Speakers Call for Equitable Geographic Representation, Faster Recruitment as Fifth Committee Examines Secretary-General’s Human Resources Strategy

GA/AB/4302
15 November 2018
Seventy-third Session, 15th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Call for Equitable Geographic Representation, Faster Recruitment as Fifth Committee Examines Secretary-General’s Human Resources Strategy

Delegates at the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today urged the Secretariat to ensure the United Nations staff reflects the diversity of Member States as more women and young people are hired to shape a dynamic Organization with a mobile and multitalented workforce.

Egypt’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Organization’s international character hinges on equitable geographic representation, including the workers coming from troop- and police‑contributing countries.  Its ability to acquire fresh talent from different regions of the world is being limited by the sustained upward trend in the age of Secretariat staff and the fall in the number of entry‑level professional positions.

As speakers examined the Secretary‑General’s wide‑ranging human resources reforms in the past two years and strategy for 2019‑2021, Pakistan’s delegate supported the proposal to use troop contribution levels as a factor to revise the desirable ranges, which would help curb disparities.  He also expressed concern that the Organization’s selection of external candidates has dropped.

The Russian Federation noted the percentage of external candidates selected for posts has fallen to 30 per cent.  He also expressed worries about the decentralized approach to human resources management and the Secretariat’s lack of information on its financial implications.  More analytical data is needed, he said, to make well‑informed decisions and create solutions.

The representative of India said that less than 10 per cent of the Secretariat’s 38,000 staff are covered by the system of desirable ranges.  Right now, a Member State’s assessed rate of contribution to the regular budget has an overwhelming influence on determining the desirable range for staff representation.  That inherently places developing economies at a serious disadvantage, he stressed, adding, “We have an opportunity this year to reform the system.”

The United States representative commended the Secretary‑General’s proposals to enhance the recruitment, development and retention of high‑performing staff, yet regretted the slow development of a performance management system that would weed out poor performers.  She backed efforts to protect whistle‑blowers from retaliation, a policy also welcomed by Uganda’s delegate, who spoke on behalf of the African Group.  The Group, she said, wants to understand to what extent the Joint Inspection Unit’s recommendations on the protection of whistle‑blowers have been incorporated into Secretariat policy.

Martin Njuhigu, President of the United Nations Staff Union in Nairobi, speaking on behalf of staff representatives of the Staff Management Committee, emphasized that regional and gender diversity should not compromise the competence and suitability of candidates.  For example, flexible measures are needed to allow staff to move across agencies before external candidates are considered.  He also joined other speakers in calling for exam barriers to be eliminated so that General Service and Field Service staff can apply for Professional positions.

The representative of Singapore, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), commended the Secretary-General’s initiative to expedite the recruitment process.  The speaker for Israel said the process is still too long and called for decisive steps to reduce the posting period for job openings and other stages of the recruitment timeline.

Introducing five Secretary‑General reports, Martha Helena Lopez, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Resources Management, said they laid out a series of bold objectives and strategic actions to transform human resources management in the Secretariat in a time of major change.  She said the overall aim of the strategy is to nurture a mobile, dynamic and multitalented international civil service while creating an environment for policies that can manage people, recruit talent and help transform the Organization’s culture.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related report, which urged the Secretary‑General to develop a proposal for a pilot project, with a clearly defined scope and timeframe, to achieve equal opportunities for recruitment to entry-level professional posts, including career opportunities for staff members in the General Service and related categories.  Among the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, Mr. Massieu reiterated its view that a final policy decision on the system of desirable ranges rests with the General Assembly.

Also speaking today were representatives of New Zealand, also on behalf of Canada and Australia; Switzerland, also on behalf of Liechtenstein; United Arab Emirates; Morocco; Japan and Libya, as well as the European Union.

The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. Friday, 16 November, to discuss the Strategic Heritage Plan of the United Nations Office at Geneva and an administration of justice issue regarding a letter from the President of the General Assembly.

