Taking Steps to Improve Performance of UN Secretariat, General Assembly Adopts Resolution on Culture of Accountability, Change Management by Recorded Vote

9 April 2012
GA/11222

Taking Steps to Improve Performance of UN Secretariat, General Assembly Adopts Resolution on Culture of Accountability, Change Management by Recorded Vote

9 April 2012
General Assembly
GA/11222
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Plenary

104thMeeting (PM)

Taking Steps to Improve Performance of UN Secretariat, General Assembly Adopts

Resolution on Culture of Accountability, Change Management by Recorded Vote

 

Second Text Expresses Concern at Capital Master Plan Cost Overruns,

Requests Audit; Assembly Session Honours Memory of King George Tupou V of Tonga

Acting on the recommendations of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), the General Assembly this afternoon adopted a resolution advocating for a culture of accountability throughout the United Nations system, while affirming the need for the Assembly’s prior approval for any changes to the Secretariat’s overall departmental structure and programme budget.

By a recorded vote of 98 in favour to 48 against, with 4 abstentions (Mexico, Panama, Serbia and Ukraine), the Assembly adopted that text, which, among other things, asked the Secretary-General to develop clearly defined, well-documented steps to promote accountability, results-based management, enterprise risk management and internal controls through senior-level Secretariat leadership.

Further to the text, the Assembly — noting the Secretary-General’s current report on the matter lacked sufficient evidence to arrive at a clear understanding of the comprehensive review process or of the system for delegating authority, as well as any real proof that Senior Managers’ Compacts were truly enhancing accountability — asked the Secretary-General to pursue concrete steps to address deficiencies in those areas.

But before putting that text to a vote, the representative of the United States proposed an amendment, which the Assembly rejected by a recorded vote of 97 against to 48 in favour, with 4 abstentions (Mexico, Panama, Serbia and Ukraine).  It would have replaced language on the need for the Assembly’s prior approval to change the Secretariat’s overall structure and its programme budget with language that welcomed the Secretary-General’s Change Management Initiative and the efforts of those working on it.

After action on the texts, the United States’ representative lamented that the Assembly had failed to approve the proposed change, which would have allowed Member States to express their concerns without unduly constraining the Secretary-General’s authority.  “The resolution, as passed, indeed erodes rather than promotes a culture of accountability, by attempting to delay approximately 50 per cent of all the recommendations of his Change Management Team, claiming these areas as the uncontested prerogative of the General Assembly,” he said.

Although the Committee had reached common ground on many important areas concerning accountability, he said, many Member States had taken “regrettable and premature action” to sidetrack the Secretary-General’s initiative even before it had begun — a move which undermined the Charter authority of the Secretary-General and his successors as Chief Administrative Officer of the Organization.

Similarly, the representative of the delegation of the European Union reiterated the Union’s strong support for the Change Management Plan as a way to create a more efficient, leaner Organization, as well as its repeated stance that proposals by the Secretary-General’s Change Management Team should not be part of the Committee’s agenda item on accountability.  Rather it was up to the Secretary-General to carefully consider those recommendations and revert to the Assembly when he deemed appropriate.

By forcing the issue to a vote, several Member States had prevented the Committee from pushing forward a number of overdue reform initiatives on such topics as the conditions of service of judges and the standard of accommodation for air travel.  “The fact that a majority of Member States used their majority and did not show any willingness to compromise risks jeopardizing the partnership between Member States and the sustainability of the Organization”, she said, appealing to all Member States to redouble efforts to work towards an efficient organization.

But Algeria’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, defended his delegation’s position, saying it had supported an effort to reach consensus on that issue, but that as differences could not be bridged, a vote was imperative.  He also dismissed claims that the adoption of an accountability resolution by a vote would undermine the United Nations reform efforts.  Rather, the Secretary-General must engage on the matter and revert to the Assembly on ways to implement the recommendations of the Change Management Plan, which required the Assembly’s approval.

He added that accountability and oversight could only be achieved in an environment that respected the sovereignty of all Member States and took into account diverse national interests and positions.  Moreover, all parties should be involved in decision-making on policy measures, and the Assembly — as the Organization’s chief representative organ — must be central to that process.

In another text, approved without a vote, the Assembly took issue with the sudden and unexplained cost overruns of the massive overhaul of the Organization’s Headquarters, known as the Capital Master Plan.  By its terms, Member States expressed deep concern over the projected increase of 23 per cent of the total approved budget for the Plan, the lack of transparency and timely information on that evolution, and the lack of clarity on the renovation plans of the Library and the South Annex buildings.

