Budget Committee Adopts Programme at Organizational Meeting for Session; Concern over Budget, Late Document Submission Aired

3 October 2013
GA/AB/4071

Budget Committee Adopts Programme at Organizational Meeting for Session; Concern over Budget, Late Document Submission Aired

3 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/AB/4071
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

2nd Meeting* (AM)

Budget Committee Adopts Programme at Organizational Meeting for Session;

 

Concern over Budget, Late Document Submission Aired

 

As they adopted their programme of work for the sixty-eighth session today, delegates of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) stressed the need to work together to approve the Organization’s 2014-2015 budget, along with the final performance report of the current two-year budget cycle, by their mid-December deadline.

The Secretariat’s perennial late submission of documents also drew the ire of Member States intent on using this year’s session to tackle thorny issues such as staff mobility, long-term construction projects on both sides of the Atlantic, and system-wide reform projects like Umoja, along with the always contentious budget issues.

Opening the organizational meeting, Committee Chairperson Janne Taalas of Finland urged Committee members to stay focused on deadlines and results while remaining respectful of each other and Secretariat officials.  “I will do my utmost to maintain this focus and respectfully ask all members to assist me.  We need to keep our eyes on the ball,” he said.

One year ago, the Committee approved a revised 2012-2013 budget of $5.396 billion after reviewing the first performance report, and approved a budget outline of $5.392 billion for the 2014-2015 biennium, the United States’ delegate said, as he urged the Committee to remain on the course of financial restraint begun two years ago.  He urged Committee members to hold the line on spending to shape a sustainable and effective Organization that would serve all Member States.

Several representatives stressed the need to carry out negotiations in an open, inclusive and transparent manner, rather than making decisions through small group configurations.  Speaking on behalf of the African Group, Côte d’Ivoire’s delegate said the Group would not participate in any small configurations operating behind closed doors.

In other business, the Committee elected by acclamation as Vice Chairs:  Carlos Alejandro Funes Henríquez (El Salvador); Joanna Fiodorow (Poland); and Kodjovi Dosseh (Togo).  It also elected by acclamation Ken Siah ( Singapore) as Rapporteur.

Mr. Taalas recognized the work of the former Fifth Committee Chairman Miguel Berger (Germany) and the former Vice Chairs:  Juliana Gaspar Ruas (Brazil), João Vargas (Brazil), Anna Reich (Hungary) and Bilal Taher Muhammad Wilson (Saudi Arabia).  He also praised the work of Rapporteur Justin Kisoka (United Republic of Tanzania).

Mr. Taalas noted the Committee members’ intentions to work together and said he would hold them to these stated intentions as the Committee carried out its work during the fall session.  He also noted their concerns about the lateness of documents and would pursue the issue with the Secretariat.

Also speaking today were representatives of Fiji (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Cuba (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Saudi Arabia, Japan, Nigeria and Benin.

The Deputy Head of the European Union delegation also made a statement.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 4 October, to discuss the scale of assessments for the apportionment of the Organization’s expenses.

Background

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

Statements

JANNE TAALAS (Finland), Committee Chairman, noted that this year’s Chairman was elected two days before the Committee’s start date, even though the Assembly’s rules of procedure stipulated that Committee heads were to be elected at least three months before the start date.  The reason behind the delay was that no group wanted to assume the Fifth Committee’s chairmanship.  “I feel that part of the problem was that last year, this Committee made news for the wrong reasons,” he added.  The Fifth Committee played a pivotal role in the United Nations system and the entire Organization suffered if its work was not completed.  He urged the Committee to use past problems as opportunities to improve the ways in which it carried out its work, and follow high professional standards and respect other delegates and Secretariat officials.  “The tougher the issues, the more we need to be mindful of how we conduct ourselves.  Sticking to the deadlines given to us by the General Assembly, or agreed by the Committee, is also an integral part of the professional conduct,” he said.

Mr. Taalas said he would focus on results, and urged the Committee members to concentrate on policy issues and achievable results rather than being sidetracked into a bureaucratic morass.  He expected budget items to claim most of the Committee’s workload as it had outstanding issues in the 2012-2013 budget, and little time to agree on the programme budget for the upcoming 2014-2015 cycle.  Long-term construction issues, such as the Capital Master Plan and the Strategic Heritage Plan, and many human resources issues, such as mobility, also needed to be discussed.  The heavy agenda meant there would be little time for diversion.  He urged Committee members to keep their question-and-answer sessions succinct, and avoid unnecessary written questions.  He hoped the Committee would have less written questions than during the last budget session.  “Some 4,250 questions seem somewhat excessive to me,” he added.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reiterated the need to give adequate time to the crucial items on the Committee’s agenda, including the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015.  The Group was very concerned about proposed budget cuts that would impact the implementation of mandates approved by intergovernmental bodies, particularly in development.  It also was concerned about the absence of important reports and stressed the need for the timely issuance of all documents in all official languages.  This would help the Committee make well-informed decisions.

