Budget Committee Approves Texts on Board of Auditors Reports, Pattern of Conferences, Begins Debate on New United Nations Administration of Justice System
Budget Committee Approves Texts on Board of Auditors Reports, Pattern of Conferences, Begins Debate on New United Nations Administration of Justice System
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fifth General Assembly
15th Meeting (AM)
Budget Committee Approves Texts on Board of Auditors Reports, Pattern of Conferences,
Begins Debate on New United Nations Administration of Justice System
With the adoption of two draft resolutions today, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) gave its approval to the Board of Auditor’s scrutiny of the Organization’s 2009 financial statements and laid down a blueprint of guidelines meant to improve the staging of conferences.
The Committee this morning also debated the Organization’s new system for administering justice — which envelopes informal and formal mechanisms to resolve disputes for tens of thousands of employees around the world. In place for just over a year, the new system has several new elements, including two tribunals staffed by professional judges, the Office of Staff Legal Assistance and the Management Evaluation Unit. The informal mechanism is run by the newly integrated Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services, which is the anchor of a conflict resolution system meant to resolve disputes at an early stage and avoid costly litigation.
Terence Nombembe, chairman of the Board of Auditors, thanked the Committee for its hard work after it approved by consensus the draft resolution on its work, “Financial reports and audited financial statements, and reports of the Board of Auditors”. Mr. Nombembe, who is also auditor-general of South Africa, noted the Board’s unique role as one of the United Nation’s oldest oversight entities and its truly independent nature. That independence was crucial to carry out audits and reports without any restrictions on the Organization’s key issues, he added.
Referring to the Organization’s delay in its implementation of International Public Sector Accounting Standards, he was pleased that the resolution supported a request by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). That request asked the Board to report annually on progress made in implementing the standards. In its reports, the Board had issued a word of caution about the sustainability of current audit opinions as the more stringent international accounting standards were put in place. He cautioned today that in the cases of modified audit opinions, United Nations organizations needed to address all significant issues to avoid an escalation of additional financial statement issues.
The Committee then approved by consensus a draft resolution entitled “Pattern of Conferences”, that set down guidelines and future actions meant to improve the administration and operation of conferences at Headquarters and overseas. The resolution covered six areas: the calendar of conferences and meetings; the use of conference-servicing resources; the impact of the Capital Master Plan on the meetings held at Headquarters; integrated global management; documentation and publication-related matters; and translation and interpretation-related matters.
The resolution incorporated many of the concerns — included greater use of conference services facilities in Nairobi, the timely preparation of documents and the use of translators and interpretation services — aired by delegates during their debate on 7 October 2010. Both resolutions will be sent to the Assembly for its adoption later this fall.
On the debate of the new system of justice, many delegates threw their support behind the new dispute resolution system, yet noted that it was still evolving. The representative of the United States said the new system had shown substantial improvements over the previous system with its professionalism, transparency and efficiency. But, he and other delegates were disappointed that the Secretary-General’s report did not include proposals for a staff-funded scheme for providing legal assistance, as requested in resolution 63/253.
Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, Yemen’s representative said the Group agreed with the ACABQ and regretted that the Secretary-General’s report did not lay out ways to deal with that long-standing issue. “The United Nations staff has far too long suffered the consequences of a poorly equipped professional legal assistance unit,” he said.
As the Secretary-General had recommended in his report the addition of 27 posts, the system’s cost also emerged during the debate and several delegates agreed with the Advisory Committee’s view that more time was needed to assess the system’s functioning. Introducing the Advisory Committee’s report, Chair Susan McLurg said the ACABQ did not agreed with the Secretary-General’s proposal for a second full-time judge in each of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal locations and 27 posts under the regular budget. Regarding resources for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, the Advisory Committee believed that Assembly decisions on this issue had to be considered when determining what resources should be approved.
Belgium’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the system’s success depended on its independence and efficiency. “It is, therefore, important to ensure that this independence is guaranteed and that the different bodies of the new system continue to receive adequate support,” he said.
That support had to be carefully balanced with today’s stringent fiscal climate. He agreed with the ACABQ that more time was needed to accurately ascertain the demands of the system — demands that now cost about $29 million. The Secretary-General’s requests for additional resources represented an increase of more than 60 per cent.
Andrei Terekhov, Executive Director of the Office of the Administration of Justice, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the Administration of Justice, and Assistant Secretary-General Johnston Barkat, who is the United Nations Ombudsman, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services.
Also speaking on the administration of justice were the representatives of New Zealand (on behalf of Australia and Canada), Switzerland (on behalf of Liechtenstein), India, Qatar and the Republic of Korea.
The representative of Senegal spoke on the draft resolution on “Pattern of Conferences”.
The vice-president of the Staff Management Coordination Committee addressed the Committee on behalf of the staff unions and associations participating in the Committee, as well as on behalf of the staff of organizations participating as associate members.
The President of the General Assembly also addressed the Committee this morning.
The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 15 November, to discuss special political missions and UN Women, issues slotted under the Programme Budget: biennium 2010-2011.
In preparation for its debate on the Organization’s new internal justice system, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) had before it several reports, including two substantial reports by the Secretary-General and a report of the Internal Justice Council.
