Secretary-General Unveils $5.4 Billion 2014-2015 Budget to Fifth Committee, Net Reduction of Posts Draws Mixed Reviews from Delegates
Secretary-General Unveils $5.4 Billion 2014-2015 Budget to Fifth Committee, Net Reduction of Posts Draws Mixed Reviews from Delegates
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-eighth General Assembly
11th Meeting (PM)
Secretary-General Unveils $5.4 Billion 2014-2015 Budget to Fifth Committee,
Net Reduction of Posts Draws Mixed Reviews from Delegates
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today heard United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally unveil an initial budget proposal of $5.404 billion for the 2014-2015 biennium that begins on 1 January.
That figure was 2.9 per cent lower than the budget for the current biennium that was set forth last December, he said. Despite efforts to minimize the impact of reductions, it was unrealistic to think they would have no impact.
His proposal, he said, reflected the challenge of properly resourcing the Organization amid heightened demand for its work and increased economic austerity. “We must live up to the expectations of the world’s people”, he urged, “and we must uphold our responsibility to you, the Member States, to make the most prudent use of the precious resources that you provide.”
Most savings had come through a net reduction of 261 posts, he said, noting that the budget contained detailed information on resource changes and their impacts. He urged the Committee to consider a review of mandated activities to try and find further savings and emphasized continued work to reassess and improve the United Nations’ ability to implement mandates at a time that the Organization’s role in peace, development and human rights was expanding and when States were engaged in formulating an ambitious post-2015 development agenda.
The United States’ delegate praised the Secretary-General for making structural and sustainable reductions in net posts rather than resorting to “one-time gimmicks”. Such reductions would not compromise the Organization’s ability to deliver on its mandates. A $5.4 billion regular budget was not so much “doing more with less” as it was “doing more with the same”, he said, noting that approval of the budget would show the Organization’s ability to stick to the budget level reached in 2011 and end the 16 per cent average annual increase occurring each biennium since 2000-2001. That would be an appropriate response to the difficulties faced by taxpayers everywhere. “It is their money that funds every single office, post and programme at the UN,” he said.
Fiji’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the proposal presented would need much improvement if it were to adequately reflect the Assembly’s priorities. The Assembly’s 2011 decision that no cuts could be made to the development pillar must be upheld. He questioned how a renewed commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development could translate to the proposed abolishment of 120 Secretariat posts in that area and how commitment to strengthening regional commissions, which were critical for implementing the Rio+20 outcome document, could translate to the loss of 80 posts.
Underlining his opposition to use of the financial crisis as a means to forward a political agenda of favouring some mandates to the detriment of others, he called the budgetary process “broken”, noting the imbalance between assessed and voluntary contributions in all areas. He also objected to the Secretariat and some Member States completely reinventing the budgetary process through new readings and creative interpretations of long-standing Assembly decisions, saying those changes had been made “surreptitiously”.
Concerns over the process were echoed also by Switzerland’s representative, who also spoke on behalf of Liechtenstein, and also complained that cost-savings in the current proposal should have focused on efficiencies rather than being spread evenly. Cuts disproportionately affected underfunded sections like the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the mandate of which had grown, he said. His concerns were echoed by Benin’s representative, who spoke for the Group of Least Developed Countries, and pointed to the Committee’s “duty and responsibility” to reverse the deep underfunding of the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
Singapore’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), also voiced her opposition to “arbitrary budget-cutting targets which compromise the UN’s ability to implement its mandates”. The expansion of special political missions had disproportionately contributed to the regular budget’s recent growth. Although she completely supported their vital work, 34 out of 38 of those missions were mandated by the Security Council, yet accounted for one fifth of the overall budget. Given that the permanent Council members had special responsibility for peace and security, she suggested reflecting that in the scale of assessments for such missions, as was already the case for peacekeeping and international tribunals.
Introducing several reports of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Chairman Carlos Massieu, recommended a return to the prescribed methodology for presentation of budgets and stressed the importance of strictly abiding by Assembly resolutions on the process. He also questioned whether the comprehensive staffing review had been undertaken. Proposed reductions fell disproportionately at lower grade levels and had caused an upward shift in the overall grade structure.
The Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet provided a concluding summary.
Also speaking today were delegates from Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the African Group), Cuba (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, China, Brazil and Algeria.
The Head of the Delegation of the European Union also addressed the Committee.
The Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, 29 October, at 10 a.m. to continue its discussion of the budget.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this afternoon to discuss several reports relating to its proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015. Before the Committee was a Foreword and Introduction (document A/68/6 (Introduction)), as well as sections on Overall policymaking, direction and coordination (document A/68/6 (Sect. 1)), including sub-sections on General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management (document A/68/6 (Sect. 2)); on Political affairs (document A/68/6 (Sect. 3)), including sub-sections on Disarmament (document A/68/6 (Sect. 4) and Corr.1), Peacekeeping Operations (document A/68/6 (Sect. 5)) and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (document A/68/6 (Sect. 6) and Corr.1); on International justice and law - International Court of Justice (document A/68/6 (Sect. 7) and Corr.1) and Legal Affairs (document A/68/6 (Sect. 8)).
It also included sections on International cooperation for development — Economic and social affairs (document A/68/6 (Sect. 9)), Least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States (document A/68/6 (Sect. 10)), United Nations support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (document A/68/6 (Sect. 11)), Trade and development (document A/68/6 (Sect. 12)), International Trade Centre (document A/68/6 (Sect. 13)), Environment (document A/68/6 (Sect. 14)), Human Settlements (document A/68/6 (Sect. 15)), International drug control, crime and terrorism prevention and criminal justice (document A/68/6 (Sect. 16)) and UN-Women (document A/68/6 (Sect. 17)).
Further sections were on Regional cooperation for development — Economic and social development in Africa (document A/68/6 (Sect. 18)), Economic and social Development in Asia and the Pacific, (document A/68/6 (Sect. 19)), Economic development in Europe (document A/68/6 (Sect. 20)), Economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean (document A/68/6 (Sect. 21)), Economic and social development in Western Asia (document A/68/6 (Sect. 22) and Corr.1) and Regular programme of technical cooperation (document A/68/6 (Sect. 23)); on human rights and humanitarian affairs — Human rights (document A/68/6 (Sect. 24)), International protection, durable solutions and assistance to refugees (document A/68/6 (Sect. 25) and Corr.1), Palestine refugees (document A/68/6 (Sect. 26) and Corr.1) and Humanitarian assistance (document A/68/6 (Sect. 27)).
Additional sections were on Public Information (document A/68/6 (Sect. 28)); on Common support services — Management and support services (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29)), Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29A)), Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29B)), Office of Human Resources Management (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29C)), Office of Central Support Services (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29D)), Office of Information and Communications Technology (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29E)), Administration, Geneva (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29F)), Administration, Vienna (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29G)) and Administration, Nairobi (document A/68/6 (Sect. 29H) and Corr.1); on Internal Oversight (document A/68/6 (Sect. 30)).
Section were also included on Jointly financed administrative activities and special expenses — Jointly financed administrative activities (document A/68/6 (Sect. 31)) and Special expenses (document A/68/6 (Sect. 33)); on Capital expenditures — Construction, alteration, improvement and major maintenance (document A/68/6 (Sect. 34)); on Safety and security (document A/68/6 (Sect. 35)); on Development Account; on Staff assessment (document A/68/6 (Sect. 36)); as well as Income Section 1, 2 and 3 (documents A/68/6 (Income sect. 1), A/68/6 (Income sect. 2) and A/68/6 (Income sect. 3)).
The Committee also considered the Secretary-General’s report titled Implementation of projects financed from the Development Account: eighth progress report (document A/68/92); a report of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee, Internal oversight: proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 (document A/68/86 and Corr.1); the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions’ (ACABQ) first report on the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 (document A/68/7); the Secretary-General’s report on Consultations on consolidating the secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination at United Nations Headquarters in New York (document A/68/214) and ACABQ’s eponymous report (document A/68/507).
Also before it was the Committee for Programme and Coordination’s Report on its Fifty-third session (3-28 June 2013) (document A/68/16 Chapt II.A); the Secretary-General’s report on Consolidated changes to the biennial programme plan as reflected in the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 (document A/68/75); and a Letter dated 22 October 2013 from the President of the General Assembly addressed to the Chair of the Fifth Committee (document A/C.5/68/10) reiterating his support for the Committee’s work.
