BUDGET COMMITTEE BEGINS CONSIDERATION OF VISITORS’ EXPERIENCE PROPOSAL, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, COMMERCIAL ACTIVITIES, DEVELOPMENT ACCOUNT
Serious Concerns Expressed Regarding
NEW YORK, 11 October (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) began consideration of several items this morning under the 2000-2001 programme budget, including the question of the visitors’ experience, information technology, improving the profitability of commercial activities and the Development Account.
Several speakers in the debate stressed that investment in information technology should bring tangible efficiency and productivity gains and thus release resources that could be redirected to other sectors. Serious concerns were expressed over the budgetary implications outlined in the information technology report. Also, consideration should be given to linking systems to prevent the proliferation of costly, incompatible and overlapping structures.
The representative of Ghana, however, said that while he understood the initial frustrations in some quarters with unrealized savings, investments in information and communication technology (ICT) application of information technology should not result in sharp drops in the levels of hard-copy publications. Trade-offs should not be made between the demands for an electronic United Nations and the needs of underprivileged external end-users without ICT access capabilities.
Australia’s representative expressed surprise that information technology strategy had been developed after the proposed budget for 2002-2003 had been prepared. That seemed to imply that there was no relationship between the strategic planning process and the resources, which should underpin it. It would mean that the document was in fact irrelevant to the information technology resources the Committee was about to consider. While called a plan of action, the document had none of the characteristics usually associated with such plans. There were no dates for action, no timetable and no deadlines for the achievement of goals.
Also this morning, several speakers agreed that the proposed visitors’ programme should be in line with the capital master plan and questioned the Secretariat’s related optimistic revenue forecasts. Concerns were also expressed regarding the desirability of creating a special fund for the proposed project, with delegates saying that a more detailed examination of the programme would be required in the future.
Regarding the Secretary-General’s report on the profitability of commercial activities, the representative of Belgium (speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States) said that it was first necessary to draw a plan defining commercial objectives and the measures to be taken to achieve them. The administrative structures underpinning those activities then needed to be streamlined and simplified. Preference should be given to the use of subcontracting, and any space at Headquarters occupied by the system’s other organizations must be accounted for.
Turning to the Development Account, the representative of Iran (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing contries and China) said that the actual level of resources in the Account was far below the ambitious estimate of $200 million from so-called "efficiency gains". He noted that 23 projects had been approved by resolution 54/15 of June 1999, at a total cost of over $26 million, since the establishment of the Account. Of the amount approved, only some $8.88 million had been spent as of 31 March 2001. He urged more determined efforts for the full and effective implementation of the approved projects.
[The Development Account, first proposed by the Secretary-General as a part of his reform package, is a special multi-year account for supplementary development activities financed in part from efficiency savings under various sections of the programme budget.]
Introducing several reports before the Committee, Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services Toshiyuki Niwa, said the proposal for the visitors' experience had predated the events of 11 September, which would have serious implications for the overall implementation of the visitors’ experience. The safety and security infrastructure of the United Nations complex was of paramount importance. The events of 11 September added a new dimension to the relationship between the visitors’ experience and the capital master plan, and coordination of the two projects had become critical.
Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Syria, China and India.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, Patrizio Civili, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the Development Account.
The Committee will meet again on Monday, 15 October, at 10 a.m. to begin its consideration of the scale of assessments.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to consider several items under the 2000-2001 programme budget, including the visitors' experience, information technology, the profitability of commercial activities, honorariums to members of the International Narcotics Control Board and the Development Account.
The Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General containing a proposal for enhancing the United Nations experience for visitors (document A/55/835). This proposal envisages the construction of new visitors' facilities at the 47th Street entrance of the Headquarters complex, which would be linked to the General Assembly by an underground path. It also includes the introduction of an interactive, multimedia programme of exhibits.
The capital cost of the proposed new facilities and the associated initial investment in equipment, which is estimated at between some $50 and $60 million, will be funded entirely from private sources and will be treated as in-kind contributions, the report says. Necessary improvements to the General Assembly building will be carried out as part of the Secretary-General's proposed capital master plan. The proposed new facilities will enhance the financial viability of the guided tour programme and improve the profitability of commercial activities.
Commenting on the Secretary-General's proposal, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in its first report on the proposed budget for 2002-2003 (document A/56/7), says the report fails to clearly spell out the link between the capital master plan and the project for a new visitors' experience. Should the Assembly approve those projects, close coordination between the two would be needed. Noting that the visitors’ experience would be funded entirely through private sources (the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA/USA), the Advisory Committee stresses the importance of applying several conditions before accepting in-kind donations.
The design of the pavilion should preserve the international character and nature of the Organization and should be subject to United Nations’ approval, the Advisory Committee notes. The image of the United Nations should not be compromised through commercialization. While the ACABQ welcomes the participation of UNA/USA, efforts should be made to include United Nations associations of other countries. Firm commitments for the requisite level funding should be obtained before construction begins.