In the Secretary-General’s report on administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/65/373), the Secretariat provides a review of the United Nations new system of administration of justice as well as data and information on its functioning. The report also outlines the Secretary-General’s request for additional resources of $7.63 million under programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011, including the creation of 27 new posts, effective 1 January 2011.
The Secretary-General views the new system, operating since 1 July 2009, as a success and an improvement over a largely peer-review system that had been in place for more than 60 years. The new United Nations Dispute Tribunal, for example, takes about six months to adjudicate a case, compared to what could previously have taken years. The report notes that a high percentage of the cases coming before the Organization’s so-called first responders — the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Meditation Services, the Office of Staff Legal Assistance and the Management Evaluation Unit — were settled informally without recourse to the formal system. While the new system has more resources, is more professional and shows many accomplishments, elements need adjustment or strengthening so the system can work at its best.
The Secretary-General prepared his report after holding consultations with staff and management, including a dedicated session of the Staff Management Coordination Committee. The recommendations would provide needed additional strength to the new internal justice system, which already enjoys the confidence of both staff and management. The Secretary-General asks the General Assembly to consider the report’s proposals and approve the required resources. The Secretary-General’s requested actions for the Assembly include:
- Approve the establishment of 27 new posts (7 P-4, 8 P-3, 3 P-2, 5 General Service (other level), and 4 local level), effective 1 January 2011, under the programme budget for the biennium 2010-2011.
- Appropriate $7.63 million under the programme budget for the biennium 2010‑2011. This would comprise increases under section 1, overall policymaking, direction and coordination ($2 million); section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management ($3.7 million); section 8, legal affairs ($657,400); section 17, economic and social development in Africa ($38,100); section 21, economic and social development in Western Asia ($38,100); section 28C, Office of Human Resources Management ($269,800); section 28D, Office of Central Support Services ($325,200); section 28E, administration, Geneva ($133,700); section 28G, administration, Nairobi ($133,700); and an increase under section 36, staff assessment ($294,700), which would be offset by a corresponding amount under income section 1, income from staff assessment. The provision would represent a charge against the contingency fund.
- Approve the creation of a P-3 level and a national General Service post in the regional field service centre in Entebbe, Uganda, effective 1 January 2011. This would be funded from the budget for the support account for peacekeeping operations for the 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011 period, and the related costs would be reported in the performance report for the same support account.
In a recommendation regarding the Appeals Tribunal, the Secretary–General recommended that the Assembly amend article 7.1 c of the Appeals Tribunal statute so as to extend the deadline for filing appeals from 45 to 90 days.
The Assembly established a new system of administration of justice for staff of the Secretariat and the separately administered funds and programmes with its resolutions 61/261, 62/228 and 63/253. The formal system has several new elements, including two tribunals: the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal. These are staffed by professional judges and supported by Registries in Geneva, Nairobi and New York.
In accordance with the Assembly’s view that legal assistance should be provided for staff, the new system also includes the Office of Staff Legal Assistance. This Office is staffed by professional legal officers in Addis Ababa, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi and New York. Recognizing the need for the system’s independence, the Assembly created the Office of Administration of Justice, which administers the elements of the formal system and provides administrative, operational and technical support to the Tribunals, Registries and the Office of Staff Legal Assistance.
Another new element of the formal system is management evaluation, which makes up the mandatory first step of the formal system of administration of justice. The Management Evaluation Unit, staffed by professional legal officers and situated in the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, conducts a first review of a contested decision. The Unit is designed to give management a chance to correct an improper decision or provide acceptable remedies in cases where the decision has been flawed, thereby reducing the number of cases that proceed to formal litigation.
In addition to the newly created structures, many offices and units which had been part of the previous justice system are still part of the new system. The peer-review mechanism was abolished effective 1 July 2009, and the United Nations Administrative Tribunal was abolished effective 1 January 2010. The pending caseloads from those bodies (312 cases) were transferred to the new Tribunals.
In a corrigendum to the Secretary-Generals’ report on administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/65/373/Corr.1), the Secretariat provides corrections to the texts of paragraph 9 and paragraph 19 of the report, relating to the staffing complement of the Management Evaluation Unit and the number of cases transferred from the United Nations Administrative Tribunal to the Dispute Tribunal.
The Secretary-General covered one of the justice system’s new entities with his report on activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/65/303). It is the second Secretary-General report on the activities of the integrated Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services, and covers the period from 1 January to 31 December 2009. Released on 16 August 2010, the report was being finalized as the Organization’s new administration of justice system completed its first year and it reviews the progress reached between 1 July 2009 and 1 July 2010, and details the future challenges. This is the sixth Secretary-General report on the activities of the United Nations Ombudsman, following Assembly resolution 59/283.
The integrated Ombudsman and Mediation Services Office is the main pillar of the Organization’s conflict resolution system and uses informal and collaborative approaches to resolve conflict at an early stage. It delivers informal conflict-resolution services to the staff of the Secretariat, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Office passed through several milestones in 2009, a transitional year for the integrated Office on many fronts. All regional ombudsmen and case officers were appointed in Bangkok, Geneva, Khartoum, Kinshasa, Nairobi, Santiago and Vienna. The Mediation Service is fully staffed and operational as mediation guidelines have been developed and several complex cases were successfully resolved. Targeted efforts to reach staff, including those in remote locations, were launched through videoconferences, field visits, in-person briefings and departmental town-hall meetings.
