|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)
Budget Committee Briefed on Impact of Hurricane Sandy
on United Nations Headquarters in New York
Committee Also Consider Reports on Capital Master Plan,
Mechanisms for Administration of Justice at United Nations
Secretariat officials told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today that the multibillion dollar renovation of the United Nations historic Headquarters complex was still on track despite the blow wielded by Hurricane Sandy that shuttered the doors of the New York City compound for three days last week.
Yet many delegates believed the Secretariat had not kept the Member States adequately informed of developments as the hurricane’s devastating storm surge hit the East River compound on 29 October and began flooding the facility’s third-floor basement.
Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Algeria’s delegate complained the United Nations had “disappeared from the radar” of its Member States, the Secretariat and the outside world. Denmark’s representative lamented that an Organization known for disaster prevention had not better managed a disaster at its own principal office. Other delegates voiced concerns about the costs to repair printing operations, insurance coverage, and the status of the primary data centre, as well as a back-up data centre in New Jersey.
Three top Secretariat officials — Under-Secretary-General for Management Yukio Takasu, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gregory B. Starr, and Acting Head of General Assembly and Conference Management Jean-Jacques Graisse — briefed the Committee on the storm’s impact on the New York City compound.
Acknowledging that the communications with Member States was not perfect, Mr. Takasu said the storm and its related flooding was unprecedented. The United Nations e-mail list of delegations had been corrupted, effectively severing e-mail communication with the permanent missions. Updates had been made available on the staff website for emergency information. The website was now being changed to include delegations.
Mr. Starr said management’s top concerns during the storm were twofold: the safety of staff and how the Organization could best carry out its operations. “We obviously, obviously have issues to face,” he said. But he noted that a Security Council meeting was held on Wednesday at the North Lawn Building, a General Assembly meeting was held on Thursday, and the Organization’s global operations continued even as the natural disaster unfolded in the eastern United States.
The Committee then turned its attention directly to the Capital Master Plan, part of its programme budget biennium 2012-2013 agenda item. Many delegates commended the administration for maintaining the renovation plan’s schedule and already moving about 1,400 staff members back into the Secretariat building.
But some speakers were dismayed by additional cost overruns and the Secretariat’s inability to nail down this expanded spending. They also were concerned by the halt in the renovation of the Library and South Annex Building, because of the need for greater security protection requirements, and the deferment of the North Lawn Building’s demolition.
Algeria’s delegate, again speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, was very concerned that the Secretary-General had not presented viable alternatives to finish the project entirely. “The proposal to continue the suspension of the construction work, alongside the use of the $65 million to cover cost overruns, are tantamount to a de facto de-scoping of the project,” he declared, also firmly rejecting the proposal to defer demolition of the temporary North Lawn Building once the renovation project was wrapped up. It did not make sense economically, and negatively impacted the Headquarters’ architectural integrity.
Introducing the Board of Auditors report on the project, Liu Yu, Director of External Audit and Chair of the Audit Operations Committee of Auditors, said the Administration’s anticipated final cost overrun for the project, as of March 2012, was $430 million. This was 22 per cent over budget. When the Board last reported on the project, it estimated that as of February 2011, the final cost was $79 million, or 4 per cent, over budget. The reasons for the cost overruns were set out in Table 2 of its report.
Speaking also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, Australia’s delegate welcomed the Administration’s agreement to implement the Board’s recommendations for the year ended 31 December 2011, particularly that it re-estimate the Plan’s anticipated final cost. It was crucial to ensure that the cost overruns were not exacerbated by failing to reach a solution, whether it was scope and/or quality reductions, cost efficiency measures, or the reallocation of associated costs elsewhere.
Mr. Takasu introduced the Secretary-General’s tenth annual progress report on the Plan. The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) report on the Plan’s implementation and associated costs was introduced by ACABQ Vice-Chairman Carlos Ruiz Massieu.
The Committee also took up the Administration of Justice agenda item today. Several delegates were happy that the new system, since its inception four years ago, had seen an uptick in the use of informal mechanisms. But they were unhappy that too many cases had made their way into the system’s formal mechanism. Some delegates also voiced concerns over the provision of free legal services, which could lead to the filing of frivolous claims.
Three reports were introduced on the activities of the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services and the proposed amendments to the rules of procedure of the United Nations Dispute and Appeals Tribunals. Linda Taylor, Executive Director of the Office of the Administration of Justice, and John Barkat, United Nations Ombudsman, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on those topics. Collen Kelapile, ACABQ Chairman, introduced that body’s related report.
Also speaking today were the European Union, Mexico, Cuba, Singapore, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Malaysia, United States, France, Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand) and Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein).
Committee Chairman Miguel Berger ( Germany) also spoke.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 9 November, to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and make other appointments.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met today to hear a briefing on the effect of Hurricane Sandy to the United Nations Headquarters and to discuss its agenda items on the Capital Master Plan and the administration of justice.
Concerning the Capital Master Plan, the Committee considered five reports. In the Tenth annual progress report on the implementation of the Capital Master Plan (document A/67/350), the Secretary-General lays out how the project had reached a critical milestone with the completion and occupancy of the Secretariat Building. Significant progress was also made over the past year on the renovation of the Conference Building, to be completed in December 2012 with occupancy scheduled for early 2013. The General Assembly building is scheduled for renovation in early 2013 and completion in mid-2014.
The project’s financial position has remained steady and as of 31 July 2012, four years into the construction phase, the cost to complete the original scope of the project was 12.8 per cent more than the approved budget authorized by the General Assembly in December 2007 (resolution 61/251). This report includes proposals to reduce or offset the project costs and address the financial issues. If approved by the General Assembly, these proposals would allow the project to be completed without additional assessment.
The report also provides an update on the status of the associated costs and the secondary data centre requirements, which were not included in the original scope of work or in the approved Capital Master Plan budget. Detailed resource requirements and expenditures for the associated costs are in an addendum (document A/67/350/Add.1).
The Secretary-General recommends that the Assembly: approve the additional commitment authority’s extension for 2012 into 2013; approve additional commitment authority of $167.77 million for project activities in 2013 and take note of resource requirements of $15.14 million for 2014; note overall total associated costs of $143.14 million for the Capital Master Plan for the 2008-2013 period; note associated costs for the year 2013 of $15.56 million (this includes $2.39 million of the Office of Central Support Services; $9.99 million for the Office for the Capital Master Plan; $230,000 for construction, alteration, improvement and major maintenance activities at Headquarters; and $2.98 million for the Department of Safety and Security); and approve a net amount of $3.66 million for associated costs in 2013, after taking into account the estimated unused balance of $11.9 million for the period 2008-2012.