Introduction of 2014-2015 Proposed Programme Budget
Presenting his 2014-2015 budget proposal, BAN KI‑MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the budget grappled with the challenge of properly resourcing the Organization at a time of heightened demand for its work and increased economic austerity. “We must live up to the expectations of the world’s people,” he urged, “and we must uphold our responsibility to you, the Member States, to make the most prudent use of the precious resources that you provide.” The budget reflected that reality, he said, noting that although he had previously presented a budget outline of $5.492 billion, the Assembly had approved a preliminary estimate of $5.393 billion. Efforts had been made to minimize the impact of reductions but it was unrealistic to think they would have no impact.
He therefore suggested a review of mandated activities that may have been fulfilled or overtaken by developments and emphasized the importance of continual reassessment and improvement of United Nations workings. To uphold the standards of effectiveness requested by the Assembly, he had instructed programme managers to rethink business practices, and his proposal included several adjustments based on efficiencies, improvements and investments. While difficult to reach the right balance, he said his proposal reflected reality and would meet the Assembly’s expectations.
He proposed a budget of $5.404 billion at revised 2012-2013 rates, adjusting to $5.562 million after preliminary recosting. That was 2.9 per cent smaller than the budget for the current biennium and 0.2 per cent lower than the budget for the 2010-2011 biennium. The reductions had resulted in a net decrease of 261 posts, he said, noting also that special political missions accounted for $1.081 billion of the budget. To improve transparency, he said, detailed information on resource changes and their impact had been included, while he also noted that deliberations in other committees could lead to new demands.
While the budget was based on a conscientious appraisal of United Nations needs, work would continue to improve its ability to implement mandates at a time that the Organization’s role in peace, development and human rights was expanding and when States were engaged in formulating an ambitious post-2015 development agenda. He had proposed a new Partnership Facility aimed at leveraging the game-changing power of the private sector, civil society and the philanthropic community. He also cited transformative efforts to modernize the Organization, like the Enterprise Resource Planning initiative known as Umoja and the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), which were both well under way.
He underlined the importance of the United Nations mission to human beings around the world, telling delegates: “We may be discussing numbers, but what really hangs in the balance is the prospects for people, families and communities across the world to enjoy a future of dignity for all.”
The Committee Chair drew the Committee’s attention to the eighth progress report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of projects financed from the Development Account (document A/68/92); the Secretary-General’s report on Consultations on consolidating the secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination at United Nations Headquarters in New York (document A/68/214); and a report of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee titled Internal oversight: proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 (document A/68/86 and Corr.1).
CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee reports (documents A/68/7 and A/68/507) on the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015. This report covered estimated resource requirements for the entire Secretariat, although the details for proposed resources for the International Trade Centre, under Section 13, would be considered later in the current session. Overall, the Advisory Committee was concerned that elements of the methodology applied in the proposal represented a technical departure from the approved budget methodology.
He said the first of its three main observations was that the comparative basis for the budget proposal differed from the one used previously since it was not the level of the revised appropriation for 2012-2013 as approved by the Assembly in its resolution 67/247A. Another observation was that the format and presentation of the budget document contained elements that differed from the requirements set out by the Assembly in successive resolutions.
The Advisory Committee acknowledged that some of these departures stemmed from the Assembly’s exceptional decisions to defer consideration of post-related recosting over 2012-2013, he said. For clarity’s sake, the Advisory Committee based its observations and recommendations on the resource figures contained in the proposed programme budget. But it recommended a return to the prescribed methodology for future budgets’ presentations and stressed the importance of strictly abiding by the Assembly resolutions on the budgetary process.
He said the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to prepare his proposed programme budget for 2014-2015 using a preliminary estimate of $5.39 billion. The Secretary-General’s proposal totalled $5.4 billion before recosting, or 0.2 per cent above the level stipulated in the budget outline. After including preliminary recosting, the proposed level of $5.56 billion was below the 2012-2013 resources by $1.1 million, or 0.02 per cent. The Advisory Committee’s report recommended an overall reduction of $13.8 million, or $13.1 million before recosting.
Regarding staffing, the Secretary-General proposed a net decrease of 261 posts over the previous budget cycle, including the elimination of 396 posts, offset by 83 proposed conversions from extrabudgetary resources and the establishment of 52 new posts. The Advisory Committee did not support 55 posts proposed for establishment or conversion, many of which related to proposed extrabudgetary post conversions under Section 14 (Environment). It did support the establishment or conversion of 47 posts in Section 14, a response to Assembly resolution 67/213 and the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The Advisory Committee stressed that the effective and efficient mandate delivery had to be the key factor in determining the Secretariat’s resource requirements and its overall staffing structure. It was not convinced that the comprehensive staffing review requested by the Assembly in its resolution 67/248 was undertaken. The Advisory Committee noted that the proposed reductions fell disproportionately at lower grade levels or where posts were vacant or soon to be vacant. In addition, it observed that the Secretary-General’s proposal led to an upward shift in the overall grade structure of the Secretariat’s staffing table.