It asked the Secretary-General to give the Assembly, in the context of his upcoming tenth annual report, information on progress in renovating those two buildings.  The Assembly also decided to authorize the Secretary-General to enter into commitments of up to $135 million for resources required for the Plan project — including associated costs through 2012 — and for him to later report on practical options to reduce or offset costs and to finance such commitments within the approved budget.

Further, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to entrust the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) with urgently undertaking an in-depth technical construction audit of the Plan, focusing on the circumstances that led to the projected $433 million cost overrun, and to report back at the beginning of the main part of the sixty-seventh session.

By another consensus text, the Assembly reiterated its request to the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) to continue to focus the latter’s reports on important priority items.  It asked the JIU to submit, as part of its annual report, additional comments and recommendations on its experience with the system of follow-up to the JIU’s reports, and asked the Secretary-General to report at the Assembly’s sixty-seventh session and subsequent sessions on implementation of the web-based follow-up system.  Moreover, the Assembly, noting with concern that some Member States did not abide by its resolutions on issuing visas for official travel of some JIU inspectors and staff, asked Member States to extend, without conditions, the requisite facilitation to enable the inspectors and staff to carry out their tasks.

By a draft decision adopted without a vote, the Assembly decided to defer several items on the programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013 to its sixty-seventh session — including the Secretary-General’s reports on the feasibility study on the United Nations Headquarters accommodation needs 2014-2034, the conclusions of the High-level Working Group on Programme Criticality, and the proposals for a more effective and efficient utilization of resources for air travel, as well as the related Advisory Committee’s reports — as well as the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on a proposal on the dissemination and distribution of audit reports.

Further to that draft, the Assembly decided to defer until its sixty-eighth session consideration of the Secretary-General’s report on conditions of service and compensation for officials other than Secretariat officials:  comprehensive review of the pension schemes for the members of the International Court of Justice and judges of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the related Advisory Committee’s report, as well as a letter dated 1 February 2012 from the President of the International Court of Justice addressed to the Assembly President.

At the outset of this afternoon’s meeting, the Assembly observed a moment of silence to mark the passing of King George Tupou V of Tonga, who had died in March.  Expressing their regrets through short statements were the representatives of Algeria (on behalf of the African States), Mongolia (on behalf of the Asia-Pacific States), Bulgaria (on behalf of the Eastern European States), Guatemala (on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean States), Sweden (on behalf of the Western European and Other States) and the United States (as host country).

Many remarked during the sombre commemoration that King Tupou had been instrumental in setting Tonga on the path towards democracy, in particular by instituting the country’s first parliamentary elections and relinquishing many of his own powers as reigning monarch.  The representative of Tonga also took the floor to convey his country’s appreciation for the messages of condolence.

Fifth Committee Rapporteur Noel González Segura ( Mexico)introduced that body’s reports this afternoon.

Also speaking were the representatives of Denmark, New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), Norway, Japan, Switzerland, Costa Rica (also on behalf of Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay) and the Republic of Korea.

Background

The General Assembly met today to take action on reports that contained recommendations from its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), resulting from the Committee’s meetings held between 5 March and 2 April.  (For information on action taken by the Fifth Committee, please see Press Release GA/AB/4026.)

The first report, on the review of the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations (document A/66/638/Add.1), contained a two-part draft titled progress towards an accountability system in the United Nations Secretariat.

It also contained a draft decision on questions deferred for future consideration, by which the Assembly would decide to defer until its sixty-seventh session consideration of the following:

— Report of the Secretary-General on the feasibility study on the United Nations Headquarters accommodation needs 2014-2034 (document A/66/349) and related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (document A/66/7/Add.3);

— Report of the Secretary-General on conclusions of the High-level Working Group on Programme Criticality (document A/66/680) and related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (document A/66/720);

— Report of the Secretary-General on proposals for a more effective and efficient utilization of resources for air travel (document A/66/676) and related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/66/739); and

— Report of Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on a proposal on the dissemination and distribution of audit reports (document A/66/674).

Further to that text, the Assembly would decide to defer until its sixty-eighth session consideration of the report of the Secretary-General on conditions of service and compensation for officials other than Secretariat officials:  comprehensive review of the pension schemes for the members of the International Court of Justice and judges of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (document A/66/617) and related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (document A/66/709); as well as a letter dated 1 February 2012 from the President of the International Court of Justice addressed to the President of the General Assembly (document A/66/726).

The next report, entitled programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013(document A/66/637/Add.1), contained a draft on special subjects relating to the programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013.

The third report, on the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) (document A/66/761),contained a draft by the same name.

Action on Fifth Committee Reports

NOEL GONZÁLEZ SEGURA ( Mexico), Rapporteur of the Fifth Committee, introduced that body’s reports.

