Stressing High Price of Inaction, Fifth Committee Speakers Urge Decision on Long-term Office Space Requirements for New York Staff

GA/AB/4180
1 December 2015
Seventieth Session, 18th Meeting (AM)

Stressing High Price of Inaction, Fifth Committee Speakers Urge Decision on Long-term Office Space Requirements for New York Staff

Delegates Also Examine Special Political Missions 2016-2017 Budget, Status of Africa Hall Construction at Economic Commission for Africa

Delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today called for urgent action to meet the future office space requirements of thousands of United Nations staff members currently in off-campus leased buildings in New York, warning about the high price tag of inaction.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the long-term accommodation needs at United Nations Headquarters, Under-Secretary-General for Management Yukio Takasu noted that 4,042 Secretariat staff, or 5,342 including personnel of the Organization’s funds and programmes, were based in eight leased buildings outside the United Nations campus at the cost of $56 million a year.  He said rents were expected to spike in the coming years, and in 2023 favourable-term leases of the DC1 and DC2 buildings, which together housed 2,060 staff members, would expire.

He said that among the four options proposed by the General Assembly, a-lease-to-own financing option for the DC-5 building, to be built by the United Nations Development Corporation on the land south of the United Nations main campus, was the most cost-effective.  Therefore, the 193-nation body should request the further development of that option and authorise the Secretary-General to take the next steps necessary for implementation.

The United States, the host country, also considered DC-5 to be most compelling option as it offered a $1 billion better value than continued commercial leasing over the next 50 years, its delegate said, urging any necessary agreements to be finalized by next year.  Financial prudence required putting a long-term accommodation plan in place, not simply to “kick the can down the road” and watch rents escalate, she said.  While more information was needed before a final decision, all Member States should recognize that a decision was essential because the cost of inaction was too high.

Japan’s delegate said that a year had already passed since the Budget Committee agreed on resolutions on the United Nations’ long-term accommodation needs.  More time could not be wasted, he said, warning that the Organization could face outrageously expensive commercial rent or even worse, the unavailability of office space.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing that body’s related report, said that actual needs could only be addressed after the impact of the Organization’s business transformation initiatives on New York space requirements became apparent.  The Assembly should ask the Secretary-General to explore interim solutions, including extending the current leases of the DC-1 and DC-2 buildings.

The representative of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, agreed with ACABQ and added that a zero-interest loan package with the host country, such as the one employed for the Strategic Heritage Plan of the United Nations Office at Geneva, should be seriously considered for long-term needs in New York.

The Budget Committee also considered reports of the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee on the proposed resources for 2016 for special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the Assembly and/or the Security Council.  The Advisory Committee recommended approving the proposed resources under clusters I and III.

The United Republic of Tanzania’s delegate, speaking for the African Group, said that the allocation of adequate resources to those missions was critical for the efficient, effective discharge of their mandates, which were often carried out in situations of active and post-conflicts, where transnational organized crime, drug-trafficking and extremist activities constituted the main drivers of instability.

However, Cuba’s representative stressed the unsustainability of continuing to finance special political missions through the Organization’s regular budget, noting that resources currently assigned to those missions accounted for more than 20 per cent of the regular budget, with an always upward historic trend.  Because the creation of 34 of those 36 missions was decided upon by the Security Council, it was logical that they be financed in the same way as peacekeeping missions.

Syria’s representative said that the Secretary-General’s report on cluster I, which included the resource proposal for the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for that country, failed to mention terrorism, which his Government was fighting.

On the construction of new office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa, Stephen Cutts, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Management’s Office of Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary-General’s report while Mr. Ruiz Massieu introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report.

Ethiopia, the host country, strongly believed that the Africa Hall renovation project at the site had a broader meaning in relation to Africa’s modern history and decolonization, its representative said.  With the objective of turning the Hall into “a true monument of Africa’s history”, his Government would help identify and collect historical audio, video and print materials.

In other business, the Committee examined the cash position of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali as of 9 October 2015 and financial implications resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council during its 2015 session.  The reports of the Secretary-General and ACABQ under those agenda items were presented respectively by Bettina Tucci Bartsiotas, Assistant Secretary-General, Controller, and Mr. Ruiz Massieu.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., Wednesday, 9 December, to take up outstanding agenda items, including the revised resource estimate for biennium 2016-2017 for the Human Rights Council; the contingency fund; the Secretary-General’s second performance report on the biennium 2014-2015 programme budget; and the financing of international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia and the residual mechanism for those courts.

