Speakers Consider Cost Savings, Other Benefits of Integrated Translation, Meetings Services Platforms, as Fifth Committee Discusses Conference, Document Management

GA/AB/4252
6 November 2017
Seventy-second Session, 12th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Consider Cost Savings, Other Benefits of Integrated Translation, Meetings Services Platforms, as Fifth Committee Discusses Conference, Document Management

Speakers welcomed new initiatives in translation services and the recruitment and training of language professionals, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budget) today discussed ways to manage United Nations conferences and official document production more efficiently.

The representative of Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, welcomed improvements to eLUNa, a computer-assisted and machine translation platform developed in-house, and the e‑deleGATE portal, which offered delegations unified access to several Secretariat e-services.  The Group expected further updates on the tools’ development and cost savings, and how such improvements would be integrated into the methodology for determining the cost for producing and translating documents into the Organization’s six official languages at the main duty stations in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.

Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences, said increased use by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management of eLUNa and the consolidation of UNTERM as the Organization’s global terminology portal had both resulted in improved quality and working methods while the e‑deleGATE portal had replaced time-consuming manual submission processes.  In 2018, the Department would introduce an easy-to-use self-service interface for requesting meeting services, she said.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing its corresponding report, said that the Secretary-General’s next report on the topic should include further updates on the development of the Department’s technological tools and their cost benefits.  He also commended the Department’s expanded outreach to and training of potential recruits for language posts through internships and traineeships, the increased use of social media and the use of internally developed technological initiatives.

Ecuador’s representative, speaking for the Group of 77, said such outreach and training approaches should be used to close the wide gap of qualified candidates from the African and Latin American and Caribbean regions.  “We are convinced these programmes will further improve the Organization’s capacity to address its interpretation and translation deficiencies,” she underlined.

Stressing the importance of multilingualism, she said the Group was disappointed about the Secretariat’s tendency to determine the relevance of some of the six official languages and to prioritize some over others for media coverage and translation, a move “which could imperil not only the implementation of multilingualism but also of other given mandates”.

Turning to the calendar of conferences and meetings, the representative of the European Union highlighted the need for a sustainable, pragmatic solution to the persistent time management problem related to the Fifth Committee’s second resumed session, noting that in recent years the Committee had been consistently unable to conclude its deliberations on time.  He noted that during the substantive session of the Committee on Conferences in September, delegations had an open, fruitful and extensive discussion, although there was a shared feeling that four weeks was not enough time to reasonably handle the Fifth Committee’s challenging and ever-increasing workload.  “We believe that a solution is long overdue.  We therefore welcome that the draft resolution submitted by the Committee on Conferences reflects the issues raised and believe that it would serve as a good basis for our discussions,” he said.

Abbas Yazdani, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Conferences, introducing its 2017 report, said that by the terms of the draft resolution, the General Assembly would welcome the measures taken to ensure access to and use of conference services and conference facilities to persons with disabilities, including the Accessibility Centre.  Furthermore, the Assembly would ask the Secretary-General to continue to address issues related to the accessibility of conference facilities as a matter of priority.

The representative of Qatar, emphasizing the value of the Organization’s institutional memory, and improved access for Member States and researchers, noted that his country had pledged $5 million so far to support the digitalization of United Nations documents and archives, of which $4 million had already been provided.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at a time and date to be announced in the Journal.

Pattern of Conferences

ABBAS YAZDANI, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Conferences for 2017, introduced its 2017 report (document A/72/32) adopted at its substantive session from 5 to 11 September 2017.  Annex I of the report contained a draft resolution on the pattern of conferences; Annex II contained the draft revised calendar of conferences and meetings of the United Nations for 2018 and 2019.  She said the session gave Member States an opportunity to engage actively with the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management on all matters related to meetings and documentation services and to seek more information and clarification, as necessary, to provide direction, guidance and support to the Secretariat in carrying out the mandates.  The Conferences Committee reviewed the United Nations draft biennial calendar of conferences and meetings for 2018 and 2019 and recommended it for adoption by the General Assembly.  The Conferences Committee also recommended the approval of six meetings bodies to meet exceptionally during the main part of the Assembly’s seventy-second session and approved intersessional departures requested for 2017 and 2018.