The Secretary-General’s report on proposals for financing associated costs for 2013 from within the approved budget for the Capital Master Plan (document A/67/350/Add.1) provides an update on the status of activities associated with the project, including historical expenditures to 2011, re-forecasted expenditures for 2012, and estimated resource requirements for 2013.
The report notes that the Conference Building is scheduled to be completed in late 2012 and the General Assembly Building is scheduled to be completed in mid-2014. This schedule has affected the associated costs even though the total resources required for the period 2008-2013 have declined slightly since the ninth progress report was issued in 2011. That is because certain activities creating associated costs are taking place later than previously forecast. For example, the procurement of furniture for the General Assembly building, and the integration of the building’s audiovisual systems into the newly acquired broadcast facility and media asset management systems.
The total resource requirement for associated costs for the period 2008-2013 is estimated at $143.14 million. For 2013, the estimated resource requirements amount to $15.56 million. Taking into account the estimated balance of unused funds of $11.99 million against the amounts approved for the period 2008-2012, the net additional requirements for 2013 tally $3.66 million.
The Secretary-General asks the Assembly to approve a net amount of $3.66 million for 2013 for the associated costs of the Capital Master Plan.
The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) would weigh in on the matter with its report on implementation of the Capital Master Plan and the financing of the associated costs (document A/67/548), which was expected to be issued on Tuesday, 6 November.
The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) weighed in on the topic with its report titled In-depth technical construction audit of the Capital Master Plan “Overall results relating to the in-depth technical construction audit of the Capital Master Plan were partially satisfactory” (document A/67/330).
Following Assembly resolution 66/258, OIOS conducted an in-depth technical construction audit of the Capital Master Plan, with an emphasis on the circumstances that led to the projected cost overrun of $433 million. The audit was conducted with the help of a professional services firm, which was selected after a competitive bidding exercise. The audit’s primary objectives included identifying the root causes of the $433 million shortfall, potential cost-saving measures and ways to keep projected costs within budget.
Based on the latest information presented to the Assembly in March 2012, the Office of the Capital Master Plan reported a funding shortfall of $433 million. This consisted of $266 million in projected costs over the approved budget of $1.876 billion, and the increased scope of the project approved by the Assembly without a corresponding increase in the budget. This included $146 million in associated costs and $21 million for a secondary data centre.
In OIOS’ opinion, the governance, risk management and control processes used by the Office of the Capital Master Plan were partially satisfactory in providing reasonable assurances about the effective planning and implementation of the project.
Among its key findings were that the Capital Master Plan Office was managing and controlling the Plan appropriately given its size, complexity and duration. The primary drivers of the current cost overrun are justifiable given the change in execution strategy, increased security requirements and unbudgeted associated costs. The Office had undertaken various efforts to mitigate the increase in costs, including several value engineering exercises and continuing change order cost control.
The audit also identified several lessons that should be applied to future capital projects, including the creation of a formal oversight committee. Also, the Department of Management needs to ensure that future capital projects have a process in place to recognize and either approve or reject significant changes to original budgets.
Regarding administration of justice, the Committee considered six reports. The Secretary-General’s report on the administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/67/265 and Corr.1) gives statistics on the functioning of the new system of administration of justice during 2011. The system began operating on 1 July 2009. In response to the Secretary-General’s request last year during the Assembly’s sixty-sixth session, several key areas were strengthened in order to implement the Assembly’s mandate for the new system. He is now calling for strengthening of the Tribunals, Office of Staff Legal Assistance and the Management Evaluation Unit, and for the Assembly to approve the resources necessary to support the system additionally.
Accordingly, the Secretary-General asks the Assembly to approve $1.69 billion net ($1.79 billion gross) for the programme budget for 2012-2013, including $1.64 million under section 1, “Overall Policymaking, Direction and Coordination”; $42,900 under section 29D, “Office of Central Support Services”; $11,600 under section 29G, “Administration”; and $105,600 under section 37, “Staff Assessment”, to be offset by a corresponding amount under income, under section 1, “Income from staff assessment”.
Last year, the report continues, the Management Evaluation Unit received 952 requests for review and closed or resolved 520 matters. The Office of Staff Legal Assistance received 702 new cases and closed or resolved 526 cases. Offices representing the Secretary-General received 282 new cases, and were counsel of record in 219 judgements issued by the United Nations Dispute Tribunal. The Office of Legal Affairs was counsel of record for the Secretary-General in 80 of the judgements issued by the United Nations Appeals Tribunal. The Dispute Tribunal received 282 new cases and disposed of 272 cases, issued 219 judgements and 672 orders, held 249 hearings and referred nine cases to the Mediation Division of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services. Ninety-six appeals were filed with the United Nations Administrative Tribunal, which convened three sessions, rendered 88 judgements and issued 44 orders.
The Secretary-General’s report on amendments to the rules of procedure of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (document A/67/349) asks the Assembly to approve several amendments set out in annexes I and II to the report. Among them, the Dispute Tribunal would hold two plenary meetings per year, instead of one, to deal with questions affecting its administration or operation; the Appeals Tribunal would hold three ordinary meetings per calendar year, instead of two; and accept signed original forms with answers to cross-appeals within 60 days of the date on which the respondent received the appeal from the registrar, versus 45 days. He also asks the Assembly to approve the extra $264,300 needed to implement the amendments under the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-1015, including $259,800 under section 1, “Overall policymaking, direction and coordination”; and $4,500 under section 8, “Legal affairs”.
The letter dated 23 October 2012 from the President of the General Assembly to the Chair of the Fifth Committee (document A/C.5/67/9) transmits a letter from the Chair of the Sixth Committee concerning administration of justice of the United Nations.
The Internal Justice Council’s report on administration of justice at the United Nations (document A/67/98) concludes that, while the new system has progressed well since its inception, it is seriously threatened by “desperate” resource shortages that, if not addressed, could cause the very problems and delays the system sought to avoid. It was particularly important to establish three additional full-time judicial posts at the duty stations that host the Dispute Tribunal: Geneva, Nairobi and New York. Without six full-time judges, the Tribunal’s work could be delayed. The system’s successful functioning thus far is due to the commitment of the Tribunal judges, registry staff, lawyers and the Office of Administration of Justice’s team to work beyond the call of duty. But that commitment level is unsustainable in the long run. With new resources, the system can continue to improve, the report says.
The Secretary-General’s report on the activities of the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services (document A/67/172), the fourth of its kind, covers activities in 2011 and gives an overview of the services offered in informal conflict resolution and its benefits, the root causes of conflict as identified through a survey of the individual cases brought to the Office, and outreach activities. It states that despite advancements in the field, there were still many impediments to the optimal functioning of the informal resolution, as there was still an inclination towards formal grievance mechanisms versus informal ones. Staff and resource limitations made it difficult to respond rapidly to emergencies involving field staff.
