Budget Committee Adopts Work Programme at Organizational Meeting for Session; Concerns over Cost of Political Missions, Late Documentation Highlighted

4 October 2012
GA/AB/4037

Budget Committee Adopts Work Programme at Organizational Meeting for Session; Concerns over Cost of Political Missions, Late Documentation Highlighted

4 October 2012
General Assembly
GA/AB/4037
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee

1st Meeting (AM)

Budget Committee Adopts Work Programme at Organizational Meeting for Session;

Concerns over Cost of Political Missions, Late Documentation Highlighted

 

As they adopted their programme of work for the sixty-seventh session today, delegates of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) aired their concerns about the financing of special political missions, budgetary discipline and the Secretariat’s perennial late submission of documents.

Opening the organization meeting, Committee Chairperson Miguel Berger ( Germany) said the Committee was expected to receive 73 reports from 10 different departments or offices for its main session this year.  Yet, only 62 per cent of the 58 reports received so far by the Documents Planning Unit of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management had been submitted in time.  The Secretary-General’s target was at least 90 per cent, he noted.

“We all know that timely issuance of reports is critical for the work of the Committee,” Mr. Berger added, especially if it wanted to avoid a situation in which many important items were introduced at a rather late stage.  “The late submission of reports is an issue in each and every session of the Fifth Committee.”

Cuba’s delegate was distressed that most Secretariat reports related to the financing of the special political missions would not be introduced until 11 December.  Yet, the Committee’s official work was scheduled to conclude only three days later on 14 December.  The reports should be introduced by the Secretariat during the last week of November, to give Member States sufficient time to properly consider this crucial issue, he said.

Mexico’s representative urged the Committee to address the funding mechanism behind special political missions, whose costs had increased by more than 1,200 per cent and now captured nearly one quarter of the Organization’s regular budget.  Turkey’s delegate also urged the Organization to consider new approaches for funding these missions’ budgets.

At a 16 December 2011 Committee meeting, then Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe presented two Secretariat reports that laid out various options to shape a more effective framework for these missions.  That would include the creation of a special and separate account that would envelope a 1 July to 30 June fiscal period.  In the 2010-2011 budget cycle, the 30 political missions absorbed about 20 per cent, or $1.2 billion, of the $5.37 billion budget.

Several delegates urged the Secretariat to use the historic cut in the Organization’s 2012-2013 regular budget as a model when developing the upcoming 2014-2015 biennium budget. Japan’s delegate urged the Secretariat to use a “true fresh look” based on the Organization’s needs, rather than a structure to extend the previous biennium’s budget.

The representative of the United States agreed that the early stages of the 2014-2015 budget preparations were an opportunity to transform the Organization’s budgeting practices.  The Organization could reject the practice of using the previous biennium’s budget as a starting point.

The United States also welcomed the General Assembly’s upcoming opportunity to advance transparency by approving public disclosure of audits of the Secretariat, as proposed by the head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services.  He lauded the historic decision, made this summer by the Executive Boards of the Organization’s New York-based funds and programmes, to publicly disclose their internal audit reports this year.  Yet, while the funds and programmes had acted, the Assembly itself was stalled on the issue.  This year would mark the third time the Assembly would take up the Secretariat’s proposal to advance United Nations transparency by approving public disclosure of the Secretariat’s audits.

Also speaking today were representatives of Algeria (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the African Group), Chile (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), and the Head of the European Union Delegation.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 5 October, to discuss the scale of assessments for the apportionment of the expenses of the United Nations.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to hold its organizational meeting for the current session.

Statements

MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commenting on the Committee’s work programme, said he intended to carefully examine important agenda items, such as human resources management, the scale of assessments, Umoja/Enterprise Resource Planning and the International Public Sector Accounting Standards, the United Nations common system and the reports of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  In line with past practices, the Group was prepared to accept the draft programme of work with the understanding that it would be reviewed and amended as needed after the first week of the session.

He expressed concern over the late issuance of documents for the session and strongly urged the Secretariat to rectify that recurring problem, which had forced Member States and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) to work under time pressure and delay conclusion of their work.  The Committee’s Bureau should work with the Secretariat and the ACABQ to ensure all remaining reports for the current session were issued soon and reports for future sessions were issued six weeks beforehand.  He also expressed concern over the reduced resources for document translation.