Financing of United Nations Mission in Mali

BETTINA TUCCI BARTSIOTAS, Assistant Secretary-General, Controller, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, “Cash Position of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali as at 9October 2015” (document A/70/443).  In June, by resolution 69/289, the General Assembly had authorized the Secretary-General to enter into commitments up to $80.3 million, in addition to the $830.7 million previously approved to maintain the Mission.  That authority was intended to enable the Mission to support an action plan to counter improvised explosive devices and improve force protection capabilities.  The Mission’s performance report for 2014/15 was being finalized and indicated a total expenditure of $906.2 million, reflecting the net utilization of $75.5 million of commitment authority and an unencumbered balance of $4.8 million for the year.  The actual expenditure for the planned activities had met the full level of resources originally requested by the Secretary-General.

She went on to say that the special account for the Mission indicated that sufficient cash reserves would be on hand in December to cover its operating costs as well as scheduled payments to Governments for troop and formed police units and reimbursements for contingent-owned major equipment and self-sustainment.  Looking forward to the end of June 2016, when the Assembly would consider the budget performance for 2014/15 and decide on final financing for the period, projections indicated that sufficient cash reserves would be available to meet disbursement needs, provided Member States’ contributions were received on a timely basis.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s eponymous report (document A/70/575).  He said that after examining the cash position of the Mission, including its unliquidated obligations and monthly expenditure patterns, the Advisory Committee recommended that the Assembly take note of the Secretary-General’s report.

2016-2017 Budget for Special Political Missions

Ms. BARTSIOTAS introduced several reports of the Secretary-General on the proposed resources for 2016 for special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the Assembly and/or the Security Council, including the report on thematic cluster I (document A/70/348/Add.1), which included 10 special political missions, but excluded the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen.  The report on thematic cluster III (document A/70/348/Add.3) included United Nations offices, peacebuilding support offices, integrated offices and commissions.  The other report pertained to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) (document A/70/348/Add.4), and the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen (document A/70/348/Add.6).

The proposed resources for special political missions under cluster I amounted to $31.3 million, an increase of $0.8 million from the approved resources for 2015.  That increase came mainly from the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria.  The proposed resources for missions under cluster III totalled $190.1 million, an increase of $7.1 million from the approved resources for 2015.  The increase came mainly from United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which was partially offset by reductions under the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).

The proposed resources for UNAMA totalled $183.3 million, a net decrease of $4.1 million from the approved resources for 2015.  Those reductions were mainly due to the closure of a provincial office, consolidation of some functions, and decreases under military and police personnel.  The proposed resources for the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen amounted to $6.9 million, an increase of $1.6 million over the approved resources for 2015.  Those resource requirements contained in the reports would be charged against the provision of $1.1 billion proposed for special political missions under Section 3, Political Affairs, of the proposed programme budget for biennium 2016-2017.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU introduced the Advisory Committee’s four related reports for the special political missions.  In the reports under thematic cluster I, (documents A/70/7/Add.11 and A/70/7/Add.16), on special and personal envoys and special advisers of the Secretary-General, including the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, ACABQ recommended approving the resources proposed by the Secretary-General, subject to its recommendations contained in section III of the two reports.  Detailed information on the reductions arising from its recommendations should be provided to the Assembly.  For a number of budgetary proposals under operational costs, proper justifications had not been provided, in particular for some significant increases requested.  ACABQ also noted that additional resources had to be borne by the Organization due to the personal preference of location of heads of mission.  On the proposed reclassification of title from Assistant-Secretary-General to Under-Secretary-General for the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, the Advisory Committee noted the change and concurred.

Turning to the report on UNAMA (document A/70/7/Add.14), he noted that the proposed 2016 resource requirements were estimated at $183.3 million, a decrease of $4.1 million, or 2.2 per cent, from resources approved for 2015.  ACABQ recommended approving the Secretary-General’s proposal for resource requirements subject to adjustments that might arise relating to its recommendation to apply a separate vacancy rate for one new National Professional Officer position proposed for 2016 and other related recommendations.  Concerning services provided to UNAMA by its support office in Kuwait and the Kuwait Joint Support Office, ACABQ questioned the repeated transfer of functions back and forth between Kabul and Kuwait during a short period based on different arguments with financial implications of each transfer.

