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GA/AB/4193
21 March 2016
Seventieth Session, 31st Meeting (AM)

Budget Committee Approves Resolution on Project at Criminal Tribunals Mechanism in Arusha, Considers Staff Rules, Cost-Sharing for Resident Coordinator System

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today approved a draft resolution on a new facility for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Arusha branch, by which the General Assembly would request the Secretary-General to ensure that the project was completed within approved resources and the revised timeline.

Submitted by Mexico’s representative on behalf of Committee Chair Durga Prasad Bhattarai (Nepal), the draft endorsed the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), encouraging the Secretary-General to include local knowledge and capacity in the project’s, implementation, take all measures to mitigate risk, and submit a progress report that included total costs to the Assembly no later than its seventy-first session.

The action capped discussions on amendments to Staff Regulations and Rules, the resident coordinator system, and construction and property management issues.  As the day opened, Victor Kisob, Officer-in-Charge, Office of Human Resources Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules, noting that changes included the introduction of a five-year threshold of expatriate service as an eligibility requirement for the repatriation grant, as well as changes to relocation elements, field allowances and benefits.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), presented the related report, noting that the proposed amendments would be clearer if, for example, the text were to mention that the repatriation grant shall be payable in principle to staff members that had completed at least five years of qualifying service. 

Johannes Huisman, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the proposed United Nations Secretariat contribution to the United Nations Development Group cost-sharing arrangement for the resident coordinator system, in which the Secretary-General had requested a $13.3 million appropriation as the Secretariat’s 2016-2017 contribution.  Mr. Ruiz Massieu, introducing the related ACABQ report, recommended approval of a $6.5 million appropriation to cover the Secretariat’s contribution for 2016 only.

Thailand’s representative, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, had “serious misgivings” about how the proposed cost-sharing formula had been calculated.  Despite this being the third time the Fifth Committee had considered the issue, comprehensive additional information on the formula had not been provided by the Secretary-General.  The Group would seek explanations on such points as the lack of a link between entity staffing and expenditure, and the level of services provided by the resident coordinator system to each United Nations Development Group member organization.

Switzerland’s representative, also speaking for Liechtenstein, added that the financial burden for the resident coordinator system should be shared by all parts of the United Nations system, in line with criteria set out in the Secretary-General’s report.

Turning to construction and property management, Stephen Cutts, Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the strategic capital review, a 20-year projection of capital requirements across the global Secretariat.  It included feasibility studies for proposed projects, with a cost-benefit comparison of an incremental recapitalization — or “proactive” — approach to maintaining property, versus a “run-to-fail” approach.  The “proactive” approach could save the Organization 32 per cent in total capital requirements over the next 50 years.  “This benefit alone is compelling,” he said, as it was in addition to an estimated 12 per cent savings in operational costs.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu, presenting the related ACABQ report, said the assumptions made for that analysis were not accurate in terms of the current useful life of all the Organization’s buildings and the calculation of their values and maintenance costs.  Further, the selection of only 5 among 132 buildings and facilities from two locations might not reflect all aspects of the global property portfolio. 

Following those presentations, Thailand’s delegate, speaking again for the Group of 77, said the Secretary-General’s updated list of prioritized capital projects was in line with the need to respond to critical aspects of life safety, modernization and maintenance, as well as changing client needs.  It would allow proper sequencing of the maintenance plan and the mobilization of adequate resources. 

Also today, the Committee Chair drew attention to notes by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Joint Inspection Unit on “capital refurbishment/construction projects across the United Nations system organizations” (document A/70/368), as well as his comments and those of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination thereon (document A/70/368/Add.1).  Attention was also drawn to statements by Inspector Jean Wesley Cazeau, of the Joint Inspection Unit, and Ken Hermann, Senior Adviser on Information Management Policy Coordination, Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination.

The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. Thursday, 24 March, to conclude the first part of its resumed seventieth session.

Amendments to Staff Regulations and Rules

VICTOR KISOB, Officer-in-Charge, Office of Human Resources Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s Report on Amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules (document A/70/746) and noted that in its resolution 70/244, the General Assembly had approved a number of changes to the compensation package of staff in the Professional and higher categories.  The changes included the introduction of a threshold of five years of expatriate service as an eligibility requirement for the repatriation grant, changes to relocation elements and changes to field allowances and benefits.  Two of the changes to the compensation package required the Assembly approve the proposed amendments to the Staff Regulations.

The report being presented proposed amendments to Staff Regulation 5.3 related to accelerated home leave.  The wording of the Staff Regulation was being amended to reflect the Assembly’s decision to discontinue accelerated home leave travel except in D and E category duty stations that did not fall under the rest and recuperation framework.  The report also presented proposed amendments to Annex IV of the Staff Regulations to implement the Assembly’s decision to introduce a five-year threshold of qualifying service to be eligible for repatriation grant.  The remaining changes to the compensation package that should come into force as of 1 July 2016 did not require amendments to the Staff Regulations.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, presented the related report (A/70/789) and noted that the amendment to Staff Regulations 5.3 would be clearer and more specific if it were to provide, for example, that the Secretary-General may grant home leave every 12 months to eligible staff members deployed within designated duty stations that have the most difficult conditions of life and work.  Regarding the proposed amendments to Annex IV of the Staff Regulations, he said they would be clearer if, for example, the text were to mention that the repatriation grant shall be payable in principle to staff members that had completed at least five years of qualifying service.  As defined in the amended Staff Rule 3.19, qualifying service would be five years or more of continuous service and residence away from the home country and the country of nationality.