The Deputy Secretary-General issued a memorandum to all department heads to encourage the use of the informal resolution process. During the first five months of 2010, there was a 33 per cent jump in the use of the Office’s overall services as it received 716 requests from staff members to resolve their workplace concerns, up from 539 during the same period of 2009. In the Secretariat alone, the Office received 536 requests, up from 318 during the same five-month period in 2009, a 69 per cent jump. It has been shown that when ombudsmen and mediators are physically present and able to interact directly with visitors, many of the festering issues are aired and resolved. The overall case volume of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services remains high. In 2009, 1,287 cases, comprising 1,869 issues, were opened.
Regarding the budget, the report notes that the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services is asked to provide in-person intervention, as envisioned by the Assembly. Since the creation of the regional branches, no additional funding has been allocated in the Secretariat to allow the ombudsmen to provide in-person intervention to their regional constituents. The provision of services, such as special political missions to remote locations, also has been impacted. Providing services to non-staff personnel, which the Office has been requested to cover (approximately an additional 40,000 persons), will require additional resources, as the current capacity cannot accommodate this.
The report concludes that the success of an informal resolution process depends on a concerted effort to promote its use as the first step in resolving grievances. With appropriate capacity, the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services is well positioned to prevent festering issues from erupting and to shape durable solutions to problems. The Office will keep exploring ways to build trust and credibility in its services and with the Organization. The success of the informal resolution process also depends on a shift in the organizational culture that recognizes the importance of conflict prevention and conflict management as a tool to deal with issues before they become public or adversarial. The United Nations will need to continue to show strong support in this area to make progress, the report states.
The Committee also had before it the Report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions on the Administration of Justice at the United Nations (document A/65/557). The Advisory Committee’s report is issued in consideration of several reports: the Secretary-General’s report on the administration of justice at the United Nations (A/65/373 and Corr.1) and on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (A/65/303), as well as the Internal Justice Council’s report on the implementation of the system of administration of justice at the United Nations (A/65/304).
In terms of the benefits to be gained from the new system and the Secretary-General’s requests for resources, the report states that it is too soon to determine these, given the natural settling-in period of the new system and that more experience is needed in that regard. Concerning the potential benefits of the new system, the report states that “institutionalizing a system of justice that ensures respect for the rights and obligations of staff and promotes accountability is desirable; one that fosters a culture of litigation is not.”
The report underlines the important role that the informal process, especially mediation, can play in resolving disputes and notes the Secretary-General’s recommendation to provide incentives for its use. Also notable is that the report recommends that timely action be taken to effect any changes in policy or practice thought necessary to address the systemic issues identified in the report of the Ombudsman.
The Committee also had before it a report of the Internal Justice Council, (document A/65/304). The report, transmitted to the General Assembly by the Council, was issued on 16 August 2010. With resolution 62/228, the Assembly established the Council to help ensure the independence, professionalism and accountability of the new system for administration of justice and in paragraph 37 (d) asks the Council to give its view on the implementation of the new administration of justice system. The four-member Council was established in May 2008.
The report concludes that the new system, which began operating on 1 July 2009, is working as well as its resources allow, and better than expected after only a year of operation. The Council attributes the system’s success largely to the dedication of the Judges, Registrars and their staff, the staff of the Office of Administration of Justice and lawyers from both the Office of Staff Legal Assistance and management who appear before the Tribunals.
Acutely aware of the financial constraints facing the Assembly, the Council issued only those recommendations it considered essential for the new system’s effective functioning. It regretted that many of the recommendations, meant to make the justice system an international model of the regulation of management-staff relations, would require additional resources.
Recommendations were made in seven areas: advertising, interviewing and recommending of judges for appointment; Tribunals; Office of Administration of Justice; Office of Staff Legal Assistance; Internal Justice Council; relationship between the formal and informal systems; and disciplinary proceedings.
The report indicates that management was not always supportive of the process and informal mechanisms were at times viewed as unlikely to resolve disputes. Such cases include non-renewal of contracts, challenges to promotion and appointment, the interpretation of staff rules and administrative instructions, and issues involving payment of money.
The Council’s recommendations address some of these concerns in its five recommendations that zero in on the relationship between the formal and informal systems. In this area, the Council recommends that incentives to use informal dispute resolution mechanisms should focus on all United Nations employees and both staff and management should be strongly encouraged to use the mechanisms (para. 84); more training on informal dispute resolution should be provided for staff and management (para. 84); management officials participating in mediation should be appropriately authorized to reach agreed solutions (para. 85); when a settlement is reached by an authorized management official, the Organization should guarantee payment of any settlement amount (para. 85); and when a staff member pursues informal dispute resolution, the time periods for seeking a management evaluation of a decision should be suspended (para. 87).
The Committee also had before it a letter dated 27 October 2010 from the President of the General Assembly to the Chair of the Fifth Committee (document A/C.5/65/9), transmitting a 22 October 2010 letter from the Chair of the Sixth Committee (Legal) to the Assembly President. The letter follows the Assembly’s decision on 17 September 2010 to allocate agenda item 140, “administration of justice at the United Nations” to the Fifth and Sixth Committees so they could consider the financial and legal aspects of the reports related to this issue.
