Fifth Committee Approves Work Programme for Current Session, Which Includes Proposed Programme Budget for 2012-2013
Chair Urges Delegates to Be Flexible, Pragmatic in Debate on Complex Agenda
As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) adopted its programme of work for the sixty-sixth session today, delegates underscored the challenge of an intensive agenda which aims, among other things, to agree on a proposed budget for the 2012-2013 biennium by 9 December.
Opening the organizational meeting, Committee Chair Michel Tommo Monthe (Cameroon) said he could not underestimate the quantity and complexity of the work facing members as they addressed the finances, administration, human resources and rules, regulations and procedures linked to the effective and smooth functioning of the United Nations system. “Constantly questioning the management of others, we have to set an example of good management ourselves,” he said, urging delegations to take a flexible and pragmatic approach.
Further urging Committee members to avoid redundancies, as well as an abundance of requests for proposals and documentation, he called on them to meditate on the meaning of sharing, particularly the shared interests of this “common house where men and women strive on a daily basis — sometimes sacrificing their own lives — for the ultimate well-being of all”.
“We have to show credibility and accountability, being diligent in our work,” he stressed, expressing his belief that this would be possible through careful planning and interactive debate and deliberation.
In addition to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2012-2013, the delegates will receive briefings on long-term accommodation at the United Nations Headquarters, the Capital Master Plan, International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), information and communications technology, including Umoja enterprise resources planning, the Strategic Heritage Plan at the United Nations Office in Geneva, and the activities of the Ethics Office.
Mr. Monthe said document A/C.5/66/L.1, which outlines the status of the preparedness of relevant documentation, was submitted in advance of today’s meeting for issuance in the six official languages and did not reflect subsequent updates. Further, a separate list on the status of documentation would be issued for the Committee’s first and second resumed sessions.
Turning to the Assembly’s efforts to streamline the resolution process, he said resolutions should only request reports from the United Nations Secretary-General in cases where the report was indispensable for facilitating implementation. Resolutions should also be short and focus on the action-oriented paragraphs.
Japan’s representative said the most important challenge during this session would be the 2012-2013 budget proposals, but several essential systemic issues such as the funding of special political missions, backstopping arrangements and re-costing methodologies, would also be discussed. Those issues, which would define the backbone of the Organization’s budgetary process, deserved sufficient attention for a thorough and profound analysis. For that reason, Japan would like to request that the Secretariat submit reports on those issues as soon as possible, and encourage other delegates to deliberate on those issues in a timely manner.
Highlighting the impact of the global financial crisis and the need to do more with less, the representative of the United States noted some positive steps regarding the proposed 2012-2013 budget, such as the United Nations Secretary-General’s February call for managers to cut 3 per cent or more from budget outlines. However, not every part of the Organization had risen to the challenge and the proposed budget failed to spend less in 2012-2013 than it did in 2010-2011. Too few measures were realistic, financially meaningful or clearly sustainable. While reductions were proposed for 18 of the 37 budget fascicles before the Committee, 15 still showed increases, while 4 remained unchanged. Zeroing in on personnel costs, which he said were the key driver of future costs, he noted that the proposed budget abolished just 44 net posts from the Organization’s workforce of 10,307. Moreover, the inevitable add-ons that would be tabled during the session could result in an alarming total proposed 2012-2013 budget of $5.5 billion, which represented a 2 per cent increase over the 2010-2011 budget.
Addressing the common complaint that special political missions were responsible for the relentless growth of the United Nations budget in the last decade, he stressed that those missions were, by definition, non-permanent expenses and the budget showed a 75 per cent increase even when they were not taken into account. In that context, he argued that debate during the budget process should focus on why the number of, and compensation for, United Nations personnel had grown so dramatically. He also renewed the United States objection to receiving the United Nations budget proposal in a piecemeal fashion, with too little real financial analysis. Doing more with less was not an American or developed world perspective, but a global necessity given current economic challenges, he added, offering examples from around the world in which efficiency initiatives had reaped savings for a wide range of Governments.
Detailing further specific concerns on the regular budget, he expressed disappointment that the proposal on the overhaul of the Administration of Justice system and details on the treatment of cases from the Dispute and Appeals Tribunals had not yet been received, since the potential costs associated with implementing the decisions of those tribunals were significant. After being promised a great deal, the Organization was now being offered a patchwork approach to Umoja’s implementation, which should be accomplished on time, without additional resources and with quantifiable savings from implementation. He expressed more general disappointment that the Office of Information and Communications Technology continued to present proposals for additional staff and initiatives without first demonstrating tangible results with the resources already allocated.
He further stressed that every effort should be made to provide the resources and tools needed to make the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) as robust as it was intended to be. The buy-in of a major stakeholder was necessary for the broadest possible agreement on any issue and the United States looked forward to working closely with all delegations on the Committee’s agenda. Finally, he stressed that the urgent search for savings should not be abstract, calling, in that regard, for a comprehensive, department-by-department, line-by-line review of the budget that aimed to achieve real, meaningful and sustainable reduction in expenses from the last biennium.
Speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, Chile’s representative said it disagreed with the indiscriminate 3.7 per cent cuts in the proposed 2012-2013 biennium compared with what was approved in the budget outline for that period. The Group was especially concerned about cuts affecting the Organization’s development pillar in general and those affecting the resources and posts of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in particular. The budget must maintain balance between the Organization’s three basic pillars — peace and security, human rights, and development — while also ensuring that funding for ECLAC and other agencies were sufficient for their mandates, he said.
He further underlined the urgent need for the Committee to embark on an in-depth consideration of alternative ways of financing special political missions, which currently accounted for 25 per cent of the regular budget. In addition, the senior advisory group on reimbursement to troop-contributing countries should be established in a timely manner and with respect to the carefully balanced resolution.
Argentina’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it appreciated the increase in timely submission of documents to the Fifth Committee, but the goal of 90 per cent compliance had not been met. The Group expected further progress on those perennial difficulties, which would contribute to the effective work of the Committee and to well-informed decision-making. Negotiations for the Committee also had to be conducted in an inclusive, transparent manner, ensuring the decision-making process was based on the Organization’s entire membership.
Aligning with the Group of 77 and China, and speaking on behalf of the African Group, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire stressed that the late issuance of documentation constituted a major challenge to the Committee’s work and a lasting solution must urgently be found.
In other business, the Committee set 4 November for elections to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and other appointments. It also set 14 October as the deadline for the submission of candidates.
Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Tommo Monthe paid tribute to the work of Jun Yamazaki of Japan, Controller, noting that he would soon be leaving his post.
The Committee will take up the scale of assessments for the apportionment of expenses of the United Nations at 10 a.m. Monday, 3 October.
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