After Mr. Massieu concluded his remarks, the Fifth Committee Chair then drew delegates’ attention to the report of the Committee for Programme and Coordination on its Fifty-third session (document A/68/16), the report of the Secretary-General on Consolidated changes to the biennial programme plan as reflected in the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 (document A/68/75); and a Letter from the Assembly President to the Fifth Committee Chair (document A/C.5/68/10), reiterating his support for the Committee’s work.
LUKE DAUNIVALU (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” and China, said the Group did not understand how a renewed commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development had been translated into a significantly reduced budget proposal for the development pillar and the proposed abolishment of 120 posts in this area of Secretariat activities. The Group also did not understand how a strengthened role for the Regional Commissions, including their critical contribution to the implementation of the Rio+20 Outcome Document, would take place while cutting 80 posts in this area.
The budget document presented today needed much improvement to adequately reflect the Assembly’s priorities, he said. The Group would work to ensure that development priorities were adequately financed in the budget approved by the Assembly and that the decision, adopted two years ago, of not allowing cuts in the development pillar, was upheld. The Group was very concerned by several proposals for resource reductions that, in the guise of “efficiency savings”, were converting the financing of posts from assessed contributions to extrabudgetary contributions; abolishing posts whose activities were critical to mandate implementations; and shortening the meeting time of expert bodies without having an intergovernmental mandate.
“We are alarmed that a number of past decisions of the General Assembly to provide a larger share of resources from the regular budget were ignored,” he said. The Group would not allow the financial crisis argument to be used to forward a political agenda of favouring some mandates to the detriment of others. The Group noted the growing imbalance between assessed and voluntary contributions in all areas, and noted a situation in which the amount of voluntary funds every biennium had reached a new high of $14.1 billion, while assessed contributions were under heavy pressure for reduction.
The Group believed the Committee was facing a “broken” budgetary process and the agreed budgetary process had became fractured when the decision of deferring post-related recosting was interpreted as a way to absorb costs, he said. The process faced additional damage when, for unknown reasons, the established practice of updating the estimate figure indicated in the budget outline to incorporate the delayed impact of all new and/or expanded mandated activities that were adopted only at the same time as the budget outline, was not followed by the Secretariat. In addition, as emphasized by ACABQ, the document unveiled today violated critical elements of the budgetary methodology, including its format and presentation.
“It is with deep concern that the Group sees the Secretariat and some Member States completely reinventing the budgetary process through new readings and creative interpretations of long-standing General Assembly decisions, he said, referring to resolutions 41/213, 42/211, 47/212 (which outlines the principles of the budget methodology), 58/269 (see paragraph 52 of ACABQ) and 66/257. “Regrettably these changes have been done surreptitiously, in the absence of any justified proposal, adequate discussions on possible implications, and approval by the General Assembly,” he said. The Group would not agree to misleading, innovative interpretations of Assembly resolutions or claims for an artificial cap to the budget level as justifications for a mandate review conducted through the budgetary process.
KAREN TAN (Singapore) speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, stressed her opposition to “arbitrary budget-cutting targets which compromise the UN’s ability to implement its mandates.” Those mandates had expanded recently due to a proliferation of international challenges, and Member States’ expectations of the United Nations had also increased. While it was essential that the Organization be provided with sufficient resources to implement its mandates, the United Nations also needed to improve its working methods, innovating and ensuring the most efficient use of resources as its activities became more complex.
She noted that special political missions accounted for $1.1 billion of the Secretary-General’s proposals, though the preliminary estimate did not include figures for missions in the Sahel, the Great Lakes Region and Syria. She stressed her complete support for the vital work of such missions but noted their disproportionate contribution to recent growth of the regular budget and pointed to the “gross distortions” they caused. Thirty-four out of 38 special political missions were mandated by the Council but they accounted for one fifth of the overall budget. Given the special responsibility of the permanent Council members for maintaining peace and security, she suggested reflecting that in the scale of assessments of such missions, as was already the case for peacekeeping operations and international tribunals.