The Secretariat’s failure to present these reports, in accordance with the General Assembly’s rules of procedure, frequently put the Member States and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions in a difficult position as they worked under time pressure, he said.  ”Therefore, the deliberations are seriously affected,” he added.  Negotiations must be carried out in an open, inclusive and transparent manner, rather than making decisions through small group configurations.  He emphasized that the negotiation process was driven by Member States and consensus was a confidence-building exercise that had to be allowed to run its course.

OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said he would pay close attention to discussions on proposals for the 2014-2015 programme budget.  He hoped that decisions made in light of the budget would be made in constructive and transparent atmospheres, and would reflect the concerns of all parties.  He warned Member States to be “extremely careful when holding consultations outside of the United Nations Headquarters” as that could minimize the transparency and legitimacy of such deliberations.

Certain agenda items were of particular interest to his region, he said, pointing to items on funding and backstopping of special political missions, the second performance report, the report on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and the human resources management and United Nations common system.  He was particularly concerned about the timing of the introduction of the item on funding and backstopping of special political missions in Latin America, stressing that the Committee needed time enough to consider the issue properly, in order to avoid another deferral.  He underlined the importance of Member States receiving official documentation required to ensure the efficiency of the Committees’ work, and the quality of their debates and negotiation processes.  He urged the timely distribution of the documents in all working languages.

BROUZ COFFI (C ôte d’Ivoire), speaking on behalf of the African Group, aligned his statement with that of the Group of 77 and China.  He said he was very concerned with the continued delay in the issuance of official documents, which was becoming a perennial trend that impacted the Committee’s decision-making process.  For example, the ACABQ report on the 2014-2015 proposed programme budget was still not available in the six official languages.  The African Group wanted to know why the report, which should have been issued six weeks ago, would not be available until 15 October.  The report had to be sent to Member States’ capitals and its late issuance would impact the Committee’s ability to swiftly consider the lengthy document.

He reaffirmed that negotiations should be conducted in an open, inclusive, transparent manner.  “In this regard, the Group is not going to subscribe to any sort of small configuration in the closed doors,” he said.  Regarding the scale of assessment on the apportionment of expenses of the United Nations, particularly Article 19 of the Charter, the African Group stressed the need for a speedy decision on the matter to let the concerned countries fully participate on time in the Assembly’s work.

IOANNIS VRAILAS, Deputy Head of the European Union delegation, said the Committee’s heavy agenda contained important and complex items, and would require collective effort and determination to ensure its completion by the agreed deadline.  The availability of documentation would also be vital and “occasional difficulties” still occurred with the timing of the submission of relevant reports.  Documents were needed in all official languages, particularly on key issues like the budget for special political missions.  He stressed the importance of efficient management of United Nations financial resources based on “principles of budgetary discipline and coherence” and called on States to apply the same strict discipline as they applied to themselves.  Regarding the budget for the biennium 2012-2013, while there was a need to adhere to the level of $5.395 billion agreed in 2012, the decision to defer consideration of re-costing did not imply “a mere delay” and there “should be no assumption that further funding will be agreed.”

For the 2014-2015 programme budget, he said it was not enough to seek agreement on a budget in line with the $5.392 billion figure agreed in the previous December and the Committee should look for further savings.  He encouraged innovation and improvement of United Nations working practices and promised close scrutiny of the budget for special political missions.  He supported human resources management reform and looked forward to considering the report on mobility and agreeing a workable new scheme as well as to constructive dialogue on funding and backstopping of special political missions.  He stressed the importance of careful examination of proposals for financing major construction projects like the Capital Master Plan and Strategic Heritage Plan, and looked forward to discussions on procurement, the United Nations common system, Umoja, information and communications technology, International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), and after-service health insurance liabilities.

ABDALLAH YAHYA A. AL-MOUALLIMI ( Saudi Arabia) aligned himself with the statement by the Group of 77 and China, and stressed the importance of the financial health of the Organization.  The United Nations strategic direction was a high priority, and he looked forward to discussions on that matter.  The Secretary-General must have sufficient funds to fulfil his mandate without any negative impacts from budget cuts.  The financial health and well-being of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and funds allocated to development were vital.  He welcomed initiation of the IPSAS, calling for follow-up on that and on other reform initiatives.