He then introduced the report on thematic cluster III (document A/70/7/Add.13), regarding United Nations offices, peacebuilding support offices and integrated offices and commissions, ACABQ recommended approval of the resources proposed by the Secretary-General under the cluster, subject to recommendations contained in section II of its report, trusting that, as with other clusters and special political missions, detailed information on the reductions arising from those recommendations would be provided to the Assembly.  Regarding the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), the Advisory Committee recommended against the proposed separation of the Office of the Chief of Staff from the Office of the Special Representative, and related staffing proposals, because it could be detrimental to the mission’s overall cohesion.

Regarding UNSOM, he said that because there should be a clear separation of the mandates and respective budget proposals of UNSOM and the United Nations Support Office for the African Union Mission in Somalia (UNSOA), the Advisory Committee recommended against the three proposed United Nations Volunteer positions of Medical Officers for UNSOM, which should be included in the next UNSOA budget.  However, because of the need for appropriate medical support for Organization staff, the Secretary-General could approve temporary positions for UNSOA to undertake those functions during the six-month period before the next UNSOA budget cycle.  On UNSMIL, the Secretary-General should have sought the Advisory Committee’s concurrence prior to creating the extra-budgetary position of Special Adviser at the Assistant Secretary-General level.  ACABQ questioned the basis upon which that level was determined and recommended that the position be established at the D-2 level, consistent with other UNSMIL divisional heads.

JUSTIN KISOKA (United Republic of Tanzania), speaking for the African Group, said that as the special political missions’ complex mandates were often carried out in situations of active and post-conflicts, where transnational organized crime, drug-trafficking and extremist activities constituted the main drivers of instability, the allocation of adequate resources to those missions was critical for the efficient, effective discharge of their mandates.  The Group noted the 2016-2017 resource requirements of $31.3 million for cluster 1 missions and $190.1 million for cluster III missions.  The Group was mindful that staffing formed a major part of the inputs for the missions’ performances and it would be interested to learn the rationale for some changes in staffing in Libya, the Great Lakes and Guinea-Bissau, as well as for the movement of some staff from one location to another.

Regarding the level of representation in the Sahel, he said that the African Group remained deeply concerned that the grade of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sahel remained the same despite working in a complex, evolving environment.  The Group was not convinced by the arguments presented thus far and it would present a specific proposal to re-instate the position at the original level of Under-Secretary-General and to strengthen the functions of that Office.  He rejected the application of a double-standard for the level of representation among special political missions.  Collaboration between the missions and regional and subregional organizations was essential to strengthen national and regional capacities.  The Group was concerned by increase resource requirements due to the reliance on consultancies and other outside capacities in the missions and it would propose specific adjustments in that regard.

BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria) said that the Secretary-General’s report failed to include a reference to terrorism in Syria, stressing that the situation in the country should be described as a war against terrorism.  The report used “strange” terms such as “all forms of violence and human rights violations” in its description of the situation in Syria.  The report should have underscored the importance of a political settlement “without any external intervention”.  He also expressed reservation over the report’s reference to Assembly resolutions on Syria that were not adopted unanimously.  He urged States to withdraw foreign terrorists from Syria and stop financing them, and expressed his Government’s commitment to continue supporting the Organization’s Special Envoys to address the situation in the country.

JAVIER ENRIQUE SANCHEZ AZCUY (Cuba) stressed the unsustainability of continuing to finance special political missions through the regular United Nations budget.  That financing mechanism was questionable because the creation of 34 of those 36 missions was decided upon in the Council.  It was logical that they be financed in the same way as peacekeeping missions.  He noted that proposed programme resources for the biennium 2016-2017 included a slight increase of $10.2 million, or 0.2 per cent, from the budget approved in Assembly resolution 69/264.  In that scenario where a minority of delegations advocated nominal zero growth, Cuba was struck by the fact that resources assigned to special political missions amounted to more than 20 per cent of the regular budget, with an always upward historic trend.  Those facts demonstrated an imbalance of priorities established by the Assembly through its programme budget outline.  Many of the subjects dealt with by special political missions did not have specific mandate by the Assembly or a procedure for follow up, limiting the ability of that body to supervise them.