Budgetary implications during construction and prior to the opening of the new structures are estimated at some $1.6 million, the ACABQ notes. Of that amount, $1 million would be needed for engaging additional personnel, and $0.6 million for an advertising campaign prior to the opening. In this respect, the Organization should explore the possibility of securing public service advertising at minimal cost.
The ACABQ notes the Secretary-General's proposal to establish a visitors’ experience capital improvement fund, in which an amount equivalent to 20 per cent of gross revenues (but not more than $3.5 million) would be retained. While the ACABQ has no objection in principle to the fund, it is concerned about the possibility of deficits resulting in burden to the Organization. Should a fund be established, rules governing the replenishment, operation and management of the fund should be submitted for review. Should the Assembly decide to approve a new visitors' experience, the Secretary-General should enter into a formal agreement with UNA/USA, as well as any other associations that may participate in the project. All such agreements should be submitted to the ACABQ before final signature.
The Committee also had before it a two-part report of the Secretary-General on information technology in the Secretariat: a plan of action (document A/55/780). Part one -- the strategic plan -- includes a review of the status of technology in the Secretariat and highlights achievements over the past decade. Part two -- implementation of the strategy -- includes a description of planned actions and their expected results.
The creation of an "electronic United Nations" is essential for the Organization’s ability to better communicate, both internally and externally, the report says. Two major system-wide projects have been developed in the past decade: the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) and the Optical Disk System (ODS). These projects have placed the Secretariat at the forefront of technology, well ahead of most public sector entities around the world. The development of the United Nations Web site has also been successful.
All duty stations have established, or are in the process of establishing, a reliable Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure, the report says, but the capacity has been limited by the constraints of a zero-growth budget. While the current infrastructure at most duty stations is adequate, major upgrades will be needed to meet the increased user demands. The report also notes considerable duplication of systems and the lack of standard methodology throughout the Secretariat in the development of systems. The United Nations satellite capacity is insufficient for communication between Headquarters and three duty stations, namely Bangkok, Beirut and Nairobi.
According to the report, specific objectives for further development of the ICT include access to and sharing of information, ICT field support, development of technological infrastructure, capacity-building and establishment of an e-mail administration. To achieve these objectives, the Secretariat has adopted a strategy which would create a "worldwide virtual Organization". Specific actions include a detailed inventory of ICT infrastructure and organizational structures within the Secretariat. Also, a high-level ICT governance structure has been defined by the Steering Committee on Reform and Management. After studying a number of models, the Steering Committee concluded that a partially centralized model would be best suited to the needs of the Secretariat.
The Steering Committee also decided to create an ICT Board at Headquarters, comprised of ICT focal points at the management level, the report continues. The restructuring of the Information Technology Services Division within the Department of Management has also been completed. The Division has started playing a central coordinating role with departments and offices away from Headquarters. In conjunction with the Information Technology Services Division, the Office of Human Resources Management has implemented a Secretariat-wide training programme. The Steering Committee on Reform and Management is expected to approve a detailed plan of action with clearly established priorities.
Regarding financing of the ICT projects, the report states that while initial activities will be undertaken within existing resources, a need for additional resources will have to be assessed in the future. If necessary, requests for additional appropriations will be submitted following established procedures. Provisions for measures to upgrade the ICT infrastructure, security and training have been made in the 2002-2003 proposed budget. Departments and offices may also submit specific plans for new initiatives and projects within their own proposed budget. A detailed progress report highlighting the work undertaken, and possible difficulties encountered, will be submitted to the Assembly's next session.
According to the ACABQ, central leadership, strategic guidance and standard setting were needed to implement the proposals outlined in the Secretary-General's report. Departmental heads will also need to implement decisions at the operational level. Noting the creation of an ICT Board at Headquarters, the Advisory Committee hopes that the Steering Committee and the ICT Board will develop into effective policy-setting instruments that can establish and monitor clear guidelines. Commenting on the Information Technology Services Division, it believes that that Division must be staffed with qualified personnel, capable of providing technical guidance and support throughout the Secretariat. The head of the Division should act as a chief information and communication technology officer of the United Nations.
Resource requirements for information technology in the 2002-2003 proposed programme budget would amount to some $148.1 million, the ACABQ notes. Investments in information technology should result in increased efficiency, reduced requests for staff in support services and redeployment of resources. The lack of financial information on what would be required in both the short and long term is a serious weakness in the Secretary-General's report. A comprehensive progress report on the implementation of the information technology strategy should be prepared for the fifty-seventh session of the Assembly, in conjunction with the proposed programme budget. The report should encompass peacekeeping information systems under the auspices of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
On the issue of worldwide information sharing, the ACABQ observes that major tools to facilitate access to information include the United Nations Web site as a portal to all official documentation and a new state-of-the-art optical disk system. To successfully develop those tools, more attention must be devoted to system-wide coordination. In preparing an information technology strategy, the requirements of Member States as "internal end-users" must be kept in mind.