2016-2017:  Resident Coordinator System

JOHANNES HUISMAN, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the proposed United Nations Secretariat contribution to the United Nations Development Group cost-sharing arrangement for the resident coordinator system (document A/70/703), said the report responded to Assembly resolution 70/247, requesting the Secretary-General provide further detailed information on the Secretariat’s contribution to support the resident coordinator system.  As such, the report’s tables 1, 2, and 3 offered a breakdown of the resident coordinator system funding at global, regional and country levels, while table 4 offered a breakdown of the cost-sharing formula for the 2016-2017 biennium.  The resident coordinator system helped Secretariat entities to be more effective, efficient and reliable partners for Governments, including in supporting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, providing access, organizational support, information-sharing and analysis and participation in system-wide planning.

He said those services were different from the transaction-based activities provided by the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), which were reimbursed on a transaction basis and not covered by the requested funding.  The cost-sharing arrangement was key to securing a sustainable resident coordinator system.  The requested resources represented a portion of that arrangement, based on the objective criteria of expenditure, staffing size and participation in system-wide planning.  On that basis, the Secretary-General had requested a $13.3 million appropriation as the Secretariat’s contribution for the biennium 2016-2017.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU, introducing ACABQ’s related report (document A/70/7/Add.48) said the Secretary-General must further justify and resubmit his proposal to the Assembly for consideration.  In the interim, the Advisory Committee recommended approval of a $6.5 million appropriation to cover the Secretariat’s contribution for 2016 only.

While recognizing the important role played by the resident coordinator system, he said the Secretariat’s contribution must be based on a clear cost-sharing formula, reflecting the involvement of each entity, based on the proportion of services used, which had not been clearly reflected in the Secretary-General’s proposal.  The Advisory Committee also expected that any updates in membership of the United Nations Development Group would be factored into the arrangement, as should salaries and operational costs for the Deputy Special Representative, who also served as resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator. 

Finally, he said the Advisory Committee had taken note of the proposed financial and performance reporting mechanisms, as well as the absence of a unified mechanism for intergovernmental consideration of all aspects of the cost-sharing arrangement, including its budget.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Executive Board might be best positioned to fulfil that role, as UNDP was custodian of the resident coordinator system.  In that case, the Committee would review and advise on the global budget of the resident coordinator system in the context of its consideration of the UNDP institutional budget.

SIRITHON WAIRATPANIJ (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed the Group’s disappointment with the delay in the preparation of the Secretary-General’s report.  She noted that the agenda item was being formally introduced just three day before the end of the Committee’s deliberations.  The Group expressed its full support to the United Nations Development System and UNDP, in particular.  Over the years, the resident coordinator system led by UNDP had provided a vital contribution to the development efforts of developing countries with its strong expertise and presence on the ground.  As the new universal development agenda entered into the implementation phase, the coordination of development operations would be critical to collective efforts to leave no one behind. 

However, the Group had serious misgivings about the proposed cost-sharing formula for apportioning the expenses of the resident coordinator system and the way in which it had been calculated.  She noted that the proposed cost-sharing formula had not been approved by the Assembly.  Despite this being the third time the Fifth Committee had considered the issue, comprehensive additional information on the cost-sharing formula had not been provided by the Secretary-General.  The Group would seek explanations on the points raised by the Advisory Committee related to the proposed cost-sharing formula, such as the lack of a clear link between the elements of entity staffing and expenditure and the level of services provided by the resident coordinator system to each United Nations Development Group member organization.

LUKAS PROBST-LOPEZ (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said that as various high-level reviews had shown during the past year, the United Nations system was in many instances highly fragmented.  That constituted one of the most important obstacles for the Organization to reach its strategic and operational objectives in a more efficient and effective manner.  The resident coordinator system was a key element of a coherent and well-coordinated United Nations development system.  The 2030 Agenda clearly called for a whole-of-system approach that integrated all the necessary capacities and resources across the United Nations system.  Coordination of the various activities at the country level would be crucial to ensure a more efficient and effective Organization.

The resident coordinator system required a strengthening of its strategic capacities and a sustained effort in high-level coordination to reach the ambitious targets set out in Agenda 2030, he said.  A strong resident coordinator system that was adequately and sustainably funded benefited all members of the United Nations family.  Therefore, the financial burden should be shared by all parts of the United Nations system in-line with the criteria set-out in the Secretary-General’s report.

