28 April 2006
Budget Committee to Reconvene on 28 April, as Compromise Proposal by Secretary-General Fails to Resolve Deadlock
NEW YORK, 27 April (UN Headquarters) -- After an eleventh hour compromise proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan failed to resolve a weeklong deadlock between developing and developed countries on United Nations management reform, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) agreed to reconvene tomorrow morning, to again attempt to take a decision on a draft resolution aimed at retooling the sixty-year-old Organization's rules, systems and culture.
Addressing the Committee through a letter to its Chair, John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda), after day-long intense discussions, the Secretary-General suggested that the Committee "may wish to set aside" two of the proposals included in his report Investing in the United Nations: for a stronger Organization worldwide, which had provoked "concern and resistance" among some delegations. With that "contentious issue" set aside, he urged delegations to proceed quickly to an agreed resolution adopted by consensus that would allow the programme of work on management reforms to continue without delay.
The Committee adjourned the morning part of its session, after the representative of South Africa, on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, requested that action be taken on a draft resolution sponsored by his delegation and submitted to the Committee on Monday. Following a round of intense debate, in which no clear agreement emerged, a recorded vote on the text was requested. But several delegations cautioned that serious implications would flow if the Committee stepped away from its traditional consensus practice and Chairman Ashe adjourned the meeting to allow more time for negotiations.
Noting the Secretary-General's compromise proposal this afternoon, South Africa's representative, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, proposed an amendment to the draft resolution before the Committee, by which the Assembly would take note of the Secretary-General's letter and decide that the proposals in question not be further pursued in the context of the consideration of the Secretary-General's report or in any other context.
Responding to that proposal, the United States representative said the implications of that substitute language meant that the relationship between the Secretariat and the General Assembly regarding United Nations management and budgetary matters would be off limits for discussion -- anywhere and forever. That was not his understanding of "set aside", and it would certainly not preclude sovereign Governments from raising the issue in the Assembly. The proposed language would carve out a major area of governance improvement, taking it off the table in all United Nations fora. He hoped other Governments would consider the implications of sweeping and drastic limitations on how to move the reform forward.
Austria's representative, on behalf of the European Union, stressed the need for the Committee to follow the advice of the Secretary-General and work towards a consensus outcome. The Secretary-General had given the Committee a way forward in that regard, which was still not acceptable to the Group of 77 and China.
Following the Chairman's proposal to consider the Secretary-General's proposal informally this evening, and revert to the matter formally tomorrow, the representative of South Africa said the only way out was to call for a recorded vote. To suggest that the Secretary-General's letter meant to "set aside" the matter only in the Fifth Committee and not in the General Assembly, and going back and forth on the matter, was not the way to proceed. The Group of 77 had requested that action be taken without a vote, and the European Union had requested a vote.
Recalling how the Committee "got where it was today," he said his delegation had always felt that an unfortunate underlying theme of the Secretary-General's report had been what appeared to be an attempt to change the role of the General Assembly's oversight function. Calling again for the Committee to take action on the matter according to the rules of procedure, he said: "What do you expect us to do? We should not be acting as though we just woke up today and arrived here. We have spent hours discussing this… but we can not avoid taking a decision on this issue, no matter how painful it will be."
[Proposal 20 of the report recommends three new principles for interaction between the Secretariat and the key Assembly budget committees: The committees should agree to focus on core budget issues, with emphasis on planning and the analysis of performance; both plenary and working groups should respect strict time limits for budget discussion and decision-making; and plenary sessions should be used for decisions on core budget issues and not for prolonged debates on each line item.
Proposal 21 urges the Assembly to consider ways to reform its structures for interacting with the Secretariat on management and budgetary issues, and proposes, among others things, that Member States may wish to reconsider the need for a separate Committee for Programme and Coordination, given the extensive overlap of this body's work with that of the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ); raise their level of participation in the Fifth Committee, encouraging heads of mission to participate more directly; and elevate the agenda of both the Fifth Committee and Advisory Committee and impose time limits on their sessions with a view to spending less time on detailed review and more on key strategic issues.]
