Budget Committee Begins Resumed Session, Takes up Secretary-General’s Report on Air Travel Accommodation Standards, Report of Joint Inspection Unit
Budget Committee Begins Resumed Session, Takes up Secretary-General’s Report on Air Travel Accommodation Standards, Report of Joint Inspection Unit
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
23rd Meeting (AM)
Budget Committee Begins Resumed Session, Takes up Secretary-General’s Report
on Air Travel Accommodation Standards, Report of Joint Inspection Unit
Peacekeeping Troop-Contributor Reimbursement Rates,
Staff Mobility Initiative among Other Key Issues for Month-Long Session
Concern over reimbursement rates for peacekeeping troop contributors, the cost of staff air travel, implementation of the staff mobility initiative, and the report of the Joint Inspection Unit dominated the debate of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today, as it opened its resumed session.
Several representatives, including from Cuba, on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and from Peru and the European Union, stressed the importance of the report of the Senior Advisory Group set up last year to examine the prospect of awarding pay increases to peacekeepers. Japan’s representative called for the report’s recommendations to be implemented starting 1 April 2013 in order to sustain peacekeeping operations.
Turkey’s representative called for quick implementation of the staff mobility framework, while Mexico’s delegate wanted more details on its operating mechanisms and related financial costs.
But, the annual budget for staff air travel, a thorny issue during last year’s session, received the most detailed scrutiny today of any agenda item, with the United States delegate lamenting that the Organization spent $575 million for travel-related expenses in 2010-2011 — eight times higher than the approved budgeted amount. He called on the Organization to achieve cost savings by discontinuing the daily subsistence allowance for staff members travelling on official business when they were in flight, reducing first-class travel and restructuring the lump-sum payment option to staff.
Fiji’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, hoped the Umoja initiative to analyse system-wide information on air travel trends would bring more clarity and certainty to policy and decision-making in the future.
Mario Baez, Chief of the Department of Management’s Policy and Oversight Coordination Service, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the subject. It gave a detailed account of the cost of first-class travel for senior United Nations officials and delegations from July 2010 to June 2012 and comparative data for the previous two-year period, as well as trend analyses for the past 10 years.
Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), weighed in with that body’s related report. David Kanja, Assistant Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which concluded that the Secretariat’s governance, risk management and control processes for assuring effective management for air travel were “partially satisfactory”.
Also today, delegates scrutinized the 2012 report and 2013 work programme of the Joint Inspection Unit — the Organization’s sole independent external oversight body mandated to conduct evaluations, inspections and investigations system-wide. The report was introduced today by Istvan Posta, Chair of the Unit. Kenneth Herman, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced the Secretary-General’s related note.
The representative of Fiji, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and Peru lauded the Unit’s improved efficiency under its 2010-2019 reform-oriented strategic framework and new web-based tracking system. They were alarmed that the Organization was not earmarking sufficient resources for the Unit to fulfil its mandate, particularly the growing demand for reviews and evaluations.
At the outset of the meeting, Committee Chair Miguel Berger ( Germany) expressed condolences at the passing on 10 February 2013 of Fatih Bouayad-Agha, Commissioner of the International Civil Service Commission and a former representative of the Committee during several sessions.
The Committee also recommended that the General Assembly appoint Vinay Kumar of India to serve as a member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), beginning on the date of appointment until year’s end 2013 to replace Namgya Khampa, also of India, who resigned effective 11 February 2013.
Also speaking today were the representatives of South Africa and Pakistan.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 8 March, to discuss the administrative and budgetary aspects of financing peacekeeping operations; aspects of the 2012-2013 programme budget related to information and communications technology; financing of the international residual mechanism for criminal tribunals; and the United Nations accountability system.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) opened the first part of its resumed sixty-seventh session to consider its organization of work (document A/C.5/67/L.21*), and its agenda items on the Joint Inspection Unit (documents A/67/34 and A/67/724) and the programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013 for standards of accommodation for air travel (documents A/67/356, A/67/636 and A/67/695).
Organization of Work
PETER THOMSON ( Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, praised the balance in the Committee’s programme of work and he stressed its provisional nature. He attached special significance to the need for “thorough consideration” of the list of items for the first resumed session, calling for adequate time “to ensure their successful conclusion”. While committed to the careful examination of several topics on the agenda, he also looked forward to discussions on deferred items from the previous session, including Human Resource Management and the Common System. He appreciated the improvements made to documentation for the session, but was concerned about the late issuance of reports. He also stressed the necessity of the timely issuance of all documents in all official languages.
OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Community of Caribbean and Latin American States (CELAC), noted issues on the agenda of great importance to CELAC, including the United Nations Common System, the Report on the Activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, accountability of the United Nations Secretariat and the Report of the Joint Inspection Unit, as well as the programme budget for the 2012-2013 biennium.
He underlined the fact that some issues under consideration had been deferred to the first resumed session from the main session. Compromises on outstanding issues were needed, particularly on Human Resources Management. He also expressed a willingness to engage constructively in consideration of the rates of reimbursement to troop-contributing countries and noted the report of the Senior Advisory Group. He reiterated his concern over the delayed submission of reports to Member States, which negatively impacted debates, the efficiency of the Committee’s work and the negotiating process. Remedial actions by the Secretariat were essential, he said, calling on the Secretariat to address the issue and to submit reports within the set deadlines.
IOANNIS VRAILAS, representative of the European Union delegation, lauded the Committee for reaching consensus on very difficult issues during the previous session, despite suffering from increasing national economic constraints. He called on all partners to continue to work in that spirit of compromise and to complete the Committee’s deliberations on all time-bound items within the allotted time frame, in order to avoid hampering the Organization’s predictable, sustainable financing. He stressed the need to conclude negotiations on all issues by 28 March, at the very latest. He welcomed the consensus outcome reached by the Senior Advisory Group on troop costs and related issues and expressed hope that the General Assembly could endorse the integral package presented in the Group’s report. Promoting a culture of accountability, including individual accountability, and in conjunction with a transparent appraisal system, effective delegation of authority, and development of a risk management and internal control framework, was a key priority.
It would be crucial to discuss solutions that would provide the most favourable, sustainable and financially viable terms and conditions to meet the accommodation needs of the Organization’s Headquarters, he said. He looked forward to discussions on information and communications technology and procurement. The European Union aimed to pursue a more effective, efficient use of air travel and to encourage the Secretary-General to take practical steps to that effect as a matter of urgency. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s reports on safety and security, commended the progress in strengthening the Organization’s security management system and encouraged the Secretary-General to continue efforts to achieve the greatest impact in light of resource constraints. He expressed concern over new estimates related to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and looked forward to discussing the financial consequences in further detail during the informal discussions. He expressed hope that the lessons learned from that event would be applied to ensure the Organization would be protected physically and financially from any future natural disasters.
ENRIQUE ROMAN-MOREY ( Peru) endorsed Cuba’s and Fiji’s statements, on behalf of CELAC and the Group of 77 and China, respectively. He stressed the need to increase accountability in the Organization. Countries like Peru that provided troops and equipment to peacekeeping operations attached great importance to the Senior Advisory Group’s report on reimbursement rates. He stressed the importance of the report of the Joint Inspection Unit, as it was the Organization’s only external independent oversight body. He regretted that the Committee had failed to reach an agreement, — although it came close — during the last session on several issues, namely partnerships, human resource management, the United Nations common system and matters of the Office of Internal Oversight Services.
Negotiations on those matters should not be reopened, he said. Rather, the focus should be on reaching agreement on issues still under dispute. Reopening negotiations on near-consensus issues would be a step backwards and counterproductive. It would also show that negotiators did not take the decisions previously reached seriously. He stressed the importance of receiving the Secretary-General’s reports on time. Deadlines must be respected. Peru would play an active role in the Committee’s debates, in order to achieve concrete results at the session’s end.
KAREN LINGENFELDER ( South Africa), aligned herself with the Group of 77 and China, saying she would pay particular attention to the Report of the Senior Advisory group, the issue of civilian capacity and issues relating to the Programme Budget. She welcomed the chance to engage in negotiations on recommendations from the Senior Advisory Group on reimbursements to troop-contributing countries and looked forward to a more predictable review of troop costs in the future. She hoped that new processes would not be hampered by procedural challenges, but would focus on substantive outcomes instead. She called for a uniform information and communications technology system that used the best technology available to enable delivery on mandates, especially during natural disasters. She said measures were needed to improve accountability and oversight, focusing particularly on the need to avoid duplication and addressing the challenge of harmonizing cross-cutting issues. She welcomed the appointment of a senior-level task force to examine lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy and went on to take note of the civilian capacity initiative, which aimed at capacity-building in countries emerging from conflict. She stressed the importance of national ownership and promised continued participation in consultations on the subject. She also looked forward to updates on the Capital Master Plan and Umoja/enterprise resource planning.