YOUSSOUFOU BAMBA (C ôte d’Ivoire), speaking on behalf of the African Group, aligned himself with the Group of 77 and China. The budget proposal was not just a simple financial tool to account for United Nations resources, he said, but also a serious political element that reflected the strategic vision of the Secretary-General in delivering the Organization’s specific mandates and priorities as decided by Member States. Above all, it was a barometer of how effective the Organization was in delivering in the interest of the world’s peoples. The African Group wanted to see a financially strong and efficient United Nations, he said, expressing hope that the issue of recosting would be resolved during the session. The Group asked the Secretary-General to ensure that future budget proposals were presented in strict adherence with established procedures and mandates. He voiced deep concern over the across-the-board resource reduction that might jeopardize mandate delivery, and at the fact that new mandates agreed after adoption of the budget outlines had not been fully included in the proposal before the Committee.
The United Nations should pay particular attention to Africa, as the development of the continent had been rightly acknowledged as one of the eight priorities of the Organization, he said. The African Group would pay special attention to economic and social affairs, in particular strengthening the United Nations system support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as well as for the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The Group would examine how the budget proposals responded to challenges related to humanitarian assistance, disarmament, drug control, crime, and terrorism prevention. The root causes of many crises stemmed from the world’s collective failure to live up to the expectations of its peoples. The Group believed that the budget proposal could have provided further resources for development activities in order to enable the Organization to appropriately respond to the challenges ahead.
OSCAR LEÓN GONZÁLEZ (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said this was a crucial time for Member States to ensure that all the priorities decided by intergovernmental bodies were adequately reflected in the Organization’s regular budget. It was essential to strike a balance between the three main pillars of the Organization; development, human rights, and peace and security activities must receive adequate resources from the regular budget. Any cuts in search of efficiencies must be preceded by a case-by-case analysis that prevented any negative impact on the quality and timeliness of mandate delivery. Echoing concern that no reliable impact assessment had been undertaken, he said there might be implications in terms of the Organization’s ability to deliver its substantive mandates.
He stressed the utmost importance of assuring adequate resources for the development pillar. In that context, the proposed 3.2 per cent cut for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) was extremely concerning and would undermine its capability to provide expertise in the region. It was also important to ensure adequate resources for the human rights pillar from the regular budget. The budget of special political missions had grown dramatically over the years and did not take into account the permanent Council members’ special responsibilities for the maintenance of peace and security. Those arrangements must be reviewed as a matter of urgency. The Secretariat and Member States must strictly abide by the Assembly decisions that no changes to the established budget methodology, procedures and practices or to the financial regulations should be implemented without the Assembly’s prior consideration and approval.
THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations, urged the Organization to do more with less, to work better and smarter, and to achieve its goals while operating within the budget level agreed by the Member States. Given the current difficult economic climate, the same strict budgetary discipline that Member States were applying themselves had to apply to the United Nations. It would not be enough simply to aim to agree to a budget in line with the budget outline resolution adopted last December. New approaches should be examined together in an open manner to see whether further savings could be achieved, while still allowing for full delivery of mandates and a sustainable budgetary path. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to address the growing personnel costs by proposing to remove posts and to improve the work of the vacancy rate. The management of resources as efficiently and effectively as possible needed to be an ongoing process and further innovative approaches should emerge.
In the interest of further sustainability of the Organization, new and creative approaches were needed to certain questionable habits adopted for elements of the programme budget, he said. It was becoming more pressing to tackle unsustainable practices like recosting. It was in the interests of the Member States and the Organization to find better ways of managing pressures such as those caused by exchange rate fluctuation and inflation. While the forward purchasing for foreign currency undertaken by the Budget Controller this year had helped, much more was needed. A sounder basis to budget for such costs, in line with standard practices, was imperative. The European Union was committed to providing the United Nations with the necessary resources to conduct its work, while firmly believing there was substantial room for improving efficiency and effectiveness.
JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand), speaking also for Canada and Australia, noted progress achieved in implementing several modernization initiatives the Committee had supported. That momentum should be seized upon to eliminate antiquated operational methods and rigid hierarchical structures and to give the Secretary-General the necessary flexibility to manage the Organization’s resources with maximum efficiency. Thus he requested that the Secretary-General undertake a thorough review of all areas where years of layers of instructions by Member States might now impair efficiency and the Secretariat’s ability to deliver mandates effectively.