Also speaking today were the representatives of Jamaica, Japan, New Zealand (on behalf of Australia and Canada), Egypt, Costa Rica, Guinea Bissau, Algeria and Germany.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 28 April.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met today to conclude the work of the first part of its resumed session. It was expected to take action on a draft resolution entitled, "Investing the United Nations: for a stronger Organization worldwide" (document A/C.5/60/L.37/Rev.1), which was introduced by the representative of South Africa on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing nations and China on Monday, 24 April.
By the terms of the text, the Assembly, stressing the need for Member States to participate in the budget preparation process at all stages, would welcome the Secretary-General's commitment to strengthening the United Nations and take note of his report, "Investing in the United Nations: for a stronger Organization worldwide", and the related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). It would also reaffirm its oversight role and that of the Fifth Committee in administrative and budgetary matters.
By the other terms, stressing that setting the priorities of the United Nations is the prerogative of Member States, as reflected in legislative decisions, the Assembly would reaffirm its role in carrying out a thorough analysis and approval of the human and financial resources and policies, with a view to ensuring full, effective and efficient implementation of all mandated programmes and activities and the implementation of policies in that regard. It would also stress the importance of strengthened accountability in the Organization and of ensuring greater accountability of the Secretary-General to Member States, including for the effective and efficient implementation of legislative mandates and the use of human and financial resources.
The Assembly would, by further terms, request the Secretary-General to specifically define accountability, as well as clear accountability mechanisms, in the context of the reports requested in the resolution, and to propose clear parameters for its application and the instruments for its rigorous enforcement, without exception, at all levels. By further terms, the Assembly would emphasize the need for strengthening oversight in the Organization and look forward to taking action on the report on strengthening of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
Addressing proposals 1 to 4 and 7 of the Secretary-General's report, on recruitment, mobility, career development and contractual arrangements, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to submit a report on, among other things, an assessment of the impact of previous and ongoing reforms as they relate to the proposals, specific costs and administrative implications, and proposals to increase the representation of developing countries in the Secretariat, in particular at senior levels, with due regard to the principle of equitable geographical distribution of posts.
On proposals 5 and 6, on the role of the Deputy Secretary-General and the regrouping of departments into organizational clusters, the Assembly would recall its resolutions 52/12B and 52/220, which established the post of the Deputy Secretary-General as an integral part of the Office of the Secretary-General, without prejudice to the mandate of the Secretary-General as provided for by the Charter, and that the Secretary-General would appoint the Deputy Secretary-General following consultations with Member States. Recalling that the Assembly in resolution 52/12B identified the functions of that post, the Assembly would decide that the functions of the post should be in accordance with that resolution and should not diminish the role or responsibilities of the Secretary-General as the Organization's chief administrative officer, including in management policies and overall operational matters.
By further terms, the Assembly would stress that the overall responsibilities for the Organization's management rests with the Secretary-General as chief administrative officer. Regarding the structure of the Secretariat, it would stress that any proposals that amend the overall departmental structure are subject to the Assembly's review.
On proposals 8 to 12, 17 and 18, which include investing in information and communications technology, new sourcing options, financial management practices and performance evaluation and reporting, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to submit a detailed report that would respond to several elements, including specific costs and administrative implications, detailed explanation of how the proposals were envisaged to enhance the effectiveness of the Organization's work and clear definition of the terminologies and rationale for the proposals.
The Assembly would, by other terms, request the Secretary-General to submit a detailed report on proposals 14 and 15, which address, among other things, a comprehensive review of procurement rules, regulations and policies. The report would respond to several elements, including specific costs and administrative implications, an assessment of the impact of previous and ongoing reforms as they relate to the proposals, and proposals on how to increase the use of open source software in the Secretariat.
Regarding proposal 16, on strategic budgetary planning and implementation, the Assembly would, among other things, stress that the Assembly would review the planning and budgetary reform experiment at its sixty-second session with a view to making a final decision. On proposal 19 -- reporting mechanisms -- the Assembly would emphasize the importance of providing information necessary to enable Member States to make well-informed decisions.
