Speakers Seek More Details on Improving Staff Performance, Organizational Culture, as Fifth Committee Reviews Roll-Out of Accountability Framework across Secretariat

GA/AB/4354
11 March 2020

Speakers Seek More Details on Improving Staff Performance, Organizational Culture, as Fifth Committee Reviews Roll-Out of Accountability Framework across Secretariat

Speakers praised and called for more details about the roll-out of a new framework for assigning senior managers greater authority to make decisions and hold their staff accountable for results, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met to review the efficiency of that system in the United Nations Secretariat.

The delegate of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that guaranteeing accountability is more important than ever given the Organization’s dire liquidity conditions.  Highlighting the need for a proper review of the changes in workload and responsibility, she said that the Secretary-General’s future progress reports should include more specific examples of improvements due to results-based management, and the Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Framework should be implemented adequately.

The European Union’s representative noted that improved accountability of staff and managers is a cornerstone of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda, advocating for the creation of a highly transparent and robust framework for an organizational culture that prevents and addresses misconduct, including sexual abuse and harassment — a common concern among delegates.  He encouraged the Secretary-General to update Member States about progress, joining other speakers — including the representatives of the United States, Republic of Korea and Japan — in supporting the recently created Business Transformation and Accountability Division in the Department of Management, Strategy, Policy and Compliance.

Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s ninth report on accountability, observing that, by December 2019, a total of 213 heads of entity had accepted their new authorities and more than 4,800 subdelegations had been issued and accepted.

Bachar Bong, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing its eponymous report, emphasized the critical links between institutional and personal accountability and recalled the ACABQ recommendation that data from the individual compacts could be analysed and processed in order to provide an overview of the status and trends of departmental and Secretariat-wide performance.

The representative of Switzerland, also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, expressed concern that not all recommendations made by several related bodies, including the Joint Inspection Unit, are fully implemented, calling on the concerned entities to take necessary actions in that regard.

Delegates also discussed Amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules, with Ms. Pollard introducing the Secretary-General’s reports on the subject and Mr. Bong presenting the Advisory Committee’s corresponding report.

The speaker for the European Union welcomed the proposals put forward aimed at achieving gender parity and strengthening the United Nations zero‑tolerance approach to sexual activity with children.  Guyana’s representative, however, pointed to a lack of clarity in the presentation of the amendments, also expressing concern that several proposals touch upon sensitive and complex policy issues that have not yet been reviewed or agreed upon by the General Assembly.

In other business, the Fifth Committee recommended by acclamation that the General Assembly appoint Ji-sun Jun of the Republic of Korea to the Committee on Contributions, for a term beginning immediately and ending on 31 December.  Ms. Jun would replace Sang-deok Na, also of the Republic of Korea, who resigned effective 26 February.

Accountability

CATHERINE POLLARD, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Ninth progress report on accountability:  strengthening accountability in the United Nations Secretariat” (document A/74/658), stating that accountability is the cornerstone upon which an effective and trustworthy organization is built.  As such, the Secretary-General has been undertaking a more structured and rigorous implementation of the accountability system in the Secretariat.

She noted the new system of delegation of authority has been fully established, with more than 213 delegations and 4,800 subdelegations issued and accepted by December 2019.  The system is accompanied by a new accountability mechanism that requires decision makers to comply with ethical standards and monitors, and includes a handbook and policy guidance, tools aimed at ensuring the appropriate utilization by programme managers of the delegation issued.  She underlined the critical role played by the Capacity Development and Operational Training Service, within the Department of Operational Support, which developed a specific programme towards enhancing client capacities for accountability and providing training to heads of entities.

BACHAR BONG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing that body’s eponymous report (document A/74/741), recommended that the General Assembly request the Secretary-General to include in his tenth progress report on accountability, information on the implementation of results-based management, the results of self-evaluation exercises, and experience and lessons learned from the perspective of all heads of entity on their ability to responsibly and accountably exercise their delegations of authority.  Emphasizing the importance of the critical linkages between institutional and personal accountability, he recalled the Advisory Committee’s recommendation that data from the individual compacts could be analysed and processed in order to provide an overview of the status and trends of departmental performance, and of Secretariat-wide performance and accountability.  The Advisory Committee has not received documents by their scheduled submission dates.  This has negatively impacted the Advisory Committee’s ability to conduct and complete its work in a timely manner, he said, recommending that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to provide documents by their deadlines.