Human Resources Management

MARTHA HELENA LOPEZ, Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Resources Management, introduced the five Secretary‑General reports:  Global human resources strategy 2019‑2021:  building a more effective, transparent and accountable United Nations (document A/73/372); Overview of human resources management reform for the period 2017‑2018 (document A/73/372/Add.1); Composition of the Secretariat:  staff demographics (document A/73/79); Composition of the Secretariat:  gratis personnel, retired staff and consultants and individual contractors (document A/73/79/Add.1); and Assessment of the system of desirable ranges (document A/73/372/Add.3).

The overarching global human resources strategy sets out a series of bold objectives and strategic actions to transform human resources management in the Secretariat in a time of major change, she said.  The strategy’s overall aim is to nurture a mobile, dynamic and multitalented international civil service while creating an environment for policies that can manage people, recruit talent and help transform the Organization’s culture.

In the report focusing on the 2017‑2018 period, the Secretary‑General seeks the Fifth Committee’s support in three specific issues, she said.  They included support for eliminating the current barrier for General Service staff to apply for international Professional level positions, in line with hiring practices of other organizations that enable all qualified staff members to apply for vacant posts.  “We consider this an issue of basic fairness and in the overall interests of the Organization,” he said.  Support is also sought for the Secretary-General proposal to reduce the posting period for position‑specific job openings from 45 to 30 days to speed up recruitment.  The Secretary‑General also recommends the abolition of the requirements for staff members to renounce their permanent residence in a country other than their own.

Engaging with youth is another high priority and much progress has been made in streamlining the recruitment of young talent since the introduction of the Young Professional Programme in 2011, she said.  The Secretariat relies on a geographically diverse workforce to fulfil its mandate and efforts to attract applicants from unrepresented and underrepresented Members States are ongoing and being strengthened.  In his reports on the Secretariat’s composition, the Secretary‑General lays out a review of the current system of desirable ranges and asks the General Assembly to approve the changes recommended.  His report assessing the system of desirable ranges includes proposals to retain or widen the current base of the number of professional posts in order to create a more effective tool to ensure greater geographical distribution in the Secretariat.  She stressed that the Secretary‑General appreciates the strong and continued support of Member States over the past two years for the reform agenda.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related report (document A/73/497).  Indicating at the outset that the Secretary‑General’s reports contained limited analysis on human resources trends and their underlying causes, he said — regarding the overview report on human resources management reform — that the Secretary‑General should develop a proposal for a pilot project, with a clearly defined scope and timeframe, aimed at achieving equal opportunities for recruitment to entry‑level professional posts, including career opportunities for staff members in the General Service and related categories.  The Advisory Committee does not, at this stage, recommend approval of the proposed reduction of the standard posting period for position‑specific job openings in the Professional and higher categories from 45 days to 30 days, he said, explaining that posting periods are just one factor affecting overall recruitment timelines.

The Advisory Committee rejects the proposal to increase the permissible earnings of retired staff members, he said, explaining that that could lead to the more frequent hiring of retirees — a practice that runs contrary to efforts to rejuvenate the Secretariat and improve workforce succession planning.  The ACABQ also recommends that the General Assembly reconsider the proposed abolishment of the long‑standing requirement that staff members renounce their permanent resident status in a country other than their country of nationality upon joining the Organization.

Turning to the proposed global human resources strategy for 2019‑2021 and recalling that the United Nations has repeatedly engaged in human resources management reform over the past two decades, he said a new strategy should reflect a comprehensive impact assessment of all the human resources reform initiatives undertaken.  There also needs to be a comprehensive, detailed and in‑depth analysis of persistent problems and challenges, including — among other things — impediments to achieving equitable geographic distribution and gender-balance targets.  He added that the proposed implementation plan lacks both clarity and necessary information.  The Advisory Committee therefore recommends that the General Assembly request the Secretary‑General to submit a refined global human resources strategy to its seventy‑fourth session.