Turning to estimates for cluster 1, he referred to the sections in document A/70/348/Add.1 on the prevention of genocide.  Cuba disagreed with the proposal to include activities on the responsibility to protect in estimates for special political missions, and rejected the inclusion of that section under the proposal related to prevention of genocide.  There was no intergovernmental agreement justifying the maintenance of a post for the responsibility to protect under the umbrella of the Office of the Special Envoy.  In the creation of the post of the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, the Assembly had not had a voice or a vote.  Addressing the complex problems stemming from large-scale atrocities from a “war-mongering point of view” was an often-repeated error.  Injustices could not be solved with sanctions or interventions, which in many cases just created more violence.  Creating the Special Adviser post undermined State sovereignty, which was the main reason Cuba opposed it.  That position should not be interpreted as a rejection of the work of the Special Adviser to Prevent Genocide.  However, there was no legal basis for the implementation of and provision of output of the responsibility to protect, and the Assembly specifically had not approved a definition of the concept.

Construction and Property Management

STEPHEN CUTTS, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Central Support Services, Department of Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Progress in the construction of new office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, and update on the renovation of Conference Facilities, including Africa Hall” (document A/70/363 and Corr. 1).  He said the Zambezi Building had remained fully functional since 2014, and that the related ancillary projects were ready to host a major conference in July.  The renovation of Africa Hall would address the inadequacies related to safety and functionality, and would make it a rejuvenated facility that complied with the highest international standards for conference facilities, while preserving it as an iconic and historic building.  The newly introduced Visitors’ Centre of Africa Hall was expected to be a desirable destination to learn about the continent and the African Union’s history through artworks, exhibitions and a lecture gallery.

The assessment and design stages of the Africa Hall renovation project had been completed, he said, and construction was due to commence shortly after a contractor was selected during the third quarter of 2017.  The project’s overall budget, at $56.9 million, and implementation schedule, from 2015 to 2021, remained as previously reported.  The supervision and management of the renovation included a risk-management strategy in line with previous practices on similar projects, including robust scope, cost and schedule containment measures.  Regarding the Conference Centre and its upgrades, capacity utilization had increased by 15 per cent over recent years due to the Organization’s proactive marketing initiatives in Addis Ababa, completion of the Zambezi Building and closer partnership with regional non-United Nations organizations.  The second phase of the Conference Centre’s roof renovation would be completed by the end of 2015, during the dry season.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU, introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report (document A/70/7/Add.21*), which recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to ensure that any change that affected the scope of the project to renovate the Africa Hall be presented for the Assembly’s consideration.  Recommending the approval of the proposed amount of $56.9 million for the period from 2015 to 2021 as the maximum overall cost for stages 3 to 5 of the project, the Committee also recommended the approval of seven additional positions proposed within the governance structure, at a cost of $13.44 million under the 2016-2017 programme budget.  Regarding the Visitors’ Centre proposed as part of the AfricaHall renovation project, ACABQ trusted that the Secretary-General would provide further details, including the cost projections for its start-up, maintenance and operations, the related estimates for revenue generation and the overall benefits anticipated for the Organization.

LYLE DAVIDSON (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, reaffirmed the importance of implementing the capital projects at ECA, in particular the renovation and modernization of conference and other facilities.  He welcomed the completion of construction of the Zambezi building and its full occupancy by the middle of the year.  Noting the possible claims and settlements related to the rectification of errors, omissions and delays by contractors, he asked the Secretary General to continue to take all necessary steps to ensure that all matters were settled amicably and in a timely manner.  The Group expected the Secretary-General would ensure that all errors, omissions and deficiencies by contractors and managers would be addressed and all responsible entities held accountable in line with established procedures.

Turning to the renovation of the Africa Hall, he welcomed and supported the Secretary-General’s proposal, including the estimated resources in the amount of $56 million to modernize the facilities and develop the Visitor’s Centre in phases over a 10-year period.  The Group would seek clarity during the informal consultations on the implementation strategies, including measures to shorten the duration of the project.   Any change in the project’s scope must first be presented to Member States for their consideration and approval.  The Group noted and would discuss during the informal consultations the Advisory Committee’s observations, including those related to the use of the contingency fund and the business case.  Expressing concern over the recommended use of the Visitor Centre as a revenue generator, he discouraged any approach aiming to solely generate profit from the centre’s use, as the Organization was not a for-profit entity.  On governance, oversight and accountability, he stressed the need for a clear chain of command, and commitment by the Secretary-General and all senior managers at Headquarters and Addis Ababa, to guarantee smooth project implementation, and effective oversight arrangements throughout the implementation phase.