Regarding an integrated search engine for the United Nations Web site, the ACABQ points out the urgent need for search engines capable of quickly retrieving documents on the basis of key words. The lack of effective coordination of ICT activities has made it difficult to develop standard methodologies. As a result, various stand-alone systems have been developed, which do not allow the exchange and transfer of information. To reduce the proliferation of incompatible or duplicate systems, collaborative efforts should be enhanced to adapt IMIS to the needs of the field, country offices and peacekeeping operations wherever possible.
Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General (document A/55/546) on proposed measures to improve the profitability of the commercial activities of the United Nations. In 1997, the General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to propose measures to improve the profitability of United Nations commercial activities and to develop new income-generating measures. Commercial activities include the United Nations Postal Administration, guided tours, the United Nations Bookshop and publications, the Gift Centre, Catering and the newsstand.
Management of commercial activities should be distinct from the management of core programme activities, the report says. Current planning is limited by the biennial budget document preparation. Strategic planning that clearly communicated the long-term vision of commercial activities was needed. Promotional planning should include market research and development, product pricing and market placement, order fulfilment and product delivery. During the next biennium, the Commercial Activities Service will consider the gradual development of web-based sales of postal stamps, books, international arts and gifts and possibly the sale of tickets to the United Nations visitors' experience.
The projected net income for the United Nations Postal Administration -- some $11.2 million for 2000-2001 -- is derived from the Postal Administration sales counter in the public concourse of the General Assembly Building and from the Customer Service and Order Fulfilment Unit. The net profit from this operation to the United Nations is estimated at about $2.6 million. Its profitability could be improved by renegotiating an agreement with the host country's postal administration and by boosting marketing activities.
Turning to the United Nations Bookshop and publications, the report says that some 70 per cent of total sales are to libraries and 5 per cent to businesses, non-governmental organizations, bookshops and governments. Revenue is projected at about $13.2 million for 2000-2001, with net profits estimated at about $1.8 million. Net revenues from the Bookshop have declined from a record high in 1995 during the United Nations fiftieth anniversary. To improve profitability, the Secretary-General recommends using a contractor with book and retail experience. Increased marketing, sales and customer service awareness in the Bookshop will enhance the customer's awareness of United Nations publications.
The United Nations Gift Centre is currently under the contract management of the Hudson News Company. Profit to the United Nations is projected at about $1.82 million for 2000-2001. The current location of the Gift Centre reduces traffic and sales. Repositioning the Centre in conjunction with the introduction of the new visitors' experience would contribute to greater public attendance and increased sales.
The Commercial Activities Service is responsible for the oversight of all food service operations at United Nations Headquarters, the report states. Restaurant Associates currently holds the contract on all café, cafeteria and dining operations. According to the arrangement with that entity, the United Nations receives some 8 per cent of gross revenues subject to a minimum of $500,000 per year. For 1998-1999, the net revenue for catering failed to exceed the minimum financial obligation and the gross contribution to the United Nations was $500,000 in each of these years.
The report says the expiration of the contract with Restaurant Associates presents an opportunity to clarify the basis upon which the commission on catering receipts is calculated, as well as the possibility of allocating different parts of the catering service to different contractors. Once the current contract expires, the coffee shop might also be outsourced to a provider with brand-name recognition. Also, placing a vendor with brand-name recognition in the café, under appropriate contractual arrangements, will increase sales.
Commenting on proposed measures to improve profitability of commercial activities, the ACABQ believes that a blueprint with specific commercial goals and the concrete steps to achieve them should follow the Secretary-General's report. Regarding declining income from the sale of stamps, a fundamental "rethinking" of the United Nations Postal Administration is needed. The possibility of outsourcing to an enterprise specializing in the marketing of philatelic material should be explored. The matter of negotiating more favourable rates of reimbursement to be paid by the United Nations to the United States Postal Service should also be considered.
On the United Nations Bookshop, the ACABQ agrees that the Organization should consider using a contractor with book and retail experience. The dissemination of official publications is important regardless of the income they produce. While pricing should sometimes take into account the ability of the target audience to pay, every effort should be made to minimize cost and maximize offsetting revenue, and perhaps to make a profit. The ACABQ recommends a pilot project based on best business practices, using one or more publications of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Further consideration should be given to joint arrangements for production and distribution with publishers of scholarly and institutional materials.
Regarding catering services, a re-examination of catering operations at the United Nations and their actual cost to the United Nations is needed. The specific catering requirements of delegations, staff and the general public should be taken into account. Contractual arrangements should be financially attractive to both the contractor and the United Nations. As the contract for operation of the Staff Café, the cafeteria and the Delegates Dining Room expires in April 2003, the ACABQ requests that it be consulted before any new arrangement is made. Contractual arrangements should include a provision for annual independent auditing, to be conducted at the contractor's expense; it should be based on a fair market return to the United Nations for space occupied by the contractor.
