Delegates Urge Consensus on Cross-Cutting Issues, as Fifth Committee Continues Examination of Peacekeeping Policy, Budget Proposals

GA/AB/4321
8 May 2019
Seventy-third Session, 35th Meeting (AM)

Delegates Urge Consensus on Cross-Cutting Issues, as Fifth Committee Continues Examination of Peacekeeping Policy, Budget Proposals

Continuing their consideration of the Secretary-General’s proposed budget of $6.6 billion for United Nations peacekeeping operations in 2019/20, speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) expressed hope today that delegations will, for the first time in three years, achieve consensus on cross-cutting issues, including ongoing efforts to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.

The representative of the European Union said peacekeeping should always make use of the best technology available to improve the security and safety of troops and other personnel and to reduce the environmental footprint of missions.  Modern technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, do save lives, he added, conveying the bloc’s readiness to further engage in discussions on how to better protect troops and United Nations personnel.  Noting that the Committee in the past two years has failed to find a comprehensive agreement on cross-cutting issues as a whole, he said he hopes delegations can conclude the current session with “a forward-looking outcome”.

The representative of the United States emphasized that the Committee is discussing cross-cutting policy issues for the first time since the launch of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative and adoption of key elements of the Secretary-General’s management and peace and security architecture reforms.  His delegation looks forward to learning more about how these initiatives have improved mandate delivery, strengthened the partnership among all peacekeeping stakeholders and enhanced strategic planning and service delivery, he said, expressing hope that delegations will reach consensus on a cross-cutting resolution this year. 

The observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern that the proposed level of resources for peacekeeping continues to diminish.  With many delegations insisting on further reductions, it raises the question about whether the management reforms adopted last year can be implemented in the absence of proper funding.  “A robust peacekeeping budget is fundamental for the full implementation of agreed mandates,” she said, adding that cuts for the sake of cuts are unacceptable and that a basic lack of resources can only be resolved through all Member States paying their assessments in full, on time and without conditions.

Switzerland’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, also expressed dismay at the high number of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of field missions, as well as the persistent recurrence of the most egregious forms of such acts.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s efforts, including the development of a common screening platform to ensure that potential candidates have no prior record of misconduct related to sexual exploitation and abuse, he said still more needs to be done, with priority going towards prevention, accountability and investigation, as well as support to victims.

Chandramouli Ramanathan, Controller and Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Finance and Budget, introduced the Secretary-General’s overview report on peacekeeping budget performance for 2017/18 and the proposed budget for 2019/20.  He said the proposed resources for 2019/20 amount to $6.6 billion, down 5.4 per cent or $382 million from the 2018/19 period, due mainly to the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) as well as post-electoral adjustments to the posture of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

In other business, the Committee began consideration of the Secretary-General’s reports on the proposed resources for the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), MINUJUSTH, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOSO), as well as the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy.

The representative of Uruguay, speaking also on behalf of eight additional Latin American countries, called for a responsible transition of MINUJUSTH to a special political mission, as agreed on by the Security Council.  Emphasizing the importance of ongoing support from the United Nations for Haiti, she voiced full support for the Secretary-General’s proposed budget for the Mission, stating that predictable funding is needed to avoid a security vacuum.

Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s budget proposal of $267.9 million for UNISFA, Ethiopia’s delegate said it is unfortunate that missions are increasingly being tasked with extended mandates while simultaneously facing demands to deliver more with less.  UNISFA has been operating under heavy resource constraints, particularly during the last two years, he said, with the consequence that special need requirements for female contingents, accommodation and logistical arrangements are still below standard.

Cihan Terzi, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), presented that body’s related reports on cross-cutting issues, the financing of peacekeeping missions and the Logistics Base in Brindisi.

The Fifth Committee will meet again on Monday, 13 May, at 10 a.m., when it is scheduled to take up the financing of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), UNMISS, the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe and the support account.

