Budget Committee Approves Draft Resolutions on Board of Auditors’ Reports, Internal Oversight Body’s Work

18 November 2013
GA/AB/4088

Budget Committee Approves Draft Resolutions on Board of Auditors’ Reports, Internal Oversight Body’s Work

18 November 2013
General Assembly
GA/AB/4088
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

18th Meeting (AM)

Budget Committee Approves Draft Resolutions on Board of

Auditors’ Reports, Internal Oversight Body’s Work

Delegates Consider Flexible Workplace Arrangements, Citing Benefits, Risks

With the approval of two draft resolutions today, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) endorsed the Board of Auditors’ scrutiny of the Organization’s 2012 financial statements and backed the oversight work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

The Committee this morning also considered the Secretariat’s efforts to move towards more flexible workplace arrangements that could generate greater collaboration among staff and boost productivity if carefully implemented in a holistic manner.  The downside, said Under-Secretary-General for Management Yukio Takasu as he introduced the Secretariat’s report, could be damage to staff morale, productivity and efficiency if any flexible arrangements were not introduced step-by-step in a prudent manner.

Under the terms of the first draft resolution, the Assembly would approve the recommendations and conclusions contained in the Board of Auditors’ reports, while reaffirming the Board’s independence and its sole responsibility for the conduct of audits.  The Committee also asked the Assembly to emphasize that the full implementation of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) was a vehicle for creating better accountability and financial management throughout the Organization.

With the second draft text, the Committee asked the Assembly to reaffirm OIOS’ oversight role and the Committee’s own key role in administrative and budgetary matters.  The Assembly would reaffirm the distinct roles of the internal and external oversight mechanisms and ask the Secretary-General to ensure the Office’s recommendations were carried out, including those related to cost avoidance, the recovery of overpayments and efficiency gains.

Introducing the report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the implementation of a flexible workplace, Chairman Carlos Ruiz Massieu said that body backed the Secretary-General’s call for a comprehensive study to develop a business case for flexible work arrangements.  The case for a more flexible workspace at Headquarters should be submitted no later than the first resumed sixty-eighth session.  The Advisory Committee also recommended that the business case report look at how the ongoing management improvement initiatives impact space needs at Secretariat locations.  Any changes should improve the Organization’s productivity, rather than just reduce space requirements.

Fiji’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, acknowledged the benefits and risks the flexible workplace initiative could provide for staff and the Organization’s reputation.  The Group agreed with the Advisory Committee that attention should be placed on reducing space requirements and on managing human resources.  The Russian Federation’s representative said measures to improve workspace efficiency should have been carried out when the Secretariat building was renovated.  But that was not possible at the time and the consideration of flexible workspaces was separated from the Capital Master Plan agenda.  He urged that the Board of Auditor’s experience be used to provide oversight of any flexible workplace arrangements.

In other business, the Committee considered a budget item related to the 2014-2015 biennium: Revised estimates resulting from the entry-into-force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Committee Chair Janne Taalas ( Finland) took note of the statement provided by Johannes Huisman, Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, Department of Management, on these revised estimates.  The statement proposed an appropriation of $839,200, including $368,800 under section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management, and $470,400 under section 24, human rights, against the contingency fund relating to entry-into-force of the Optional Protocol.  It also estimated additional requirements of $331,200 under section 24, human rights, against the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2016-2017.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu, Chairman of the Advisory Committee, introduced the body’s related report on the issue.  A representative from Fiji, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, reaffirmed the need for adequate resources to carry out the mandates resulting from the decisions of intergovernmental bodies.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 December, to discuss the financial of the Organization’s tribunals.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met today to take action on two draft resolutions: Financial reports and audited financial statements, and reports of the Board of Auditors (document A/C.5/68/L.4) and the Report on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (document A/C.5/68/L.5).

By terms of the first draft, the Assembly would approve the recommendations and conclusions contained in the Board of Auditors’ reports, and endorse the observations and recommendations contained in the report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).  The Assembly would also re-affirm that the Board of Auditors should be completely independent and solely responsible for the conduct of audits. It would emphasize that full implementation of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) was a tool for establishing better accountability and financial management and would ask that the Secretary-General, in his capacity as Chair of the United Nations System Chief Executive Board for Coordination, report to the Assembly at its sixty-ninth session on the progress made in IPSAS implementation.