According to the report, in the coming year, the Office will look for ways to obtain structured support from the special political missions and other entities, as well as extrabudgetary options. The Organization must evaluate whether resources are appropriately applied, including in early “preventive diplomacy” mechanisms such as mediation. The report credits the Ombudsman’s Office with making great strides in developing its infrastructure of informal conflict resolution by fulfilling the Assembly’s mandate to set up regional offices and to further develop mediation capacity. New ways of collaboration and informal resolution in the United Nations could enhance its conflict prevention capacity.
The ACABQ’s report on the matter (document A/67/547), would be issued on Tuesday, 6 November.
Briefing on Effects of Hurricane Sandy on United Nations Headquarters
YUKIO TAKASU, Under-Secretary-General for Management, said the unprecedented extreme weather event in the New York area had caused damage to Headquarters. In line with the Organization’s emergency management framework, under the guidance of the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General, the Crisis Operations Group had led the emergency response efforts. Offices of the Department of Management and the Department of Safety and Security took precautionary steps and made every effort to ensure business continuity and speed recovery of Headquarters functions. The Department of Safety and Security operation centre, the situation centre of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the network operation centre of the Office of Information and Communications Technology functioned throughout the storm without interruption. Staff worked around the clock to prepare for and respond to it. Although the Headquarters was closed from Monday, 29 October, through Wednesday, 31 October, the Organization’s global services continued.
Thus far, there were no reports of injuries to staff or their dependents, he said. Material damage to the compound was relatively contained thanks to precautionary steps; core infrastructure was intact. The Arrival Tent at the delegate’s entrance and roof cover of the Assembly Hall were destroyed and would have to be removed or dismantled. The delegate’s entrance to the Assembly Hall was inaccessible at present. Flooding had occurred in approximately 350,000 square feet of the 3B level of the Assembly, Conference, Secretariat and North Lawn buildings, which housed the chiller rooms, garage parking and offices for receiving and inspection, facilities management, transport, mail and printing, among others. The cooling system was shut down due to flooding in the main and temporary HVAC chiller plants. The electrical switchboard was also flooded and a small fire started. To prevent the spread of fire, a complete power shutdown was instituted in the Secretariat building from 7 p.m. Monday to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Due to the shutdown of the cooling system, the primary data centre became overheated and had to be shut down rapidly on Monday night, he said. The rapid shutdown caused difficulty in transferring programmes to the secondary data centre in New Jersey. As a result, some communication systems, including data and phones, were severely affected. But no data was lost. On Tuesday, engineers successfully short-cut the electrical connection with a temporary chiller system, causing the primary data centre to cool down and resume server support. By Thursday, programmes were moved back to the primary data centre.
The cost to replace rooftop plastic tarp and repair the entrance of the Assembly Hall would be insignificant, he said. It would likely take a few months to replace the damaged electrical system in the chiller cooling system. However, that would not impact the overall schedule to complete the Capital Master Plan. The printing shop and equipment were also damaged, including leased digital printers, which produced 95 to 99 per cent of official documents at Headquarters. The Printing Section had made emergency alternative printing arrangements. It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage. Parts of the basement were still being examined; assessments of the damage overall was under way as were discussions with insurance firms and contractors. The assessment process would potentially be done in phases with the Insurance Unit; it would require some time to complete.
Pre-event preparedness had significantly reduced damage to the facility from flooding, saving money and shortening recovery time, he said. “With focused investment in business continuity, staff support, crisis management and disaster recovery, the Secretariat was able to continue critical operations and quickly recover. The Security Council held a meeting on Wednesday. Most Secretariat facilities were up and running on Thursday and fully functioning on Friday. Despite some connectivity problems from complications during the failover from Monday night to Tuesday morning, the secondary data centre allowed for maintenance for critical information and communications technology systems and communication continuity. Throughout the storm, updated messages were communicated to staff and delegations through Headquarters e-mail, a dedicated website and hotline. It was recognized that communications with Member States must be improved; steps towards that end had been taken.
The challenge ahead to return to business as usual was to help staff suffering from damages to restore normal working conditions as soon as possible, and to repair damaged facilities and equipment such as the main chilling plant, he said. “The extreme nature of the event highlighted areas in the United Nations emergency management programme that need improvement,” he said. The Secretary-General had charged a senior-level task force to examine lessons learned and additional emergency response steps to enable the Organization to become more resilient.
GREGORY B. STARR, Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, said by Sunday that transportation in New York City was shutting down and everybody knew that the area was coming into a major weather event. The decision was made on Sunday evening that the United Nations facility would remain closed on Monday. Officials met on Monday again and saw that a major storm surge was in progress and it would continue to be closed on Tuesday. Notices were put out to staff and to the Permanent Missions. The storm hit in full force 8 p.m. Monday evening and continued into the early hours of Tuesday morning. Water levels in the East River began rising and came over the FDR Drive and into the facility’s 3B level. Such intense flooding had never been experienced, he said, noting that the water came six to seven feet over the level’s loading dock.
On Tuesday morning, the first post-incident meeting was held at 10 a.m. to assess the damage. The General Assembly’s protective shell had been ripped away and the building’s front canopy was damaged. Most damage was below ground in the lower level. There was serious damage to the cooling and electrical systems, he said. A priority of management was how to continue the important work of the United Nations, including the Main Committees, the Security Council and Assembly. It was not possible for staff to return to work on Wednesday, as management had been seriously concerned about allowing people into the building, especially because there was salt water damage in many electrical systems.
“Fire alarm signals were going off every five minutes or not at all,” he said, adding that management’s intent was to open as quickly as possible. But the building had serious communications problems. He stressed that he was not criticizing the IT staff, who had worked incredibly hard to get the systems restored. Longer-term decisions on back-up communications had to be made, he added. It was decided to hold a Security Council meeting on Wednesday in the North Lawn Building as it had not suffered damage. He commended the work of all the departments, including management, security and contractors.
Management’s two basic goals were to get Headquarters back to operations as soon as possible. They did so essentially 48 hours after the hurricane ended. Their goal was to support the General Assembly, Security Council, Secretariat and other units. Another goal was to ensure that the Organization had continuity and communications with its operations around the globe. Management was in touch and making decisions on missions overseas that had to go forward, such as Somalia and Yemen. “Our goal to support the United Nations through a crisis never left our minds,” he said. He paid tribute to the staff that managed to get the facility back to operation. He acknowledged, however, that more work needed to be done on how to communicate with the missions during such an event.