Cross-cutting Issues

CHANDRAMOULI RAMANATHAN, Assistant Secretary-General, Controller, Office of Programme Planning, Finance and Budget, presented the Secretary-General’s report titled “Overview of the financing of the United Nations peacekeeping operations: budget performance for the period from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018 and budget for the period from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020” (document A/73/776), stating that it focuses on new developments, policy changes and management challenges facing peacekeeping operations, as well as cross-cutting initiatives.  He said $7.4 billion was spent on peacekeeping operations in 2017/18, including all missions, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia, the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi, the United Nations Regional Support Centre Entebbe and the support account.  Compared to the approved budget of $7.5 billion, it showed an overall implementation rate of 99 per cent.  The unencumbered balance of $73.4 million mainly reflected the delayed deployment of uniformed personnel and non-deployment of helicopters in the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and the reconfiguration of the air fleet, lower freight costs and lower than anticipate implementation of programmatic activities in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

“The financial performance of peacekeeping operations continued to show improvement, reflecting stronger management controls and the improved examination of year-end obligations,” he said, adding that several Security Council decisions during the reporting period had a significant impact on peacekeeping mandates.  Those included an additional 900 troops for MINUSCA to improve its protection of civilians, support to the electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), increased deployment of uniformed personnel in UNMISS towards a ceiling of 17,000 troops, and additional measures to enhance the safety and security of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) personnel.

On the Secretary-General’s budget proposals for 2019/20, he said the focus on peacekeeping will remain on Africa and the Middle East, where the environment for missions is expected to remain difficult and volatile.  The proposed resources amount to $6.6 billion, down 5.4 per cent or $382 million from the 2018/19 period, he said, attributing the reduction mainly to the drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) as well as post-electoral adjustments to MONUSCO’s posture.  He explained that resource requirements for UNAMID and MINUJUSTH are proposed for a six-month period, from 1 July 2019 to 31 December 2019, pending decisions from the Security Council on mission mandates.  Excluding those two missions, the budget proposals amount to $6.3 million, up 2.2 per cent or $133 million from 2018/19.  That increase relates mainly to an additional $75 million for MINUSMA and $72 million for UNMISS for higher than expected deployment of uniformed personnel and lower vacancy rates for international staff.  It also includes $56 million for the support account for peacekeeping operations relating to higher salary-related costs, the transfer of Umoja maintenance and support costs previously budgeted to the Logistics Base in Brindisi and the peacekeeping share of the proposed global shared service centres, he said.

CIHAN TERZI, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s related report (document A/73/755), noting that the overall resource level for peacekeeping operations has been decreasing every year since 2014/15 along with the number of uniformed personnel, while the number of civilian personnel has progressively decreased each year since 2012/13.  While the proposed budgetary level for the 12 peacekeeping missions plus UNSOS (United Nations Support Office in Somalia) represents an overall decrease of 6.5 per cent or $425.3 million compared with the previous period, the proposed requirements for support elements — namely, the Logistics Base in Brindisi, Regional Service Centre in Entebbe and the support account — are estimated to go up by 6.9 per cent or $43.1 million.

Noting persistent increases in the support ratios since 2014/15 and the absence of adequate analysis in the Secretary-General’s overview report, ACABQ recommends that the General Assembly request a comprehensive analysis thereon, he said, adding that the implementation of various efficiency initiatives should now be having a positive impact on support ratios.  On support structure, he said the Advisory Committee sees a need for a period of stabilization and an assessment of the effectiveness of the reorganized structures.  On the implementation of a supply chain management initiative, ACABQ recommends that the Assembly request an analysis from the Secretary-General.

Turning to other cross-cutting matters, he said the Secretary-General’s overview report still lacks details on the scope of activities included in peacekeeping mission budget proposals and the criteria for their inclusion.  The Advisory Committee recommends that he do so in future reports, together with details of contractual arrangements with implementing partners.  Regarding the deployment of unmanned aerial systems, it recommends that the Assembly request more details on lessons learned, the rationale and justification for their inclusion in mission budgets and measures to improve utilization.  Finally, with respect to closing or transitioning missions, it trusts that lessons learned from the closure of three mission since 2017 will be integrated into the upcoming transition processes for MINUJUSTH and UNAMID, include measures to limit the loss or theft of assets and the smooth handling of staff-related issues.

NADA TARBUSH, observer for the State of Palestine, spoke on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressing concern that the proposed level of resources continues to diminish.  With many delegations insisting on further depriving peacekeeping operations of resources, it raises the question of whether the management reforms adopted last year can continue to be implemented in the absence of proper funding.  “A robust peacekeeping budget is fundamental for the full implementation of agreed mandates,” she said, adding that cuts for the sake of cuts are unacceptable.  The Group of 77 calls on the Secretariat to practice financial discipline and adhere to mandates laid down in relevant resolutions.  Mandates are the prerogative of Members States and it is not for the Secretariat to decide which mandates will be implemented and which will not, she said.  The Group of 77 will also look closely at how reform has helped to improve budgetary performance, she said, reiterating that a basic lack of resources can only be resolved through all Member States paying their assessments in full, on time and without conditions.

