Statement by H.E. Mr Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, at the 4th Thematic Debate of Ad-hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly
28 April 2017
Ambassador Nusseibeh of United Arab Emirates
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to come before this Ad Hoc Working-Group for the second time this session. I have been closely following the discussions during the previous three thematic debates and I am pleased to note that member states are engaging constructively and making a number of proposals.
Before delving into today’s topic, allow me to reiterate my support for your consideration of a number of issues that I highlighted in my address on 20 February, including in relation to ethics, strengthening the role of the General Committee, advances through the agenda alignment process, consideration of lessons learned and best practices from the last SG selection process; and bringing more predictability and decorum to the modalities for stakeholder participation in General Assembly processes and meetings.
Today’s topic is of course particularly dear to my heart. After almost 8 months in Office, I hope that I can share with you a fresh perspective on how this Working-Group can further strengthen the transparency, accountability, and institutional memory of the Office of the President of the General Assembly.
Excellencies, I am happy to report that considerable changes have been taking place in relation to the Office of the PGA this session, responding in large part to your work last session.
As you know, I had the privilege of becoming the first President to take the Oath of Office and to be guided the Code of Ethics for the President of the General Assembly. These are the guiding lights for my office and framed copies of both hang proudly in my front Office so as to remind us of our responsibility to adhere to the highest standards of ethics when serving the General Assembly. My team and I also received an extensive induction programme organized by DGACM and with contributions from the Ethics Office and many others.
In terms of financing, as mentioned previously, I have become the first President to channel all non-in kind contributions through the Trust Fund of the Office of the PGA and to make a personal Financial Disclosure in line with the existing UN Financial Disclosure Programme.
In accordance with paragraph 67 of resolution 70/305, I have also engaged the Ethics Office to develop a system of vetting non-member state in-kind contributions to my Office.
Lastly, my Office has institutionalized innovative practices relating to the use of online facilities to publish information regarding my travels, my activities, my team, and the major substantive activities of my Office.
In terms of institutional memory, my Office received an extensive Handover report from PGA 70 that was shared with the membership and was very informative and helpful to me and my office. In line with paragraph 52 of resolution 70/305, and assisted by DGACM, I intend to build on that report thereby establishing a standardized written handover summary of best practices and lessons learned.
OPGA has also made considerable progress in relation to archiving and record keeping. My office has been working with the Archiving and Record Management Division of the Department of Management to establish the retention policy for the records of the Office, receiving guidance also from the Office of Legal Affairs and DGACM. We are now in a position to ensure that the overall records of the Office will be archived from this session onwards.
Excellencies, these are significant changes that will greatly strengthen the transparency, accountability and institutional memory of the Office of the PGA, and, by extension, the effectiveness of the United Nations. I congratulate you for having initiated many of them.
There are however additional steps that can be taken in this area, particularly as it relates to continuity and institutional memory.
I must admit that despite my 7 years’ experience as a PR here in New York, I was quite surprised at the workload and range of responsibilities of the Office of the PGA.
It is very clear to me that the role of the President goes far beyond the traditional chairing of formal meetings of the General Assembly and that this expanding role gives rise to resource implications and capacity requirements that are not provided for in the Office’s current set-up.
To be clear, I am very grateful to the large number of member states, observers and members of the UN system who helped me to build a large and talented office, which is both gender and regionally balanced.
I am equally grateful to those member states who made contributions to the OPGA Trust Fund, including those who agreed to the roll-over of funds from previous sessions. I also had the good fortune of securing the services of the Chef de Cabinet of President Lykketoft’s office together with 11 members of his team – a practice I cannot recommend highly enough.
In addition, I have benefited greatly from the wisdom and support provided by the General Assembly Affairs Division of DGACM and I have become the first President to be able to access the OPGA Trust Fund in a timely manner before taking office.
Despite these positive features, however, the absence of any permanent professional staff in OPGA is a major concern.
This situation means that the President’s ability to carry out his or her duties to the maximum remains contingent on the good will of a number of member states or parts of the UN System. It means that the Assembly’s ability to ensure continuity when following multi-annual GA processes, depends on whether individual staff members are willing or able to continue from session to session. And it means that when the eyes of the world are on this Assembly and on our world leaders for one week each year, we are not adequately prepared to get the best out of that opportunity.
Such a situation undermines the effectiveness of the Office of the PGA, the smooth running of the General Assembly and the UN itself.
It also disadvantages developing countries who end up dedicating their fundraising efforts to support the staffing of the office rather than the activities of the office.
My Chef de Cabinet will expand on all of this in a moment including by outlining some clear proposals for your consideration.
In conclusion, Excellencies, when it comes to the transparency, accountability and institutional memory of the Office of the PGA, with your help, we have made great progress.
Now, I encourage you to build on that work particularly in the context of the next bi-ennium budget and in doing so, contribute to another landmark resolution, in the same vein of 69/321 and 70/305.
I thank you.