JEAN-JACQUES GRAISSE, Acting Head of General Assembly and Conference Management, said the printing operations were completely flooded on Monday evening. Emergency interventions were made and power was cut and equipment that could be secured was secured. The flood waters had reached two feet high in the 3B level. The situation was being monitored and the priority had been to have power restored and the damage assessed.
About 100 people work in the unit based in the area and their offices had been totally destroyed. Management was working to supply temporary space. The digital printers, which turned out 90 to 95 per cent of the documents, were damaged beyond repair by flooding. He said that the printer manufacturer was providing equipment on loan. There would be temporary printing set up on the second floor of the North Lawn Building by the end of this week. The Organization’s offset printing would be evaluated once it was safe to do so. The full cleaning would take two weeks. As a result, for the Fifth Committee for example, distribution had been restricted to one copy per permanent mission.
Commenting on the briefings, MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria), speaking on behalf of “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said he had mixed feelings. He was grateful to the technical staff to their dedication, but the lesson to be learned was that the United Nations had disappeared from the radar of Member States, the Secretariat and the outside world for some time. “I still have the sentiment that we were out of touch,” he said. There was no mention from senior officials for six days about the storm and its impact to Headquarters and United Nations staff. He urged a more “humble” approach to discussing the issue beforehand. “Today, it is time for anger management,” he said. He asked why a briefing was being held to assess what were only minor damages to the Headquarters.
FRANCESCO PRESUTTI, representative of the Delegation of the European Union, acknowledged that the emergency management framework had functioned well and preparatory steps were taken to mitigate the storm’s impact. He asked if the United Nations response could have been more effective if the framework had been more developed, and what was the subsequent impact on funds and programmes. What was the state of the primary and secondary data centres? He asked for more information on the benefits of the secondary data centre. He asked for clarification on what communication channels were set up to keep permanent missions abreast of developments. When would the first assessment of the damage would be available? To what extent would they delay the Capital Master Plan? Would the Capital Master Plan enhance the Headquarters’ capacity to cope with natural disasters in future? He asked for more information about the insurance estimates, including concerning damaged vehicles in the United Nations garage.
NOEL GONZÁLEZ SEGURA ( Mexico) asked to what extent would the related costs to repair the damage, including to the printers, be covered by insurance companies. He backed the Algerian representative’s criticism over the lack of updated information from Headquarters officials during the storm’s aftermath. Information had been piecemeal and difficult to find on the United Nations website. What decisions would be made in the future to prevent that? Could the Organization draw from lessons learned? Was it wise to leave the backup data centre in New Jersey considering impending future risks?
PEDRO NÚÑEZ MOSQUERA ( Cuba) thanked the Secretariat for the information and commended its efforts to maintain the security of the Organization. He noted that Cuba itself had suffered during the hurricane and 11 lives had been lost. He asked if the electronic voting system in the Assembly Hall had been reviewed.
KEN SIAH ( Singapore) expressed his delegation’s thanks to those that had worked very hard in the aftermath of the storm. It was necessary for the Secretariat to improve communications with Member States. There needed to be more detailed accounting of the emergency response plans.
JOÃO AUGUSTO COSTA VARGAS ( Brazil) also expressed his condolences and recognized the work of the staff. He welcomed the upcoming lessons-learned study. He would like to know if the Organization’s emergency preparedness would be subject to external review and evaluation. The Fifth Committee also would like information on the Organization’s insurance coverage and the list of liabilities stemming from the incident. Regarding the role of the secondary data centre, he questioned its proximity to New York City. Noting that a contact list for the missions had been corrupted, he asked whether such information and other information could be placed on servers outside New York City.
BROUZ RALPH COFFI (Côte d’Ivoire) said the consequences of the hurricane’s impact on the Capital Master Plan, Umoja and other projects would have to be assessed. That would allow the Organization’s enterprise continuity plans to anticipate more serious situations. It was a good opportunity to address the location and management of the secondary data centre.
CARSTEN STAUR ( Denmark) said he agreed with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and it was clear that communications with the Permanent Missions failed. Even if the list of permanent missions had been corrupted, management only had to ask a mission for its list to communicate with Member States. He also questioned the United Nations in media coverage of the disaster. This was an opportunity that was not used. The United Nations had positioned itself “like a public school in New Jersey”. In addition, the Organization placed much attention on disaster preparedness and prevention. Its disaster preparedness had to be looked into. It taught others to be prepared, and its own preparedness needed to be improved considerably.
MONDO YAMAMOTO ( Japan) said the United Nations should assess the damage reasonably quickly, draw lessons learned from the storm and take concrete preventive measures to deal with such natural disasters in future. He asked the Secretariat to explain at a later stage what steps would be taken.
MUHAMMAD IRFAN SOOMRO ( Pakistan) said that, during a briefing a few days ago, Mr. Takasu had stated the Headquarters had suffered unprecedented damage. But in today’s briefing, that official had pointed to minor damages only to Headquarters. He asked for clarification regarding those statements. He asked why it took so long for the Secretariat to make a decision about whether to close the Headquarters. The decision was not made until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. He asked who had made that decision.
In response, Mr. TAKASU acknowledged that communication to Member States was not perfect. He took note of the Algerian representative’s statement, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and said that now was the time to learn lessons and work together. He said he never said the damage had been minor, but rather that it was “contained” and that the Headquarters building remained intact. The storm and its related flooding were unprecedented. The water level in the area, which reached 14 feet above normal levels on Monday night, was unprecedented. As a result, some parts of the basement were flooded by two feet of water.
He agreed on the need to improve communications with staff and Member States. During the storm, the United Nations e-mail list of delegations was corrupted, in effect severing e-mail communication to permanent missions. Updates were made available on the staff website for emergency information. The website now was being changed to include delegations to prevent such an occurrence in future.
Regarding the data centres, he said the secondary centre had just one fiftieth of the capacity of the primary centre. The cost of a full capacity backup centre would be prohibitive. The secondary centre automatically backed up e-mail, procurement, medical records and other information, but moving certain systems like the Blackberry server and the IMIS required manual intervention. That manual intervention had been interrupted on Monday night. As to why the centre was established in New Jersey, he said that to provide automatic, active backup, a centre must be within 60 miles from the primary centre. Despite the delay and damage to Headquarters in New York, United Nations operations elsewhere had continued uninterrupted.