The second draft would have the Assembly reaffirm the Office of Internal Oversight Services’ (OIOS) oversight role and the role of the Fifth Committee in administrative and budgetary matters.  It would further reaffirm the independence and separate and distinct roles of the internal and external oversight mechanisms, and ask the Secretary-General to keep ensuring the full implementation of the accepted recommendations of the Office, including those related to cost avoidance, recovery of overpayments, efficiency gains and other improvements in a prompt and timely manner, and give detailed justifications in cases in which the Office’s recommendations were not accepted.  Further, the Assembly would endorse the observations, comments and recommendations in several paragraphs of the report of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee on its activities from 1 August 2012 to 31 July 2013.

The Fifth Committee also met to discuss issues related to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015.  Under that item, it considered the Secretary-General’s report titled Revised estimates relating to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 resulting from the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (document A/68/385)and ACABQ’s accompanying sixth report by the same name (document A/68/7/Add.5).  In addition, it considered the Secretary-General’s report titled Implementation of a flexible workplace at United Nations Headquarters (document A/68/387) and the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report (document A/68/583).

It also met to discuss issues related to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015.  Under that item, it considered the Secretary-General’s report titled Revised estimates relating to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 resulting from the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (document A/68/385)and the accompanying sixth report of ACABQ by the same name (document A/68/7/Add.5).  In addition, it considered the Secretary-General’s report titled Implementation of a flexible workplace at United Nations Headquarters (document A/68/387) and the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report (document A/68/583).

Action on Drafts

The Committee opened the meeting by approving by consensus the draft texts regarding the Financial reports and audited financial statements and reports of the Board of Auditors (document A/C.5/68/L.4)and the Report on the activities of OIOS (document A/C.5/68/L.5).

Revised estimates relating to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 resulting from the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

JANNE TAALAS (Finland), Fifth Committee Chair, took note of a statement provided by Johannes Huisman, Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, Department of Management, on the revised estimates of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015 resulting from the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (document A/68/385).  The statement proposed appropriation of $839,200, including $368,800 under section 2, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management, and $470,400 under section 24, human rights, against the contingency fund relating to entry into force of the Optional Protocol.  It also estimated additional requirements of $331,200 under section 24, human rights, against the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2016-2017.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of ACABQ, introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report.  He said ACABQ had sought further clarification on the factors underlying the estimates of the volume of additional activities expected to arise from entry into force of the Optional Protocol.  The Advisory Committee recommended that the General Assembly ask the Secretary-General to meet additional requirements relating to the Optional Protocol from within the resources provided for in the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2014-2015, and to report on any additional expenditures in the relevant performance report.  ACABQ also recommended that establishment of a new P-4 post be considered in the context of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2016-2017.

LUKE DAUNIVALU (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reaffirmed the need for adequate resources to implement mandates arising from the decisions of intergovernmental bodies, and noted the additional requirement of $839,200 resulting from additional ratifications or accessions as part of implementation of the Optional Protocol.  He said he would examine the Secretary-General’s proposal carefully, and seek understanding of the Advisory Committee’s recommendations during informal deliberations.

Implementation of Flexible Workplace at United Nations Headquarters

YUKIO TAKASU, Under-Secretary-General for Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the Implementation of a flexible workplace at the United Nations Headquarters (document A/68/387).  He said a flexible workplace described the arrangements of physical space, technology, human resources and other programmes to support a flexible and mobile way of working.  The most common arrangements were telecommuting; the sharing of a common desk or workstation; hotelling, which involved working in multiple buildings depending on availability; and hot-desking, which increased the number of staff supported by a given building by using non-dedicated work stations.

The report drew upon international trends and lessons and, as best practices indicated, flexible workplaces could not be achieved quickly, he said. Its use required a prudent, phased approach to implementation and a gradual adaption to evolving work practices and needs.  If successful, it could increase productivity and efficiency and generate greater collaboration in the workplace.  If approached mechanically without a prudently phased introduction and adaptation to specific circumstances, it would damage staff morale, productivity and efficiency.  A brief and limited study on space use at Headquarters was conducted by sampling six floors in the Secretariat and DC1 building during the last week of July.  The study kept records on an hourly basis over four days and found that on average, individually assigned workspaces were used at an overall rate of 50 per cent, ranging from 70 per cent to 30 per cent at certain times of the day.

