group for the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.  In contravention of many General Assembly resolutions, their reports had not been issued in the six official languages.  He demanded that that be remedied in the future.  A coordinating mechanism between the Human Rights Council and the administration could enable the administration to follow up on documentation issues.  Further resources should be allocated to that end, he said.

Further on language services, he said that current terminology should be standardized, in interpretation and translation, and be used consistently in all six languages.  Greater coordination between the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management and the Office of Human Resources Management was needed to hold more competitive examinations for language staff to overcome the effects of the upcoming retirement of 20 per cent of all language staff.  He welcomed outreach programmes, particularly to Arab universities that would enable them to ensure that their students would be qualified for work at international organizations.  Noting the effect of freelancers on the quality of service, he appealed to the Secretariat to increase interpreter remuneration, so as to attract those most highly qualified.

VLADIMIR PROKHOROV ( Russian Federation) noted the important role of the Committee on Conferences and expressed satisfaction over some useful recent initiatives of the Department.  Success of introducing the integrated global management in all duty stations would depend on providing a balanced division of labour between Headquarters and other duty stations.  The coordinating role of the Department was to promote effective use of the potential of various United Nations units, while clearly showing savings.

Continuing, he reiterated that particular care should be taken in improving working conditions in language services.  The unique nature of those units was obvious, as was the fact that the main purpose of reforming their work was to enhance the quality of interpretation and translation into all six official languages.  The quality of conference services depended, to a large extent, on having equally favourable conditions in all language sections and ensuring equal financial and staff resources to them, as provided in the Assembly resolution on multilingualism.  With regard to the resources for language services, he stressed the importance of consistency and parity, as well as proper planning when hiring temporary assistance.

On servicing the Human Rights Council universal periodic review, he called upon his colleagues to take a constructive approach.  They must realistically assess allocated resources and the abilities of the Secretariat, on the one hand, and try not to undermine the implementation of what had been approved by the General Assembly regarding the working methods of the Council, on the other.  The formal framework should not undermine the difficult work being done.  In the final analysis, what was at stake was improving the situation within the human rights sphere, as well as the fate of one of the achievements of United Nations reform.

He went on to draw attention to the exhaustion of translation rosters and the need to ensure timely holding of appropriate examinations.  Commending biannual information meetings on the work of language services, he also pointed to the need to take specific action to address the issues raised by Member States at those meetings.  Their comments should be duly taken into account in assessing the work of the Department.  He supported the Department initiative on establishing contacts with language institutions within the countries where official languages of the United Nations were spoken.  Developed on a reasonable economic basis, that initiative should help in forward planning for competitive language exams.

He also warned that other measures related to finding a solution to anticipated retirements within translation services, including a differentiated approach to increasing the retirement age, could not be considered separately under the pattern of conferences agenda item, as it related to the whole United Nations system.  The issue would continue to be discussed within the context of human resources policies and the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).

ANTHONY ANDANJE ( Kenya) aligned himself with the position of the Group of 77 and African Group, and said that the work of the Committee on Conferences was very important in facilitating the intergovernmental process at the United Nations.  He highly valued the recommendations of the Committee in its most recent report and believed those would give impetus to the Committee’s deliberations.

Among the issues of particular interest to his delegation, he noted high vacancy rates in the language services at the Nairobi Office, which continued to be a matter of concern.  Although the issue had been brought to manageable levels, sustained efforts should be made to address it, once and for all.  The Division of Conferences in Nairobi should continue to consider all possibilities in filling current and future vacancies in Nairobi.  In that regard, he noted with appreciation the programme initiated by that Office to provide on-the-job training for young translators and interpreters who had yet to pass the United Nations exam.  He welcomed the efforts to enhance the training of potential translators and interpreters in the African continent.  Among the positive developments, he mentioned the conference organized by Nairobi in February, which had brought together the main stakeholders, including representatives of universities, international organizations, government officials and freelance language professionals.  The commitment of African universities to work together to establish masters programmes was commendable.  He was pleased that the University of Nairobi had agreed to pilot the programme, starting September 2009.

The problems highlighted above could be addressed through enhancing capacity-building in support of the Division of Conferences at the Nairobi Office, he said.  Developing partnerships with universities would also provide a long-term solution on the issue of high vacancy rates.  With regard to ECA, he was pleased to note that innovative efforts by the management of the Centre through marketing activities had begun to bear fruit.  The utilization rate had, indeed, increased, but still remained below the agreed threshold.  Nevertheless, considering the new challenges in the conference industry in Addis Ababa and taking into account the establishment of other conference facilities in the same region, sustained efforts should be made to further enhance the marketing and utilization of the ECA Conference Centre.

JAVAD SAFAEI ( Iran) endorsed the statement of the Group of 77 and China, and highlighted one point of particular concern to Iran.  He called for strict observance of paragraphs 12 and 13 of General Assembly resolution 63/248, calling for the Secretary-General and Member States to adhere to the guidelines and procedures contained in the administrative instruction for the authorization of the use of United Nations premises for meetings, conferences, special events and exhibits; and emphasizingthat such meetings, conferences, special events and exhibits must be consistent with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

VIVIAN LEWIS, Director, Documentation Division, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, responded to several issues raised by delegates.  Among them, she noted that the timely issuance of documents was linked to their timely submission.  Regarding the demographic transitions currently taking place in language services, she noted that the Department had repeatedly stated the need for holding 50 language examinations per year to have a full roster in all six languages, but that the Organization did not currently have the capacity to hold that number.  A study was under way to resolve the issue.

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