Proposal to Split Human Resources Functions into Two Departments Draws Some Support, Calls for More In-Depth Study, as Fifth Committee Considers Structural Challenges

GA/AB/4292
15 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 4th Meeting (PM)

Proposal to Split Human Resources Functions into Two Departments Draws Some Support, Calls for More In-Depth Study, as Fifth Committee Considers Structural Challenges

Delegates to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today took up a recommendation from the Secretary-General that human resources management at the United Nations be split into two departments — one focused on strategic aspects of staffing the Organization and the other dedicated to operational factors.

Most speakers said they looked forward to studying the proposal — a part of the Secretary‑General’s broader reform initiative aimed at making the United Nations more effective and responsive in meeting twenty-first century challenges — in greater depth, while some promptly conveyed their delegation’s support.

Egypt’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Group wants to better understand the challenges related to human resources management, particularly regarding recruitment, policy inconsistency between the field and Headquarters, managing staff performance and the slow progress in achieving balanced geographical representation at all levels.  “We believe this is highly critical to better assess the ability of a single structure or a dual structure to effectively address these challenges,” he said.

The representative of New Zealand, also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, stressed that reorganization of human resources management is only the start of a larger process and expressed support for the Secretary‑General’s vision.  “We support increased decentralization and delegation of authority, backed up by strong corporate policy and accountability mechanisms,” he added.

Morocco’s delegate, similarly welcoming the Secretary‑General’s recommendation, said a single structure would be too big and hinder normal Secretariat functions.  He added that his country supports ideas that seek not to create new structures, but rather facilitate the transition to a new Secretariat that can fulfil the mandates given to it by Member States.

Pakistan’s representative said focused attention must be given to equitable geographic representation, including representation of troop- and police‑contributing countries.  While commending the Secretary‑General’s commitment to gender parity, he said the United Nations must do more to increase representation of female staff from developing countries.

The representative of the United States said much remains to be done in realizing true reform.  “Reform must result in improved mandate delivery and more effective operations,” she said, emphasizing that human resources management is a fundamental aspect of reform and that the next few months will be critical for ensuring full implementation of the United Nations reform agenda.

China’s delegate said reform has come a long way in the past year.  Going forward, it must be carried out in a well‑managed manner.  Taking note of the Secretary‑General’s report, he said in‑depth discussion on human resources management should continue and that China looks forward to receiving more details from the Secretariat.

Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Under‑Secretary‑General and Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary‑General, introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on the comparative assessment of the placement of human resources functions, recalled that the General Assembly, through its resolution 72/266B, had asked the Secretary‑General to weigh the pros and cons of two options for human resources management — one that would split the strategic and operational aspects into two departments, and another that would fuse them into a single department.

While a single structure would make it easy to prioritize operational requirements that are more immediate or routine, it would also impede the fostering of a culture of service delivery, she explained.  On the other hand, having two departments with a clear division of responsibilities would ensure a unified approach while avoiding duplication.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing its related report, said information in the Secretary‑General’s report remains general in nature and that hopefully full details will be forthcoming.  Regarding the Secretary‑General’s recommendation that the Assembly take note of his report, he said the Advisory Committee believes that it is for the Assembly to decide on what action should be taken.

Also speaking today were representatives of Switzerland (also on behalf of Liechtenstein), Mexico, Japan, and Russian Federation, as well as the European Union.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., on Tuesday, 16 October to hear the Secretariat statement on improving the financial situation of the United Nations.

Review of Efficiency of United Nations Administrative/Financial Functioning

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI, Under‑Secretary‑General and Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary‑General, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the comparative assessment of the placement of human resources functions (document A/73/366).  She recalled that, with the adoption of resolution 72/266B, the General Assembly approved the reorganization of the Department of Management and Department of Field Support into the proposed new Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and the Department of Operational Support.  The Assembly also requested the Secretary‑General to present a comparative assessment of two options — placing human resources functions in two departments or consolidating them into a single department — with a view to ensuring a unified approach, optimizing functions and avoiding duplication.  Today’s report responds to that request, she said.