2016-2016 Programme Budget:  Construction and Property Management

STEPHEN CUTTS, Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the strategic capital review (document A/70/697), a 20-year projection of capital requirements across the global Secretariat used to alert Member States about anticipated project proposals in future budget cycles.  The report gave updates on the initial capital maintenance programme presented in last year’s report and responded to guidance received by the Assembly in its sixty-ninth session.  The review aimed to provide safe and healthy working environments for United Nations delegates, visitors and staff, ensuring compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; to maintain property value; and to preserve heritage assets.  The review’s scope covered eight locations — New York, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut and Santiago — as well as 20 subregional offices of the economic and social commissions and the Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals, Arusha Branch.

The report provided updates on the development and refinement of the 20-year rolling capital programme, he said, as well as feasibility studies for proposed projects, particularly the cost-benefit comparison of the incremental recapitalization (proactive) approach to maintaining property, compared to the run-to-fail (reactive) approach.  Due to the added costs of required swing space, dedicated project management teams and additional remedial works, the Secretariat estimated that the recommended “proactive” approach could save the Organization about 32 per cent in total capital requirements over the next 50 years.  “This benefit alone is compelling,” he said, as it was in addition to an estimated 12 per cent savings in ongoing operational costs, avoiding unnecessary risks inherent in large projects by carrying out works gradually over time.

The report included a list of proposed near-term capital projects at the United Nations office for Nairobi and the regional economic commissions for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and for Latin America and the Caribbean, organized according to priority safety, modernization and programmatic needs.  It also gave an update on the Global Guidelines for the Management of Construction Projects, issued in January, which set out the roles of various actors through the phases of the construction process.  Due to the “significant” age, number and value of the buildings and infrastructure assets owned by the Organization and included in the review, as well as immediate work to improve them, the workload of the Overseas Properties Management Unit had increased since 2010, when the total value of ongoing construction projects was only $48 million, to more than $900 million, with more projects in planning valued at $100 million.  The Secretary-General planned to review the Unit’s capacity and make suggestions in his proposed programme budget for the biennium 2018-2019.

Finally, he said, the report included information on accessibility for persons with disabilities, long-term accommodation needs at offices away from Headquarters, and flexible workplace strategies, as well as on budget and funding mechanisms.  It aimed to serve as a planning tool for the Assembly in considering cross-cutting policy issues affecting capital planning across the Organization.  It was not intended to be a mechanism for seeking approval for specific project proposals.  The Assembly was requested to take note of the report and request the Secretary-General to report in the main part of the seventy-second session.

Mr. RUIZ MASSIEU then introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/70/7/Add.43), which noted the comparative analysis undertaken by the Secretariat and the cost estimates derived from it.  However, the assumptions made for that analysis were not accurate in terms of the current useful life of all the Organization’s buildings and the calculation of their values and maintenance costs.  Further, the selection of only 5 among 132 buildings and facilities from two locations might not reflect all aspects of the global property portfolio.  In addition, some aspects of the recently issued Guidelines could be clarified.

He reiterated the Advisory Committee’s view concerning the Secretariat’s interpretation that contingency provisions were part of the approved project budget and separated from the base project cost for presentation purposes only.  The Assembly had requested that any cost overruns were first met from compensatory reductions identified through efficiencies in order to obviate the need for drawdown from contingency provisions.  It also had decided that all unused contingency funds should be returned to Member States at the end of a project.

Mr. WAIRATPANIJ (Thailand), speaking again for the Group of 77, recognized the potential benefits of a futuristic global property management framework in the name of strategic capital review, including the possibility of identifying deficiencies in buildings and structures to ensure compliance with statutory and applicable building codes.  The Group noted the progress to date on the development of the property management framework for United Nations-owned buildings and facilities.  The Secretary-General’s updated list of prioritized capital projects was in-line with the need to respond to critical aspects of life safety, modernization and maintenance, as well as changing client needs.  The updated list would allow proper sequencing of the maintenance plan and the mobilization of adequate resources. 

The Group recognized that the Secretary-General was currently implementing other reform initiatives related to construction matters, including flexible workplace strategies and a global service delivery model, among others, he said.  The Group hoped that the strengthening of the property management framework being developed would be a useful tool in ensuring effective implementation of the strategic capital review.  The review should aim to address the accommodation needs of all United Nations offices and staff.  The Group was pleased to note that issues related to access by persons with disabilities to United Nations facilities had been articulated in the report.  The services of the Office of Internal Oversight Services should be enlisted throughout the implementation process of the projects proposed under the strategic capital review.

Action on Draft Resolution: International Residual Mechanism

The Fifth Committee then approved without a vote a draft resolution titled “construction of a new facility for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Arusha branch” (document A/C.5/70/L.27), submitted by the representative of Mexico on behalf of the Chair.  By its terms, the Assembly would endorse the conclusions and recommendations in the ACABQ report.  It would encourage the Secretary-General to continue to include local knowledge and capacity in the project’s implementation, to take all measures to mitigate potential risks, and to ensure that construction was monitored and completed within the approved resources and revised timeline.  Further, it would request the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly no later than at the first part of its resumed seventy-first session a progress report on the project’s implementation, outlining expenditures and total costs.

For information media. Not an official record.