BROUZ RALPH COFFI (Côte d’Ivoire), speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed serious concern over the late issuance of documents that impeded the Committee’s timely consideration of important agenda items.  He asked the Secretariat to give detailed information on the reasons for the delay, including on the departments responsible for writing the reports, as well as the impact of cuts in staff posts and weekend and night shifts in the printing service.  He noted that 66 of the more than 141 documents had not yet been issued.  The late issuance of documents was a major challenge to the Committee, which required a durable solution.  For each agenda item to be given proper consideration, all pending reports must be issued expeditiously in all United Nations official languages.  The Committee’s work should be conducted in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.

MANAHI PAKARATI (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said such topics as the scale of assessments for the regular budget and for peacekeeping operations, human resources management, the United Nations pension system, and particularly the Capital Master Plan, among others, related to the programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013, were of great importance to the Community.  Additionally, the Community would scrutinize carefully the reports of the Board of Auditors, OIOS and ACABQ, as well as closely review funding and backstopping arrangements of the special political missions, which required important Committee action.  He expressed concern over the Secretariat’s failure to present reports on time, in line with the Assembly’s rules of procedure.  That made it difficult for Member States to analyse documents properly and as a result could hinder their deliberations and their final outcomes.  He urged the Secretariat to rectify that recurrent problem and to make all efforts to issue reports for the current and for future sessions on time.  As the Organization needed the complete, timely payment of Member States’ contributions to ensure its proper functioning, he called on Member States to pay in full and on time and condemned any unilateral act against any Member intended to impede that Members’ payment.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation, expressed concern that important agenda items such as human resources and the budget outline were already scheduled to be introduced late in the session.  He reiterated the importance of submitting reports on time in all official languages.  He called for steps to avoid a piecemeal approach to the already agreed programme budget for 2012-2013.  The current practice of re-costing was no longer sustainable and alternatives were needed to make the budget more transparent and predictable.  The $5.15 billion budget adopted last December should be adhered to.  He expressed concern that the Secretariat might propose increases to the regular budget that would imply re-costing, as approval of the budget was based on the understanding that such costs would be absorbed.  He asked the Secretary-General to prioritize funding requests and identify better ways to work and deliver, so as to ensure the most effective, efficient use of resources.  “It is more important than ever to apply the same strict budgetary discipline to UN budgets that Member States are applying themselves,” he said.

He stressed the need to present proposals to reform the budget process to achieve greater discipline, transparency and accountability, and to ensure the scale of assessments reflected a more equitable, balanced distribution of Member States’ financial responsibilities according to their capacity to pay.  He supported human resource management reform.  Every new reform proposal must be measured in terms of what was possible from a budgetary perspective.  He lauded Umoja’s strengthened governance structure and the Union would pay special attention to its proposed revised budget requirements.  He supported the Capital Master Plan and expected the Secretariat to seize opportunities presented by the current economic climate to lower its contract and operations costs.  He recognized the importance of effective, efficient support arrangements for the special political missions, and rejected any move to take them out of the regular budget.

JUN YAMAZAKI ( Japan) lauded the Secretary-General’s continued commitment to better management of the Secretariat and improved transparency in management.  Japan would carefully analyse and seek clarification on the proposed mobility framework, which could lead to a more global, dynamic Secretariat.  He stressed the importance of budget discipline.  Japan would carefully scrutinize the potential additional requirements for the current budget.  He asked the Secretariat to consider the 2014-2015 biennium budget based on a “true fresh look” at the Organization’s needs, and not just as a way to extend the previous biennium’s budget.  Japan would take an active part in the Committee’s discussions on backstopping arrangements for the special political missions.

JOSEPH TORSELLA ( United States) said transforming the Organization’s human resource management system was urgent.  He would closely examine the Secretary-General’s proposal concerning mobility and creation of a more global, skilled workforce.  Broader structural reforms should accompany piecemeal changes to the current human resources framework.  The Organization should not be walled off from pay freezes and other steps the private sector and national Governments took during difficult economic times.  He commended the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) for deferring in August, a scheduled pay increase for New York-based staff, and called on the United Nations to adopt the ICSC’s “sensible and modest” recommendation to control staff costs during a time of global financial crisis.  He expressed deep concern that the gains made in the 2012-2013 regular budget last December could be eroded if savings initiatives were not enacted and significant requirements were not added to the agreed budget.  “Such a reversal of what was a truly historic achievement by this Committee would be a discredit to the United Nations,” he said, urging all stakeholders to fully support the Secretary-General’s pledge to continue finding savings.  He called for a “tougher line” and deferring spending on peace and security activities and humanitarian crises, which could or should have been foreseen, but were not included in the budget.