Noting that the Security Council has, in recent years, expanded the number of programmatic activities that missions are required to implement to resolve conflicts and build lasting peace, she said the Secretariat must keep working to increase their effectiveness.  At the same time, the Group of 77 rejects imposing artificial criteria for the governance of such activities.  Turning to the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse, she stressed that the Organization’s zero-tolerance policy must apply equally to all.  She noted that the number of reported peacekeeping-related cases was 54 in 2018, compared with 62 in 2017 and 104 in 2016.  In 2018, 217 alleged perpetrators were United Nations personnel or personnel of the Organization’s implementing partners, compared with 78 uniformed personnel.  Given those trends, perhaps it is time to complement the victim-centred approach with a system-wide reprisal framework for civilian personnel, as is the case with uniformed personnel.  The Group of 77 will seek more information on mechanisms aimed at addressing cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving civilians and United Nations personnel at Headquarters and in the field, she said, adding that strict and full implementation of whistle-blower protection policies is essential for encouraging staff to report misconduct.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, attached great importance to the capabilities and performance of the troops deployed and to the need for fully operational equipment.  United Nations peacekeeping should always make use of the best technology available to improve the security and safety of the troops and of other personnel and to reduce the environmental footprint of the missions.  Modern technologies, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, radars and other surveillance equipment, do save lives, he stressed, expressing the bloc’s readiness to further engage in discussions on how to better protect troops and United Nations personnel.  The bloc also welcomes the ongoing implementation of the Secretariat’s six-year environment strategy and recent efforts to develop global environmental management systems and tools to improve the missions’ green footprint, he said, also expressing strong support for continued, adequate deployment of gender advisers and child protection advisers to assist missions.  Peacekeeping missions and the Organization’s country teams should closely work together to create a continuum between peacekeeping, peacebuilding and development.  The bloc regrets that in the last two years, the Fifth Committee was not able to find a comprehensive agreement on the cross-cutting issues as a whole but hopes to conclude the current session with “a forward-looking outcome”.

FELIX SIEGFRIED WANNER (Switzerland), speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, emphasizing that the most effective and cheapest way to deal with any conflict is to prevent it, expressed dismay at the high number of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of field missions, as well as the persistent recurrence of the most egregious forms of such acts.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s efforts, including the development of a common screening platform to ensure that potential candidates have no prior record of misconduct related to sexual exploitation and abuse, he said still more needs to be done, with priority going towards prevention, accountability and investigation as well as support to victims.  He went on to encourage further decentralization of decision-making authority under the Organization’s new management paradigm and the simplification of policies and processes.  He also underlined the importance of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) for effective and efficient peace operations and encouraged the Secretary-General to implement its recommendations in a timely manner to foster accountability.

BRIAN CONROY (United States) noted that this is the first discussion on cross-cutting policy issues since the launch of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative and adoption of key elements of the Secretary-General’s management and peace and security architecture reforms.  His delegation looks forward to learning more about how these initiatives have improved mandate delivery, strengthened the partnership among all peacekeeping stakeholders and enhanced strategic planning and service delivery.  The United States strongly supports the Secretary-General’s efforts in several key policy areas, including increasing uniformed women in peacekeeping operations, measuring and incentivizing the performance of peacekeeping operations and taking proactive measures to enhance the safety and security of peacekeepers.  In addition, the Fifth Committee has a responsibility to advance reforms that improve the efficiency of peacekeeping operations.  He noted the ongoing implementation of the Secretary-General’s review of air assets and improved management of supply chains, vehicle fleets, and rations and encouraged this work to continue.  The United States agrees with the ACABQ’s observation that peacekeeping budgets must demonstrate scalability of mission support components, in particular during downsizing and reconfiguration, he said, expressing hope that the Fifth Committee will reach consensus on a cross-cutting resolution this year.

DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV (Russian Federation) expressed regret that the Fifth Committee was not able to adopt a resolution on cross-cutting issues in the last two years, stressing that his delegation hopes for a consensus on the matter this year.  The proposed peacekeeping budget of $6.6 billion for 2019/20 is lower than the level approved for the previous year and even lower than the Secretary-General’s previous proposal.  Noting the trend of reduced peacekeeping budgets, he said the cuts should not negatively impact peacekeeping performance.  In that regard, he stressed the importance of efficiency gains and strengthening planning and transparency, also drawing attention to expensive equipment not efficiently used in the field.  Any decision taken should increase the effectiveness of peacekeeping operations, he emphasized.