The Department of Management was still in the process of assessing the cost to repair damages and it was discussing that with insurance companies, he said. Most things were covered by insurance. The Organization’s “very robust” insurance scheme included three insurance programmes. He said that they included a global property insurance plan and a builders’ risk insurance for building and materials for the Capital Master Plan, as well as flood insurance that had been purchased last year. On Monday morning, the United Nations had broadcast a message to staff and all delegations to remove their vehicles from the third basement as soon as possible. Some vehicles remained, however, and were affected by the flood. The Department of Management was doing its best to contact owners and facilitate discussions with insurance companies. The United Nations voting system was being doubled-checked.
MIGUEL BERGER ( Germany), Committee Chairman, noted that some permanent missions did not receive the e-mail regarding removing vehicles from the garage.
DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV ( Russian Federation) said he would like to clarify the situation about the data centre in New Jersey and its integration with the primary centre.
Responding, Mr. STARR said the data in the back-up centre had been reintegrated into the primary centre. The centre in New Jersey had experienced power outages and had back-up generators that had held and had “done what they were supposed to do”. He thanked the Algerian delegate and others for their comments and assured them that their statements had been heard, including those regarding technical issues, the United Nations’ status — and silence — during the storm. That would all be part of the lessons learned.
He said that it was important to remember that the United Nations was global and operating in more than 130 other countries. Those operations did not cease. The Organization had been addressing problems from Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean. Yet it had also been operating with a significant shortage of staff and was located in a city where 2 million people had been out of power and where many others were told to remain home.
Management’s two top concerns were the safety of staff and how to best fulfil and conduct its operations. From the start, management was asking itself “how do we get back to business”. By Wednesday, there was a Security Council meeting and by Thursday, a General Assembly meeting. “If we had been able to open on Wednesday, we would have,” he added. There were serious concerns about fire safety and electricity. “We obviously, obviously have issues to face,” he stressed, thanking all the delegates for their comments. Running through some of the challenges, he said that the Secretariat building was not yet back to full operations and there were still staff shortages and some staff had family and housing issues. The cool external temperatures were allowing the building to be open, he added.
Addressing questions on insurance coverage of the printing machines, Mr. TAKASU said the sophisticated digital equipment that provided 90 to 95 per cent of the documents was leased. The printing equipment owned by the United Nations was being examined and was covered by insurance. Regarding the secondary date centre, he said it was intact and working. Most of the programmes that had migrated to the secondary centre had been returned to the primary data centre.
Capital Master Plan
Mr. TAKASU then introduced the Secretary-General’s tenth annual progress report on the Capital Master Plan that discussed the project’s implementation and financing until 2013.
Noting the serious concerns about transparency and finances expressed at the Committee’s resumed session in March, Mr. Takasu said the Secretariat was paying close attention to the concerns and recommendations of the Board of Auditors and the OIOS. There was a clear line of supervision and accountability, and communication with all stakeholders. That included a quarterly briefing to the Fifth Committee and the ACABQ and regular updating of the Capital Master Plan website. The Secretariat had worked diligently to tighten financial control surrounding all costs. The creation of a steering committee at this late stage would blur the lines of accountability and delay decision-making. The Assembly’s decision in April to provide $135 million in additional commitment authority was essential and would help keep the project moving forward through the end of this year.
The project was on schedule and had met planned construction and occupancy milestones. About 1,400 people had been moved into the Secretariat building so far and re-occupancy would continue until the end of November 2012. The renovation of the Conference Building, including its three main chambers, would be completed in December 2012. The damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was “relatively contained” and he did not expect notable impact on the Plan’s completion schedule.
The Capital Master Plan’s financial positions had remained steady and additional savings had reduced the projected costs, he continued. The cost to complete the original scope of the project was 12.8 per cent more than the approved budget authorized by the General Assembly in December 2006. The main cost drivers were the increase in swing space requirements and the upgrading of security standards.
He said that as of July 2012, the updated completion cost was reduced by $25.8 million, but there was still a shortfall of $240.4 million. Additional cost reductions of $16 million had been proposed, including some $2 million that would be saved by deferring the removal of the North Lawn Building. The suspension of the design and renovation of the Library and South Annex because of sustained security protection requirements along Headquarters’ southern perimeter would decrease costs by $65 million, as originally estimated in 2006. Greater security threats since 2010 meant it was no longer feasible to renovate those two building at $65 million. For the duration of the project until 2015, the building would continue to be used for the current level of activities. Options for the long-term arrangement of the Library and cafeteria would be included in a report on the Headquarters’ long-term accommodation needs, which would be submitted to the Committee’s resumed session in 2013.
He recommended that the Assembly take the following actions: approve the extension of the approved commitment authority for 2012 to 2013; approve additional commitment authority of $167.8 million for the project activities in 2013; and approve a net amount of $3.66 million for associated costs for 2013.
LIU YU, Director of External Audit of China and Chair of the Audit Operations Committee of the Board of Auditors, introduced the Board of Auditor’s report for the year ended 31 December 2011 (Vol. 5), on the Capital Master Plan (documents A/67/350 and Add.1). The report covered the events for 2011 and cost increases from January to March 2012. He noted good physical progress of the project. Staff temporarily housed in the “swing space” had begun to move back to the Secretariat building in mid-2012. If that move continued as planned, it would help reduce the overall level of risks to time and cost.
He said that the Administration’s anticipated final cost overrun for the project as of March 2012 was $430 million, which was 22 per cent over budget. When the Board last reported on the project, it estimated that as of February 2011, the final cost was $79 million, or 4 per cent, over budget. In October 2011, the Administration reported that the forecast overrun had increased to $281 million. Between October 2011 and March 2012, the Administration reported further increases of $149 million, bringing cost overruns up to $430 million. The reasons for the cost increase were set out in Table 2 of the report.
The Board was unable to give assurances that the Administration’s anticipated final project cost was based on a comprehensive methodology and that the remaining contingency was sufficient, he said. Given cost and time pressures, the final cost would likely be higher. At present, there were no reasoned and explicit allowances in the Administration’s cost forecast for most remaining project risks, change orders not yet identified, all likely acceleration activities to meet the project schedule, up-to-date estimates for the remaining guaranteed maximum price contracts, and the costs of altering offsite office locations. At the time of the report, there were no firm proposals for resolving whether the Library and South Annex were within or outside the Capital Master Plan’s scope and the likely budgetary implications for that part of the refurbishment.
Potential cost increases should have been highlighted much sooner, he said. Had the Administration implemented sooner the Board’s recommendations for more analytical and complete cost forecasting, the Plan’s financial difficulties from October 2011 to March 2012 would have become apparent much sooner, facilitating more timely decision-making. Greater discipline in contingency management would have made the $358 million cost overrun apparent as early as October 2008, he said. The Board fully supported the concept of well-managed contingencies for major projects. The Administration must not use contingency funding to absorb general project increases, however. Despite the positive action to address the Board’s previous concerns over the readiness of the Facilities Management Service to take control of the campus at handover, the handover still remained at high risk and required close senior management attention. The Administration also should assess the potential benefits of flexible use of office space, particularly desk space.