The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of projects financed from the Development Account (document A/55/913). The Secretary-General proposed the creation of the Development Account as part of his reform of the Organization. Resources for the Account have been generated through efforts by the Secretariat to reduce non-programme costs through administrative streamlining, thereby freeing up resources for projects in the economic and social sector. Since the establishment of the Account, 23 projects have been approved at a total amount of some $26.13 million, including seven projects financed under the 1998-1999 programme budget and 16 projects under the 2000-2001 programme budget. The current report is in response to the General Assembly's decision in 1999 to review the implementation of projects and request the Secretary-General to report to it thereon.
The report includes information on the framework for managing the Account, progress reports on the implementation of projects, improving progress reporting and recommendations of oversight bodies. The report also contains three annexes, including the first and second tranches of projects financed under the Account, projects funded from the 1998-1999 programme budget and projects funded from the 2000-2001 programme budget.
Commenting on Part XIII of the Secretary-General's report on the 2002-2003 proposed programme budget (document A/56/7), the ACABQ notes that of the approved amount (some $26.13 million), a total of about $8.88 million had been spent as of 31 March 2001. Of that amount, $6.9 million had been spent for projects funded in 1998-1999 and $1.98 million for projects funded in 2000-2001, leaving a balance of about $17.24 million. The ACABQ notes that efficiency measures do not necessarily yield immediate savings and might require new investments, especially in information technology.
Upon inquiry, the Advisory Committee was told that the reason for the low expenditure in the 1998-1999 biennium related to the timing of the approval process for projects. The ACABQ asks the Secretary-General to provide in his next report a thematic impact analysis of the projects. It also recommends that the table in annex III of the report be expanded to include the date of commencement, the projected date of completion and the implementing agency for each project.
Finally, the Committee had before it a note by the Secretariat on the comprehensive study on the question of honorariums payable to members of organs and subsidiary organs of the United Nations (document A/56/311). In the Secretary-General's last report on the question of honorariums, submitted during the Assembly's fifty-third session, he concluded that authority for paying honorariums rests solely with the Assembly. He suggests that the rates, which were last revised in 1981, be increased by 25 per cent and the ACABQ concurred with that suggestion. Although the Secretary-General's report was before the Assembly at its fifty-fourth session, the report was neither introduced nor debated. In 1999 the Assembly, by its resolution 54/239, endorsed the recommendations of the Advisory Committee subject to the provisions of that resolution, which included no specific reference to the questions of honorariums. The Secretariat requests that the Assembly indicate whether it endorses the recommendations on the payment of honorariums and if so, indicate an effective date either retroactive to January 2000 or prospectively to January 2002.
Introduction of Reports
The Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, TOSHIYUKI NIWA, introduced reports of the Secretary-General on enhancing the United Nations experience for visitors, information technology in the Secretariat, and proposed measures to improve the profitability of United Nations commercial activities. He also updated delegates on the Secretary-General’s capital master plan.
On the proposal to enhance the United Nations visitors’ experience, he said it arose from a concept proposed to the Secretary-General by the Better World Fund to enhance public awareness and perception of the United Nations. The Secretary-General’s report was based on that concept, which was further developed by the consultants who had carried out the initial capital master plan study. While the item was considered under the 2000-2001 budget, the Secretary-General’s proposal was a concept paper and should be treated as such. It proposed contributions in kind, not in cash, and was being reviewed because once in operation, it would have implications for the regular budget.
The Secretary-General’s proposal predated the events of 11 September, he said. Those events clearly had serious new implications for the visitors’ experience overall implementation. The safety and security infrastructure of the United Nations complex was of paramount importance. In that regard, the relationship between the visitors’ experience and the capital master plan took on an additional dimension. The capital master plan would include proposals for enhancing security and addressing life safety issues. It had become critical to coordinate the two projects and to ensure the visitors’ experience proposal was implemented in the context of enhanced new security arrangements.
While the construction and equipment costs of the new facility would have no impact on the regular budget, operation and maintenance would be a United Nations responsibility, he added. The Secretary-General’s report sought to assess the potential financial impact that accepting donations would have on the regular budget once the experience was operational, which would be in 2004 or 2005 at the earliest. The proposal also outlined the establishment of a capital improvement fund. The management of that fund would be submitted as an integral part of the final proposals for the project. As a next step, a draft Memorandum of Understanding between the Secretary-General and donors would be submitted to the governing bodies through the ACABQ.
Mr. Niwa then updated the Committee on the progress of the capital master plan, submitted to the General Assembly in June 2000. In December of that year, the Assembly authorized the Secretary-General to proceed with the preparation of a comprehensive design plan and detailed cost analysis. The General Assembly appropriated some $8 million for that purpose. The Secretary-General proceeded to engage, through an international competitive bidding process, the services of an architectural and engineering firm. That firm, the Renato Sarno Group from Milan, Italy, also included engineers from Syska and Hennessy, the firm involved with the original construction of the building some 50 years ago.
As a consequence of the events of 11 September, the capital master plan had taken on new urgency, he said. The facility was seriously deficient in terms of modern security requirements and the provision of life safety systems. The events of 11 September required the Secretariat to expand the scope of the ongoing exercise, taking into account different types of threat scenarios. While security concerns were included in the capital master plan, the urgency of those concerns were now firmly recognized. The next Secretary-General’s report on the matter would be available in May or June of 2002, and would address the scope of core refurbishment of the Headquarters complex.