TOSHIHIRO AIKI ( Japan) said Member States and the Secretariat needed to ensure that all resolutions adopted in December 2012 were implemented in a timely manner. He also hoped that the resumed session would reach tangible results, including on deferred items. The resumed session was likely to be “one of the busiest sessions in the past several years” and Member States needed to share a “sense of urgency” to conclude all the items on the agenda. He attached particular importance to the report of the Senior Advisory Group, stating that implementation of the report was “essential for the United Nations to realize sustainable peacekeeping operations”, and that implementation needed to begin on 1 April 2013.
He also stressed the need for the Committee to discuss accountability and procurement and the United Nations Headquarters accommodation needs from 2014-2034. As those agenda items would have important implications for the future United Nations, he would be actively and positively involved in ensuring that an appropriate outcome was reached. Deferred items also needed to be resolved, he said, particularly Human Resources Management and the proposed mobility framework. The ad referendum agreement approved in December should be maintained to allow conclusion of the issue without unnecessary delays.
JOSEPH TORSELLA ( United States) said that, to complete the workload on time, the Committee must stop several practices that had become commonplace and had contributed to the Committee’s inability in recent session to conduct its work in an appropriate, timely way. The United States fully expected the Committee to conclude its work before the Good Friday holiday. That goal was easily achievable. However, negotiators that did not arrive on time for scheduled meetings on nights and weekends or refused to meet on a specific item, did not share a commitment to negotiate in good faith. The United States would respond accordingly. He asked that, in future, the negotiating rooms be “inebriation-free zones” and that the Committee “save the champagne” for toasting the successful end of the session, helping to improve the Committee’s reputation in the process.
He remained firmly committed to consensus-based decision-making in the Committee as the best way to ensure all parties’ interests were met, he said. That assurance remained fundamental in securing the confidence of major financial contributors, such as the United States, in the Organization. “In the management and financing of the Organization, only those Fifth Committee resolutions agreed by all stakeholders by consensus can be considered legitimate,” he said, expressing caution over “the major consequences to the United Nations that would follow from substituting ‘majority’ for ‘consensus’”. The submission of an L-document, or a threat to that effect, before a draft resolution on an agenda item had been informally adopted clearly worked against the principle of consensus-based decision-making. He hoped that, in future, delegations would use scheduled formal meetings to ask senior Secretariat officials to give on-the-record clarifications on administrative and budgetary matters of particular interest. “The UN will benefit from more Fifth Committee attention to larger issues and trends driving UN costs and performance,” he said.
MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan) aligned himself with the Group of 77 and China and underlined the provisional nature of the Committee’s programme of work. Items deferred from the Fifth Committee’s main session included reforms to Human Resources Management, despite the fact that considerable progress had been achieved. He hoped that negotiations would pick up where they had left off in December, with flexibility and political will prevailing and a broad-based consensus emerging. Organizational matters of the Committee needed improvement, he said, adding that established practices and institutional memory could guide the Bureau’s work in improving the timeliness in concluding informal consultations and deferring of non-time-bound agenda items. Late submission of some reports in the main session had meant that the Committee had had to deal with important issues like the performance report and the budget outline “at the eleventh hour”. Such delays impacted negatively on the quality of General Assembly resolutions, he warned, requesting more timely presentation of reports and documents.
NOEL GONZÁLEZ SEGURA ( Mexico) said the Committee’s work for the current session was strategically important, as it would have a major impact on the Organization in the medium-term and long-term. The Administration must fully incorporate lessons learned during the implementation of Umoja and the Capital Master Plan. That was particularly relevant in planning the Organization’s future requirements for physical space and major construction and renovation projects. He echoed Cuba’s statement, on behalf of CELAC, that the draft texts deferred from the Committee’s main session should be agreed upon as expeditiously as possible, thus enabling the Committee to focus on issues yet to be considered and which required the most attention. He trusted the Secretary-General would take full account of the Committee’s discussions when preparing his future reports concerning human resources management, particularly staff mobility. He supported implementation of the staff mobility policy, but called for more accurate scenarios on its operating mechanics and financial implications. Further progress was needed to ensure staff accountability, transparency of resources and the effective appraisal of staff performance and results.