DAVID KANJA, Assistant Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the in-depth technical construction audit of the Capital Master Plan (document A/67/330). He said the $433 million project cost overrun was comprised of construction, swing space and other costs. The Capital Master Plan was significantly changed by the switch from Strategy IV to Accelerated Strategy IV. The Assembly had approved the latter, but the corresponding approved budget had not been adjusted to reflect that change. Given that approximately 90 per cent of the budgeted contingency had been used, but Capital Master Plan spending was only half complete, the remaining contingency of $59 million might not be sufficient for the remainder of the Plan.
The cost overruns were considered reasonable from the perspective of securing market prices and efficiently procuring the scope of services through competitive processes or negotiation of unit rates established in various contracts, he said. Lease costs were found to be competitive when compared to market data and professional fees were within industry standards as a percentage of construction costs. The Capital Master Plan Office was managing and controlling the Plan appropriately given the size, complexity and duration of the programme, he said. That Office’s Manager had been diligent in reviewing payment applications and change orders. The audit had identified several potential areas for exploring cost recovery, including some change order labour rates and mark-ups; cross checking of contract labour time between subprojects; and state and federal unemployment insurance charges. The audit had made 26 recommendations for strengthening internal controls, all of which were accepted by the Office of the Plan and the Department of Management.
ABDELHAKIM MIHOUBI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, asked the Secretariat to give Member States during the informal sessions more details on the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy to Headquarters, including the level of risks related to identified damages; short-term, midterm and long-term plans of action to repair those damages; and their estimated costs. The Capital Master Plan must be completed on time and within the approved budget, without affecting the original scope or compromising the quality of the final product. The failure by management to accurately predict and timely inform the Assembly on associated costs and any project budget increase resulting from issues such as change orders, security enhancements and the swing space requirements must be scrutinized further. He strongly urged the transparent and timely reporting of all aspects of implementing the Plan so the Assembly could take appropriate action promptly to facilitate the process accordingly, adding that “failure to do so could be equated to a management fault”.
The Group would request further information on the internal control framework on the Plan, which was piling financial requirements on Member States every year without being in line with the mandate provided for the final result, he said. As such, he called on the Secretariat to make available to Member States the original report prepared by consultants that performed the recent in-depth technical audit on OIOS’ behalf, as well as the opinion of the Plan’s Advisory Board on the Secretary-General’s proposals for the future. The Group was still not convinced that the failure referred to in the audit could be overlooked.
The Group was disappointed that none of the proposals in the report seemed to answer the request in Assembly resolution 66/258 for practical options to reduce or offset the overall project costs within the remaining budget and scope. He said that his delegation was particularly concerned about the suggestion to de-scope parts of the project, including the proposal to maintain the suspension of the renovation of the Library and South Annex buildings under the pretext of security arrangements, as well as the proposal to defer demolition of the North Lawn Building.
He urged the Secretariat to find an agreeable solution with host Government authorities to that problem as soon as possible. He was very concerned that the Secretary-General had not presented viable alternatives to finish the project entirely. “The proposal to continue the suspension of the construction work alongside the use of the $65 million to cover cost overruns, are tantamount to a de facto de-scoping of the project. The Group will not accept leaving a part of the project unfinished nor will it consider the work of the Capital Master Plan completed until an agreeable solution to this situation is reached,” he said. He firmly rejected the proposal to defer demolition of the Temporary North Lawn Building upon completion of the Headquarters’ renovation, as it did not make economic sense and negatively impacted the Headquarters’ architectural integrity.
Speaking also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, EMIL STOJANOVSKI ( Australia) said he was very encouraged by the accomplishments in each of the three major areas under renovation: the Secretariat Building; the Conference Building; and the basements. Yet the delegation was concerned about the ongoing cost overruns and absence of any comprehensive strategy to return the project costs back to the budget approved by the Assembly. His delegation recognized that many cost overruns — such as worse-than-anticipated concrete and asbestos conditions in the basements and Conference Building, additional swing space and security concerns and the resulting associated costs required to support construction — could not have been fully foreseen. He also understood the difficulties of absorbing the associated costs within the approved budget at this stage.
He said that his delegation did not consider actions such as deferring a decision to remove the North Lawn Building or suspending the renovation of the Library and South Annex buildings to be a viable strategy to reduce the cost overruns. He welcomed the Administrations’ agreement to implement the Board of Auditors’ recommendations for the year ended 31 December 2011, particularly that the Administration take stock and rebuild the Plan’s anticipated final cost. The delegation fully recognized that a core challenge facing the Assembly was to find a solution to the cost overruns to avoid additional delays and cost increases. It was necessary to ensure that the cost overruns were not exacerbated by failing to agree on a solution, whether it was scope and/or quality reductions, cost efficiency measures, or the reallocation of associated costs elsewhere.
GERTON VAN DEN AKKER, representative of the Delegation of the European Union, said that his delegation was a strong supporter of the Capital Master Plan and its goal to ensure the Headquarters’ renovation created a modern, safe and sustainable work environment. An important milestone was reached with the recent re-occupancy of the Secretariat Building. Yet the findings of the Board of Auditors and ACABQ revealed reasons to be concerned about the project’s final stages and its related financial developments. He stressed that the recommendations of these two bodies should be implemented.
Member States of the European Union were concerned about the cost overruns and had called for a transparent overview of all costs, he said. Yet they did not have the full picture of the final project costs, particularly the associated costs after 2013. The European Union agreed with the Board and ACABQ that the Secretariat needed to produce a complete final costs estimate. The European Union would like more information about how the project had been affected by Hurricane Sandy. The $313 million related to the use of swing space was of particular concern. The European Union also believed the efficient use of office space was very important, including through hot-desking, as described by the ACABQ. In the meantime, the Secretariat should introduce and implement flexible working arrangements in the renovated Secretariat Building. The lessons learned from the Capital Master Plan should be communicated before the planning and implementation of future large-scale projects.
NORFARINA MOHD. AZMEE ( Malaysia), aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, applauded the Secretariat for its role in the implementation of the Capital Master Plan, which she fully supported although she remained concerned over the completion schedule and the projected cost overruns. In that light, she looked forward to efficiency measures and other efforts to keep costs within budget. She agreed that transparency in regard to the progress and cost of the project must be addressed. The Secretariat should ensure that complete budgets of future United Nations projects be submitted prior to the approval of the General Assembly. She also hoped that the Secretariat would address any problems in regard to the renovation of the South Annex Building and the Library within the approved budget for the Plan. Similarly, she looked forward to efforts to ensure the absorption of the costs of the secondary data centre within the budget. She would continue to support adequate funding for the Plan and hoped to see it completed within the projected time and budget.