Human resources management has undergone several reforms over the years, with progress in some areas, she said.  However, some work remains to be done, as there are limits to what can be achieved without addressing structural issues.  Many of the challenges stem from the fact that human resources structures at Headquarters are responsible for both strategic and operational tasks.  “This inevitably results in competition between the two sets of functions for both resources and managerial attention, to the detriment of both sets of functions,” she said.  A single structure would make it easy to prioritize operational requirements that are more immediate or routine, but it would also impede the fostering of a culture of service delivery.  The Secretary‑General is therefore convinced that consolidating human resources functions into a single structure would handicap the new architecture from its inception.

Having two departments with a clear division of responsibilities — but with remits extending over the entirety of the Secretariat — would, on the other hand, ensure the unified approach requested by the General Assembly while avoiding duplication of functions, she said.  It would also strengthen accountability and internal control by placing compliance functions and execution functions in separate departments.  Coordination mechanisms would be established to ensure coherence between departments while creating a feedback loop between them and all of the Secretariat’s organizational entities.

She concluded by emphasizing that management reform provides a rare opportunity to address the structural and non‑structural issues that make human resources management a major “pain point” for the Organization.  For the Secretary‑General, the objectives of his global human resources strategy can only be achieved through the segregation of human resources functions between two new departments, she added, thanking Member States for their strong and continued support for his reform agenda.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/73/411) and noted that the information in the Secretary‑General’s report remains general in nature.  The Advisory Committee trusts that full details will be provided when the Assembly considers the issue.  The Advisory Committee expects that information on delegation of authority and accountability issues, as they relate to the management reform, will be provided in the Secretary‑General’s next progress report on accountability.  It also expects that the elements to be included in the comprehensive review on the implementation of resolution 72/266B will be submitted for consideration by the Assembly at the main part of its seventy‑fifth session.  Regarding the action request of the Assembly, the Advisory Committee believes that it is for the Assembly to decide on the action to be taken on the Secretary‑General’s report.

MOHAMED FOUAD AHMED (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it is very proud of its contribution to the reform process, which would enhance the Organization’s ability to deliver on its mandate in different areas as multilateralism is questioned around the world.  The Group believes that enhancing the effectiveness of the Organization’s human resources is a crucial component.  The Group wants to learn more about previous human resource reforms, their impact and the lessons learned.  It also wants to clarify the background and rationale behind the placement of human resources functions in the Secretariat, whether in the field or at Headquarters, during past years and the advantages and disadvantages of different options.

The Group wants to better understand the current challenges related to human resources management, particularly regarding recruitment, policy inconsistency between the field and Headquarters, managing staff performance and the slow progress in achieving balanced geographical representation at all levels, he said.  “We believe this is highly critical to better assess the ability of a single structure or a dual structure to effectively address these challenges,” he said. The Group also would use the findings contained in the evaluation conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in 2018 on key issues faced by the Organization in human resources management.

JOANNE ADAMSON, European Union, said that in adopting key resolutions on United Nations reform, the General Assembly supported the Secretary‑General’s vision on shifting the Organization’s management paradigm, with more responsibility and strong accountability being given to managers as well as improved performance based on more flexible and effective human resources management.  Approval of the four proposed new subsections of section 29, Management and Support Services, of the programme budget for 2018‑2019 will ensure a unified approach, optimizing the distribution of functions while avoiding duplication.  Those elements are mutually reinforcing and should be treated as a package, she stated.  Member States of the European Union take note of the comparative assessment and look forward to a comprehensive review of the implementation of resolution 72/266B during the main part of the Assembly’s seventy-fifth session, she said.

CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand), also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, welcomed that the Committee was able to adopt the management reform and peace and security architecture resolutions in July.  He looked forward to the adoption during the current session of the resolution on repositioning of the United Nations development system.  It is not a simple task to change the culture of an organization, he said, adding that the reorganization of the human resources department is only the start of a larger process.  New Zealand, Canada and Australia look forward to the constructive consideration of the proposals under the Committee’s agenda item on human resources management, expressing support to the Secretary‑General’s vision for human resource management.  “We support increased decentralization and delegation of authority, backed up by strong corporate policy and accountability mechanisms,” he added.

Mr. WANNER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, welcomed the reports of the Secretary‑General and the ACABQ and fully endorsed the Secretary‑General’s vision for management reform.  “It is impressive what has been achieved over the last year.  However, a lot of work still lays ahead of us,” he said.   The human resources management framework is an essential part of the overall reform proposal, he continued, welcoming the Secretary‑General’s comparative assessment of the human resources structures.