The Assembly first took up the report on the review of the efficiency of the administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations (document A/66/638/Add.1), which contained a draft resolution on progress towards an accountability system in the United Nations Secretariat.

The representative of the United States took the floor to introduce a six-point amendment to that draft, which replaced its entire second paragraph.  It would welcome the Secretary-General’s initiative and the work of the Change Management Team and the Change Management Plan, encourage the Secretary-General to engage closely with the Assembly on his vision for a modern, efficient and accountable Secretariat and note his recognition that several recommendations will require close, in-depth consultation and direction from Member States.  Further, it would request that the Secretary-General revert at the second part of its sixty-sixth session with an analysis of the recommendations within his purview and those that required Member States’ review and approval in line with the provisions of the current text.

The representative of Denmark strongly supported that amendment, saying it contained language which was very balanced and a reflexion of what was discussed in the Committee.  The text also recognized the efforts by the Secretary-General, as well as Member States’ concerns regarding change management.  It also safeguarded the prerogatives of the Assembly.  She urged all Member States to vote in favour of the amendment.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, called for a recorded vote on the amendment presented by the United States.

The amendment was defeated by a recorded vote of 97 against to 48 in favour, with 4 abstentions ( Mexico, Panama, Serbia and Ukraine).

The Assembly then adopted the resolution as a whole by a recorded vote of 98 in favour to 48 against, with 4 abstentions ( Mexico, Panama, Serbia and Ukraine).

Next, the Assembly adopted by consensus the draft decision on questions deferred for future consideration.

Taking up the next report, entitled programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013(document A/66/637/Add.1), the Assembly adopted without a vote the draft on special subjects relating to the programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013.

Next, the Assembly considered the report on the Joint Inspection Unit (document A/66/761),adopting by consensus its eponymous draft resolution.

Following the Assembly’s action on the texts, the representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that accountability and oversight could only be achieved in an environment where the sovereignty of all Member States was respected.  The diversity of the national interests and positions must be taken into account if the Assembly were to remain true to the letter of the United Nations Charter.  Moreover, all parties should be involved in decision-making, including policy measures.  The General Assembly, as the chief representative organ of the United Nations, must be central in that process.

It was remarkable that all decisions in the reports of the Fifth Committee had been adopted without a vote, with the exception of one on “review of the efficiency of administrative and financial functioning of the United Nations”.  While the Group had supported an effort to reach consensus on that issue, he said, differences could not be bridged and it was imperative that a decision be taken by vote.  There had been suggestions that the adoption of an accountability resolution by a vote would undermine reform efforts at the United Nations, he said.  However, that was not the case.  For the Group, it was of utmost importance that the Secretary-General engage on the matter and revert to the Assembly on ways to implement the recommendations of the Change Management plan, which required the Assembly’s approval.

The representative of the delegation of the European Union regretted that, during the first part of its resumed sixty-sixth session, the Committee had not performed in accordance with its standard of collegiality, flexibility and real consensus.  Of all the items on the Committee’s programme of work, none was so crucial for the Organization’s functioning as the scale of assessments.  Only a more equitable financing according to Member States’ actual capacity to pay could secure a sustainable financing architecture in the United Nations.  In December, European Union members had suggested creating a high-level group of eminent persons to implement Assembly resolution 64/248 and carry out a comprehensive review of all the elements of the methodology — a move that would have safeguarded the Committee’s competences and prerogatives.  During the Committee’s session, one group in particular had strongly resisted that proposal, but had failed to present an alternative approach.  She deeply regretted that the review had yet to take place, and looked forward to a process that would ensure it did in the future.

She deeply regretted that the Committee was unable to reach consensus on the review of the efficiency of the United Nations administrative and financial functioning.  The Union had made it clear that proposals by the Secretary-General’s Change Management Team should not be part of the Committee’s agenda item on accountability during the first resumed session, as they were part of an internal document.  It was up to the Secretary-General to carefully consider those recommendations and revert to the Assembly when he deemed appropriate.  It was important to strengthen the Organization’s role, capacity, effectiveness and efficiency, and to improve its performance.  The Union’s members had reached out again to the Group of 77 and China and had expressed their willingness to agree to a compromise proposal presented by the Committee’s Chair.  She regretted that no consensus had been reached, forcing the issue to be brought to a vote today.