The letter notes that delegations believe the Sixth Committee should revert at a later stage to the outstanding legal issues raised by the reports of the Secretary-General and the Internal Justice Council, including the question of effective remedies for non-staff personnel and the code of conduct for the Judges of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal.
In addition, delegations recall paragraph 67 (c) of resolution 62/228, under which the Secretary-General was asked to report on mechanisms for the formal removal of judges, the definition of the “grounds of misconduct or incapacity” and the means for establishing such grounds in a specific case. They further recommend that the Assembly include the “administration of justice at the United Nations” item in the sixty-sixth session’s provisional agenda.
The Fifth Committee also had before it two draft resolutions developed after discussion on 15 October 2010 of about two dozen financial reports, including reports by the Board of Auditors, and a debate on 7 October 2010 on the pattern of conferences. (See Press Releases GA/AB/3961 and GA/AB/3958, respectively)
By the draft resolution on financial reports and audited financial statements (document A/C.5/65/L.6), the General Assembly would accept and approve the recommendations contained in the financial reports prepared by the Board of Auditors for nearly two dozen United Nations entities (see list below). The resolution also endorses the observations and recommendation of the Advisory Committee report. These reports were discussed at the Committee’s 15 October meeting.
The text notes with concern the delay from January 2010 to January 2012 in the implementing the International Public Sector Accounting Standards by all United Nations entities, with the Secretariat delaying implementation to January 2014. It notes the concerns — contained in the qualified audit opinion of the Board of Auditors — on the financial statements of UNFPA for the biennium ended 31 December 2009 and notes the measures being taken by UNFPA.
The text notes with deep concern the recurrence of system-wide problems previously identified by the Board of Auditors regarding the improper management of non-expendable and expandable property, and recognizes that this improper management poses a financial and reputational risk to the Organization. In this regard, it calls on the Secretary-General to take swift action to address the Board’s concerns at all management levels and develop timelines, with benchmarks to monitor progress toward better recordkeeping.
In other actions directed to the Secretary-General, the draft reiterates its request to the Secretary-General, as well as executive heads of the funds and programmes of the United Nations, to ensure full implementation of the Board’s recommendations and related recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in a prompt and timely manner and keep holding programme managers accountable for non-implementation of the recommendations. The text also asks the Secretary-General to provide, in reports that focus on the implementation of the Board’s recommendations, a full explanation for the delays in the implementation of these recommendations, particularly those recommendations not yet fully implemented that are two or more years old.
It also asks the Secretary-General to give in future reports an expected time frame for the implementation of these recommendations and priorities for their implementation and the office holders to be held accountable.
At its 15 October meeting, the Fifth Committee considered the financial reports and audit opinions by the Board of Auditors on the following: the United Nations; the International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO; the United Nations University; UNDP; UNICEF; the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA); the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); the voluntary funds administered by UNHCR; the Fund of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); UNFPA; the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat); the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); UNOPS; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; and the concise summary of principal findings and conclusions contained in the reports prepared by the Board of Auditors.
It also considered the reports of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the recommendations of the Board of Auditors contained in its reports on the United Nations for the biennium ended 31 December 2009 and on the Capital Master Plan for the year ended 31 December 2009, as well as on the implementation of the recommendations of the Board of Auditors contained in its reports on the United Nations funds and programmes for the financial period ended 31 December 2009 and the related report of ACABQ.
In the draft resolution on pattern of conferences (document A/C.5/65/L.7), the General Assembly would lay down a blueprint for guidelines and future actions regarding the administration and operation of conferences at Headquarters and overseas. The draft resolution covers six areas: calendar of conferences and meetings; utilization of conference-servicing resources; the impact of the Capital Master Plan strategy IV (phased approach) on meetings held at Headquarters; integrated global management; documentation- and publication-related matters; and translation- and interpretation-related matters.
Regarding the calendar of conferences and meetings, the draft resolution asks the Secretary-General to ensure modifications made to the calendar are implemented in strict accordance with the mandate of the Committee on Conferences and other relevant Assembly resolutions.
With respect to the use of conference-servicing resources, the draft asks the Secretary-General to use innovative means to address the difficulties some Member States have because of the lack of conference services for some meetings of regional and other major groupings of Member States and to report to the Assembly through the Committee on Conferences. It further asks the Secretary-General to keep exploring ways to boost the use of the conference centre of the Economic Commission for Africa and report to the Assembly at its sixty-sixth session.
In terms of the impact of the Capital Master Plan on meetings held at Headquarters, the draft asks the Secretary-General to ensure that the Plan’s implementation, including the temporary relocation of conference-servicing staff to a swing space, does not compromise the quality of conference services provided to Member States in the six official languages or the equal treatment of language services.
Concerning integrated global management, the draft asks the Secretary-General to ensure the full implementation of the project on global documentation management and report thereon to the Assembly at its sixty-sixth session.
In reference to documentation- and publication-related matters, the draft repeats the importance of the timely issuance of documents for the Fifth Committee and reaffirms the Committee as the appropriate Main Committee of the Assembly entrusted with responsibilities for administrative and budgetary matters. It urges the author departments to fully adhere to deadlines to meet the goal of 90 per cent submission compliance. It asks the Secretary-General to ensure that documents submitted late do not adversely affect the issuance of documents submitted on time and in compliance with set guidelines.
