23 October 2002


Press Release

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee

14th Meeting (AM)



“While the fine points of the methodology for calculating utilization rates can be debated, the central fact cannot be obscured:  costly wastage occurs on a recurring basis,” the representative of Canada, also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand (CANZ) told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning.  He was referring to the decline in the use of programmed conference servicing to only 74 per cent, driven largely by a major drop in utilization rates at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

As the Committee continued its consideration of issues related to conference services and the pattern of conferences this morning, the Canadian representative said that to rectify that situation, the Assembly should be ready to align the allocation of conference services resources with actual utilization.  As timeliness for documentation also remained a critical problem, he wanted to know more about how accountability was assessed, and who was actually held to account.  In that respect, the larger issue of reducing the number of documents Member States requested and received was perhaps more urgent than ever.

Turning to efforts to improve the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services Management, he welcomed the pursuit of full-system benefits, global management and the commitment to optimize the use of technology, especially if the total electronic processing of documents and expansion of distance work, including remote interpretation, were implemented.  It was important to apply best practices from outside the Organization, as well as from within.  He welcomed the fact that initial consolidation of the Fifth and Sixth Committee secretariats had led to streamlining within the Department.  As for summary records, their limited utility under present circumstances was widely understood, and it was an excellent idea to examine the implications of replacing them with digital recordings. 

Continuing, he said that workload standards for such professional groups as translators, interpreters and text processors were static and did not provide for the qualitative and intellectual dimensions of work.  At the same time, it remained imperative to have good ways of assessing productivity and cost-effectiveness.  The Committee on Conferences had balanced those issues very well, partly by calling for an update of those standards and development of standards for other groups.  It was also important to work towards developing performance measures for the system as a whole. 

In conclusion, he affirmed the CANZ group’s commitment to high-quality services in all the official languages of the United Nations.  That entitlement must be respected.  Having listened closely to the statement by Mexico on behalf

of 20 Spanish-language countries, he agreed that the dynamics of translation and interpretation problems needed to be examined.  Expressing his appreciation and admiration to translators, interpreters, conference officers, editors and text processors who made United Nations meetings possible, he added that the Committee’s discussion of productivity and cost-effectiveness should never be misunderstood as criticism of their work.  Rather, it was about how their energy intersected with work systems, technology and management to produce a product that was ever more worthy of their efforts.

Kenya’s representative welcomed steps taken over the past year to improve utilization of conference facilities at the United Nations Offices in Nairobi (UNON).  However, a high number of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations-Habitat meetings were held away from the Nairobi headquarters, and his delegation urged the Secretary-General to ensure that most, if not all, meetings and activities on environment- and human settlement-related matters were held at UNON.  Furthermore, resolution 56/242 of 24 December 2001 had requested that the Secretary-General consider improving and modernizing the conference facilities at UNON and report to the General Assembly through the Committee on Conferences at its resumed fifty-sixth session.  That had not been done, and the status of the report was unknown to this day.

His delegation regretted that the UNON Conference Services Office had not submitted a written report for 2001-2002 on the current status of utilization of conference facilities and services at the duty station.  An explanation would be appreciated, he said.  Finally, he asked about the status of recruitment to fill the remaining interpreter posts, particularly the Arabic and English booths at the duty station.  His delegation had raised that important issue during the last General Assembly debate, and had been assured that action would be taken. Unfortunately, the positions remained vacant.

The Committee will continue its debate on the pattern of conferences and take action on several drafts at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 24 October.

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For information media. Not an official record.