One area with room for improvement was the budget process itself, he said, noting the thousands of pages the Committee had before it on the Secretary-General’s budget proposal alone. “Collectively, we can do better than that; we must do better than that,” he said. As personnel costs represented the largest funding requirements of the Organization, he said, “We all must act responsibly to bring these costs back to a level that is sustainable over the long term.” Further, concurring with the ACABQ on current deficiencies in several performance measures contained in the budget presentation, he said it was imperative that performance indicators be well-defined, realistic and achievable. Noting the 0.2 per cent increase in the proposed budget against the level approved in the budget outline, he said that the Committee must ensure adherence to the level agreed last year. “We simply can’t continue to increase costs,” he said.
THOMAS GUERBER ( Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said a strong United Nations was one capable of effectively implementing the mandates entrusted by Member States. The golden balance between the need for the work of the United Nations to be effective and the search for efficiency in the use of resources should serve as a point of reference in budget deliberations. However, the current budget process did not allow for that. Neither the Secretariat nor Member States seemed to have strategic oversight of the process, which no longer responded to the needs of an Organization that had gone through many changes. Profound reform of the budget process was necessary so that Member States were best positioned to support United Nations efforts. In drafting the budget outline, Member States had taken a more active role in defining the budget level and enabled the Secretariat to work with a clear indication of funding.
Cost-saving measures should have been more geared towards efficiency performance rather than spread evenly across the various sections, he said. The cuts had affected underfunded sections of the budget such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which had seen a growth in its mandate. The recommendations to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to slow down proposed funding increases through the regular budget weakened the signal sent out by Member States during the Rio+20 conference. Pragmatic improvement of arrangements for funding and backstopping special political missions would allow for better management and generate welcome savings. The liabilities the Organization had accumulated on after-service health insurance had mounted considerably, he said, urging Member States to agree on a sustainable policy response.
JEAN-FRANCIS RÉGIS ZINSOU (Benin) speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, expressed surprise that the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS) received only 0.12 per cent of the total proposed budget, and that the 28 posts allocated to the least developed countries sub-programme in the 1992-1993 budget cycle had shrunk to just three in the current proposal, despite its vastly increased activities. That represented deep underfunding and the Committee had a “duty and responsibility” to reverse that marginalization and ensure that the Office had the resources to fulfil its mandates effectively. He also noted expansion of follow-up work on the Istanbul Programme of Action, and welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal of 10 new posts for the least developed countries sub-programme. He asked the Committee to include in the final programme budget the one post that had been removed from the original requirement. Noting that there was no arrangement for the United Nations to provide support to least developed countries looking to graduate from least developed country status, he stressed the need for adequate resources.
He called on the Committee to include OHRLLS in the list of entities under the Development Account from which it had been left out, and also expressed disappointment at the Office’s complete exclusion under section 23 which dealt with capacity-development efforts. The Secretary-General’s report on follow-up to the Istanbul Programme of Action stated that OHRLLS had formalized national level follow-up within the context of the United Nations Development Group, but it had not been given the means and resources to implement those arrangements. He called on the Committee to include OHRLLS under section 23 and to allocate at least 20 per cent of resources under that section to the Office.
Noting also an Economic and Social Council resolution that called for OHRLLS-coordinated monitoring and follow-up on the Istanbul Programme of Action, he proposed that the Committee ask the Secretary-General to report to the Committee during its resumed session with specific proposals. He also noted with great concern the proposal to abolish a post devoted to least developed countries, stressing that any reduction in existing resources devoted to those countries was “completely unacceptable”. He asked the Committee to allocate that post to the least developed countries sub-programme in OHRLLS, stressing the important contribution that would make to ensuring full and effective implementation of United Nations activities in support of least developed countries.
JUN YAMAZAKI ( Japan) said this was an opportunity to change the trend of considerable growth during recent budget periods so the Organization’s funding could be sustainable in the future. Efforts would be needed to reconcile the proposed budget with the modest budget outline of $5.39 billion agreed upon by Member States. The Secretariat needed to cope with new mandates within the agreed envelope by “doing more with less”. Secretariat management reform initiatives, such as Umoja, could help. The review of obsolete activities was imperative. During budget negotiations, Member States must carefully examine each resource requested and agree to provide funding only to those activities that could not be discontinued or deferred. “We should also not shy away from addressing the issues related to remuneration of staff,” he added.