ÖZGÜR PEHLIVAN ( Turkey) regretted that the methodology for determining the scale of assessments could not be discussed during the sixty-seventh session’s main part and that debate on that subject was postponed again due to the changing interests of Member States in the context of cyclical movements in global economics. A comprehensive overhaul of each element of the methodology should be conducted expeditiously and effectively. He called on Member States to faithfully support that process, without relying on short-term comparative developments in the global economy. He asked the Assembly to give comprehensive guidelines on the methodology on which the Committee could base its work. He stressed the importance of human resource reform, and of quickly concluding the Committee’s work on the mobility framework. He stressed the need to achieve a fair, balanced geographic representation in the United Nations staff composition. He urged the Secretary-General to expeditiously conduct a comprehensive assessment of the system of desired ranges to address systemic deficiencies.
He called for harmonizing existing human resource compensation structures; creating acceptable, consistent criteria and procedures to ensure equal treatment of all staff working in different organizations at the same duty station; and adopting a system-wide staff compensation package. The methodology to calculate that package should be simplified, modernized and ensure transparency. Effective implementation of enterprise risk management practices should be clearly linked to the budgetary process and integrated with other initiatives, such as Umoja and human resources reform. Procurement should be conducted more cost-efficiently and on the basis of fairness, transparency and integrity. He was pleased that the developing countries’ share in total procurement operations was increasing. More simplified registration procedures were needed to create greater geographic balance among vendors. He supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to set up a monitoring and oversight framework for procurement activities, which could be achieved within existing resources.
DAYLENIS MORENO GUERRA ( Cuba) aligned herself with the Group of 77 and China and with CELAC. She said the Fifth Committee should work with the same efficiency as the Secretariat and should use its human and financial resources as efficiently as possible. During the last regular session there had been serious deficiencies in management and the major causes of that were attempts at reform of the Organization, notably of processes relating to administrative and budgetary areas. That concerned her, particularly because of the potential for violations of the rights of United Nations staff.
She said the tardy preparation of proposals and their slow translation into different languages remained an ongoing area of inefficiency, despite requests and decisions made by the General Assembly. That impacted the Committee’s abilities as a legislative body and increased political will was needed to avoid a repetition of such mistakes and to ensure that the Committee could fully play its deliberative role. She called on the Secretariat to fully meet its obligations on requests for documentation and supplementary information from Member States and called for improved transparency and openness. One particular area of concern was the proliferation of informal negotiations. Those were supposed to be complementary to formal sessions and not replacements. The flow of information between delegations was important and needed to be reflected by the Committee, in order to preserve an “institutional memory.” She said the update on implementation of resolution 67/247 was of great importance in dealing with the challenges and mandates given to Member States by the United Nations.
Joint Inspection Unit
ISTVAN POSTA, Chair of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced the report of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2012 and programme of work for 2013 (document A/67/34). He said the Unit had performed exceptionally well during 2012, with an increased number of well-received quality reports, and notes the launch of a new website and an online web-based tracking system where the status of the Unit’s recommendations could be followed. He said the Unit had issued 17 reports and a management letter, mainly addressing system-wide issues, and noted improvements made to the Unit’s outreach and communication strategy. He said cooperation with other coordinating and oversight bodies became more systematic and forward-looking, in particular in preparing the Programme of Work for 2013.
The Programme of Work for 2013 included 12 new projects and two reviews of the management and administration of participating organizations, he said. The Unit would continue to maximize application of the web-based tracking system to allow Member States access to information on the status of recommendations made by the Unit. While thankful for the invaluable support given to that project through an ad hoc budgetary allocation, he complained that no budgetary allocation was considered for its future maintenance and development. As well as financial sustainability, support was necessary to ensure quality control, he said.
Funding for the Unit needed to be increased, he stressed. While internal oversight funding had increased, funding for external system-wide oversight had not increased, despite increased demand. He suggested that the main reason for that was that those being inspected or evaluated had some say over the budget for inspection and oversight. That hampered the Unit’s ability to deliver on its mandate, he said, adding that the current budget submission process was “an impediment to the work” of the Unit that seriously curtailed its independence. To remedy that problem, he said the Unit should be able to present its budget proposal directly to the Fifth Committee via the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).
KENNETH HERMAN, Senior Adviser on Information Management Coordination of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s note on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2012 (document A/67/724), which discusses the Secretary-General’s extensive support to the Unit, in his capacity as Chair of the Chief Executives Board (CEB). That support included provision of relevant and useful topics for the Unit to consider. The close working partnership between the Unit and the CEB had improved efficiency, with members of the Board’s Secretariat increasingly working with the Unit’s inspectors during preparation of draft reports to help ensure more comprehensive and agreed-upon outcomes. The already close collaboration was set to increase, he said, particularly as the Unit increased its study of issues with a system-wide impact. He stressed that the continued implementation of the Joint Inspection Unit’s decade-long strategic framework would increase the strain on Chief Executives Board resources.