Mr. KISOKA (United Republic of Tanzania), on behalf of the African Group, which in turn aligned itself with the statement of the Group of 77, noted the substantial completions of the new office in ECA.  Past construction projects had encountered significant delays, partly due to insufficient managerial attention and other factors beyond one’s control.  Lessons learned from the building of the new facilities in ECA, the United Nations Office at Nairobi and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, should be taken into consideration in the Africa Hall renovation project.  Proper planning should facilitate timely completion of Africa Hall, with the time frame being kept under review with a view to shortening the duration of work.  Structured and continuous communication and coordination between Headquarters and the Commission, as well as other stakeholders, was needed as well.  The African Group supported a resource level of $56 million and the Advisory Committee’s recommendation of a separate, multi-year account for the project.

With regard to the visitor centre, he said there were many benefits resulting from visits to United Nations facilities by the general public, academics, researchers, delegates and other stakeholders.  The United Nations was a not-for-profit entity and the Secretary-General should avoid any plan that would move the Organization in a for-profit direction.  The African Group attached great significance to the project and it stood ready to engage constructively in deliberations regarding it, with the aim of completing those deliberations in a timely manner.

CHERITH NORMAN CHALET (United States) said it was encouraging to hear that the new office facilities had been substantially completed.  However, ECA was urged to complete remaining work as soon as possible.  Her delegation looked forward to fruitful discussions on the Africa Hall renovation project, including its scope, costs and structure of governance.  The Secretariat and the Commission were urged to ensure the close monitoring of the remaining stages of work in order for the project to be completed on time, and within budget, by 2021.  Further to the findings of ACABQ, the representative said the contingency fund and the business case for the Visitors’ Centre needed to be more fully articulated and justified.  With regard to the former, cost estimates related to the contingency amount were based on a fixed percentage, rather than on a risk-based estimate of the project.  Her delegation supported the establishment of an Organization-wide policy in that area.  The business case for the Visitors’ Centre did not reflect such details as estimated revenue generation and annual operating costs, which the United States believed to be vital to a strong business case.

FESSEHA A. TESSEMA (Ethiopia) said the completion of the Zambezi building should be a source of satisfaction for the Fifth Committee and Member States.  The positive lesson drawn from the completion of the project could be benchmarked for future projects.  Recalling Assembly resolution 69/262, he appreciated the Secretary-General’s report on progress in implementing the Africa Hall renovation project, which had broader meaning in relation to Africa, its modern history and decolonization.  The Hall symbolized many of the best values that brought Member States together to achieve noble goals.  With the objective of turning the Hall into “a true monument of Africa’s history”, Ethiopia would help identify and collect historical audio, video and print materials of Africa Hall.  It would work closely with ECA to facilitate smooth importation and customs clearance of all required construction materials for the project.  Further, Ethiopia would help promote Africa Hall as an iconic, desirable tourist destination and provide timely issuance of all required work permits for international consultants and contractors working on the project.

Long-term Accommodation Needs at United Nations Headquarters

YUKIO TAKASU, Under-Secretary-General for Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on “Study on the long-term accommodation needs at United Nations Headquarters for the period from 2015 to 2034” (document A/70/398), noting that, today, after the Capital Master Plan, there were still 4,042 Secretariat staff, or 5,342 if funds and programmes were included, in eight leased buildings outside the United Nations campus, at an annual cost of $56 million, a cost that could be expected to rise significantly in the coming years if no urgent action was taken.  Even after the implementation of flexible workspace strategies in New York, by which additional staff members would be accommodated in the Secretariat building, 3,242 staff, or 4,542 with funds and programmes included, would still need accommodation outside of the United Nations campus by 2018.  The Organization would be facing real difficulties in 2023, when it would lose the office space at favourable rates in DC1 and DC2, which together housed 2,060 staff members.