Concerning proposals 20 and 21, in which the Secretary-General proposes three new principles for interaction between the Secretariat and the key General Assembly budget committees and urges the General Assembly to consider ways to reform its structures for interacting with the Secretariat on management and budgetary issues, the Assembly would reaffirm that the Fifth Committee was the appropriate Main Committee of the Assembly entrusted with responsibilities for administrative and budgetary matters. It would further reaffirm that no changes to the budget methodology, to established budgetary procedures or to the financial regulations might be implemented without prior review and approval by the Assembly.
By further provisions of the text, the Assembly, in addressing proposals 22 and 23, would take note of the idea of a dedicated capacity within the Secretariat with the aim of facilitating the management reform effort within the Secretariat by the Secretary-General and request the Secretary-General to take into account existing expertise in formulating future proposals. It would stress also that the implementation of reform measures approved by the Assembly was the Secretary-General's responsibility as chief administrative officer and should be undertaken in full transparency with the Organization's entire membership through established reporting lines to the Assembly.
Action on Draft
The representative of South Africa, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said it was the wish of the co-sponsors of the draft that the resolution be adopted in accordance with the rules of procedures of the Committees of the General Assembly and of the rules of the Assembly itself. As a result of the meeting last night, some oral amendments had been made to the text.
Reading out those amendments, he noted that sub-paragraph g would be inserted in operative paragraph 2. It would read "An assessment of the impact of the proposals on the role and authority of the centralized human resources function". With that amendment, the group withdrew operative paragraph 3 of section 2 of the text. In operative paragraph 4, section 3, the word "defined" would be replaced by "identified". In operative paragraph 6 of section 3, the words "any" and "may" would be deleted. Also, the word "organizational" would be replaced with "overall departmental". In operative paragraph 3 of section 4, the phrase "and decides" would be inserted. It would read: "Takes note of proposal 12, requests the Secretary-General to provide additional information in that regard and decides to revert to the issue of …"
With those amendments, he said, the Group requested that the Committee take action on the resolution today. It was the wish of the co-sponsors that the draft be adopted without a vote and in accordance with the rules of procedure of the Assembly's Main Committees and according to the rules of the Assembly itself.
The representative of Jamaica supported South Africa's proposal.
The representative of Austria, on behalf of the European Union, said the Group of 77 had asked for a vote and asked for action this morning on a document that had no consensus. While experts had made a terrific effort, the truth was that there was no consensus. There was actually much confusion. One thing was sure -- no one wanted to proceed to a vote, as it would have implications not only for the Fifth Committee, but also for the entire institution. It was a very serious situation. A vote would have consequences that no one would like, and he asked for patience and calm. He requested the Chairman's wisdom on how to proceed. To start things with oral amendments, with the majority of the membership confused, was no longer a technical, but a political, problem. That was why so many ambassadors were in the room. The resolution could not be treated like a normal resolution. Proceeding to a vote was not wise.
South Africa's representative, speaking on a point of order, said the Group of 77 had not asked for a vote. He had said specifically that it was the wish of the sponsors that the resolution be adopted without a vote. On another point, he asked the Chairman to say who had requested a vote.
Japan's representative said his delegation had participated in a constructive manner in the "informal informals" yesterday. Much progress had been made. He thanked the Group of 77 for making oral amendments, but it was clear that the oral amendments did not address all of the issues that remained on the table as of last night. It was clear that there was no consensus on the document as orally amended. He supported the statement of Austria on behalf of the European Union.
The representative of the United States said his delegation had participated in the nearly eight hours of negotiation yesterday in the "informal informals". Experts had debated various paragraphs of the text. As the representatives of Austria and Japan had said, it was clear that there was no consensus on the draft even as amended today. The choices were clear. If the Group of 77 continued to press for adoption, all knew what would follow. The better judgement would be that there was no consensus on the matter in the Fifth Committee and that, pursuant to the arrangement by the General Assembly President, the matter be reverted to the Assembly.