Mr. THOMSON ( Fiji), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, lauded the Unit’s continued improvements in strategic planning, professionalization of staff, upgrading of its working methods and procedures, and improved coordination. He was encouraged that 7 of the Unit’s 17 reports and one note addressed to participating organizations were of a system-wide nature, thus helping promote greater coordination among United Nations system organizations. Legislative organs of all participating organizations should fully consider and discuss the Unit’s reports and their secretariat entities should fully implement the accepted recommendations. He commended the Unit’s progress in implementing its reform-oriented strategic framework for 2010-2019 and launching the web-based tracking system. He commended the participating organizations, as by early 2013, some 73 per cent had provided inputs to the Unit. But, he noted with concern that, at the current rate of review, the Unit would cover each organization just once every 14 years. He asked for information on the minimum amount of time needed to ensure appropriate coverage of organizations.
He was seriously concerned that, while there was increasing demand for Unit reviews and evaluations, its budget had not increased in 20 years and its current budget submission process did not conform fully with article 20 of the Unit statute. He called for an in-depth analysis by ACABQ and the Secretariat of the process to ensure it was operationally independent and received the resources needed to implement its mandate. He noted with interest the Unit’s 2013 work programme, which included 12 new projects. He lauded efforts to update its internal working procedures and harmonize established practices with the norms and standards of the United Nations Evaluation Group. He expressed full support for the Unit’s efforts to further improve its working methods. The interim coordination mechanism for system-wide evaluation of operational activities for development of the United Nations system, set up under Assembly resolution 67/226, should develop in 2013 a policy for independent system-wide evaluation.
Mr. ROMAN-MOREY ( Peru) aligned himself with the “Group of 77” and China and stressed the “extreme importance” of the work carried out by the Joint Inspection Unit to his Government. His involvement with the Unit as an inspector had underlined that fact, he added. The Unit was the only external independent oversight body of the United Nations with a clear mandate to evaluate and investigate and he stressed the importance of providing it with adequate and appropriate budgetary resources, which he said should be incorporated in the Secretary-General’s budget. He was surprised that the Unit’s budget was repeatedly reduced, not least because that made it harder for it to fulfil its mandate, hampered efficiency and reduced the impact of its reports. Member States were also strongly committed to strengthening the Unit, he said, adding that the comprehensive reform of the United Nations needed to include strengthening of the Unit.
The Unit’s efficiency had improved under its Strategic Framework for 2010-2019, he said, calling for greater attention to be paid to the Unit’s reports and recommendations. More could not be done with less, however, he said, adding that the result of such a plan would only result in making some Member States happy to the detriment of the Unit. Adding fresh mandates without budget increases was not a possibility, he said, adding that he was not opposed to reform of the Unit. Improvements were possible, but a self-critical analysis needed to be performed to see where those reforms might be necessary.
Programme Budget for Biennium 2012-2013
MARIO BAEZ, Chief, Policy and Oversight Coordination Service, Department of Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/67/356). The report gives an account of the cost of first-class travel for the Secretary-General, General Assembly President, delegations, security officers and other officials during the two-year period ending 30 June 2012 and comparative data for the two-year period ending 30 June 2010, as well as trend analyses for the past 10 years. In 12 annexes to the report, the Secretary-General lists cases in which he authorized first-class or business-class travel for prominent or eminent persons or owing to such things as medical conditions, arduous journeys and the lack of availability of normal standards of accommodation.
He said the Office of Internal Oversight Services had concluded that policies and procedures regarding the granting of exceptions to standards of accommodation for air travel were adequate and implemented consistently, adding that the Under-Secretary-General for Management continued to scrutinize “each and every individual request” from the different offices and departments of the Organization. Ensuring compliance with regulations, rules and procedures was essential when considering exceptions and the utmost restraint was consistently exercised.
CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), weighed-in with the Committee’s related report (document A/67/636) that addressed the increasing number and cost of exceptions to the standards of accommodation for air travel. It recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to take steps to limit exceptions, analyse trends regarding them, make every effort to reduce short-notice travel plans and ensure trips are booked as much in advance as possible.