On meetings management, the Conferences Committee reviewed the statistical data on the utilization of conference-servicing resources and facilities at the four duty stations and at the conference centre as the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), he said.  The Conference Committee’s Chair presented an oral report on the implementation of the mandate to consult entities that had consistently utilized less than the applicable benchmark of their allocated resources for the past six years, from 2011 and 2016, with a view to monitoring and reporting on the utilization statistics for a three-biennium period and to make appropriate recommendations on achieving the optimum utilization of conference-servicing resources.  In that connection, letters were sent in June 2017 to the presiding officers of each of the 14 calendar bodies that had consistently utilized less than 80 per cent of their allocated meetings services for each of the past six years, drawing their attention to the under-utilization of resources. Consultations were held during the first half of 2017 to improve their utilization factor.

Turning to documents management, he noted that the Conferences Committee suggested the General Assembly urge author departments to fully adhere to deadlines for document submission.  On staffing, the General Assembly was asked to note the updates provided by the Secretary-General on the pilot project related to the out-posting to Vienna of translators from the French Translation Service in New York and the Secretary-General was asked to give further updates on that matter.  On improving facilities and accessibility, the General Assembly was asked to welcome the measures taken to ensure access to and use of conference services and conference facilities to persons with disabilities, including the Accessibility Centre, and the Secretary-General was asked to continue to address issues related to the accessibility of conference facilities as a matter of priority.  Finally, on measuring the quality of conference services, the Conference Committee sought inputs from the Secretariat on actions taken to improve the response rate.

CATHERINE POLLARD, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences (document A/72/116), and emphasizing the importance of continuous innovation in conference management, said the Department was leveraging its investment in technology.  Increased use of eLUNa, a computer-assisted and machine translation platform developed in-house, and the consolidation of UNTERM as the Organization’s global terminology portal, had both resulted in improved quality and working methods.  The Pipeline Visualization Tool, designed in Geneva as an interactive data interface for document management, was entering its implementation phase, while an improved version of the gData conference management dashboard had been released.  Meanwhile, the Documentation Division in New York had put into place a new workflow model whereby contractual work was being assigned by individual language services.  “The harmonization of policies, practices and standard operating procedures across duty stations remains prominent on our agenda,” she said, adding that a global steering group was producing specific and sound policy recommendations in that regard.

In terms of meetings, she said the Department would in 2018 introduce an easy-to-use self-service interface for requesting meeting services.  The e‑deleGATE portal, which offered delegations unified access to several Secretariat e-services, had meanwhile replaced time-consuming manual submission processes.  In line with General Assembly resolution 71/323, she said the Department was revamping the Journal of the United Nations, which would be issued in the six official languages throughout the year.  While the paper version would still be published, a fully modernized online version, with a user-friendly interface, would be widely accessible across web browsers and platforms, desktop applications and mobile devices.  It would also be accessible to persons with disabilities, she said, underscoring the Department’s efforts to upgrade assistive devices and standardize the planning and recruitment of sign language interpreters.  Going into 2018, the Department would be working with the Department of Management and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to address physical accessibility in the General Assembly Hall and other meeting rooms.  In addition, the Department would continue to give the highest priority to Fifth Committee and Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) documents in its documentation processing chain, she said.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing its corresponding report (document A/72/561), noted the more than 80 per cent utilization rate of conference-servicing resources and facilities for Geneva, Nairobi, New York and Vienna, and said greater use should be made of certain dedicated facilities in Nairobi.  In terms of applying the integrated global management rule and national savings from servicing conferences held away from established headquarters, he said the Advisory Committee looked forward to seeing further developments in the quantification of costs and related savings to host countries or other international or regional organizations.  The ACABQ also recommended that the Secretary-General’s next report on the pattern of conferences include further updates on the development of departmental technological tools and the integration of cost benefits into the cost parameters for the production and translation of documents into the Organization’s six official languages.

