6 April 2009


6 April 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Fifth Committee

40th Meeting (AM)



The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today decided, in an oral draft decision, to inform the General Assembly of the need to appropriate an additional $867,700, should it decide to convene a high-level conference on the impact of the world financial and economic crisis on development from 1 to 3 June, as suggested at the Doha Conference on Financing for Development last year, and along the lines proposed by the President of the General Assembly in a draft resolution submitted to the Assembly late last month. 

The oral decision was made after Committee Chairman Gabor Brodi suspended the meeting for an informal discussion lasting nearly two hours, and would have the Assembly consider charging the appropriation against the United Nations contingency fund.

The modalities of the conference were contained in a draft resolution before the Committee called “organization of the United Nations conference at the highest level on the world financial and economic crisis and its impact on development” (document A/63/L.66), which explained that the proposed conference would consist of a short opening session, plenary meetings and four interactive round tables. 

That text would have Member States agree on a concise outcome document, while summaries of round-table discussions would be included in a final report.

By the same text, those invited would include representatives of United Nations funds and programmes, specialized agencies such as the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organization and regional development banks.  Invitations would also be extended to representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society and business sector entities.

Representatives of the Holy See and Palestine would participate as Observers, according to the draft.

The text would request the Secretariat to work closely with the Office of the President of the General Assembly to provide a note on the conference’s organization of work no later than 20 April.  It would have the Assembly request a report from the Secretary-General on the origins of the crisis, how it might spread to developing countries and the potential impact of the crisis on development.  The Secretary-General’s report would discuss, as well, the United Nations response to the crisis and what national and international policy responses are, to date.

In addition, the General Assembly President would be asked to present a draft text to be used as a basis for the outcome document, to be crafted through an open, transparent and inclusive process led by Member States, according to the text.  The President of the Economic and Social Council would be invited to provide input based on the Council’s own discussions on the subject with the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organization and UNCTAD, while the Secretary-General would be asked to provide “all appropriate assistance” to the conference and its preparations.

According to Sharon Van Buerle, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, who addressed the conference’s budget implications, the additional $867,700 would be charged against a contingency fund set up each biennium to accommodate unforeseen expenditure, which currently had a balance of $5.1 million.

Susan McLurg, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), citing the document on programme budget implications (document A/C.5/63/22), explained that, in calculating the additional requirements, it was understood that costs amounting to $296,800 would be absorbed by the Secretariat using resources related to conference servicing.

Voicing support for the conference, the representative of the Sudan said the General Assembly provided a democratic venue to tackle “the most challenging financial and economic crisis ever”.  The Assembly’s importance had been reaffirmed by Heads of State and Government in last December’s Doha Declaration on Financing for Development, which had entrusted the Assembly President to organize a United Nations conference on the financial and economic crisis at the highest level. 

Speaking also on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, he commended the timely decision to convene today’s meeting, so that the Assembly could adopt the modalities of the conference after protracted negotiations.

However, the representative of the Czech Republic, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, expressed regret that Member States had been unable to close the issue during the Committee’s first resumed session, noting that deliberations had lasted almost two months.  She said today’s meeting fell outside the Committee’s regular session and was “unusual”, adding that such meetings should not become standard practice.

Just prior to adoption of the decision, she also added that she expected the Secretariat to report back to the Committee on the use of resources about to be approved. 

Briefly taking the floor after approving the decision, the representative of Cuba, prompted by comments by the Czech delegate, remarked on the apparent use of double standards on activities central to developing countries, saying that calls for transparency were “not necessarily made in other situations”.  He called for the Committee to treat issues in a more balanced way.

Also today, the representative of the Sudan, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China under other matters, voiced his “regret” and “astonishment” at an e-mail received last Thursday from the Chief of the Economic and Social Council Affairs Branch within the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management, refusing technical support to the Group at the upcoming substantive session of the Council in July, due to a “cut in funds”.

He remarked that the Fifth Committee had not endorsed any budget cuts for that Department, and asked for both oral and written confirmations of those reported cuts, asking how much had been cut and under whose authorization.  Among other issues, he demanded to know what entities other than the Group of 77 and China would be affected by such cuts, if any.

Shaaban Muhamad Shaaban, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, explained that, given the reduced funding in 2009 -– amounting to $5.7 million -- he had been forced to make several across-the-board cuts.  Among them were cuts to the number of Secretariat staff allowed to travel to United Nations venues in other parts of the world, including to Council meetings in Geneva.  Nevertheless, he said he had instructed the Secretary of the Council to assign the responsibility of servicing the Group of 77 and China to one of nine staff members travelling to Geneva in July, in addition to work normally done to service the meeting.

He also mentioned, in passing, that, because of lack of funding, the Department would be unable to process several reports slated for discussion by the Human Rights Council, as part of the universal periodic review process.

In a vigorous exchange of views, the representatives of Guatemala, Sudan, Egypt, Brazil, Cuba and Côte d’Ivoire raised several questions about the budget cut described by Mr. Shaaban, especially since the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management had shown the capacity to absorb part of the costs of several non-calendar meetings of the General Assembly, including several thematic debates.  The representative of Brazil, as well, noted that spending decisions made through the budgetary discretion of the Secretary-General in the past had also been offset by savings in that Department.

During the exchange, members demanded further clarification on the cut in the Department’s budget, asking for clarity on the amount actually allocated to the Department for the current biennium, how much had been spent and what remained in balance.  They asked who had authorized Mr. Shaaban to make decisions to trim activities, especially those relating to bodies of importance to the General Assembly, such as the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council.  One member stressed that requests should have been made through the right mechanisms to shore up resources, so that mandates from the General Assembly could be fulfilled.

Responding, Mr. Shaaban explained that it was possible, in some cases, for some budgetary requests from the Secretariat not to reach the Fifth Committee.  That had been true in the case of the Human Rights Council, which had requested the establishment of a number of posts to support its work in the next biennium, but whose request had not gone beyond the Third Committee.

He also explained that the Department had a high vacancy rate, which meant that it had enabled the Secretary-General to use funds that would have been used for established posts.

He clarified that the Department was not providing support to regional groups other than the Group of 77 and China, and that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Department of Political Affairs were more commonly known to offer assistance to such groups, particularly substantive support.

Capping the discussion, the representative of the Sudan said he looked forward to receiving a written response from Mr. Shaaban, adding that a budget cut of over $5 million without authorization raised “very big questions”.

Before the Chair closed the discussion, Ms. Van Buerle briefly noted that the Fifth Committee had approved revised appropriations for the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, with $45 million held back pending receipt of a spending report.

The Chair said the Committee would take up the issue again at its next resumed session.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.