Two significant factors needed to be considered, he said.  Regarding the physical environment, a flexible workplace needed to be implemented holistically by configuring a range of space better suited to flexible working.  The actual space savings that could be achieved depended on the specific organizational context of the Secretariat.  The Secretariat was revising its planning target to 20 per cent space savings with respect to the existing workspace planning figures of 220 square feet per person, in the context of considering the long-term accommodation needs.  “I wish to underline that this is a planning target,” said Mr. Takasu, stressing that the speed and extent of implementation required consideration of the work practices performed by different groups of staff and the specifics found in respective buildings.

As indicated in the report, the Secretary-General would begin a programme of internal communication and consultations with staff and management to achieve buy-ins for the initiative, he said.  The Secretary-General also recognized the importance of a comprehensive study to develop the business case for a holistic implementation of a flexible workplace.  Test and pilot environments for flexible working needed to be carried out.  The Secretariat estimated the study would take six months to complete.

He said the Secretary-General asked the Assembly to take note of this report, and asked the Secretariat to submit an additional report, detailing the business case for the implementation of a flexible workplace, to the main session of the sixty-ninth Assembly session.  He noted that the Secretariat, with the scope of work before it, could not produce a comprehensive business case in time for the Fifth Committee’s first resumed session for the sixty-eighth session.  Equally, it would be too early to expect a detailed assessment of the potential impact of Umoja, the Organization’s enterprise resource planning initiative, and a Future Service Delivery Model, in the context of the flexible workplace, to be available in the next session.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU, taking the floor a second time, introduced ACABQ’s report on implementation of a flexible workplace (document A/68/583), which backed the Secretary-General’s call for a more detailed study to validate the findings of the preliminary assessment and for development of a business case for a flexible workplace.  The case for a more flexible workspace at Headquarters should be submitted no later than at the first resumed sixty-eighth session.  Assessment of the potential for flexible working in Geneva should be included in the next report on the strategic heritage plan for renovation of the Palais de Nations.  Noting that the Secretary-General had stressed the usefulness of Umoja to flexible working, he said that streamlining and re-engineering of business processes was also expected to impact the Secretariat’s staffing and skills requirements.  ACABQ recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to include in his business case report an assessment of the expected impact of ongoing management improvement initiatives on space requirements at Secretariat locations.

Implementation of a flexible workplace would have a significant impact, he said, stressing the importance of participation of the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) in formulating the business case.  All concerned Secretariat departments and offices should be allowed to provide inputs to the working group, and any proposals for flexible working arrangements should be adapted to the specific and differing requirements of staff.  Any changes should improve the Organization’s productivity, rather than just reduce space requirements.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, acknowledged the benefits that the flexible workplace initiative was expected to provide for staff satisfaction and productivity, enhanced cooperation and reduced real estate needs.  But the Group also had noted the significant risks associated with an eventual poor implementation: impaired staff morale, reduced productivity and reputational risks.  The Group agreed with ACABQ that attention should not only be placed on reducing space requirements, but on managing human resources.  Human resources policies and the specific requirements of different departments within the Organization also needed to be considered.  The Group would like more information on the steps that the Organization would need to carry out to successfully implement a flexible workplace, particularly steps in information technology, robust internal communications, and training programmes, he said.  The implementation of a flexible workplace at the United Nations would be a significant shift in the Organization’s culture and its working methods.  The Group would continue to assess whether the Organization was well placed to prepare and consider a business case for the use of a flexible workplace.

SERGEY SAFRONOV (Russian Federation) expressed continued support for the Organization’s more cost effective use of its resources, as that could help reduce the significant costs associated with leasing premises in New York, and could change in the long-term how the United Nations handled its available workspaces.  Measures to enhance the effectiveness of workspaces should have been implemented during the renovation of the Secretariat building, but that had not proven possible at the time, and consideration of flexible workspaces was separated from the Capital Master Plan on the agenda.  Consideration of flexible workspaces was still at the initial stage, and numbers needed clearer justification.  He said he was confident that the Secretariat would account for lessons learned during previous projects.  As the Board of Auditors had experience that would be useful for the project’s implementation, its involvement was needed for effective oversight of the project.

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