He went on to acknowledge that the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management had proactively addressed staffing and succession planning challenges, including the French translation pilot project and the selection and recruitment of translators with one foreign language.  In that regard, he highlighted the Department’s efforts to replenish the rosters of language posts.  In addition, he commended that Department’s expanded outreach efforts to potential recruits, the training of potential recruits through internships and traineeships, the increased use of social media and the use of internally developed technological initiatives.

AMÉRICA LOURDES PEREIRA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador) speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that the overall utilization factor for all calendar bodies in the four main duty stations met the established benchmark of 80 per cent in 2016 and noted with satisfaction the increase to 93 per cent in 2016, from 84 per cent in 2015, of the average occupancy of the conference centre at the Economic Commission for Africa.  The Group urged the Secretary-General to continue to review the methodology for calculating utilization rates of conference facilities and to reflect further on how best to report occupancy rates.  The Group emphasized the need to timely and simultaneously distribute documents in all six official languages, without exception, and to improve the quality of documentation, which would facilitate effective, efficient deliberations of the Organization’s intergovernmental and expert bodies.  The Group welcomed the continuous improvement of the translation interface eLUNa and anticipated further updates on its development, stressing that access to previously translated documents, terminology records and machine translation systems were essential for improving the Organization’s translation services and materials, she said.  The Group expected further updates on the transformation of the e‑deleGATE portal, the integration of its cost benefits into the cost parameters for producing and translating documents into the six official languages, how the new calculative method would be applied across all the four duty stations and how new initiatives such as eLUNa would impact cost calculations, she said.

Stressing the importance of multilingualism, the Group was disappointed about the Secretariat’s tendency to determine the relevance of some of the six official languages and to prioritize some over others for media coverage and translation, a move “which could imperil not only the implementation of multilingualism but also of other given mandates”, she said.  Outreach programmes, such as traineeships, internships and other partnership approaches should be used to target institutions in all regions, in particular to close the wide gap of qualified candidates from the African and Latin American and Caribbean regions.  “We are convinced these programmes will further improve the Organization’s capacity to address its interpretation and translation deficiencies,” she said.  The Group called on the Secretary-General to take all necessary measures to ensure that requests to organize events, particularly those sponsored by non-governmental and civil society organizations, were properly vetted with due scrutiny as to the nature and content of the event.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, welcoming the progress made in the development and implementation of new conference management software, as well as the increasing use of modern technologies, looked forward to further information on their benefits to Member States.  Regarding the calendar of conferences and meetings, the European Union sought a sustainable, pragmatic solution to the persistent time management problem related to the Fifth Committee’s second resumed session, noting that in recent years the Committee was consistently unable to conclude its deliberations on time.  By extending the session, neither conference services, nor interpretation were secured, and an extra burden was placed on the Committee’s secretariat, which had to simultaneously service other intergovernmental meetings.  During the substantive session of the Committee on Conferences in September, delegations had an open, fruitful and extensive discussion, although there was a shared feeling that four weeks was not enough time to reasonably handle the Fifth Committee’s challenging and ever-increasing workload.  “We believe that a solution is long overdue.  We therefore welcome that the draft resolution submitted by the Committee on Conferences reflects the issues raised and believe that it would serve as a good basis for our discussions,” he said.

GHANIM AL-HUDAIFI AL-KUWARI (Qatar), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country welcomed joint efforts by the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management and the Department of Public Information to increase access to historical United Nations documents through the Internet.  Emphasizing the value of the Organization’s institutional memory, and improved access for Member States and researchers, he noted that his country had pledged $5 million so far to support the digitalization of United Nations documents and archives, of which $4 million had already been provided.

For information media. Not an official record.