Referring to the importance of the comprehensive staffing review, Japan commended the Secretary-General’s efforts to abolish 396 posts that would result in a net reduction of 261 posts, he said. This was the first step. “There must be further room to do the job in a better way and also seek efficiencies,” he said. He noted that the current budget proposal would let the number of posts at P3 level and above increase while those at P2 and General Services would decrease. This was not healthy or sustainable from the long-term perspective. Regarding the recosting methodology, Japan believed it was a major element contributing to the increase in the total budget figure. Two years ago, the Committee agreed to defer consideration of recosting and last year it decided to provide recosting based on actual expenditures. “Trying to discern a better way forward continues to be a challenge,” he added.
GABRIELA COLIN ( Mexico) endorsed the statement of Cuba on behalf of CELAC and said the upcoming 2014-2015 budget would be the main activity of the Committee this session. She thanked the Secretary-General for efficiently and responsibly using the resources contributed by Member States to the Organization. But Mexico was concerned that the regular budget for 2014-2015 was increasing by 3.1 per cent over 2012-2013, resulting in a budget of $5.56 billion. This was the highest budget in the Organization’s history. There had to be a long-term solution for dealing with inflation and currency fluctuations. It was important that Member States recognized their role and were asking the Secretariat to do more with less money.
For Mexico, it was fundamental that the Secretariat had the necessary tools to discharge the Organization’s mandates, she said. A fair balance was needed among the three pillars of the Organization: peace and security, development and the safeguarding of human rights. She noted that proposed cuts to ECLAC could hurt its ability to carry out its mandates. She noted that the budgetary arrangements for special political missions were inadequate. These missions did not follow the regular cycles of the regular budget. She urged the Committee to use this session to carry out a comprehensive debate in the way in which they were financed and managed. As the fourteenth-largest contributor to the Organization, Mexico repeated its call for the efficient use of the Organization’s financial and human resources.
JOSEPH M. TORSELLA ( United States) said Member States faced tremendous fiscal pressures, and if the United Nations did not follow suit, it risked being unable to meet the complex challenges of today and in the future. In the 2014‑2015 budget proposal, the Secretary-General had indeed recognized that reality and laid down the first steps on a new path. He commended the Secretary-General for achieving an overall budget level of $5.4 billion, which followed the Assembly’s 2014-2015 budget outline resolution adopted last December. The United States noted that that level was achieved not through one-time gimmicks, but by making structural and sustainable reductions in net posts. Those reductions were achieved without compromising the Organization’s ability to deliver on its mandates.
He said a $5.4 billion regular budget was not so much “doing more with less” as it was “doing more with the same”. If the Secretary-General’s 2014-2015 budget was approved, depending on the final figure for the 2012-2013 budget cycle, the Committee would have charted a four-year course, during 2012 to 2015, in which the United Nations budget stayed at the level reached in 2011. Against a backdrop of a regular budget that grew by a 16 per cent average during each biennium from 2000-2001 to 2010-2011, and the new tasks assigned to the United Nations, it would be a proud accomplishment and the beginning of an appropriate response to the difficulties faced by taxpayers everywhere. “For in the end, it is their money that funds every single office, post and programme at the UN,” he added.
The United States would discuss the 2012-2013 budget when the Committee considered the Second Performance Report, he said. But he said that after $354 million of add-ons and recosting to date, further increases in the 2012-2013 budget had to be avoided and the United States expected additional recosting charges to be fully absorbed. He suggested that the Secretary-General’s recommended economies and cuts could serve as a starting point. The Committee needed to closely review the continued need for all funding and proposed posts and seek additional efficiencies, including in training, travel for training and travel budgets, the proposed shifting of the UNEP budget to the regular budget, and the proposed upward classification of posts.
It was crucial to begin a comprehensive staffing review that included an assessment of the appropriate distribution of staff to each department, office and activity across the Secretariat, by grade levels and geographic locations, he said. He also urged the Secretariat to consider an annual cycle of budgeting, similar to most other organizations. This would make the need to recost a much less laborious and destabilizing aspect of the budget process.
PAIK JI AH (Republic of Korea) said that, in view of the forecast of prolonged economic difficulties, it had become pressing for the United Nations to implement its mandates in the most efficient and effective manner. A substantial portion of the budget increase over the last decade was due to recosting. However, it tended to preclude the incentives for the Secretariat to improve efficiency and seek innovative solutions. An overhaul of the system could be done by thoroughly reviewing the methodology, element by element, in terms of scope and frequency. Welcoming the Secretary-General’s proposal for net post reductions, she said she would like to examine whether they were a result of the comprehensive staffing requirement review with a view to securing sustainable efficiency gains for the future. The post reductions were related mainly to the lower grade staff, which might have a negative impact on rejuvenating the Secretariat. Furthermore, a top-heavy structure might lead to further budget increases in the long run. Given today’s serious economic constraints, collective soul-searching was needed to find more innovative and creative solutions.
