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Statement by H.E. Mr Tomas Anker Christensen, Chef de Cabinet of Office of President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, at 4th Thematic Debate of Ad-hoc Working Group on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly
28 April 2017
Thank you for the opportunity to expand a little on some of the points made by the President.
Before moving to the issue of institutional memory, I would to report on one issue that was highlighted in resolution 70/305 but on which the President did not touch.
Responding to the need to consult regularly with the membership, the President has briefed Member States, including chairs of regional groups on a number of occasions on his activities, meetings, official trips and plans for this session.
He has met on two occasions with the General Committee, engaged with Committee chairs and consistently engages with cofacilitators. He has also made regular efforts to engage with Permanent Representatives, both formally and informally and continued the practices of circulating memos on his regular meetings with the President of Security Council and the President of ECOSOC.
Moving now to the main area of focus today.
The President has pointed to what he sees as some significant gaps in terms of institutional memory in light of the increasing responsibilities of the Office. As Chef de Cabinet for a second year now, I agree wholeheartedly.
The General Assembly has already held 79 formal plenary meetings and adopted 288 resolutions this session.
In addition, the President is scheduled to convene a total of 7 mandated meetings of the General Assembly of a commemorative or high level nature this session – on Enforced Disappearance; on Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife; on International Mother Earth Day; on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; on the assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone; on the future of UN Habitat and on the Culture of Peace. In June, UNHQ will also host the critically important Ocean Conference.
In a similar vein, the President is mandated to convene an annual meeting with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a one-day Civil Society Hearing in preparation for the High Level Meeting on UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons; as well as two days of Multi-stakeholder hearings in the preparatory process for the intergovernmental conference on migration.
The President has also convened 16 informal meetings of the General Assembly to date, ranging from an exchange with the S-G-designate, to issues as diverse as Children and Armed Conflict, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and, of course, the Sustainable Development Goals. The great majority of these meeting have been convened at the request of UN member states or the UN system.
Lastly, the President will convene 5 PGA SDG Action Events this session on Sustainable Peace; on Climate Change; on SDG Finance; on Innovation (17 May) and on Education (28 June).
The above list of activities does not include the 12 GA consultation processes taking place during the 71st session for which 25 persons are serving as chairs, facilitators or moderators – processes ranging from Security Council Reform to Human Trafficking; from the Water Dialogues to Migration – a process that has broken new ground in terms of responsibilities for the Office without giving rise to any additional resources.
Excellencies, as you can see, the General Assembly is extremely active this session and when compared with previous sessions, it is clear that the trend is going only in one direction.
That trend impacts directly upon the work of your missions, but also on the responsibilities of the Office of the PGA, and indeed on DGACM and other parts of the UN Secretariat.
Behind each and every High Level Meeting, for example, lies a series of engagements with member states, the UN system and beyond to secure the right speakers, adequate facilities and a format that protects the integrity of the General Assembly.
And while many of these responsibilities are dealt with by the quality secondments in the Office and the financial allocation provided in the regular budget, it is also clear that the current configuration of the Office of the PGA does not enable it to deal with this overall burden.
We would like to point to three particularly relevant points here:
First, High Level and other meetings of the General Assembly are consistently mandated to be organised from within existing resources. While this might be politically expedient, it has given rise to a range of issues relating to who bears the costs for speakers from capitals to who pays for webcasting – expenses that the OPGA was simply not intended to cover.
Second, the increase in the duration and ambition of informal consultations in the GA is not matched by the staffing in OPGA which changes dramatically each year. The SG selection process, the Ocean Conference, the Migration process – all politically sensitive processes involving considerable vetting of civil society and engagement with member states – have spanned two if not three or four sessions.
Third, the incoming PGA and his office continue to take office one week prior to the General Debate of the General Assembly. This is extremely challenging for the incoming PGA and as the President mentioned just now, does a real dis-service to the General Assembly.
Each year, the UN has an unrivalled opportunity to convene the leaders of the world – from government but also from other sectors. And yet, in part because of the set-up of OPGA, we are not in a position to maximise what is potentially one of the most significant opportunities for advancing the UN’s mission.
We would therefore like to put forward a few suggestions for your consideration:
First, we encourage you all to support the proposal of the Secretary-General to create a permanent P5 post in OPGA in the context of the Secretary-General’s proposal for the UN regular budget for 2018-2019.
Second, we encourage you to review the resources allocated for temporary staffing in the office. This could include an option of reallocating the resources dedicated annually to one of the temporary D2 positions so as to allow for the creation of 1-2 more junior level positions. We also suggest that these two junior level positions become permanent positions.
Third, we suggest that funds be made available to incoming Presidents to enable him or her to bring on board team members on temporary positions funded from the regular budget to the Office a number of weeks before the beginning of the GA session.
Fourth, we suggest the regular budget of the office be increased so as to reduce the inequity between developed and developing country Presidencies, whereby developed countries can draw more easily on their national foreign services to staff OPGA leaving developing countries more reliant on fundraising to cover staff costs.
Lastly, we suggest that consideration be given to bringing forward the beginning of each GA session by a number of weeks. This can be done without adjusting the timing of the General Debate. It would allow delegations and the incoming PGA alike more time to prepare for the upcoming General Debate and it could mark the beginning of a series of efforts to create a more dynamic and focussed High Level week.
Excellencies, thank you for your time and attention and I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have on these points or those raised by the President.