MEGAYLA AUSTIN (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that, given that liquidity conditions continue to be dire, guaranteeing accountability of the Organization’s staff is more important than ever.  She cited the importance of discussing the review and adjustment of the initial 16 key performance indicators, as well as changes in workload and responsibilities resulting from enhanced delegation of authority.  The Group agrees with ACABQ that much remains to be included in future progress reports on accountability, including concrete information and specific examples of improvements resulting from implementation of results-based management.  She further agreed on the importance of adequate implementation of the Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Framework.  In that regard, steps being taken to prepare a guidebook and establish the anti-fraud task force must bear in mind recommendations of internal and external oversight bodies.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, said that it is important to ensure that the United Nations has a robust accountability framework of highest transparency which contributes towards the strengthening of a culture of results.  Improved accountability of staff and managers is a cornerstone of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda.  The Union had agreed that the Organization’s reform should give greater responsibility to managers and ensure stronger accountability.  Praising the roll-out of a new framework for delegation of authority, he encouraged the Secretary-General to keep Member States updated on the function of this new tool while also welcoming the creation of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division in the Department of Management, Strategy, Policy and Compliance.  There is a real need for a cultural shift within the Organization, he said, stressing the importance for the United Nations to continue working to prevent and address misconduct.  A robust system is needed for tackling sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment, focused on prevention and accountability.

FELIX SIEGFRIED WANNER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, noted that the General Assembly has stressed that accountability is a central principle of management reform and starts with upper management, which must lead by example.  He welcomed efforts the Secretary-General’s efforts to create a more robust and effective accountability system, noting that progress is ongoing.  Highlighting the crucial role of internal and external oversight in building a well‑functioning system, he expressed concern that not all recommendations made by several related bodies, including the Joint Inspection Unit, are fully implemented, calling on the concerned entities to take necessary actions in that regard.

ANCA DIGIACOMO (United States) said that the Business Transformation and Accountability Division is among the most important components of accountability.  The Division should be the “engine room” of accountability for the United Nations Secretariat, leading the way through change and raising the warning flag when things go awry.  Her delegation will carefully follow the Division’s progress and impact in 2020 and in coming years.  The United Nations should continue to undertake a cultural change to ensure a workplace where sexual harassment is never tolerated, abusers are held accountable and staff feel safe to report incidents.  The United States supports ACABQ’s recommendations, especially regarding the delegation of authority framework, the implementation of results-based management, senior manager compacts and the timely issuance of documents.  As for the Joint Inspection Unit’s review of audit and oversight committees in the United Nations system, her delegation supports the Unit’s recommendation that the United Nations Secretariat comply with good practices regarding independent audit and oversight.

JISUN JUN (Republic of Korea) stated that, in the three years since the General Assembly stressed accountability as a central principle of management reform, several important institutional changes have been made, including establishment of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division and a new system of delegation authority.  While agreeing with the Secretary-General report’s conclusion that cultural change of the accountability system will take time, she highlighted the importance of maintaining momentum until a strong culture of accountability is established within all levels of the Organization.

YASUKO NISHIMURA (Japan) attached great importance to strengthening accountability in the United Nations Secretariat, noting that its work is funded by collective investment and is ultimately borne by the taxpayers of the Member States.  Concurring with the Advisory Committee’s views, Japan seeks further information on the performance of the newly established Business Transformation and Accountability Division and the new system of delegation of authority.  It also wishes to know what next steps will be needed to address gaps and issues raised after the first year of implementation.

Amendments to Staff Regulations and Rules

Ms. POLLARD, introducing the reports of the Secretary-General on the Amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules (documents A/74/289 and A/73/378/Add.1), stated that changes include a proposed new staff regulation on employment and accessibility for staff members with disabilities.  The Secretary-General also proposes a staff rule amendment related to prohibited conduct, specifically involving sexual activity with children, clarifying that sexual activity with persons under age 18 is prohibited regardless of the local age of consent, a zero-tolerance approach aligned with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) mandate to fight sexual activity with children.