On a plan of action for information technology in the Secretariat, Mr. Niwa said the report was not technical but focused on the definition of key organizational objectives and actions. The strategy outlined in the report would play a central role in the Secretary-General’s reform programme and would make ICT an enabler of effectiveness and efficiency in the Secretariat.
Turning to the report on the profitability of Headquarters commercial activities, Mr. Niwa said that report contained the recommendations of a consultant commissioned to review those activities. The recommendations included elementary suggestions as well as major relocations and changes in contracting and management, and promotional activities. The visitors’ area had not been substantially changed in over 40 years. The visitors’ experience project would increase the visitors’ area more than twofold from the present 39,000 square feet to 90,000 square feet. Short-term measures had been taken, including signs and lighting and active promotion of commercial activities by tour guides. He noted that the newly renovated Café Austria had not only been improved aesthetically, but also provided a wider range of food and refreshment items. The cost of that renovation was completely borne by the contractor.
Commenting on the views of the ACABQ expressed in document A/56/7, he said that body’s recommendations would be incorporated into the overall scheme within the visitors’ experience. The ACABQ would also be consulted on catering services before a new contractor was appointed in 2003 when the present contract expired. Steps had been taken to discuss special rates for United Nations stamps with the United Nations Postal Administration and on the outsourcing of United Nations postal activities.
PATRIZIO CIVILI, Assistant Secretary-General of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs, then introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of projects financed from the Development Account. He said the bulk of the report was dedicated to providing information on the progress of the 23 projects approved in the context of the biennia 1998-1999 and 2000-2001. Of a total of $26.13 million approved for those 23 projects since the Account’s establishment, some $11.87 million (or 45.4 per cent) had been spent as of 30 September 2001, leaving a balance of some $14.3 million.
He underscored the important role the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs played in the selection, design and performance of Development Account projects. The Executive Committee’s encouragement to use information and communication technologies was increasingly proving to be an effective way to lower costs and maximize impact. The ICT solutions were making it possible for the Department to provide central programme support to the Account, without resorting to the creation of a costly dedicated structure. The Account’s Web site, launched last year, contained up-to-date information on the approved projects, posted the texts of relevant legislation and provided links with Web sites.
Management reviews had resulted in a number of lessons and guidelines to strengthen compliance with the criteria established by the General Assembly, he continued. Joint execution facilitated the sharing of good management practices and harmonized procedures, planning and reporting systems. In the proposed third tranche, 11 out of 20 projects would be jointly executed. Experience gained indicated that low-cost implementation solutions often yielded better conditions for longer-term sustainability of activities. Projects in the $600,000 to $900,000 range seemed to have the best chance to be completed within one biennium. The Account was adding real value to the services that the United Nations economic and social sectors could provide to Member States. The value of the Account extended beyond the content of the projects to managerial improvements in terms of joint programming and execution.
DURGA P. BHATTARAI (Nepal), Vice-Chairman of the Committee, informed delegates that the Chairman of the ACABQ, CONRAD S.M. MSELLE, would orally introduce that body’s report on the question of honorariums on Monday, 15 October.
MICHEL TILEMANS (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said a new visitors’ programme would extend the United Nations’ "window display". Noting that the construction and management of a new building entailed initial investment expenditures, followed by operating expenditures, he added that the Secretariat’s analysis was almost exclusively concerned with the latter. In his opinion, and as the ACABQ had emphasized, the proposed programme was bound to be the capital master plan. Therefore, it had to be re-examined upon presentation of subsequent stages of the master plan.
He said the Union endorsed the ACABQ recommendation on private-sector contributions and its insistence on a clear definition of respective responsibilities of the Secretariat and other bodies participating in the programme. Similarly, he questioned the Secretariat’s optimistic revenue forecasts for operating expenses, and the desirability of creating a special fund and special rules applicable to any such fund. Fuller information and a more detailed examination of the programme would be required in order to provide material for further consideration of the matter.
The Union approved of the Secretary-General’s report on the profitability of commercial activities and endorsed the remarks of the ACABQ in that respect, he said. First of all, it was necessary to draw a plan defining commercial objectives and the measures to be taken to achieve them. The administrative structures underpinning those activities would then need to be streamlined and simplified. Preference should be given to the use of subcontracting, and any space at Headquarters occupied by the system’s other organizations must be accounted for.
Turning to the question of information technology, he said that the Union subscribed to the ACABQ views on several points. There was a need for a central authority to take decisions on general policy, a strategic approach and the adoption of common standards. Investment in information technology should bring tangible efficiency and productivity gains, and thus release resources that could be redirected to other sectors. Also, consideration should be given to linking systems in order to prevent the proliferation of costly, incompatible and overlapping structures. The Union welcomed the principle of a semi-centralized model proposed by the Secretariat, but noted that it did not seem possible at this stage to put it into practice without precise criteria for relevant administrative procedures. No information had been provided regarding cost-efficiency gains anticipated through coordination, although considerable investments had already been made.
