9 November 2005
Simplifying, Harmonizing UN System Travel Practices Subject of Debate in Budget Committee
NEW YORK, 8 November (UN Headquarters) -- Senior United Nations officials dealing with travel-related matters had already set up an inter-agency network to share information and help pinpoint ways to harmonize travel standards, as it tried to cut costs and addressed the health concerns of staff members, the Fifth Committee was informed this morning.
Kenneth Herman, on behalf of the Secretariat's United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), made those comments as he introduced a note of the Secretary-General (A/60/78/Add.1). The note conveyed the comments of the Secretary-General and the CEB on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) on the harmonization of the conditions of travel throughout the United Nations system (document A/60/78). Issued in June 2005, the JIU report provided a comprehensive analysis and historical review of travel practices throughout the United Nations system, as rapid changes swept the global travel industry. The report put forward a persuasive case for simplifying and harmonizing travel procedures, while trimming costs and addressing staff health concerns.
Regarding the issue of health and travel, Mr. Hermann noted that, at a meeting of the UN System Medical Directors in 1990 it was recommended that for health reasons all air travel of five hours or more should be in business class. Referring to the first recommendation in the JIU report that referred to a class of travel, Hermann said CEB members reiterated their support for a proposal made previously by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to create a threshold for business class travel at six hours. This was in light of the airline industry's measures to boost profitability by reducing space, which heightened the already established health risks associated with long-haul travel. CEB members did not favour creating new categories -- for example, the use of age as a factor to guide travel policy. But, they did favour giving due weight to medical factors. He noted that travel disparities persisted across the organizations, most notably, for granting business class travel.
As he introduced the JIU report, the Chairman of the JIU, Ian Gorita, said that the document identified best practices and procedures in different organizations and recommended their use throughout the system. The document included two sets of recommendations: one focused on addressing disparities; and the second set focused on improving processes.
Quoting from JIU's previous report on travel (A/50/692), Mr. Gorita said that "although travel entitlements are not part of the common system of salaries and allowances, they are part of the conditions of service. Thus, further widening disparities of treatment of travellers would certainly further weaken the common system, which should definitely be avoided".
For example, he said, the flight duration requirement for allowing the use of business class currently varied between five and nine hours in various organizations. While the United Nations, its funds and programmes, and some agencies applied the nine-hour threshold, other agencies, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Bank, granted a higher class for travellers on official business. He noted that some organizations modified their requirements for granting business class in the last few years, taking into account the health considerations highlighted by the WHO, the ICSC recommendations and the rapid changes in the travel industry.
He said a number of organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), had already considered the JIU report and expressed support for its thrust and its recommendations. Many of the actions recommended -- extension of lump-sum option to other categories of travel; travel by other means of transportation; daily subsistence allowance; and terminal expenses and stopovers -- had been already implemented, or were under active consideration.
Commenting on both reports, the Acting Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Rajat Saha, noted that, at the General Assembly's request, the ICSC was also carrying out a study on the matter. At this point, the ACABQ was looking forward to a comprehensive travel plan from the Secretary-General.
The representative of the United Kingdom, who spoke on behalf of the European Union and the associated States, said the JIU report provided a comprehensive analysis of the current and historical administration of travel, while highlighting the need for greater streamlining of travel conditions and entitlements across the United Nations system. The Union looked forward to discussing the topic during informal consultations and had several questions regarding certain recommendations in both documents. In regard to first-class accommodation, the Union representative said such entitlement should be strictly limited and clear definitions of criteria for any exceptions to the standard remain to be developed.
The representative of the United States said her delegation had long been interested in the travel and subsistence policies of the United Nations and was glad to see that several JIU recommendations were concrete and actionable. In particular, the United States agreed with the JIU's recommendation (part of the report's first recommendation) that only heads of organizations should travel in first class. In addition, the United States had hoped that the JIU report would have placed more focus on the topic of subsistence allowances. She said that delegates representing Member States and certain expert members of United Nations bodies received an additional subsistence allowance -- 40 per cent more than the amount given to senior United Nations officials travelling to the same meetings. Besides creating a disparity resented by United Nations officials, the practice was a waste of United Nations resources that should be used for higher priorities.
The representative of Nigeria said she agreed with the Advisory Committee's observation that the CEB and the ICSC should coordinate their activities regarding the class of travel to avoid duplication. She thanked Mr. Gorita for the report and said she would follow the issue closely in the informal consultations.
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