Lastly, on the topic of translation- and interpretation-related matters, the draft asks the Secretary-General to redouble his efforts to ensure the highest quality of interpretation and translation services in all six official languages and hold competitive examinations for the recruitment of language staff sufficiently in advance, in order to fill current and future vacancies in the language services in a timely manner and to inform the Assembly at its sixty-sixth session of efforts in this regard.
Committee Chairman GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) welcomed General Assembly President Joseph Deiss to the meeting and said his presence indicated that he took the Fifth Committee’s work very seriously. The Committee was dealing with very important issues this year that included long-term reforms in the areas of human resources and information technology, which made it a “watershed” years for the Organization.
Mr. DEISS said he was pleased to be sitting before the Committee today. He acknowledged the significant contributions that the Committees made to the work of the Assembly. He said the Committee’s deliberations alleviated the workload of the plenary. He acknowledged the heavy workload of the Committee and its contribution as the Assembly re-launched its debate on the revitalization of the Assembly. He urged the Committee to take practical steps to improve its work and to finish its work by the scheduled date of closing. He would like to hold the closing of the plenary session well before the start of the holiday. It was an important year.
The Executive Director of the Office of Administration of Justice, ANDREI TEREKHOV, introduced two reports: The report of the Secretary-General on Administration of Justice (A/65/373) and the report of the Internal Justice Council (A/65/304). The Secretary-General’s report, he noted, was divided into five main parts, comprising: a review of the new formal system of justice; consolidated replies to questions asked by the General Assembly in resolutions 63/253 and 64/233; the views of the Secretary-General as chief administrative officer; resource requirements; and recommendations for action to be taken by the General Assembly.
The review of the formal system covered the Management Evaluation Unit, the United Nations Dispute and Appeals Tribunals, the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, the Office of the Executive Director, as well as the Legal Offices representing the Secretary-General as Respondent. He stated that, while the new system was generally considered a success — particularly the significant decrease in the time required to adjudicate a case — a number of issues remained to be addressed. Those issues related to a lack of financial and human resources, the increased number of hearings convened by the Tribunals and the “very tight new time limits” that had to be observed.
The consolidated replies to questions asked by the General Assembly, he said, covered delegation of authority for disciplinary measures; independence of the Management Evaluation Unit; monetary compensation awarded by the Tribunals; status of an entitlements for the Appeals Tribunal judges; and recourse mechanisms for non-staff personnel. With respect to the views of the Secretary-General as chief administrative officer, analysis of the emerging jurisprudence of the Tribunals was provided in order to highlight issues which could have financial implications and/or could affect the interests of the Organization. Those issues included the desire for continuity of jurisprudence of the former Administrative Tribunals; the scope of the Secretary-General’s discretion; harmonization of proceedings before the Dispute Tribunal; and issues arising from the interpretation of the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the Tribunals. As regarded recommendations for action, he noted that the Secretary-General identifies a number of areas in the formal justice system which require strengthening in order to fulfil the mandate of the new system.
Turning to the report of the Internal Justice Council, which provides an overview of the implementation of the new system, he noted that while Council members were of the view that the new system had ‘functioned remarkably well, given the inevitable challenges faced in the first year of its operation’, they made a number of recommendation that they considered necessary to fulfil the General Assembly’s objective of an independent and transparent internal justice system, including increased resources.
JOHN BARKAT, the United Nations Ombudsman, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the 2009 activities, developments and challenges in their operations. He expressed gratitude for making the informal resolution of workplace conflicts an essential alternative for United Nations staff to resolve workplace-related disputes, saying that they had begun to see a shift from controlling conflicts based on legal merit to resolving them based on values and human relationships.
Outlining several important milestones for his Office, he said that they could see the impact of the regional branches and the Mediation Service, which were now fully staffed and operational, and which witnessed a 148 per cent increase in the number of cases submitted in the first five months of operation compared with this period in 2009. As of 9 November 2010, the Office had received more than 1,005 cases in the United Nations Secretariat alone, with a projected total of 1,200 by December, representing an increase of nearly 70 per cent in case volume compared to 2009. The majority of the cases had been resolved through ombudsman services. Given that a core function was to identify, analyze and report on systemic issues, they had also finalized their recommendations, working jointly with departments like the Office of Human Resources Management, to suggest areas for improving policies across the Organization.
Another role of the Office was to respond to requests from field offices for in-person intervention, he said, noting that 74 per cent of all requests from their services came from staff located in non-headquarters locations, often characterized by harsh working conditions. As workplace conflicts often festered and erupted, they had sought to address how to better respond and prevent this from occurring; however, in-person intervention had been hampered by a lack of resources, so the use of a critical response team had been proposed and he hoped the General Assembly would support the proposals. With regard to scope, the Office currently served approximately 60,000 staff members worldwide, and expansion to non-staff would represent an extra 40,000 individuals. Reflecting on some of the benefits of informal resolution, he said that there was no limit to the types of issues that an ombudsman or mediator could handle and that it dealt with issues early on to identify the root causes of conflict before the problem escalated, addressing the indirect costs of conflict including absenteeism, sick leave, high turnover and overall low morale and productivity. He also outlined a set of incentives in the report that aimed to encourage informal resolution, namely: enhancing cooperation by managers and colleagues to resolve a conflict informally; creating an organizational culture that more effectively addressed conflict; and improving access to services by deploying rapid response teams.