On the concept of “regional diversity” and related data presented in annex III of the Secretary‑General’s report on the 2019‑2021 strategy, he said the Advisory Committee is not convinced that such an approach would complement the aim of equitable geographical representation.  It might, in fact, divert focus away from that objective, he stated.  Finally, regarding the Secretary‑General’s proposals on the system of desirable ranges, he reiterated the Advisory Committee’s view that a final policy decision on the matter rests with the General Assembly.

MARTIN NJUHIGU, President of the United Nations Staff Union in Nairobi, speaking on behalf of staff representatives of the Staff Management Committee, said that while staff representatives support the Secretary‑General’s human resources management agenda, they have some concerns that must be addressed to ensure effective change.  He emphasized that regional and gender diversity should not compromise competence and suitability of candidates, and that flexible measures should be put in place to allow staff members to move across agencies before external candidates are considered.  Benchmarks should be established with other organizations on ways to motivate staff members through career development, fair and transparent recruitment processes and a robust performance management system.  Training and development in conjunction with professional bodies should be strengthened, together with orientation efforts to improve respect for processes and United Nations rules and regulations.  Consideration should be given to eliminating the six‑month waiting period for consultants and interns as well as seven‑day breaks for staff members moving from General Service to national or Professional posts.  Exam barriers should also be eliminated so that General Service and Field Service staff can apply for Professional positions.

On the Global Service Delivery Model, he said staff representatives look forward to objective staff‑management engagement.  The Organization should take advantage of retirements, functional and geographical mobility, and voluntary separations to address possible job losses.  He suggested the adoption of cost‑saving measures — such as reduced travel expenditures, use of available infrastructure and savings on recruitment costs — to meet budget requirements.  The Organization should also consider proactive measures for dealing with any psychological effects of reform.  Turning to mobility, he welcomed a geographical strategy that would provide candidates with a wide range of career opportunities.

On accountability for strategic success, he said measures should be put in place to protect United Nations resources from mismanagement by those acting with impunity.  It should be possible to recover assets after separation if anyone is found culpable during tenure.  There is also a need to address gaps in existing procedures for reporting cases of retaliation involving the justice system.  That is not currently seen as a protected activity, resulting in reluctance on the part of some staff to seek redress or for witnesses to come forward.  He concluded by setting out several general concerns regarding reforms, including the strengthening of central review bodies and the impact of consultants hired beyond a reasonable period of time.  He requested support for staff representatives’ engagement with institutions that deal with conditions of service, adding that it is important to allocate adequate resources to the Office of Staff Legal Affairs and the United Nations Tribunal, which are part of the Organization’s system of checks and balances.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia), Fifth Committee Chair, drew the Committee’s attention to the report of the Joint Inspection Union titled “Review of the internship programmes of the United Nations system” (documents A/73/377, A/73.377/Corr.1, JIU/REP/2018/1 and JIU/REP/2018/1/Corr.1), as well as the comments of the Secretary‑General and the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination thereon (document A/73/377.Add.1).  She also drew attention to related introductory statements from the Joint Inspection Unit and the Secretariat of the Chief Executives Board, posted on the Committee’s website.

KARIM IAMSIL (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended efforts to reform the Organization’s human resources management reform, which is key to its overall reform efforts.  He noted the progress made since the seventy‑first session, especially the streamlining and simplifying of rules and policies.  While encouraged by progress toward gender parity, he said much more needs to be done in the area.  Persistent imbalances in equitable geographic representation remain in the Secretariat and are a major concern.  Equitable geographic representation is key to ensure the Organization’s international character and that it represents its Member States, he said, urging the Secretariat to expedite efforts in that regard, including the representation of troop- and police-contributing countries.  He also called for more transparency in how geographical representation is measured and the basis for such assessment.  The Assembly needs more complete and easily understandable information on how gender parity and geographical representation are reflected in the 38,000 posts across the Secretariat.