The report contained scenarios based on 1.1 per cent population growth, no growth and a year-on-year 0.5 per cent annual decline, he said.  During its sixty-ninth session, the Assembly concluded that only four options were viable:  a new building on the North Lawn funded through a special assessment; a new building on the North Lawn via third-party financing; a lease-to-own financing option for the UNDC-5 new consolidation building to be built by the United Nations Development Corporation on the land south of the United Nations campus; and a continuation of the status quo and renting off-campus space through commercial leases.  Of those, UNDC-5 remained the most cost-effective option in all foreseeable future scenarios.

He said that the recommended actions to be taken by the Assembly included:  requesting the Secretary-General to develop further the UNDC-5 option as the very feasible and serious option to be pursued; authorise the Secretary-General to take the next steps necessary for implementation, without prejudice to any future decisions of the Assembly; and approve three general temporary assistance positions effective 1 July 2016 for a period of 18 months and external consultancy.  The report also presented a recommended timetable in the event of a decision by the Assembly to pursue UNDC-5.  He warned that delaying a decision would result in the status quo, which would cost the Organization an estimated $1 billion more than the UNDC-5 option over the long-term.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/70/7/Add.22).  Several uncertainties needed to be addressed regarding the Organization’s business transformation initiatives on staff numbers and New York space requirements, and actual long-term accommodation needs could only be addressed after a clearer determination concerning staff and other resource requirements became apparent.  More effort was needed to explore all options and their variations, including those which would locate staff near accessible public transportation routes as appropriate.  Regarding the costs of any such future project, the Secretary-General should explore available possibilities for financing and develop a more focused and formal attitude when approaching the host country and other Member States.  Until long-term accommodation needs could be assessed and to ensure reasonable organizational flexibility, ACABQ recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to explore interim solutions, including extending the current leases of the DC-1 and DC-2 buildings under the most preferable terms possible.  The Secretary-General should also be asked to assess how the various business transformation initiatives might impact space needs at Headquarters and to develop the most feasible option for long-term accommodation to be presented to the Assembly at an appropriate time.  ACABQ also recommended that at the present time, any related work should be undertaken using existing resources and recommended against appropriating additional resources for 2016-2017 under the contingency fund or other mechanisms.

Mr. DAVIDSON (South Africa), speaking again for the Group of 77, underlined the importance of pursuing further analysis to obtain statistically substantiated estimations of the impact of implementing a flexible workspace strategy on the projection of office space requirements.  Early oversight and audit coverage should be guaranteed, as requested by the Assembly in resolution 69/262.  Noting the Advisory Committee’s comments that 1,748 staff members were funded from the programme budget or support account for peacekeeping operations, with administrative functions, which might be affected by the Secretary-General’s transformational initiatives.  The Secretary-General was not in a position to determine the impact of business transformation projects and other factors on the population projections or the impact on future New York Headquarters’ space requirements.  A number of alternative population scenarios should also be considered when projecting future needs and related calculations should be substantiated.  That would contribute to determining the Group’s position on the Organization’s long-term accommodation needs.

The Organization’s future space requirements were also determined by other concurrent and equally important business transformation projects besides Umoja and the Global Service Delivery Model, including the information and communications technology strategy, among others, he said.  Noting that the Organization lacked a common methodology for managing transformation projects, the Group backed the Board of Auditors’ call for a more harmonized approach towards all business transformation initiatives to ensure efficiencies in financial and staffing resources.  The approach also included the need to coordinate physical space requirements at Headquarters, especially in New York where cost increases were the trend.  It was vital to have a clearer determination of staff and other resource requirements to assess actual long-term accommodation needs and decide on a relevant course of action.  The Group agreed with ACABQ that the long-term viability and implementation of the options could not be properly assessed at the current time, supporting that body’s recommendation of the Assembly asking the Secretary-General to explore interim solutions.  A zero interest loan package such as the one the Secretary-General negotiated with the host country for the Strategic Heritage Plan of the United Nations Office at Geneva should be seriously considered for long-term needs in New York.  Also, the possibility of constructing a new building through third-party financing should be further explored and studied by the Secretary-General.