SUSAN MCLURG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee’s report on the administration of justice (document A/65/373) and the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (documents A/65/303). She said that, while the Secretary-General’s report viewed the establishment of the new system as already having positive results, the Advisory Committee believed more time was necessary before the new system’s full impact on the culture and practices for the Organization became apparent. The ACABQ also believed it was too early to determine what the workload and output of the Tribunals and of the other offices would be on an ongoing basis.
Regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal for a second full-time judge in each of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal locations and 27 posts under the regular budget, the ACABQ did not recommend the establishment of these three new full-time judges, nor the 27 posts. The Committee believed the temporary arrangement could be continued within the approved biennium programme budget, while future experience was gathered on the new system’s functions. Regarding resources for the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, the Advisory Committee believed that decisions taken by the Assembly on this issue had to be taken into account in determining what resources should be approved for the office.
In regard to non-post resources, the largest component being proposed was $3.7 million of translation and interpretation services for the Tribunals. The Committee believed that the estimates for these services were not sufficiently based on the actual requirements faced by the Tribunals to date and they did not full justify the level of resources requested. It recommended that the Secretary-General explore the most cost-effective means to meet the needs of the Tribunals for the rest of the biennium and recommended approval of $1 million for the provision of interpretations and translation services to the Tribunals.
Turning to the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services, the Advisory Committee noted the Office’s progress over the past year and emphasized the importance of an effectively functioning informal system to the overall system of administration of justice. The ACABQ supported efforts to strengthen the Office and increase its use. The Committee requested that active consideration be given to the Secretary-Generals’ proposals to provide incentives for staff to make use of the Ombudsman’s office to resolve disputes. Many of these proposals were readily implementable and did not require either policy changes or additional resources.
The Vice-President of the Staff Management Coordination Committee, PAULINA ANALENA, spoke on behalf of the staff unions and associations participating in the Committee as well as on behalf of the staff of organizations participating as associate members. Staff welcomed the new system of justice, which was “independent, largely transparent, mostly fair and much more efficient”, but there remained much to be done, she asserted. In that context, she noted that although it was agreed that the Secretary-General’s report would include the views of staff — the fact was that staff only saw his report after it had been made part of the public documents of the General Assembly’s current session.
“I would like to concentrate on two aspects of the Secretary-General’s report: the Secretary-General’s discretionary powers and the Office of Staff Legal Assistance,” she said. In reference to the first matter, she reminded delegates that the new system of justice was established to provide an independent review of decisions taken by the Secretary-General on behalf of the General Assembly. But, the Secretary-General, she said, wanted to re-establish the jurisprudence of the discredited United Nations Administrative Tribunal. “He would like to double the length of time the administration would have to respond to a request for a management evaluation,” she said, “and reassert broad discretionary powers over the rule of law.” That would be a retrograde step. Thus, delegates had to carefully consider their response to the recommendations contained in part IV of the Secretary-General’s report, as to whether they would fix a justice system welcomed and so far trusted by staff, or reaffirm that fairness and accountability were again “sneaking out through the window”.
Turning to the matter of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance — she underlined the fact that it was not properly resourced, saying that it could not be the General Assembly’s intention to so inadequately fund the Office that it would “impair the functioning of the only office in the new system dedicated to serving the needs of staff”. By forcing the Office to depend on volunteers and on inadequate and uncertain funding, the Organization was returning the system of staff legal assistance to the “old, discredited ways”.
WALEED AL-SHAHARI (Yemen), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the administration of justice was an integral part of an effective human resources management system and noted the achievements during the system’s first 16 months. The Group regretted the delay in closing agreements with the Funds and Programmes on a cost-sharing arrangement and trusted the Secretary-General would conclude negotiations quickly on the matter. The Group was concerned that no provision had been made to construct a permanent courtroom space in the three United Nations Dispute Tribunal locations, which could impede the quick disposal of cases.
Turning to the issue of legal assistance for staff, the Group believed the United Nations staff had suffered far too long from the consequences of a poorly equipped professional legal assistance unit. It agreed with the ACABQ and regretted that the Secretary-General’s report did not contain proposals to address that long-standing issue. The Group recognized the need for an enhanced oversight function to ensure the new system’s effective implementation in the most cost-effective manner and believed in the principle of an accountability mechanism. Finally, the Group believed that an independent, effective and transparent system of the administration of justice was imperative to ensure due process for, and the just treatment of, staff.
BART DE WOLF (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union, stated that the Union had been a “staunch advocate” for the new system of administration of justice and played an active role in its establishment. Although it was still in its initial phase, the Union believed that the new system had already begun to prove itself, as reflected in the fact that the new United Nations Dispute Tribunal took an average of 6 months to dispose of a case. That was considerably more efficient than the bodies of the old system, he said.