The Group is also concerned that the average age of Secretariat staff members continues to reflect an upward trend and entry‑level positions, particularly at the P1 and P2 levels, continue to fall, he said.  This limits the space for rejuvenating the Organization and acquiring fresh talent from different regions of the world.  The Group also believes that an efficient and timely recruitment process is important to acquire a qualified workforce and that improvements are needed at every stage of the recruitment process and current practices for roster management.  He reiterated that language skills are an important factor in the selection process and respect the equality of the two working languages is required.  “We further repeat our serious concern that efforts to reach out to potential candidates from unrepresented and underrepresented countries, including developing countries, has not been successful,” he said.  Turning to the Joint Inspection Unit’s report which reviews internship programmes in the United Nations system, he said steps to support youth from developing countries would further the United Nations System‑wide Action Plan on Youth and contribute to the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development related to youth, decent work and gender equality.

CAROLINE NALWANGA MAGAMBO (Uganda), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating herself with the Group of 77, notes the proposals to shorten recruitment by reducing the application process to 30 days; interviewing by video and streamlining interview reports; and speeding up selection by using rosters.  The African Group will examine the proposals carefully to ensure they do not disadvantage African Member States and developing countries in general.  The Group also has studied with keen interest the statistics on geographical representation, which clearly show underrepresentation of African Member States in most departments.  The African Group supports the Secretariat’s strategies to improve geographical representation and subject all international posts in the regular budget to it.

The African Group welcomes the design of a new mobility system yet women, particularly those with young children who cannot serve in hardship stations, should not be penalized due to their dual role as workers and care providers and should be able to equally advance their careers, she said.  The Group will examine how the elimination of the additional G‑to‑P requirements from the Young Professionals Programme will remove a long‑standing obstacle to career advancement for staff members in the General Services and related categories, especially those from developing countries.  The African Group welcomes the new policy issued to protect against retaliation for reporting misconduct and for cooperating with audits or investigations, she said.  It will seek to understand how much of the Joint Inspection Unit’s recommendations on the protection of whistle‑blowers have been incorporated into the policy.  The Group will also consider the issue of retirees and the granting of continuing contracts to some categories of staff.  The Group will continue to monitor how geographical representation has been enhanced under gender parity, she said, stressing that the 2028 target to achieve gender parity is too distant.

DIANA MINYI LEE (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating herself with the Group of 77, said efforts must continue across the United Nations and at every level to improve gender parity and equitable geographical representation.  Gender and geography must go hand in hand, she said, and while progress so far has been encouraging, more needs to be done.  ASEAN urges the Secretary‑General to redouble efforts towards achieving equitable geographical representation, especially at senior levels, she said, adding that the General Assembly needs better, more accurate and easier‑to‑understand information on how gender parity, geographical representation and seniority are reflected in the 38,000 posts throughout the United Nations system.

On other issues, she commended the Secretary‑General’s initiatives to speed up the recruitment process and his commitment to improve the performance management system.  ASEAN looks forward to examining the impact of those changes, especially with a view to how they will improve the recruitment of staff from developing countries.  She also underscored the critical need to focus on continuous staff learning and development, even at a time of fiscal austerity.  “If we expect the United Nations to be more effective, efficient, nimble and innovative, we must invest in its people,” she said, emphasizing that Member States that demand more from the Organization and its staff must be prepared to commit concrete resources towards common goals.  ASEAN urges the Secretary‑General to keep focusing on staff learning and development as a key element of reform, she said.

FINNIAN CHESHIRE (New Zealand), speaking also for Canada and Australia, expressed support for the Secretary‑General’s global human resources strategy aimed at making better use of the Organization’s resources to support programme delivery and mandate implementation.  “Staff are the United Nations’ most valuable resource,” he emphasized, calling for their talent and passion to be nurtured and their contributions rewarded fairly.  He also commended the Secretary‑General’s efforts to increase accessibility and diversity, including in terms of gender parity, while continuing to strive for equitable geographical representation.  It is not a simple task to change an organization’s culture, he observed, calling for a continuation of the momentum of the previous two years and support of new approaches aligned with best practices to improve delivery in the field.