WANG MIN ( China) said it was the shared responsibility of all Member States to provide the United Nations with solid, reliable financial support. However, in setting the United Nations budget, the Secretariat should strictly enforce budget discipline, effectively improve results-based budgeting management and follow the principle of maximum economy in formulating the budget. Member States should objectively analyse the Organization’s actual resource needs and establish a reasonable, appropriate budget level. The budgetary assessment should fully consider the financial capacity of developing countries, noting that the current methodology for calculating the scale of assessments, especially the low per capita income adjustments scheme, embodied the principle of the capacity to pay and should continue to be upheld. Resources should be allocated in an equitable manner to the priority areas designated by the Member States, with particular focus on development to ensure the successful implementation of all programme activities. The Secretariat should work hard to improve management and enhance the efficiency of resource utilization, thereby maximizing effective output. The Secretariat must practice economy, eliminate wastefulness, and cherish and wisely use every penny contributed by Member States
GUILHERME DE AGUIAR PATRIOTA (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said the United Nations budgetary process protected the member-driven nature of the institution and promoted transparency. The rules could be improved through open and inclusive negotiations, he said, expressing serious concern over the innovative interpretations of long-standing Assembly resolutions. Such positions sought no broader objectives than to cut costs for the political appeasement of constituencies often unsupportive of the United Nations and its goals. Blaming the recosting methodology for increases in the budget was misleading and defied factual evidence. In a budget where 75 per cent of expenditures were directed to meeting staffing costs, the Secretariat could not be put in a position where the only possible response was to keep posts vacant to make ends meet. Despite the expansion of development activities, the proposed budget did not reflect the Member States’ priority to implement them. Particularly troubling were cuts in the ECLAC budget, which was an indispensable partner in the development of the region. Nobody could be against efficient allocation of resources, he said, adding that this could not be achieved to the detriment of Member States prerogatives such as transparency, accountability and participation.
MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria) associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, stressed that the United Nations budget was more than just a financial or accounting tool; it was “an authoritative statement” that should reflect the Organization’s direction. The budget needed to be translated into well-resourced activities that worked towards fulfilling mandates provided by Member States. He supported every measure aimed at realizing economies through the better utilization of resources, but stated his concern over reductions in the proposed programme budget on activities that actually demanded allocation of more resources. Once again, it was development efforts that suffered and the needs of developing countries were not adequately reflected in the budget.
Development was one of the United Nations three pillars, along with peace and security and human rights, he said, stressing that disregard of any element would have grave consequences and would increase the challenges faced. He reiterated the role of Regional Commissions in implementing the development agenda, stressing their need for financial and human resources that were not part of extrabudgetary resources. The Economic Commission for Africa and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development were in particular need of such resources. He stressed the importance of entry-level professionals to the Organization and underscored his concern about the reduction in the number of entry-level posts, particularly in the field of development. That could harm the Young Professionals Programme and prevent young people with new ideas from joining the United Nations to respond to the needs of the era.
SUSANA MALCORRA, Chef de Cabinet of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, said it was difficult to summarize a response in this short time. It was clear the Organization was facing a difficult time. There were pressures that were making the Organization face challenges in an unprecedented manner. The United Nations was intervening in a very difficult environment. It was carrying out mandates in its areas of development, human rights and peace and security. All these factors placed much pressure on the Organization. The first budget outline recognized the constraints on Member States and the reductions had been considered thoroughly by the Secretariat. In December, the Assembly asked for another $100 million reduction, which had to be carried out fairly and very quickly. These reductions in the budget outline were done to help minimize the impact. This was reflected in the budget presentation.
She said the budget outline was a process that involved reductions and trade-offs. It represented the best possible trade-offs. Secretariat officials were ready to engage with Member States and present the Secretariat’s reasoning behind the budget outline. Any proposal was a proposal that could be perfected. The Secretary-General took the Member States’ requests to his senior managers in order to achieve the best proposed budget outline. The Secretariat intended to work closely with Member States. This proposal had heavy work behind it.
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