DAVID KANJA, Assistant Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced that Office’s report titled Comprehensive audit of air travel activities and related practices and subtitled Overall results relating to the effective management of air travel activities were partially satisfied (document A/67/695). The report covered air travel operations at Headquarters, the United Nations Offices at Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), assessing the adequacy and effectiveness of the Secretariat’s governance, risk management and control processes in providing reasonable assurance regarding the effective management of air travel activities.
The audit also assessed the status of implementing provisions in resolution 65/268 for the efficient, effective use of air travel resources; the adequacy of processes for procuring air travel management services and delegating authority for granting exceptions; identifying all expenditures on air travel and lump-sum payments to eligible staff; and carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of the lump-sum options. According to the audit, the governance, risk management and control processes of the Secretariat were “partially satisfactory” in providing reasonable assurance concerning the effective management of air travel activities. All but one of the provisions in resolution 65/268 had been fully or partially addressed and, since the audit, the Secretary-General had delegated his authority to grant exceptions for air travel to the Under-Secretary-General for Management. Mechanisms for making travel arrangements had been instituted, including the provision of travel management services and airline agreements for obtaining discounts, although formal guidance for implementing travel policies was still to be issued. Vendor performance needed to be monitored more closely, he said, adding a call for closer collaboration among travel managers within the Secretariat. The bidding processes for travel management services generally complied with the Financial Regulations and Rules of the United Nations and policies and procedures regarding the granting of exceptions were adequate and implemented consistently. The recommendations made for improving the situation were all accepted by the Organization, he added.
Mr. THOMSON (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said he would closely examine the information, analysis and the recommendations contained in the reports and looked forward to fruitful discussions during informal debates. He hoped negotiations would result in better and more suitable arrangements for the standards of accommodation for air travel and he eagerly awaited the final effects of the Umoja roll-out on the management of information on air travel, hoping it would bring more clarity and certainty to policy and decision-making on the subject in the future. He also reiterated his stance that future policy changes or new formulations in the area would remain the exclusive prerogative of the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly.
Mr. TORSELLA ( United States) said the recent United Nations reports on staff travel were deeply concerning. While the 2010-2011 budget included $72.5 million for travel, the reports of the Office of Internal Oversight Services showed that for Headquarters, offices away from Headquarters and the regional commissions, the Organization spent $575 million for travel-related expenses in 2010-2011 — eight times higher than the approved budgeted amount — and $194 million from July 2009 to June 2011 on peacekeeping travel-related expenses. Actual total travel expenses for the biennium was $769 million — about the same cost as a major peacekeeping mission and more than one year’s funding for all special political missions. “This raises an important issue of transparency — or lack of it — in the current UN budget process,” he said. The Organization should harmonize its staff travel rules with those of the United States national civil service, which was the comparator for United Nations compensation. The United Nations rule allowing business class travel for international trips longer than nine hours should be increased to 14 hours, in line with the United States rule.
He called for scrapping obsolete policies, such as the daily subsistence allowance for flight time and the lump-sum payments alternative. “We cannot afford, and should not tolerate, these egregious and wasteful distortions. The loopholes enabling them should be closed immediately,” he said. That required a comprehensive revision of staff policies, he said. The Secretary-General’s recommendations were a good starting point. But, he needed to do a better job of analysing system-wide information on travel in order to better set policies to control expenditures and improve services. The United Nations could not wait for Umoja or other long-term efforts to fix the shortfall in its management information system. The dashboard set up in the United Nations Office at Geneva to follow air travel trends should be implemented system-wide, as should online booking tools for staff for commonly travelled, standard routes.
He called for recalibrating lump-sum payment policies based on actual utilization rates and current market prices, as well as tracking and collecting refunds from cancellations and changes. He expressed concern that the number of exceptions granted for staff and representatives to travel in business or first class instead of economy from July 2010 to June 2012 was nearly 60 per cent higher than the previous two years. Mr. Torsella then asked the Department of Management officials participating in the meeting for more details on policies and trends of use of the lump-sum payment option and why it had not been recalculated since 1995. He also asked for clarification over the use of first-class and business-class travel versus economy-class travel, and how and for whom exceptions for flying first-class were granted.
In response, ANTON BRONNER, Chief, Commercial Activities Service, Office of Central Support Services, Department of Management, said that in the context of implementing Umoja, the lump-sum payment option was discussed for ways to make it fair and even. His Office would work with colleagues in the Office of Human Resources Management towards that end. Over the years the Organization had looked at, and provided information on, lump-sum amounts. The lump-sum option was accepted widely throughout the United Nations and had helped to make staff travel for home leave more flexible.
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