Concerning the review of the new system of administration of justice, he said the success of the system depended on its independence and efficiency. “It is, therefore, important to ensure that this independence is guaranteed and that the different bodies of the new system continue to receive adequate support”, he said. That support had to carefully balance needs with the “harsh imperatives of the current fiscal climate”. As noted by the ACABQ, he affirmed that more experience was necessary to accurately ascertain the demands of the system — demands that currently cost just over $29 million. The requests for additional resources made by the Secretary-General, he emphasized, represented an increase of over 60 per cent.
With regard to recourse mechanisms for non-staff personnel, the Union reiterated the need to ensure that the United Nations, as a credible employer, complied with its duty to provide effective remedies to all categories of United Nations personnel. However, the Union felt that more information was needed to get a better view of what types of recourse would be most appropriate to that end.
PAUL BALLANTYNE (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, believed that a properly functioning system of internal justice was “an essential element of our collective efforts to strengthen accountability, oversight and human resources management in the United Nations”. It was timely, he said, to look at lessons learned from the system’s first year of operation and to consider what adjustments needed to be made to ensure that it continued to operate smoothly. In that regard, he noted that the Secretary-General had proposed the establishment of 27 new posts to provide additional support. Many of those posts and other resources requested, he stated, were linked to the caseload of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, both of which were still in the process of stabilizing. In that context, he said it was “critical” that any significant changes to the system be based on careful analysis of trends over time.
THOMAS GUERBER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said that he applauded the significant progress made toward an “independent, transparent, professional, efficient and decentralized” system of administrative justice, noting that it benefited from the confidence of its personnel. That said, there remained three issues which were of particular concern.
First, he continued to believe that every person employed by the United Nations — regardless of their contractual nature — had to have access to an independent body that handled grievances, whether they were staff or non-staff personnel. In that regard, he noted that the Sixth Committee had already examined the question of the scope of the new system and he upheld its conclusions, according to which none of the options described in paragraph 9 of Assembly resolution 64/233 should be discarded at the current juncture. He stressed the need to obtain more concrete information on the different categories of non-staff personal concerned, in order to re-examine the question of scope during the next session of the General Assembly and find an adequate and cost-effective solution.
The second issue pertained to the emerging jurisprudence of the new tribunals, he said. In that respect, it was necessary to not forget that the principals of separation of powers required that the Secretary-General now become a party to judiciary procedures — he was no longer situated above or outside the system of administrative justice. Further, jurisprudence had to remain confined to the United Nations Charter and the relevant resolutions.
The third issue, he said, concerned the workload and requests for new posts. He based his position in that regard on two considerations: a highly professional system implied higher costs; and a system hampered by judiciary backlogs due to systemic bottlenecks would fall short of the expectations of staff and delegations alike, and could potentially compromise the right to defence. Accordingly, certain areas of the Secretariat needed to be strengthened, in order to respond to the demand resulting from the new system. However, it was premature to add new permanent capacity to a system that was still growing. The number of new cases, he pointed out, depended on the quality of guidelines that gave rise to them. In that context, the General Assembly should invest in formulating clear policies on human resource management. In order to find a balance between needs and resources, supplemental information would be required to determine which posts needed to be urgently established.
JOSEPH MELROSE ( United States) said the new system of the administration of justice, with both informal and formal mechanisms for addressing disputes, had completed its first year of operation. With its professionalism, transparency and efficiency, it had demonstrated substantial improvements over the previous internal justice system. The United States would like to recognize the work of the judges of the two tribunals, as well as the efforts of staff working in the new internal justice system. The United States recognized that the caseloads and outputs of the Tribunals were still evolving and considered it premature to conduce a definitive review of the system’s implementation and make significant changes.
The United States noted that, in resolution 63/253, the Assembly requested proposals for a staff-funded scheme for the provision of legal assistance and support to staff, and he was disappointed that the Secretary-General’s report did not include any such proposals. He again urged the Secretary-General to analyze such schemes where they existed and submit proposals for the Assembly’s consideration. He recognized establishment of a trust fund for legal assistance as such an initiative. He commended the Staff Coordinating Council at the United Nations Office in Geneva for its contribution of 50,000 Swiss francs to the Fund and encouraged other staff unions to do the same. The United States was pleased by the achievements reached so far, but recognized that much work remained to be done.
R.K. SINGH PATEL ( India) aligned with the statement made by Yemen on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, stating that he was encouraged by the progress recorded by the new system of internal justice, which represented a “marked improvement over its predecessor”. Moreover, India remained supportive of informal conflict resolution through the use of ombudsman and mediation services as a first step to recourse under the new system, adding that those services should be further strengthened.
That said, he stated “we share the disappointment of the ACABQ with regard to delays in finalizing cost sharing agreements with the funds and programmes”. In that regard, he noted that the General Assembly had approved the cost sharing arrangement for the new system on a basis of “headcount” rather than on a basis of actual cases disposed, as proposed by the funds and programmes. In that context, India urged the Secretary-General to expedite an early conclusion to the cost-sharing arrangement.
Turning to the issue of requests for additional resources, he noted that the delegation broadly concurred with the ACABQ reasoning that any meaningful assessment of the new system required more time. Nevertheless, India remained open to considering specific resource requests on a “case-by-case” basis. He also supported the strengthening of the Office of Staff Legal Assistance, as it was “crucial to the efficacy of the new system”.
