The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) took up the Secretary-General’s request today to the General Assembly for $636.6 million to support 34 special political missions during the biennium 2018-2019, with delegates seizing the opportunity to press for substantial changes to the way those missions — almost all of them the creation of the Security Council — were funded.
Singapore’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reiterated ASEAN’s full support for special political missions and stressed the need to look seriously into better coordination between those missions, peacekeeping operations and other peacebuilding operations.
“However, the reality is that currently financing arrangements have made it difficult for special political missions to operate at optimum capacity,” he said. It was particularly disappointing that, for seven years running, the Fifth Committee had failed to take action on the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations on funding and backstopping arrangements for the missions. Those recommendations were still relevant and increasingly pertinent. If Member States were serious about giving the Secretary-General the tools needed to respond effectively and flexibly to special situations, they must follow through in enabling his work, he said.
In ASEAN’s view, there should be a serious review of those funding and backstopping arrangements, he said. In the last decade, budgets for special political missions had kept growing exponentially, especially as a percentage of the regular budget, while only a fraction of efficiency gains to bring down costs had materialised. With the Secretariat proposing an overall budget of $5.4 billion for 2018-2019, down 3.9 per cent from 2016-2017, and further reductions likely, the missions would account for more than 20 per cent of the regular budget, cannibalising other priorities such as development work.
Given that context, he said ASEAN was urging the Fifth Committee to implement — without delay — the Advisory Committee’s recommendations on special political missions, which should be funded from a separate account, aligned with the budgetary cycle for peacekeeping operations, and charged on the peacekeeping scale. Thirty-four of the thirty-five current missions were created by the Security Council, including its permanent members, he noted. Those included large field‑based missions that had more in common with peacekeeping operations than traditional special political missions. With peacekeeping assessments reflecting the special responsibilities of the Council’s permanent members, it was not unreasonable to expect those with immense influence over special political missions to shoulder more responsibility for their funding, he said. Doing so would create more equal distribution of responsibility and power among Member States, he added.
Echoing that view, Mexico’s delegate recalled that special political missions had emerged to give tangible form to measures on the ground that built peace as well as measures that prevented conflict through mediation. Furthermore, such missions were increasingly fostering sustainable development. Special political missions must be consolidated as a legitimate expression of the notion of sustainable and lasting peace. Mexico welcomed the will shown by the Secretary-General to continue improving the way the Secretariat and the entire United Nations worked to become more effective and transparent, he said, stressing that any serious analysis of the Organization’s performance must take into account the way in which special political missions were decided upon and approved.
The Security Council decided on the fate of missions, bestowed mandates and allocated resources under the regular budget, which when combined with the lack of transparency in the work of the Council, created a situation that was both unfeasible and unsustainable, he said. There must be greater efforts to prevent conflict, sustain peace and implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as a greater focus on prevention, development and building healthy and inclusive societies. Special political missions that were not based on the quest for sustainable peace and failed to foster transparency would be viewed in a critical fashion, he underscored, noting that a clear, transparent special account for special political missions had yet to be instituted. Mexico hoped that through the reform process currently underway, that account would be created.
Special political missions acted in situations and places where the security dynamic was volatile, he continued. Without efficient responses to early warnings, the Organization would move toward a state of irrelevance, he warned. Mexico believed there was a clear change in the narrative taking place in which the Organization was adopting a new way of working. “Let us be creative, flexible and demonstrate good will” in our negotiations, he urged.
Johannes Huisman, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division of the Department of Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s Chapeau report in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the General Assembly and/or the Security Council (document A/72/371). The Secretary-General had proposed $641.1 million for 35 special political missions in 2018. But given that the mandate of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was not renewed, $636.3 million would be required for the remaining 34 special political missions, he said.
The thirty-four missions in 2018 would include 3,838 civilian positions, an increase of 109 positions, due mainly to the establishment of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, he said. That increase would be partly offset by net decreases in proposed staffing in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Babou Sene, Vice‑Chair of the Advisory Committee, introduced its related report (document A/72/7/Add.10) and recommended approval of the requested $636.3 million for 2018, subject to its observations and recommendations set out in its reports A/72/7/Add.10-18. That amount would be charged against the proposed 2018-2019 provision of $1.11 billion, leaving $473.3 million for special political missions in 2019. He pointed out that the level of resources approved for special political missions for recent biennium was between 7 and 10 per cent higher than the amount proposed for 2018-2019.
Regarding the proposed staffing requirements for individual missions, he said the Advisory Committee recommended a 5 per cent reduction — $1.01 million — to the proposed resources for official travel for 2018 based on its observation and analysis of several factors. First, resource estimates for official travel next year were overestimated to a certain degree since actual air fares experiences for some destinations during 2016-2017 were considerably less. The General Assembly should ask the Secretary-General to improve the methodology of determining air ticket estimates in all budget proposals, he stressed.
Furthermore, there were low compliance rates with the advance purchase policy, which, when increased, would lead to savings, he said. The ever-expanding and improved means of communication offered by available technology — such as videoconferencing — could also result in larger reductions in resource requirements for official travel.
Concerning the holdings of vehicles as well as computing and space devices, the Advisory Committee noted a trend of increasingly higher-than-standard allocations in recent years and believed that trend should be reviewed and reversed. The Advisory Committee also welcomed the greater scrutiny and control to be exercised over the acquisition of vehicles planned for 2018 and the related redistribution of available vehicle stock across the missions. Missions’ vehicle holdings should reflect the revised vehicle allocation ratios in 2018 rather than in 2019, and adjustments should be made in that regard without delay, he stressed.
Turning to the costs and benefits of the Kuwait Joint Support Office, which the Advisory Committee had discussed in the past few years, he noted that no independent validation of that matter was planned in the ongoing review of the shared service centres in the context of preparing the next report on the Global Service Delivery Model. The set-up of the Support Office did not include a business case, with independently-validated cost-and-benefits analysis, for approval by the General Assembly, he pointed out.
The Fifth Committee will meet again at a date and time to be announced in the Journal.