He was also concerned over the budgetary implications outlined in the report, he said, which had not been reflected in the proposed budget for 2002-2003, although a budget of approximately $150 million had already been proposed for development of information technology in the next budget period. The action plan was an essential prerequisite for any investment decision concerning information technology. The Union would like the Secretariat to present a new report at the fifty-seventh session, revising the action plan and including a timetable for implementation, the new organizational structure, the linkage between different systems and the anticipated cost-efficiency gains.
HENRY FOX (Australia), also speaking on behalf of New Zealand and Canada, said that those countries had expressed concerns during the budget negotiations in 1999 that major resources were being invested in information technology without any appropriate strategic planning framework in place. Those concerns -– widely shared by delegations -– had resulted in a call for a comprehensive information technology strategy in the budget resolution for 2000-2001 (54/249). He welcomed the Secretariat’s response in the report before the Committee, which contained information about the survey undertaken in 2000 to develop a database on information technology in the Secretariat. He also welcomed the integration of IMIS and information technology services into one organizational unit.
He went on to say that the primary intention in calling for a strategy had been to provide the Secretariat with a tool to assess the situation and establish priorities. It had come as a surprise to read in paragraph 14 of the information technology report that the strategy had been developed after the proposed budget for 2002-2003 had been prepared. That would seem to imply that there was no relationship between the strategic planning process and the resources, which should underpin it. It would mean that the document was in fact irrelevant to the resource requests for information technology the Committee was about to consider.
He was also concerned that, while it was called a plan of action, the document had none of the characteristics usually associated with such plans. There were no dates for action, no timetables and no deadlines for the achievement of goals. Also, there were no costings or indication of resources required. Another source of concern was the fact that many of the end results identified in the report were vague and immeasurable. He wondered if they were, in fact, the results that the international community wanted to see after the investment of significant resources. "Increasing the flow of information" or "ensuring global use of information technology" were legitimate results if they delivered gains in productivity and efficiency. The paper, however, did not explain how those particular results would make the Secretariat more efficient.
It was critical that in the next version of the draft plan the Secretariat identified concrete efficiency targets that would result from the application of information technology, he said. It was also critical to identify or create a mechanism for management. The starting point for a strategic approach to information technology should be a needs analysis. It was not good enough to computerize existing work processes. There must be a global approach to reviewing work flows, job design, processes and work units before information technology was applied to the work place.
He went on to express concern about governance, for the current structure for assessing information technology proposals had led to duplication, different systems and uneven development. He was not convinced that adding an information technology board to existing structures would resolve the current problems. The question of responsibility needed to be clearly addressed, and safeguards should be provided so that proposals involving significant resources were considered by senior Secretariat management and went through a rigorous technical scrutiny. He also wanted to know what measures were being taken to avoid duplication in the future, and how the priorities identified in the report connected to the plan of action. Had they existed before the plan was developed?
SEYED MORTEZA MIRMOHAMMAD (Iran), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, noted that although progress had been achieved in the use of information and communication technologies, the Secretariat did not possess full knowledge about the status of such technologies and, accordingly, had found it impossible to articulate a coherent strategy and related implementation plans. Also, the lack of coordination had created a situation where various systems had been developed, which did now allow the exchange and transfer of data.
The proposed programme budget for 2002-2003 had been prepared before the strategy was proposed, and he noted that the Secretary-General intended to bring subsequent resource requirements to the attention of the General Assembly separately. He shared the concern of the ACABQ that the lack of a timeframe and financial information on short- and long-term requirements was a serious weakness of the report before the Committee.
The Group concurred with the view of the ACABQ that investments in information technology should result in tangible increases in efficiency and productivity that could lead to an eventual reduction in requests for staff in support services. That would make resources available for redeployment. Should there be no tangible increase in efficiency and productivity, investments in information technology were hardly justified.
Regarding the proposal for enhancing visitors’ experience, he noted that the capital costs of the project would be funded entirely from private sources. In that regard, the Group supported the conditions provided by the ACABQ for the acceptance of the in-kind contributions from private sources, which should not result in commercialization of the premises. The dignity and image of the United Nations should not be compromised. Also, efforts should be made to expand the number of potential contributors to the project by including the United Nations Associations of various countries.
The projected increase in revenue for services to visitors mentioned in the report was based on the assumption that the number of visitors to Headquarters would increase from 1.7 million for 1998-1999 to 2.7 million for 2004-2005, he said. He asked for information on what underlay this calculation. He also noted that expenditures on the visitors’ programme were projected to increase from $6.5 to $15.3 million. The question was how the situation could be adjusted, should revenue from services fall below projections. Regarding the establishment of a visitors’ experience capital improvement fund, he said that the Group shared the concern of the ACABQ that deficits could arise and become a potential burden to the Organization. A comprehensive report should be provided to the Assembly for its further consideration, taking into account the observations and recommendations of the ACABQ.