The representative of New Zealand, on behalf of Austria and Canada (CANZ), agreed that there was no consensus on the text and appealed to the Chair to find a solution.
The Committee Chairman, JOHN WILLIAM ASHE ( Antigua and Barbuda), then suspended the meeting to allow for consultations.
Before suspending, Egypt's representative asked the Chair to clarify who had requested a recorded vote.
Austria's representative, on behalf of the European Union, said he respected the wish of Egypt, but if a list was read out, the Committee would be in a voting procedure. The Chair had requested a 20-minute suspension. A number of countries, some 40, had written to the General Assembly President informing him of the situation and asking for his assistance in resolving the problem. The Union wanted the help of the Assembly President, who was closely following the matter in consultation with the various groups, to find a solution.
South Africa's representative said he simply wished to know who had requested the vote. The reference to asking the Assembly President to take the matter to the Assembly was a big surprise to the Group, as the President had sent the issue to the Fifth. It was up to the Committee to deal with the matter. There seemed to be a request for a motion of no action. The Group would be opposed to that and asked that the Committee proceed according to the rules of procedure.
Mr. ASHE, the Committee Chair, said he was not aware of a no-motion action. As Chair, he ought to know. When the Committee resumed, it would take action.
The Committee's Secretary, MOVSES ABELIAN, then read out the names of the delegations requesting a vote.
The Committee Chairman, Mr. ASHE, said it had become obvious that the Committee would benefit from more time. He reminded the Committee, however, that today was the day that the Committee had agreed to take action. He then adjourned the meeting.
When the Committee resumed in the afternoon, Mr. ASHE, Committee Chairman, asked the Committee's Secretary to read out the contents of a letter from the Secretary-General, in which he suggests that the Committee might wish to set aside proposals 20 and 21 of his report.
Austria's representative, on behalf of the European Union, said it was an important development and thanked the Secretary-General for his initiative and letter. Both the Union and other groups would need time to reflect on the content of the letter, however. He proposed suspending the meeting.
The representative of South Africa, on behalf of the Group of 77, said the letter raised issues that related to the draft resolution before the Committee. In light of the letter, he proposed that the meeting be suspended for 15 minutes so that the Group could consult on the matter.
The United States representative agreed with South Africa's representative. He hoped, however, that members could focus on the critical question, namely what the letter meant.
Costa Rica's representative supported the statement by South Africa. Rules 106 and 107 of the rules of procedure must apply to the Committee's deliberations. To attain consensus on the matter, her delegation had supported a creative interpretation of the rules of procedure. She hoped the flexibility shown would bear fruit. If that were not possible, however, the Committee should pursue its deliberations in strict accordance with the rules of procedure.
South Africa's representative said he was sorry for the longer than expected delay, but the Group was dealing with serious issues. In light of the Secretary-General's letter, the Group would be prepared to delete paragraphs 20 and 21 in the resolution and replace it with the following language: "Takes note of the letter of the Secretary-General to the Chairman of the Fifth dated 27 April 2006 recommending to set aside proposal 20 and 21 and decides that the suggestion in those proposals will not be pursued any further in the context of the consideration of the Secretary-General's report or in any other context."
The Group would have a proposal on the way forward if there were a reaction from its negotiating partners.
The United States welcomed the consideration that the Group of 77 had given to the Secretary-General's letter. He must say, however, that, having heard the substitute language, where the Fifth Committee would decide that the proposals would not be considered, was not something acceptable. He was prepared to say that proposals should not be discussed in the Fifth Committee, but were issues for members to discuss in the General Assembly. It was not acceptable to say that proposals would be taken off the table. He was prepared to discuss the issue further, but did not see the substitute language as acceptable.