He commended efforts to stay within the approved biennium budget without impacting mandated delivery of the special political missions.  The early stage of preparing the 2014-2015 budget presented an opportunity to transform the Organization’s budgeting practice and reject the practice of simply using the previous biennium’s budget as a starting point.  He urged the Secretary-General to impress upon managers and staff the importance of a needs assessment from the ground up, in order to optimize resources.  The United States would not support add-ons to the Capital Master Plan; every avenue must be explored to bring that project back within the approved budget.  He lauded the historic decision over the summer by the Executive Boards of New York-based funds and programmes to publicly disclose internal audit reports this year.  But, while the funds and programmes had acted, the Committee itself had stalled.  This year would mark the third time the Assembly had taken up the Under-Secretary-General’s proposal to advance United Nations transparency by approving the public disclosure of the Secretariat’s audits.  It was in all Member States’ interest to shine the light on how the Organization spent its money and to raise the bar for performance.  

JULIO CAMARENA VILLASEÑOR, Vice Minister for Management of Foreign Affairs, of Mexico, said this session his delegation would focus particularly on Umoja, the Capital Master Plan, implementation of the IPSAS and the Secretary-General’s proposal on staff mobility policy.  Mexico would work towards a scale of assessment methodology that more accurately reflected Member States’ capacity to pay.  The Assembly should give precise guidelines on which elements of the methodology the Committee on Contributions should focus its efforts.  The scale applied to peacekeeping operations and the special political missions must reflect the capacity to pay, as well as the permanent Council members’ special responsibility to maintain global peace and security.  Standardizing and automatizing administrative processes should make the Organization more efficient and better equipped to assess the actual costs of implementing its mandates.  He called for efforts to absorb the excessive increase in the Capital Master Plan’s costs.  The Secretariat must provide Member States with realistic information of the long-term costs and associated risks of Umoja and the Capital Master Plan, and abandon the practice of providing partial information and relying on short-term Assembly decisions at the time of their planning.

He expressed the same expectations for the Secretary-General’s new proposals on staff mobility, which should be implemented without delay.  He supported efforts to make the budget process more rational and he looked forward to further discussions on the ways to cope with exchange rate and inflation variations.  Funding arrangements for the special political missions must be addressed without delay.  Their costs had increased by more than 1,200 per cent to represent almost one quarter of the Organization’s regular budget.  Given their rapid and unpredictable growth, the Secretariat did not have the necessary mechanisms to provide them with adequate personnel and financing.  The current arrangements distorted the regular budget and undermined the Secretariat’s efforts to find savings and efficiencies, and promote transparency and accountability.  “It is unacceptable that the regular activities of the Organization subsidize the activities related to the maintenance of international peace and security.  It is twice as unacceptable that 188 countries subsidize the responsibility of 5,” he said.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN ( Turkey) said the timely conclusion of the main Assembly session would require collaboration and understanding among Member States.  Turkey hoped that the deliberations taken last spring to improve the working methods of the Fifth Committee would be shown in the quality and speed of the processing of the Committee’s workload.  The timely issuance of documents was still the most critical issue for the Committee’s effective functioning and he looked forward to greater improvement in the timely submission of all required documents well before the session’s start.

The adverse impact of the economic crisis made it more essential to ensure the limited resources of the United Nations system were allocated and disbursed in the most effective and efficient manner.  The United Nations was a complex organization.  Turkey fully supported all Secretariat initiatives and efforts to modernize and rationalize the structures and functions of relevant United Nations entities aimed at a more integrated, efficient and transparent working environment.

Regarding the magnitude and scope of the special political missions, Turkey noted that those missions were obtaining an increasing portion of the general budget.  In light of this fact and the different timing of their budget cycle and the nature of their funding requirements, the missions may require the adoption of a different scale of adjustment and budgeting process, he said.

He stressed the need for an open and fair procurement process.  Turkey believed the outreach activities of the Procurement Operation Service should be enhanced in order to attain fair geographical diversity on the procurement of goods and services.

Agreeing with the statements made by the Group of 77 and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), JORGE CUMBERBATCH MIGUÉN ( Cuba) said he welcomed the informative briefings provided by Secretariat officials.  But, Cuba was concerned about the proliferation of briefings over recent years and that they seemed to be a substitute for formal meetings.  Cuba believed the briefings should complement, and not serve as a substitute for, formal meetings.  He was concerned about the contradictory information on the same issues that Secretariat officials later presented during informal sessions.

Regarding the financing of special political missions, Cuba was concerned that most of the Secretariat’s reports concerning the financing of these missions were to be introduced on the Committee’s 11 December afternoon session.  Yet the Committee’s official work was scheduled to conclude only three days later on 14 December.  The reports should be introduced by the Secretariat during the last week of November to give Member States sufficient time to properly consider this crucial issue, he said.

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