SHO ONO ( Japan) said that his delegation was encouraged by the fact that governance of the Capital Master Plan had been strengthened, and he welcomed the fact that the Secretariat would enhance accountability, including through reporting the anticipated final cost on a quarterly basis until the project’s completion. Japan also welcomed the Secretary-General’s efforts to contain the overall cost of the project and valued its proposal on cost savings and financing proposals described in section XII of the tenth annual progress report. The Japanese delegation was also of the view that it was imperative for the Secretary-General to make his utmost efforts to further contain associated costs by the time he presented his report on the final expenditure for the project to the General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session. In addition, the cost for the swing space should be kept as low as possible by utilizing more efficiently the renovated Headquarters campus through flexible use of office space, such as “hot-desking”.
STEPHEN L. LIEBERMAN ( United States) welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on the Plan, but said the Plan’s current budget shortfall of $399 million, although $30 million less than earlier this year, still was too high. He noted the Secretariat’s responsiveness to Member States’ concerns and that the Secretary-General had requested an additional assessment. “Still, the United States continues to insist that the Capital Master Plan be delivered on time and on budget and that there be no further assessments for the project.”
The United States welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal to reduce that shortfall and it would further explore those options in informal meetings. It also welcomed any additional value engineering and other efforts to produce real savings. The Plan must use industry best practices, processes and oversight to estimate the expected completion cost for the project and to execute against those projections. He noted that the ACABQ, OIOS and the Board of Auditors had concluded that had not always been the case. The Secretary-General should do everything possible to apply the analysis, recommendations and lessons learned set forth in the reports. He thanked the Secretary-General and United Nations staff for offering assistance to the host city in the wake of the hurricane.
MORGAN LARHANT (France) regretted that the agenda item on the Capital Master Plan subject and the forthcoming discussion on administration of justice were being discussed before the French version of the relevant ACABQ reports were available. He understood that due to the hurricane, the reports were not ready in any language than English, but there were likely other reasons for the lack of availability.
Administration of Justice at the United Nations
LINDA TAYLOR, Executive Director of the Office of the Administration of Justice, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on the administration of justice at the United Nations, included in documents A/67/265 and Corr.1, and amendments to the rules of procedure of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal and the United Nations Appeals Tribunal, which was included in document A/67/349.
The report on administration of justice was divided into five sections: the overview; a review of the formal system of justice; consolidated responses to requests relating to administration of justice made by the Assembly in resolution 66/237; resource requirements; and conclusions and recommendations for action by the Assembly. Referring to the Section on the formal justice system, she recalled that most parts of that system experienced continued growth in 2011 and progress was made in resolving cases carried over from the old system. Section III contained detailed responses to questions asked by the General Assembly, including efforts made to institutionalize good management practices related to addressing workplace disputes, among others, while Sections IV and V identified areas in the formal justice system that required strengthening. Eight of the report’s nine annexes contained responses raised by the Assembly in resolution 66/237.
Addressing the remaining two reports, she said the document on amendments to the rules of procedure of the two Tribunals contained those amendments, which applied provisionally until approved by the Assembly. Although such amendments normally fell within the realm of the Sixth Committee, two of the proposed amendments had resource implications for the 2014-2015 biennium. The last report, of the Internal Justice Council, included the Council’s views on the functioning of the new administration of justice system and highlighted certain issues that should be of priority for the Assembly. For the first time, she noted that the report conveyed the views of the tribunal judges.
JOHN BARKAT, United Nations Ombudsman, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the Activities of the Ombudsman’s Office (document A/67/172), which gave an overview of the main trends in workplace-related concerns presented by the constituencies covered by the Ombudsmen and mediators of funds and programmes, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Secretariat. In 2011, that Ombudsman’s Office had received more than 2,200 cases globally, a 28 per cent increase from 2010. Primarily staff, particularly in the Professional category, in locations away from Headquarters, used the informal system. About 1,500 were Secretariat staff, or 3.2 per cent of the entire Secretariat.
He said that staff and managers were mostly concerned with job and career, interpersonal issues and questions related to compensation and benefits. The report covered cross-cutting issues related to performance management, the downsizing of missions, and investigations and disciplinary steps. The Office engaged in strategic partnerships with the Organization on those issues. For example, it gave feedback to the respective operational units in the Office of Human Resources Management to bring the issue to the Management Performance Board under the oversight of the Chef de Cabinet.
The combined efforts of the Organization’s seven regional branches, the on-call ombudsmen and mediators, as well as system of regular rotation through missions and other offices, enabled his Office to cast a wider net to meet the demand for informal consultation resolution. In 2011, ombudsmen and mediators visited staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for the first time. Most cases were resolved during the mission visit. But the lack of dedicated staffing and travel resources for ombudsmen and mediators to comprehensively serve staff in special political missions was a serious concern. There was room to improve informal conflict resolution. He suggested the Assembly continue to stress conflict prevention, informal conflict resolution, good managerial practice and an overall collaborative culture.
COLLEN V. KELAPILE, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced the Advisory Committee’s report on three of the Secretary-General’s reports: on the administration of justice; the activities of the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services; and the proposed amendments to the rules of procedure of the United Nations Dispute and Appeals Tribunals. As the administration of justice system evolved, he said, there were a growing number of cases proceeding to formal adjudication. The rate of new cases was outpacing the rate of disposition or closure, with the exception of the Appeals Tribunal. An interim independent assessment of the system was now required, which would assess its general direction and to ensure it met its governing principles.
With regard to the Secretary-General’s requests for new resources, and pending the interim assessment, he said the Committee had no objections to those requests. However, the Advisory Committee did not support the holding of two plenary meetings annually for the Dispute Tribunal or three meetings annually for the Appeals Tribunal. For the Dispute Tribunal, the caseload should continue to determine when meetings would be held. On the other hand, the Committee welcomed efforts to disseminate lessons arising from Tribunal judgements and to ensure better managerial practices by addressing underlying factors that gave rise to disputes. The Advisory Committee recommended a more comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the proposed expedited arbitration procedures for consultants and contractors, and was of the view that non-staff personnel should not have access to the system.
Recalling the Advisory Committee’s previous reservations about the Office of Staff Legal Assistance’s provision of both advice and legal representation, he recommended that the Secretary-General urge staff to consider all options for establishing a mandatory funding mechanism to cover the representation of staff before the Tribunals and to present a single preferred proposal at the Assembly’s sixty-eighth session. Welcoming actions taken by the Ombudsman and Mediation Services to encourage informal dispute resolution, in closing, he stressed that the revised terms of reference for the Office should be completed without delay.