JUN YAMAZAKI (Japan) took up budgetary discipline, stating that he would carefully analyze and judge the appropriateness and affordability of all potential additional requirements to the current budget and the proposed budget for the 2014-2015 biennium.  Human resources management and issues related to the United Nations common system would impact the Organization’s future.  He promised to participate positively in negotiations on them.  Steady implementation of the Umoja and IPSAS projects were of great importance.  He looked forward to discussing the Capital Master Plan and Strategic Heritage Plan, and also looked forward to working on plans to ensure the efficient and effective running of peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

JOSEPH M. TORSELLA ( United States) said the Committee was carrying out its work this session against a backdrop of global financial pressures and widespread calls for a more efficient United Nations.  The Organization had told taxpayers everywhere that it had heard their concerns.  He acknowledged that the cost of conducting business around the world was a perennial challenge to the Organization and all Governments.  Yet the primary drivers of United Nations budget growth were the failure to effectively manage the number and total costs of the Organization’s posts, a broken budget process and a culture that treated budgets as temporary suggestions rather then binding envelopes.  Two years ago, the Committee decided to follow a new and more responsible course and recognized that any money wasted at the United Nations was a wasted opportunity to buy another malaria net, provide lifesaving food assistance to the malnourished or upgrade the sophisticated equipment used by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear safety inspectors.  “We all recognized that ultimately only an affordable United Nations is a sustainable United Nations,” he added.

On Christmas Eve morning 2011, the Committee agreed on a regular budget assessment of $5.152 billion for the 2012-2013 budget cycle, he said.  One year ago, the Committee approved a revised 2012-2013 budget of $5.396 billion after reviewing the first performance report and approved a budget outline of $5.392 billion for 2014-2015.  When it considered the final performance report for the 2012-2013 budget and its adoption of the actual initial budget for 2014-2015, the Committee would face a simple choice:  whether to embrace or reject the new course of belt-tightening and restraint.  “The Organization must respond to the financial constraints of our time by, at a minimum, holding the line on spending,” he said.

He recognized the Secretariat’s progress, noting that spending on special political missions, excluding new mandates for Yemen and the Sahel, had decreased by 11 per cent, or $67 million, year-over-year.  New initiatives in managing vacancies and the forward purchasing of currency were very encouraging and he was pleased by the efforts seen in the 2014-2015 budget proposal to tackle important structural issues.

He said the United States would not agree to a 2014-2015 budget that did not move to fix a fundamentally broken process, especially around the so-called “recosting”.  “‘Recosting’, United Nations style, does not exist in the world outside these walls.  It uses an abstruse and technical vocabulary to disguise what are mostly changes in United Nations staff costs that happen after budgets are approved,” he said.  The United States renewed its call for new tools to rein in spiralling United Nations staff costs as it recognized the work of the many staff members who had served with distinction.  He asked colleagues in the Group of 77 to not lose sight of their common interests, which were frequently greater than believed.  A United Nations that was effective and sustainable served everybody.

YAKUBU AUDU DADU (Nigeria) said that if the Committee was to make the history that it hoped to make, the timely availability of reports was essential, and there should be no attempts by the Secretariat or Bureau to make any changes to the programme of work, unless due to the forced closure of the United Nations, as had happened the previous year.  Any change to the work programme would signal

the first step towards extension and would kill the spirit of making history to which the Chair had referred.  Contemporary international relations made it more difficult to differentiate between national and international concerns and interests and the Committee’s Members should bear that in mind going forward.  In line with that logic, he had systematically chosen to avoid declaring open support for any statements delivered by groups and encouraged other delegations to avoid associating with the various groups, focusing instead on working as a single body.  It was important to recognize and pursue a collective agenda.

YVES ERIC AHOUSSOUGBEMEY (Benin) associated himself with the “Group of 77” and China and the African Group, stressing the need for the Committee to stick to its timetable.  To achieve that, it was important to look at some types of negotiation strategy, like the “packet deal solutions”, which he said made hostages of drafts that could otherwise have been adopted, using them as tokens of exchange in other negotiations on other drafts.  As well as being a waste of time and energy, such strategies also led the Committee to derailing from its focus and limiting participation in negotiations to closed groups.  That approach did not encourage inclusivity or transparency and he urged the avoidance of such strategies to ensure negotiations proceeded in good faith and a spirit of inclusivity.

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*     The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release GA/11432 dated 1 October 2013.

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