SAEED BIN ALI AL-HAJIRI (Qatar) said the establishment of a legal, administrative and financial system within the United Nations that ensures the rights of all staff would consolidate public trust in the Organization. More emphasis should be placed on settling disputes through informal means, before resorting to lawsuits. As the United Nations should be a model in the administration of justice and the rule of law, it should provide legal assistance to staff, based on efficient use of resources. Doing so would secure equitable solutions for staff based on legal principles and ethics, given that all grievances could not be dealt with by national courts. A clear and transparent personnel system should be developed, and there should be equality in employment terms and privileges between staff from the developing countries and those from developed countries, as well as gender equality.
Rules of conduct were in place to hold peacekeepers accountable, but there was no clear legislation regarding the responsibility of the United Nations to protect them in the event that they were assaulted, killed or taken hostage in conflict zones, he said. The necessary legislation should be studied by competent bodies and committees in order to address that shortcoming. The gap between the number of men and women in the United Nations system was still relatively large; in that regard, Qatar — where national legislation gave women in government jobs equal rights — welcomed the established of a United Nations entity for gender equality. The overall focus should be in increasing staff awareness, in general, as to their rights and obligations and to make them aware — through education on mediation and conflict resolution — of the role of the Ombudsman’s office.
PARK CHULL-JOO ( Republic of Korea) attached great importance to the establishment of an independent, transparent, professional, adequately resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice inside the United Nations. In that regard, the new mechanism for resolving disputes between the Organization and its employees, which was introduced on 1 July, 2009, had extreme significance for the history of internal justice at the United Nations. The Republic of Korea believed the new system would promote the rule of law in the United Nations and increase its efficiency. During the first year of operation, the system achieved outstanding results; the United Nations Dispute Tribunal had disposed of its cases more efficiently than the old bodies. In spite of the initial success of the new system, there were some issues that required further consideration. He continued to emphasize that all possible use should be made of the informal resolution of disputes in order to avoid unnecessary litigation. In that regard, there was concern over the low number of cases referred to the Mediation Service. He urged the expeditious conclusion of an agreement on a cost-sharing arrangement between the Secretariat and the Funds and Programmes.
With respect to recourse mechanisms for non-staff personnel, he recognized that providing effective remedy to all persons who performed work for the Organization was essential for improving the credibility of the United Nations. However, he aligned himself with the ACABQ that the new system continue to apply only to individuals covered by the staff regulations of the United Nations. He looked forward to further discussions on a mechanism for non-staff personnel. Turning to the issue of emerging jurisprudence in the new Tribunals, he noted that the new justice system must work in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the legal framework approved by the General Assembly. With regard to the future, it was too early to assess the system’s future workload and determine the resources necessary to support it. He restated determination to continue to support the implementation of the new system of the administration of justice at the United Nations.
Action on Drafts
The Committee then turned to its draft resolution “Financial reports and audited financial statements, and reports of the Board of Auditors” in (document A/C.5.65/L.6). In it, the Committee accepts and approves the recommendations contained in the financial reports prepared by the Board of Auditors for nearly two dozen United Nations entities and endorses the observations and recommendation of the Advisory Committee report. These reports were discussed at the Committee’s 15 October meeting.
The Committee approved the resolution without a vote.
Speaking after adoption, TERENCE NOMBEMBE, Chairman of the Board of Auditors and Auditor-General of the Republic of South Africa, said the Board of Auditors was conscious of the Fifth Committee’s great responsibility in those matters. He thanked all Committee members, the Bureau and Secretariat, and the ACABQ and its chairman, for their pivotal role in guiding the Board, reviewing its reports and reinforcing its messages. The Board was the oldest of the United Nation’s oversight functions and independent. The Board and its staff were not staff of the United Nations and its members were rotated to ensure independence and objectivity, which was necessary to conduct audits and reports without any restrictions on key issues.
The Board was very proud of the long record of the Fifth Committee’s adoption and endorsement of all board reports and recommendations and it would continue to strive to deliver reports and recommendations that were always accepted. He was pleased that this resolution supported the Advisory Committee’s request that the Board report annually on the progress made on the implementation of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards. Through its work in the area of the international accounting standards, the Board could provide the Committee with clear messages about risks, implementation challenges and opportunities, so the Organization could gain the greatest value from world class financial reporting. New information and insights would be provided on costs and estimates.
In its reports, the Board had issued a word of caution about the sustainability of current audit opinions as the International Public Sector Accounting Standards was implemented. The Board encouraged organizations that enjoyed clean audit opinions to place more effort in continuing to gain clean audit opinions in the future. He congratulated the Organizations that had received unqualified audit opinions and noted the increasingly stringent accounting and audit requirements. In cases of modified audit opinions, all such significant issues needed to be addressed to avoid further escalation and ensure that new financial statement issues did not arise, he added.
The Committee then took up its draft resolution on “Pattern of Conferences” (document A/C.5.65/L.7). The resolution lays down a blueprint for guidelines and future actions regarding the administration and operation of conferences at Headquarters and overseas.
Speaking before action, BABOU SENE (Senegal) said that if the Committee adopted the resolution as it was submitted, and the Assembly followed suit, there would be no change in the Secretariat’s approach to counting words or measuring the length of documents. Consequentially, the status quo would exist.
The Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.
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