FELIX SIEGFRIED WANNER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, commended the Secretary‑General for achieving gender parity in the Senior Management Group calling him “a real gender champion.”  However, in other areas further human resources management reform is urgently needed.  “The United Nations leadership must lead by example by making human resource management a clear priority going forward,” he said.  Stressing that reforms will not succeed without lasting changes in organizational culture, he said the new strategy must focus on fostering an enabling work environment and proactive talent management. Staff need to feel encouraged and safe to come forward with ideas and opinions.  Staff performance management is key to ensure accountability and delivery on the Organization’s objectives.  A credible and fair system must reward high performance and find ways to address underperformance.  Performance evaluation should be a process in which staff and managers work together to plan, monitor and review work objectives with a view to enhancing performance.  He commended the Secretariat for system‑wide collaboration on job classification and reference checks and encouraged it to continue identifying areas that could benefit from a system‑wide approach.

LAURA DEMETRIS, European Union delegation, welcomed the Secretary‑General’s vision of transformed human resource management, ensuring better use of United Nations resources to support effective programme delivery and mandate implementation.  She looked forward to discussing his proposals on improved workforce planning, diversity, enhanced multilingualism and performance management to ensure that the workforce embodies high standards of efficiency, competence and integrity.  She welcomed ongoing efforts to realize a workforce that is truly representative of all the people the Organization serves.  While she applauded the Secretary‑General’s commitment to achieving gender parity in his senior appointments, she also expressed concern that gender imbalance remains a persistent issue in the United Nations workforce, especially in field operations.

She went on to welcome efforts to ensure geographical diversity in all types of duty stations.  More responsibility should be delegated to the field, she said, noting that the European Union is ready to provide its full support to ensuring that the Organization has the required tools to drive accountability and delegation.  Regarding mobility, she welcomed efforts to review the policy, noting that there has been extensive outreach across the Organization to learn from past experience.  She looked forward to receiving a proposal in 2019 for a new mobility system to support the nimble and adaptable workforce required for the Organization to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

CHERITH NORMAN‑CHALET (United States) recalled that Member States have unanimously endorsed the Secretary‑General’s vision for reform in shifting the Organization’s management paradigm and transforming its culture.  Staff members are key to that vision.  As such, the leadership of the United Nations must communicate with staff continually and effectively, while ensuring accountability of staff performance, with good performance recognized and underperformance sanctioned.  She commended the Secretary‑General for putting forward several concrete proposals to enhance the recruitment, development and retention of high‑performing staff, but expressed concern with the slow pace of implementation of a performance management system that should weed out poor performers.  “These efforts must go hand‑in‑hand to achieve true accountability and confidence that human resources are being managed properly and enabling better delivery of mandates,” she said.  She went on to support the Secretary‑General’s efforts vis‑à‑vis sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment and protecting whistle‑blowers from retaliation.

Ms. AL MANSOUR (United Arab Emirates), associating herself with the Group of 77, requested to know more about innovative measures to attract young people to the Organization, particularly from countries that are underrepresented or not represented at all in its staff ranks.  She also requested information about lessons learned by United Nations agencies regarding their Young Professionals Programmes.  She drew attention to the memorandum of understanding signed in 2014 between her country and the Secretariat aimed at ensuring that young Emiratis can join the Professional ranks and welcomed the Secretary‑General’s efforts in the area of human resources management.

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that the Secretary‑General’s reports make a strong case for a rejuvenated international civil service to face today’s most daunting challenges.  However, the ideals that Member States strive for in the United Nations are far from being achieved.  Such ideals range from the goals of gender parity and equitable geographical representation to managed mobility on contractual assignments.  While female representation has increased in the Secretary‑General’s Executive Committee, the overall percentage remains low.  Moreover, the number of Member States within the desirable range has decreased 14 per cent — from 120 at the end of 2014 to 102 at the end of December 2016 — increasing Member States in the unrepresented and underrepresented categories.  External selections have declined while appointments from overrepresented countries have increased, he observed.  Pakistan has participated in United Nations peacekeeping since 1960, he recalled.  As such, he expressed strong support for the Secretary‑General’s proposal of troop contribution as an additional factor in revising the desirable ranges for future consideration, which will go a long way towards reducing disparities, he pointed out.