United Nations Logistics Base at Brindisi, Italy

Mr. RAMANATHAN then introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the financing of the United Nations Logistics Base at Brindisi, Italy (documents A/73/636 and A/73/774).  He said the proposed 2019/20 budget amounts to $65.2 million, a decrease of 20.9 per cent from the 2018/19 approved budget, due primarily to the proposed transfer of Umoja maintenance and support costs to the support account for peacekeeping operations, the application of a lower exchange rate between the euro and the United States dollar and its impact on estimates for national staff costs, and a lower post-adjustment factor for international staff.  The vision is to transform the Logistics Base into an operational service centre for supply chain management, engineering, environmental management, specialized programming such as occupational health and safety, and geospatial, information and telecommunications technologies, he said.  The proposed budget also includes a revised concept of operations for strategic deployment stocks, as recommended by OIOS and requested by the Assembly, he added.

Mr. TERZI introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/73/755/Add.9), stating that the proposed updated revised concept of operations for strategic deployment stocks fails to provide a full picture of the financial implications.  The ACABQ therefore recommends that the Secretary-General be asked to provide a separate and comprehensive report on the revised concept that would include a detailed analysis of all management aspects.  Regarding the scalability model, he said its parameters should be refined to further clarify the relationship between workload and full-time equivalent requirements.  He added that the Advisory Committee recommends against the proposed reassignment of a P-4 post to the P-5 level and the reclassification of three other posts.  It also recommends some adjustments under consultants and consulting services, official travel, facilities and infrastructure, ground transportation, communications and information technology, and other supplies, services and equipment.

Ms. TARBUSH, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, recalled that the logistics bases have been operating since late 1994, functioning as a unified entity with an important role to play in supporting peacekeeping missions.  Recalling the OIOS’s recommendation on the need to consider alternative locations for strategic deployment stocks to put them closer to theatres of operation, she said the Group does not understand why a study and decision on the matter were not expedited, given that procurement is considered an urgent area of reform.  The inclusion of unmanned aerial vehicles as part of the strategic deployment stock is unjustified, and despite efficiency gains that have reduced the number of contractors, there have been no substantial changes in staff allocation.

Financing of the United Nations Peacekeeping Missions

Mr. RAMANATHAN introduced the reports of the Secretary-General on the financing of four peacekeeping missions, namely the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), MINUJUSTH, MINUSMA, and UNSOS.

Regarding UNISFA (documents A/73/610 and A/73/742), he said that the proposed budget of $267.9 million for 2019/20 represents an increase of 1.5 per cent over the previous year’s approved budget.  The increase relates largely to the planned deployment of 135 additional United Nations police personnel and one formed police unit.  This increase is offset partly by the reduction of the authorized troop ceiling by 946 military contingent personnel.  The Force will continue to provide the sole security presence in the Abyei area and to support the delivery of humanitarian aid, freedom of movement and the protection of civilians under imminent threat. 

Turning to MINUJUSTH (documents A/73/641 and A/73/748), he said that the proposed amount of $51.9 million in arrangements for the period from 1 July to 31 December 2019 will provide adequate resources to continue to fulfil its existing mandates and conduct closure activities, taking into account the planned drawdown of formed police units, the gradual downsizing of civilian personnel and the closure of camps and other liquidation activities. 

As for MINUSMA (documents A/73/634 and A/73/760), he said that the proposed budget of $1.1 billion for 2019/20 reflects an increase of 7 per cent over the 2018/19 year’s approved budget.  The Mission is expected to reach full operational capability of uniformed personnel during the 2019/20 period and is increasing its presence in central Mali to support the extension of State authority and the protection of civilians.

Moving on to UNSOS (documents A/73/611 and A/73/762), he said that the proposed budget of $569.5 million represents a 2 per cent increase over the previous year’s approved budget, reflecting new requirements for international and national civilian staffing identified by the internal review of the Mission in 2018 and the subsequent staffing review.  UNSOS will continue to provide logistical support to the operations of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Mr. TERZI introduced the ACABQ’s related reports on those four peacekeeping missions.