Turning to the development account, he said that the actual level of resources in the account was far below the ambitious estimate of $200 million that was to come from so-called "efficiency gains". He noted the view of the ACABQ that efficiency measures and performance measurements did not necessarily yield immediate savings, and sometimes efficiency measures required new investments, particularly in information technology. The Group noted that 23 projects had been approved by resolution 54/15 of June 1999, at a total cost of over $26 million since the establishment of the development account. Of the amount approved, only some $8.88 million had been spent as of 31 March 2001. He, therefore, urged more determined efforts for full and effective implementation of approved projects.
In conclusion, he noted that the coordinating functions of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs were carried out within the available resources of the Department. The Group also noted the finding of the Office of Internal Oversight Services that, given the prevailing resource limitations and the growing overall workload of the Department, essential functions of monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the projects had yet to be matched with adequate resources to effectively undertake them. In that regard, the Group welcomed the recommendation of the Oversight Office that project proposals would have to include all direct and indirect costs, whether financed from the development account, or not.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) said the application of appropriate information and communication technology capabilities could be a significant management tool with potential benefits in the areas of efficiency, effectiveness and economy. While there had been appreciable success, the ICT development within the United Nations had largely been ad hoc, without due regard to global concerns. Appropriations for ICT requirements in the 2000-2001 programme budget and proposed estimates for 2002-2003 were significant, constituting one of the highest lines of expenditure. The preparation of the plan of action was timely, given the need to ensure that expenditure was within a well-defined framework.
He affirmed his support for the conceptual basis of the plan of action, especially in the governance structure, and he endorsed the decision to predominantly rely on in-house capabilities for ICT development. While he understood the initial frustrations in some quarters with unrealized savings, investments in ICT rarely yielded distinctly visible results in the short run. He was concerned that the increasing application of ICT should not result in sharp drops in the levels of hard-copy publications. He would find it unacceptable if trade-offs were made between the demands for an electronic United Nations and the needs of underprivileged external end-users without ICT access capabilities. He stressed the need for focus in implementing the plan through the dedication of adequate resources. It should not be an end in itself, but a support activity for the efficient delivery of endorsed programmes and legislative mandates.
ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) drew the Committee’s attention to paragraph 35 of the report on the profitability of commercial activities which called for certain measures to be taken into consideration. He did not know the Secretariat’s intentions at this point. What did the Secretariat mean by "take note" in the second line of that paragraph? At the end of its fifty-fifth session, the General Assembly adopted a decision that "taking note" meant neither approval nor rejection. It was a neutral statement that could not be built upon. He hoped that the Secretariat, when making requests to the General Assembly, would take that decision into consideration so that the Committee might base its work on a sound legal basis in line with that decision.
On the issue of ensuring the international nature of the Organization, all the activities in the report could be called outsourcing, he said. He had hoped that the Secretariat would say that activities would take into consideration the two resolutions on outsourcing in which the General Assembly set out certain conditions on the use of outsourcing. Those resolutions were adopted in the fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth sessions. On the question of restaurant services, paragraph 53 of the report was a quote from a previous document. He had raised the same concerns last year and was told that the issue would be raised again in the future. Perhaps Mr. Niwa could give further indications from the Secretariat on that subject.
Concerning the Development Account, he noted in the introduction that the resources would be freed through refocusing on programme costs. He did not recall whether that concept had been approved or not. Although the issue had been raised in the past in the Secretary-General’s reform proposals, he did not recall whether the concept of programmatic and non-programmatic costs had been defined.
Noting that the ACABQ would present an oral report to the Committee on Monday, he noted that he was not satisfied with the presentation of oral reports. Such presentations were a breach of the rules requiring written reports to be translated in six official languages and presented six weeks in advance of their discussion. He insisted that reports, including ACABQ reports, be written and translated into the six official languages.
SUN MINQIN (China) said that she fully agreed with the statement made by the representative of Iran on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. The new visitors’ programme should be in line with the capital master plan. The two should be planned as a whole. She also welcomed the offer of contributions in kind from the United Nations Association of the United States and agreed with the ACABQ that acceptance of such contributions should meet certain criteria. She also hoped that more contributors would join with the UNA/USA.
She asked about the annual cost of the operation and maintenance of the new plan. The Secretary-General had also proposed creating a fund for the operation of the new programme. She believed that it was a good idea and that gross proceeds from the visitors’ programme should be earmarked for such a fund. The ACABQ had also expressed certain concerns in that regard, and she hoped that the implementation of the proposal would create no additional burden for Member States.
RAMESH CHANDRA (India) also aligned himself with the position of the Group of 77. Regarding information technology, he said that his country had benefited from progress in that area and that the recommendations of the ACABQ were timely. In particular, the ACABQ had stated that more attention should be devoted to system-wide coherence and coordination, which did not seem sufficient at present. He also agreed that a comprehensive report on the matter should be submitted at the fifty-seventh Assembly session. He noted as positive the suggestion that any such review should be done in conjunction with the proposed programme budget. The profile of United Nations peacekeeping was very high, and coherence in peacekeeping information systems would also be of vital importance.