FELIPE GARCÍA LANDA (Mexico) said appropriate management is very important to the Organization’s function and costs for staff make up more than three quarters of expenditures.  Modernized services are needed in both the central offices and in the field.  The Organization is facing structural challenges and it needs a modern, efficient human resources system that provides clarity and avoids duplication and waste.  In July, the Assembly approved a series of measures aimed at reform.  Mexico hopes that during the current session, delegates can analyse pending items, provide a coherent structure and avoid duplication of functions.  The Organization needs a system that stresses accountability and results.

SHAWN DUNCAN (United States) said the General Assembly supports the Secretary‑General’s vision of shifting the Organization’s management paradigm and stressed much remains to be done in realizing true reform.  “Reform must result in improved mandate delivery and more effective operations,” she said, adding that comprehensive transformation in organizational culture and leadership is essential.  Human resources management is a fundamental aspect of United Nations reform, she stressed, also noting that decisions taken by the General Assembly to approve the reorganization of two new departments and the subsequent approval of budget proposals will ensure a unified approach.  The United States recognizes that the next few months are critical to ensure full implementation of the United Nations reform agenda, she said, while also commending the critical change management process underway.

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77, said his country has always called for a robust system of checks and balances.  It therefore wants to know more about coordination mechanisms between the proposed two departments as well as any entry point for Member States to discuss issues related to human resources policy.  Any lessons learned from past human resources reform would also be relevant.  Focused attention must be given to the issue of equitable geographic representation, including representation of troop- and police‑contributing countries in proportion to their contribution to peacekeeping.  While the Secretary‑General’s commitment to gender parity is commendable, the Organization must also work to increase representation of female staff from developing countries who are equally capable to deliver, he said.

Ms. YASUKO (Japan) reiterated its strong support to the Secretary‑General for his leadership on United Nations reform, including in the area of management, to make the United Nations stronger, more integrated, coherent and accountable.  She noted that the Assembly adopted a resolution on management reform during the previous session and the reform’s full implementation is set to start in January 2019.  Japan believes the reform’s steady implementation without delay is key to moving the Organization towards more efficient and effective management.  For this reason, Japan will constructively engage in discussions so the draft resolution on the matter can be agreed by consensus at the earliest time possible.

GAO HUIJUN (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, said reform has come a long way in the past year.  Going forward, it must be carried out in a well‑managed manner.  China looks forward to step‑by‑step implementation of the reform initiative, he said, adding that in‑depth discussion on the human resources management architecture should continue.  China has taken note of the reports of the Secretary‑General and the Advisory Committee and it looks forward to receiving more detailed information from the Secretariat.  He went on to state that, in considering the topic, due process and consensus should prevail.

OMAR HILALE (Morocco), associating himself with the Group of 77, said Morocco welcomes the proposal to create two distinct entities for human resources management functions.  A single structure would be too big and reflect the shortcomings identified by internal audit bodies, while at the same time hindering the normal functions of the Secretariat.  A change of model and paradigm is needed, he said, adding that Morocco supports ideas that aim not to create new structures, but rather facilitate the transition to a new Secretariat that can fulfil the mandates given to it by Member States.

MARIA V. FROLOVA (Russian Federation) said her delegation appreciated the Secretary‑General’s analysis on the Assembly’s request, approved in Assembly resolution 72/266B, to present a comparative assessment between placing human resources functions into two departments or consolidating them in a single department.  She noted that a single opinion was not achieved last year on reform.  Any future reforms, if a corresponding consent is reached, should include an integrated approach that would meet the challenges of improving the United Nations work.  The Russian Federation supports maintaining personnel functions in a single organizational structure of the Secretariat, with the most expedient choice being the Department of Operational Support.  The Russian Federation stands ready to work constructively to discuss the agenda item in the Fifth Committee’s consultations.

Ms. RIBEIRO VIOTTI thanked all the delegates for their constructive comments and said she looked forward to working with the Fifth Committee on all the points presented, such as enhanced geographical representation and enhancing oversight and accountability.

For information media. Not an official record.