Austria's representative, on behalf of the European Union, said the Union stood ready to achieve consensus and had considered the Secretary-General's letter in a positive spirit. Throughout the consultations, they had maintained that the proposals on governance should be further elaborated and dealt with on an equal footing with other proposals. In the spirit of consensus, the Union was prepared to follow the advice of the Secretary-General to set aside the proposals and work towards a consensus outcome. He understood that the Group of 77 was not prepared to set aside the proposals, but would rather take a decision on how to continue addressing the issues in the future. It was best to follow the advice of the Secretary-General and work on that basis.
South Africa's representative said the difficulty for the Group was that it was reluctant to set aside proposals 20 and 21 in the Fifth Committee and have them surface again in the General Assembly or some other forum. "Setting aside" meant completely. The Secretary-General's letter was ambiguous.
Mr. ASHE proposed that the Committee convene in "informal informal" consultations this evening.
South Africa's representative asked the Chairman to recap where the Committee currently stood. The Group was willing to set the proposals aside as long as there was a clear understanding on the matter. What would be discussed in the "informals" -- the Secretary-General's letter? He was not sure what they would be consulting on this evening.
The representative of the United States said he wanted to be sure delegates understood the implications of the new Group of 77 language. That language meant taking the Secretary-General's proposals, which dealt with the relationship between the Secretariat and the General Assembly in connection with United Nations management and budgetary matters, and saying that they were off limits for discussion, not just in the Fifth, but anywhere and forever. That was not his understanding of "set aside", and would not preclude sovereign Governments from raising the issue in the General Assembly. There were merits in discussing the ideas, and much to be said for improvement in the work of member Governments. It was not just a technical dispute in the wording of a sentence in L.37. The proposed new language would carve out a major area of Government improvement and take it off the table in United Nations forum. He hoped other Governments would consider the implications of sweeping and drastic limitations on how to move the reform forward.
Japan's representative said his delegation was baffled by the new language proposed by the Group of 77. Japan believed that the Secretary-General's proposal was aimed at preserving the Committee's consensus practice and recommended that, because proposals 20 and 21 had created their own political dynamism, the Committee should "set them aside". But the new language proposed by the Group of 77 and China would precipitate a new division of views, which might not lead to consensus.
South Africa's representative said that, the only way out, was to revert to the point at which the meeting had stopped this morning; a request for action had been made and that request had been met with a call for a recorded vote. Further, to suggest that the Secretary-General's letter meant to "set aside" the matter only in the Fifth Committee and not in the General Assembly, and going back and forth on the matter, was not the way to proceed at this point. The Group of 77 had requested that action be taken without a vote and the European Union had requested a vote. That was where the Committee's meeting had ended.
The Chairman responded that, in light of recent developments, he thought that the process required a bit more time and proposed that the Committee move into "informal informals" at 7 this evening, and continue into tomorrow morning, and agree to meet at again at 3 p.m. tomorrow to take action.
The representative of South Africa said the position of the Group of 77 and China was very straight forward: it was their wish that the draft be adopted without a vote, under the rules of procedure of the Committee and, indeed, of the General Assembly itself.
"So you're not willing to consider my proposal?" asked the Chairman.
"What will we be consulting on? It's not clear to us," said South Africa's representative.
The Chairman said that the Committee had before it a document, which had recently been amended by the Group of 77 itself. But he believed that other delegations still had some concerns about the draft and, so, there was still a need to ensure that the text as a whole, as he hoped was the intent, could be agreed upon by consensus. In order to do that, the Committee needed time to look at the text to ensure that there were no other problems. The next round of negotiations would be time bound -- tonight and tomorrow morning -- with action expected to be taken in the afternoon at 3 pm.
South Africa's representative said he wished he could say he understood the proposal. The Group of 77's amendment had been based on the proposal of the Secretary-General. And, he had heard that that was not acceptable, at least to one delegation. The only thing left was for the Committee to pick up where the morning meeting had ended.
The representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said his delegation was prepared to accept the Chair's proposal to continue to search for consensus. He recalled that his delegation had distributed a letter to that effect, which he offered to read. He went on to say that it was unfortunate that the Secretary-General had given the Committee a way forward in that regard, which was still not acceptable to the Group of 77 and China. That was deplorable, he added.