ABDELHAKIM MIHOUBI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the Administration of Justice was a integral part of an effective human resources management system. The delegation firmly supported the reforms approved by Assembly resolutions 61/261, 62/228, 63/253, 64/233, 65/251 and 66/237, which were intended to make the new system independent, transparent and professional. The main parameter to gauge the new system’s functioning should be the substantial reduction of the case backlog. The Group would seek details on the disposal rate of cases. The Group was satisfied that the ACABQ had been informed that the average length of time to dispose of a case was 12 to 14 months, compared to a disposal rate of five years in the previous system of internal justice.
He said that his delegation agreed with the ACABQ that it was necessary to identify and address the causes underlying the high level of use of the internal justice system, with the goal of enhancing good management practices throughout the Organization. The Group would also ask the Advisory Committee to clarify its proposal for an interim independent assessment of the system before the next budget cycle.
The Group of 77 welcomed various proposals, as mandated in Assembly resolution 66/237, to strengthen the internal justice system, he continued. It would seek updated information on specific mandates, such as those related to the appointment of new members of the Internal Justice Council, and the code of conduct of the legal representatives. The delegation believed an independent, effective and transparent justice system was imperative to ensure due process within the Organization.
PHILIPPE GENEST (Canada), also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, maintained the delegation’s longstanding support for an independent, transparent and effective administrative of justice system, which underpinned collective efforts to strengthen accountability, oversight and human resources management. He shared the ACABQ’s concern over the growing number of cases proceeding to formal adjudication and agreed with the ACABQ that stronger measures were needed to encourage dispute settlement through the informal system. Informal processes played a key role in resolving disputes and avoiding unnecessary recourse to litigation.
With mutually satisfactory solutions found in 70 to 80 per cent of the cases received by the Office of the Ombudsman and Mediation Services, the results spoke for themselves. Legal assistance to staff should be accompanied by financial contributions by staff. He noted the Secretary-General’s proposals for a mandatory staff-funded scheme, but regretted that a single preferred proposal was not put forward during the current session. He took note of the Secretary-General’s proposals to further strengthen the administration of justice system during the current session. He would examine them and their resource implications very carefully, with the aim of ensuring the Organization’s internal justice system was effective, efficient and fair.
MATTHIAS DETTLING (Switzerland), also speaking for Liechtenstein, said that the new system of administration of justice in the United Nations was a significant improvement over the old scheme, even as it continued to evolve. Yet, due to the strain put on resources and the possibility for some cases filed with the Tribunals to be resolved by informal mechanisms, he concurred with the ACABQ that the time was ripe for an independent interim assessment of the system, focused on factors determining whether the increasing caseload was due to a culture of trust which the system had engendered, or conversely, a culture of litigation that it might have promoted. To ensure that the backlog of cases did not accumulate any further, he expressed interest in the recommendations of the ACABQ to extend the three ad litem judges through 31 December 2013. It was important that effective remedy was guaranteed.
In that light, he also supported the ACABQ’s recommendations in regard to requests for additional resources for the Management Evaluation Unit and the Office of Staff Legal Assistance. On the latter’s funding, he looked for significant progress this session on the three options proposed and requested a clear opinion from the Secretariat on the most viable option. Supporting continued debate on the scope of the justice system, he stressed any expansion should be incremental so as not to overburden it. The Secretary-General’s proposal for expedited arbitration for individual contractors and consultants was a good basis and should be further refined. Effective remedies should also be available to other non-staff categories of personnel, regardless of the contractual relationship. The countries he represented would continue to explore that issue and all others related to the administration of justice.
ERIKO YAJIMA ( Japan) shared the ACABQ’s general observation that the administration of justice system was no longer in a start-up phase and an interim independent assessment of all functioning aspects of the system was required. He expressed concern over the growing number of cases proceeding to formal adjudication. Resolving a dispute through informal mechanisms should be encouraged more, as it was more efficient, less cumbersome and less emotionally stressful than litigation for staff and administrators. He supported the informal resolution at an early stage and commended outreach efforts by the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Service.
He said the Secretary-General should strengthen efforts towards good management practices in order to reduce underlying problems that gave rise to workplace disputes. He supported the counsel offered to staff by the Office of Staff Legal Assistance as an effective way resolve disputes before Tribunals. But legal representation should be arranged by staff themselves. He was willing to engage in further discussions on that Office’s mandate. He expressed concern over the cost feasibility of using that Office for expedited arbitration procedures for consultants and individual contractors. He shared the ACABQ’s concerns over the resource implications of non-staff personnel using the administration of justice system.
Mr. SOOMRO ( Pakistan) said financial constraints could not be allowed to hamper progress in developing the administration of justice system. Monitoring the system’s implementation was pivotal. It would be useful to discuss the analysis of trends and evolution of the new system in relation to the percentage increase in the caseload over time, as well as the current level of resources dedicated to the system. He commended the efforts of the Management Evaluation Unit. A “lessons learned” guide would be useful.
He noted with concern the risk of slippage in handling the caseload related to management evaluation performed by peacekeeping staff in the field due to the lack of dedicated staff at the Management Evaluation Unit. He noted the Secretary-General’s proposal to address that issue. Permanent measures were needed to use the Unit’s resources more efficiently. He called for stronger measures to encourage informal dispute resolution. That involved ensuring the informal justice system was cost effective and well resourced; instituting concrete measures to enforce accountability in cases where contested decisions had resulted in monetarily compensating staff; and implementing a full performance appraisal system-wide to minimize bullying at the workplace and reduce the number of staff resorting to formal adjudication of disputes related to performance appraisals.
He would seek clarification on the lack of compliance to the Assembly’s request in paragraph 41 of its resolution 66/237 related to enforcing accountability. He was pleased that, despite a 76 per cent increase in its caseload, United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services rendered mutually satisfactory solutions in 70 to 80 per cent of the cases it handled. He supported the Office’s continued focus on raising awareness of the benefits of collaborative approaches in the workplace and building staff capacity to handle workplace conflicts. Cases received from Secretariat staff relating to disability should be given priority. With the bulk of its backlog removed, the Dispute Tribunal should be able to dedicate much of its work to new cases, which had jumped 74 per cent in 2011. The Office of Staff Legal Assistance must be staffed with professionally qualified legal experts. The views of all stakeholders, including the Staff Management Committee, must be taken on board on the Secretary-General’s major reform and change initiatives impacting staff.
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