Regarding UNISFA (document A/73/755/Add.11), he said that the Advisory Committee does not recommend the establishment of the Administrative Officer post (P-3) in the reginal office of Gok Machar, and considers that the increased level of requirements for operational costs in 2019/20 is not fully justified.  It would not be realistic to assume that the full scope of construction projects planned for 2019/20 will proceed as planned.  Therefore, the Advisory Committee recommends a 15 per cent cut to the proposed additional resource requirements for operational costs.

As for MINUJUSTH (document A/73/755/Add.6), he said that the Secretary-General requested commitments not exceeding $51.8 million for the six months ending 31 December 2019.  However, the Security Council decided to extend the mandate of the Mission only until 15 October 2019.  The Advisory Committee trusts that the Secretary-General will inform the General Assembly of the implications of the Council decision on the proposed deployment of United Nations police and Government-provided personnel through 31 December 2019.  The Advisory Committee considers that the increased requirements for facilities and infrastructure should be better justified and recommends that the General Assembly authorize the commitments not exceeding $50.9 million.

Turning to MINUSMA (document A/73/755/Add.7), he said that the Advisory Committee opposes the proposed establishment of a Strategic Planning Officer post (P-4) and a Business Intelligence Assistant post (national General Service).  The Advisory Committee recommends a reduction of $2 million to the proposed resources for communications and information technology and a reduction of $1.5 million to the proposed resources for facilities and infrastructure.  Further, some reductions are recommended under the budget items “travel for training” and “ground transportation”.  The General Assembly should request the Secretary-General to include a detailed analysis of the use of unmanned aerial systems including information on their efficiency, cost, and the lessons learned from their utilization in his next report.

Finally on UNSOS (document A/73/755/Add.8), he said that the Advisory Committee recommends approval of 22 new posts but opposes the establishment of the other two posts (P-3 and P-4).  The proposed strengthening of staff capacity in internal controls and accountability for procurement and contract management will address the gaps and risks identified by in the 2018 reviews.  Regarding redeployment, reassignments and realignments proposed for 2019/20, the Advisory Committee expects that information will be provided to the General Assembly.  Future budget proposals should contain comprehensive information and clarity about all staffing changes.  The Advisory Committee also expects that information on the evolving operational requirements and the related financial impact will be presented in future budget proposals, such as the evolving role of the Mombasa Logistics Base.

ALISON SOLANGE GRAÑA CORONEL (Uruguay), speaking also for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Paraguay, said that MINUJUSTH is the only peacekeeping mission in the Latin American and Caribbean region, which is now drawing down.  Noting that the Mission in Haiti originally began in 2004 and calling for a responsible transition to a special political mission, as agreed on by the Security Council, she stressed that continued United Nations support is essential, including assistance relating to the rule of law, human rights, security, holding of elections, and peacebuilding.  She expressed full support for the Secretary-General’s proposed budget for the Mission as predictable funding is needed to avoid a security vacuum.

ESHETE TILAHUN (Ethiopia) said that it is unfortunate that peacekeeping missions are increasingly being tasked with extended mandates while simultaneously facing demands for delivering more and more with diminishing resources.  Mandates and resource requirements must be balanced for the achievement of the missions’ scope of operation and goals.  It is unacceptable that peacekeepers are exposed to dangerous situations in which they are at risk for health hazards and death.  UNISFA has been operating under heavy resource constraints, particularly during the last two years.  Consequently, special requirements for female contingents, accommodation and logistical arrangements are still below standard.  His delegation supports the Secretary-General’s 2019/20 budget proposal of $267.9 million for UNISFA. 

The Advisory Committee’s recommendation to reduce the Secretary-General’s budget by $3.04 million must be adequately explained, he said.  “The question is will this reduction significantly affect any of the mandated tasks?  This indeed needs proper explanation,” he said.  His delegation, however, appreciates the Advisory Committee’s recommendation concerning the need to promptly pay more than $112 million owed for contingent-owned equipment and settle the 12 outstanding claims for death and disability compensation.  He expressed hope that all the accumulated reimbursements and payments will be paid to avoid overburdening the troop-contributing countries.  On UNSOS, he said some of the budget cuts have not taken into account the resources needed for life-support activities.  “This is inappropriate and has to be reconsidered seriously,” he said, stressing that the Secretary-General’s proposal to reflect the gravity of the logistical and supply challenges in Somalia merits the full support of the Fifth Committee.  Cash balances of peacekeeping operations should be improved and outstanding claims be settled within a reasonable time frame, he added.

For information media. Not an official record.