An additional amendment addresses the staff rule on special post allowance, addressing inequity in payment between external candidates selected for a temporary appointment and currently serving staff members in non-mission locations taking up the same functions, she said.  She cited a proposed amendment to the staff rule on salary deductions to provide a clearer basis for the Organization to make voluntary deductions of amounts reflected in family support court orders where staff members fail to comply.  The Fifth Committee should also consider a proposed amendment to the staff rule on recruitment of National Professional Officers, clarifying that they may be temporarily assigned for periods less than three months outside their country of employment, provided it does not entail a change of duty station.  She further noted a proposed amendment to two staff rules to include the principle of equitable distribution of positions between men and women.  The proposals reflect ongoing efforts to streamline and simplify the Secretariat’s policy framework to support the new management paradigm.

Mr. BACHAR BONG introduced the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/74/732), welcoming the inclusion of the provision on employment and accessibility for staff members with disabilities in the proposed new regulation.  The Secretary-General has submitted to the General Assembly three related reports on the amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules, but the presentation of these reports lacks clarity.  Of particular concern to the Advisory Committee is the “further explanations” provided in the third report.  As for the proposed amendments of general and overlapping nature in Section II of its report, the Advisory Committee considers that this is a policy matter for consideration and decision by the General Assembly, given the complexity and sensitivity of the proposed amendments involving gender-inclusive language.

The Advisory Committee has stressed that amendments involving significant changes to the relevant human resources management policies should have been presented in the Secretary-General’s reports on overall human resources policy and strategy, he said.  The proposed addition of a principle in the proposed Regulation 4.2(b) appears to be contradictory to and may cause misunderstanding of what is contained in the current Regulation 4.3 with respect to the Charter.  The Advisory Committee notes that the amendments in proposed Regulation 4.2(b) and Rules 9.6(d) and 13.5(d), as well as the proposals to Rule 3.10(b) and Rule 4.18 would lead to higher expenditures.  Other amendments to certain Staff Rules may contain financial implications.  More information and clarification on financial implications should be provided to the Assembly now.  The Advisory Committee, he said, has provided its observations and recommendations in Section III of its report.

Ms. AUSTIN (Guyana), speaking again on behalf of the Group of 77, noted that there is a lack of clarity in presentation of the amendments, given that multiple reports which do not supersede one another are presented simultaneously.  Some proposals “appear to subvert the hierarchy of norms in the United Nations, thus giving rise to more confusion instead of clarity,” she said, also expressing concern that several proposals touch upon sensitive and complex policy issues that have not yet been reviewed or agreed upon by the General Assembly.  While strong emphasis is placed upon the principle of “equitable distribution of the positions between men and women”, she stressed that equal attention must be paid to the principle of equitable geographical representation in accordance with Article 101 of the Charter.

Mr. DE PRETER, European Union, praised efforts under way to ensure that the Staff Regulations and Rules can be more easily read and understood.  The Union welcomes the proposals put forward, ranging from mere editorial amendments, such as use of gender-inclusive language, to substantive changes aimed at strengthening the United Nations zero‑tolerance approach to sexual activity with children.  Expressing hope that these amendments will be approved by the General Assembly, he also stressed the particular importance the Union attaches to the changes proposed in relation to gender parity, as well as those intended to make the Organization a more accessible and inclusive workplace.  The Union therefore welcomes the reference in the Staff Regulations to a balanced gender representation.

GEUN-JUNG RYU (Republic of Korea) expressed regret that the formal meeting on the amendments to Staff Regulations and Rules had to convene today due to late issuance of the ACABQ report on the matter.  The Fifth Committee should be more mindful of time restraint as it discusses the agenda item and the Advisory Committee, and the Secretariat must make sure all reports are submitted prior to the start of the session.  He also noted that making progress and producing a tangible outcome should necessitate a more practical and flexible approach, given there are 30 reports under the agenda item for deliberation with only two and a half weeks maximum for discussion.  Delegations must do their best to reach consensus on all sub-items and be flexible in areas that lack common ground while deferring some contested sub-items to future sessions.  Reports published annually and biennially should not be deferred, which would make deliberations in future sessions even more difficult.

For information media. Not an official record.