On the profitability of commercial activities, he welcomed the renovation of the Vienna Café. On the capital master plan, he looked forward to receiving a proposal on the preliminary phase of the design with cost information included. Turning to the visitors’ experience, he noted the in-kind contribution by the United Nations Association of the United States and pointed out that the concerns expressed by the Advisory Committee were of significance in that regard. The programme should not result in commercialization of the Organization, however It should enhance the image and perception of the United Nations. It was important to draw a balance between enhancing the profile of the Organization and profitability.
In conclusion, he informed the Committee that a letter had been recently received from a senior Indian official who described an unfortunate incident that happened to him when he visited New York at the end of May. The salespeople at the United Nations Gift Centre were rude and tried to coeherce him into making a purchase. He requested an investigation of that incident, particularly in view of the fact that there were several other reports of "hysterical tantrums" by the salespeople.
Responding to questions from the floor on the issue of coordination between the capital master plan and the visitors experience, Mr. NIWA said that given the recent events on 11 September, security had become a major consideration. Without the capital master plan and enhanced security measures, no viable visitors’ experience project could be implemented. In the capital master plan proposal, specific components were geared towards the visitors’ experience, including access to the General Assembly and other chambers. It was a concept paper, not a budget document.
It was important to develop details, especially those regarding revenue and expenditures which were the Secretariat’s responsibility, he said. On the one hand, expenditure was more of a fixed nature, and on the other, revenue was of a variable nature which depended on the number of visitors and fees charged. The visitors programme had been closed on 11 September, affecting revenue. A careful review must be made. He noted that the visitors programme had been reopened today as an attempt to return to normalcy. It was a chicken and egg proposition. To come up with viable detailed estimates, a conceptual design was needed. Regarding the visitors’ experience, the Secretariat had tried to estimate based on the experience of comparable institutions in the United States and elsewhere. The figures quoted were relatively conservative. Original projections had been much larger. The Secretariat would follow the ACABQ’s recommendations concerning the phasing of the project.
Regarding commercial activities, the visitors’ experience project would provide an opportunity to expand those activities, he said. Details could only be looked at, at a further stage. On the balance between awareness and perception, he took note of the earlier comment that commercialization should be avoided. The reason why the proposal contained a separate building on 47th Street was with that consideration in mind. Separation between visitors, guided tours included, and delegates and staff was something they were planning to implement in conjunction with the capital master plan. The incident mentioned by the delegate of India did indeed take place. The gift shop was run by a vendor. A letter of apology had been issued and the Secretariat had made clear to the gift shop that such behaviour could not be tolerated. Action had been taken in that regard.
He could not agree more with the observation that the visitors’ experience and the capital master plan had to be an organic whole. The UNA/USA was prepared to meet with the Secretariat requirements. While fundraising was not the Secretariat’s concern, the building was.
On the question of the ICT strategy, what the Secretariat acknowledged in the report was that there was a lack of coordination and overall coherence. The primary concern was to bring coherence into the process. Resource requirements were a part and parcel of the whole strategy, which was not reflected in the budget. The budget, he noted, took into account known requirements. Any additional increase would be submitted to the fifty-seventh session of the Assembly. The ICT Board was going to be convened at the end of the month. The report laid out objectives, activities and an implementation plan.
On improving efficiency, he stressed that the main objective was to have a knowledge-based Organization. The structure, he believed, was the right one. The ICT Board and Committee had established clear mechanisms to discuss ICT, both globally and locally. He would have more to report on that at the end of the month.
On priorities, there were 59 action items, he said, adding that priorities and actions were indeed aligned.
Regarding an "electronic United Nations", he reaffirmed that the United Nations was not moving away from hard copy. The United Nations produced phenomenal amounts of paper. Old papers were still maintained in hard copy. Something had to be done, however, to move in the direction of an electronic United Nations without completely moving away from hard copy.
Regarding the questions raised by the delegate of Syria, he thought it better to respond on Monday.
Also responding to questions, Mr. CIVILI thanked the delegates for their comments and said that the level of the Development Account had to do with its replenishment, rather than its management by his Department. The same applied to the comment concerning programmatic and non-programmatic costs. In reference to the non-programmatic costs, he said that one of the basic concepts of the initiative prescribed that savings should not be at the expense of substantive activities. That did not come under the responsibility of his Department, and he believed that the Department of Management representatives should address the matter in due course.
Regarding the current situation, he said that according to the updated data, close to $12 million had been spent as at 30 September 2001. He was confident that the Account would rapidly catch up on implementation of the projects. The somewhat slow start could be explained by the novelty of the operation and late approval of the first tranche. As a result, two tranches had to be implemented in a single biennium. He had referred to several other matters in his statement, which would be circulated this afternoon.
Mr. FOX (Australia) thanked Mr. Niwa for his initial response in connection with information technology. He added that the delegations he represented would not be in a position to approve action on any additional requests until convinced that the strategic framework was in place. He looked forward to further discussion on the matter.
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