She said her delegation continued to strongly support the Secretary-General’s Change Management Initiative; creation of a more effective, efficient and leaner Organization, and the need to ensure a more effective delivery of mandates through innovation and change management.  The European Union encouraged the Secretary-General to continue working on and implementing the recommendations.  “The unfortunate situation that resulted from this confrontation has prevented the Committee from pushing forward a number of overdue reform initiatives that we had on our programme of work,” she said.  As a result, discussion of such important items as the conditions of service of judges and the standard of accommodation for air travel could not be completed.  The Union was deeply concerned about the Committee’s working methods.  “The fact that a majority of Member States used their majority and did not show any willingness to compromise risks jeopardizing the partnership between Member States and the sustainability of the Organization”, she said, appealing to all Member States to redouble efforts to work towards an efficient organization.

The representative of New Zealand, also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, said that those delegations were disappointed that the Assembly had not been able to reach consensus decisions on all the matters put before it by the Fifth Committee.  “Unfortunately, the will was not there,” he said.  Canada, Australia and New Zealand were committed to supporting the Secretary-General’s reform agenda, and, above all, to making the United Nations more accountable and efficient.

The representative of Norway said that her country firmly supported the Secretary-General’s reform initiative.  It regretted that the Assembly had been forced to vote on an issue that had not yet been fully considered.  Consensus should guide the reform effort, she said, adding that her delegation was also disappointed that the oral amendment presented to the Assembly had not been adopted.

The representative of Japan expressed his sincere hopes that utmost efforts would continue to be made during the upcoming session with regard to the efficiency of the United Nation’s functioning.  In that vein, he added, Assembly resolution 41/213 (1986) should be fully observed, and the matter should be one of the main issues discussed at the upcoming retreat organized by the President of the General Assembly.  Japan was confident that the promotion of efficiency of the Organization was a goal shared by all Member States, and not only by some, he stressed.

The representative of the United States lauded the Committee’s strong stance on the Capital Master Plan but expressed disappointment over the lack of responsible action on public disclosure of audits of the OIOS, as well as on air travel reforms, and other items.  The Committee and the Assembly had had an opportunity this session to strengthen the Organization’s accountability framework and to promote a more modern, efficient and transparent United Nations that responsibly stewarded resources to deliver better results.  But despite the common ground on many important areas related to accountability, many Member States took “regrettable and premature action” to force a vote on and sidetrack the Secretary-General’s initiative even before it had begun.  That undermined the Charter authority of the Secretary-General and his successors as Chief Administrative Officer of the Organization.

He commended the collegial spirit in which the Secretary-General had shared his internal Change Management Plan with Member States, and appreciated his commitment to forging relationships based on mutual trust, greater flexibility and accountability as outlined in his Change Plan.  He trusted that the Secretary-General would consult with Member States when the latter’s approval was required.  The United States had not supported the draft contained in paragraph 17 of A/66/638/Add.1, he said.  Instead, it had proposed a constructive and balanced amendment that allowed Member States to express their concerns without unduly constraining the Secretary-General’s authority.

“The resolution, as passed, indeed erodes rather than promotes a culture of accountability, by attempting to delay approximately 50 per cent of all the recommendations of his Change Management Team, claiming these areas as the uncontested prerogative of the General Assembly,” he said.  Just one example illustrated the overreach of that claim, he said, pointing to recommendation 40, which asked the Secretary-General to direct his own senior managers to fly economy class for trips less than six hours on one continent.  He regretted that some Member States did not seek to achieve the broadest possible agreement on that issue.

The representative of Switzerland regretted that there had been no opportunity to discuss the proposals and recommendations ahead of time with the Secretary-General.  An in-depth discussion would have been a good thing.  He regretted that that decisions called for in the resolution were not based on in-depth consideration of the Secretary-General’s proposals.  He encouraged the Secretary-General to continue working towards creation of a modern, efficient Organization and pledged Switzerland’s support for the Secretary-General’s Change Management Initiative.

The representative of Costa Rica, also speaking on behalf of Brazil, Chile Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay, welcomed the adoption of draft resolution A/66/L.31 on unforeseen and extraordinary spending by the Human Rights Council.  In its resolution A/65/281 (2011), the Assembly, he recalled, had clearly recognized the need to provide funds for unforeseen and extraordinary expenses of the Council; it had also requested a report to be drafted by the Fifth Committee on the matter.  He underscored that the ACABQ was prepared to consider urgent requests for funding relating to human rights activities as recommended by the Council, and which were not related to peace and security.  The use of that proposal would include a quantitative and qualitative analysis, she added, for which the Assembly was waiting.

The representative of the Republic of Korea, recalling that the resolution on accountability had contained a section on the Change Management Plan, said that his country was of the view that it was not appropriate to include the Plan in that section.  Accountability should be coupled with flexibility, he said.  Moreover, the resolution on accountability did not reflect a balance of the views of all Member States.  For that reason, the Republic of Korea had voted against the draft resolution.

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