[Earlier, Austria, on behalf of the European Union, had distributed a letter written to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden), and signed by 40 delegations, which calls Mr. Eliasson's attention to the "urgent problem that has arisen" regarding the draft on the table today. The letter underlines that, while the Group of 77 and China believed the text could achieve consensus, the European Union and other signatories underlined that it was "unacceptable".
The letter says that, while the signatories were prepared to work for consensus, "forcing a decision on a non-consensual resolution would trigger a vote, which would leave us no alternative but to vote against the Group of 77 and China's draft resolution". Such action could entail "considerable disadvantages" for the United Nations, the proposal on the table and the budget process, according to the letter, which ultimately requests Mr. Eliasson's assistance "in taking us forward in a way that permits us to find consensus on this important issue".]
On a point of order, South Africa's representative said the Committee was now entering into an area that was unhelpful. The Committee could not listen to "letters" that had no bearing on the Committee's discussions.
The representative of the United States said the Committee was, in the present moment, in the United Nations equivalent of the film Groundhog Day, and he did not want to miss out, but it was clear that there was no consensus, and the letter that "we are not allowed to read" had perhaps given two options on the way forward: to proceed with the Group of 77's request, which would trigger certain consequences, or to bring the General Assembly President in on the discussions and continue the search for consensus. But, unless others were willing to keep going around and around in an endless loop, the Committee might actually want to consider just doing one or the other of those things, he said.
Egypt's representative said that his delegation was forced to comment on the European Union's use of the word "deplore". The Committee should maintain proper decorum and dignity at all times, and should respectfully consider the views of all delegations. The representative of Austria, speaking on the European Union's behalf, had not done that. Indeed, Egypt could say that the European Union's use of the word deplorable was deplorable. He added that the European Union's letter amounted to a no action motion. Since that was the case, the Committee should take a vote on that motion.
Guinea-Bissau's representative said that, regardless of the frustrations that delegations felt, all must keep a cool head. He also noted that the letter from the European Union was dated 27 May. Today was 27 April, so that might be worth considering.
The representative of New Zealand said the mistake in the date of the letter was "a little indication of how time flies when you're having fun". She supported the Chair's call for a return to time-bound "informal informals".
Algeria's representative said his delegation supported Egypt's statement.
South Africa's representative said that the only thing that could be asked respectfully would be for the chair to withdraw his proposal and let the Committee take action on the draft. There was no way around the impasse.
Germany's representative said that his delegation deplored the tenor of the discussion and, while he was not a regular participant of the Fifth Committee's work, it had been his impression that the body worked in a businesslike manner. That seemed to be slipping. He also deplored that the Committee appeared ready to take no notice of an important letter it had just received from the Secretary-General, which contained proposals that should be given due consideration. He urged the Committee to think twice before taking a step that might not be beneficial to any delegation.
South Africa's representative said that his delegation had tried hard not to have the debate be reduced to one which was not representative of the Fifth Committee. Recalling how the Committee "got where it was today", he said the Group of 77 and China had always said that it was unfortunate that an underlying theme of the Secretary-General's report had been what appeared to be an attempt to change the role of the General Assembly's oversight function. It had said all along that proposals 16, 19, 20 and 21 were interrelated. He added that South Africa had long fought against small groups making decisions for others, so this matter was serious.
"We should not be acting as though we just woke up today and arrived here. We have spent hours and hours discussing this. What do you expect us to do?" he asked. But, if the Chair felt that further consultations would yield a different result, "then fine, let's do it. But we cannot avoid taking a decision on this issue, no matter how painful it might be. It is a decision we have to take very soon," he said. To be "generous in spirit" he said he was willing to carry the responsibility on behalf of the Group of 77 and China to come back at 10 tomorrow morning and take action, following the Assembly's rules of procedure.
Chairman ASHE said the Committee would reconvene at 10 a.m. to take a decision.
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