Ms. JERBOUI (Morocco), associating herself with the Group of 77, expressed full support for the Secretary‑General’s proposals.  Taking note of the Secretary‑General’s report and that of the Advisory Committee, she emphasized the fundamental principles of equitable geographical distribution, gender parity and the prevention of all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.  In that regard, Morocco welcomes progress made recently in appointing women to key posts within the Organization.

DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI (Japan), noting that the greatest asset of the United Nations is its staff, stressed the importance of acquiring and retaining highly skilled and motivated personnel.  At the same time, diversity is one of the defining features of the Organization, enabling it to tackle a wide range of issues around the world.  The issue of the non‑representation and underrepresentation of some Member States in the Secretariat has been a long‑standing challenge. Japan is one of several underrepresented countries, he said, asking the Secretary‑General to redouble efforts to ensure equitable geographical distribution within the Secretariat.

MAHESH KUMAR (India), welcoming the Secretary‑General’s global human resources strategy, said it is necessary to address a range of persisting challenges, including the long‑elusive goal of equitable geographical representation.  Acknowledging success in the implementation of the system‑wide strategy on gender parity and the related strategy to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse, he noted that out of a total United Nations Secretariat staff of 38,000, less than 10 per cent are covered by the system of desirable ranges.  Currently a Member State’s assessed rate of contribution to the regular budget has an overwhelming influence on determining the desirable range for staff representation.  That inherently put developing economies at a serious disadvantage, he stressed, adding, “We have an opportunity this year to reform the system.”

YARON WAX (Israel) said that shifting the work culture of the United Nations is a gradual process and while swift decisions are important, the necessary reforms must be understood through a long‑term lens.  Expressing hope that the reforms will address deficiencies in the staff selection process, treatment of external and internal candidates, and gender‑balance targets, he noted that additional steps to address the issue of sexual harassment are still pending.  The recruitment process is still too lengthy, he said, calling for decisive measures to reduce the timeline of the process, including by reducing the posting period for job openings.  He went on to note with concern that despite the approval of the General Assembly in December 2017 for a temporary P‑5 Mental Health Officer, the appointment is still pending.  Furthermore, a solution to the Secretary‑General’s “G to P” proposals is long overdue, he said.

DMITRY CHUMAKOV (Russian Federation) said everyone is eager and interested in improving the quality of the United Nations staff.  Delegates and the Secretariat have discussed the idea of mobility, which is designed to enhance quality and there is also a focus on promoting women.  The Russian Federation has studied the proposals and wants more analytical information to make well‑informed decisions and seek solutions.  Decentralizing human resources management runs contrary to the idea of strengthening it.  Decentralization makes human resources management more complex and decreases accountability.  The scheme of staff selection is less transparent.  There is a lack of initiative concerning the financial implications for the Secretariat — a vital element in the Fifth Committee’s consideration and a normal part of the process.  He supported the Advisory Committee’s view that extra work is needed on the global human resources strategy.  He said one flaw in the strategy is that it has led to reduced opportunities for external candidates and for attracting fresh talent.  The rate of external candidates selected is going down and is now at 30 per cent.  The Russian Federation will work on strategies to increase the performance of personnel, he said.

SHOKRI S.I. BENHAMIDA (Libya), associating himself with the Group of 77, voiced support for the Organization’s efforts to attract qualified young professionals while retaining experienced staff members.  Noting the progress made so far, he said reforms must include the development of human resources, training and career opportunities with the participation of both developed and developing countries.  Senior positions should not go exclusively to certain countries, he stated, adding that reforms should provide an equal opportunity to Member States to participate at all levels of the United Nations system.

For information media. Not an official record.