ISOBEL COLEMAN (United States) said that, given the many demands currently being placed on the regular budget, a long-term accommodations plan was needed in order to optimize the use of existing resources.  The United States concurred with the conclusion in the Secretary-General’s report that DC-5 was the most compelling option studied, both qualitatively and quantitatively; it was almost a $1 billion better value than continued commercial leasing over the next 50 years and offered the unique opportunity of augmenting the existing campus.  DC-5 should be developed further with the next stage of design work and any necessary agreements should be finalized by next year so that the project’s costs could be more clearly evaluated and the risk of future cost escalation minimized.  However, that evaluation was taking place while the United Nations was in the midst of a transformative reform agenda including flexible workspace and Umoja, among others, all of which should result in a smaller footprint in New York as functions were streamlined or relocated to more cost-effective locations.  It was possible that substantial space outside the Secretariat building may not be necessary after those efforts bore fruit.

She added, however, that given projected steep increases in rent costs in 2023, among other factors, the United Nations must have a cost-effective plan for its long-term accommodations at Headquarters for space still needed.  DC-5 was clearly a leading option and the Organization should continue to monitor the market, including options in the greater New York City and tri-State area so the Assembly could be certain, if DC-5 was approved, that the best option was selected at the time when the decision had to be made.  Financial prudence required putting a long-term accommodation plan in place, not simply to “kick the can down the road” and watch rents escalate.  While more information was needed before a final decision, her delegation urged all Member States to recognize that a decision would have to finally be made because the cost of inaction was too high.

SHIGETOSHI NAGAO (Japan) said that the condition of office space mattered greatly to staff members working in New York, who spent a large portion of their time in their offices, sometimes even longer than they got to spend at home.  The Secretary-General had identified the DC-5 option as the most cost-effective regarding long-term accommodation needs.  However, the Assembly had not been requested to decide on DC-5 or any other option at the current stage and no one could make a choice at the moment between the four options, as they did not want to lose any option.  Inaction was usually easier than action but sometimes brought grave consequences, and any unintended consequences resulting from inaction must be avoided.  The preferential lease of DC-1 and DC-2, currently housing more than half the population outside the United Nations campus in New York, would expire in 2023.  A year had already passed since the Committee discussing and agreeing on the resolutions on the United Nations’ long-term accommodation needs.  More time could not be wasted; otherwise the Organization could face outrageously expensive commercial rent or even worse, the unavailability of office space.  All four options identified as viable needed to be kept alive.

Revised 2016-2017 Budget Estimates Due to Economic and Social Council Action

Ms. BARTSIOTAS introduced the Secretary-General’s report on “Revised estimates resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council during its 2015 session, 21 July 2014-23 July 2015” (document A/70/430), noting that resolution 30, titled “restructuring the conference structure of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific to be fit for the evolving post-2015 development agenda,” would give rise to $1.5 million in additional requirements, and resolution 33, titled “international arrangement on forests beyond 2015,” would require $1.6 million more.  Those requirements would be charged against the contingency fund.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU introduced that body’s related report (document A/70/7/Add.23) recommending approval of the proposed staffing changes for the implementation of Economic and Social Council resolution 2015/30.  Regarding the non-post requirements, a 30 per cent reduction to the $40,000 requirement for consultants was warranted, because new staff members should be in a position to perform some of the proposed consultants’ functions.  He went on to address the implementation of Economic and Social Council resolution 2015/33, recommending the approval of the three professional post requirements on a temporary basis until 2030.  Regarding non-post requirements, as with the other resolution, a 30 per cent reduction to the $80,000 requirement for consultants was warranted for the same reason.  Overall, the Advisory Committee recommended that the Assembly approve an appropriation amounting to $3.05 million for the biennium 2016-2017, which would represent a charge against the contingency fund.

Mr. DAVIDSON (South Africa), speaking again for the Group of 77, said mandates needed to funded in a way that would provide them with the financial and human resources they required to deliver as expected to Member States.  Since the adoption by consensus of resolution 68/1, the Economic and Social Council had undergone an overhaul designed to make its work more relevant, efficient and more responsive to the needs of Member States, particularly in the area of social development.  Member States therefore had a duty to keep working for a stronger, more effective Economic and Social Council and the full implementation of its resolutions and mandates.

Mr. DAVIDSON noted that additional requirements related to Economic and Social Council resolutions in 2015 would amount to $3,347,000, including an additional appropriation of $3,084,100 to be charged against the contingency fund.  Those additional requirements resulted from a number of initiatives, including the establishment of the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Recalling that the Assembly had made sustained economic growth and development the top priority of the United Nations for the coming biennium, he said the Group supported the provision of necessary resources to finance the resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council at its 2015 session.

For information media. Not an official record.