15 June 2006
Budget Committee Takes up Interim Report on Cross-Cutting Issues in Peacekeeping
NEW YORK, 14 June (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today began its consideration of an interim report by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on cross-cutting issues in peacekeeping operations, and continued its discussion of procurement investigations.
Introducing the interim report, Rajat Saha, Chairman of the Advisory Committee, said there had not been an opportunity to consider cross-cutting issues in peacekeeping in a detailed fashion, as not all budgets for peacekeeping operations had been submitted. The interim report was a summary of issues of general application which the Advisory Committee had, thus far, identified. The Committee would present its full general report on peacekeeping operations in the fall.
Catherine Pollard, Director, Peacekeeping Financing Division, explained that the delays in submission of several budgets were the result of Security Council actions and decisions by the General Assembly impacting on preparations of the budgets.
The Advisory Committee's interim report (document A/60/880) addressed such cross-cutting issues as: temporary assignment of mission-staff to other missions; use of general temporary assistance in peacekeeping missions; costing of air operations; quick-impact projects; fraud; use of consultants; high vacancy rates in missions; and integrated missions.
Echoing other speakers, the representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union had attached particular importance to cross-cutting issues. A discussion of such issues would not delay the discussion on peacekeeping operations, but would facilitate and speed up consideration of individual missions. Adequate time should be allocated to cross-cutting issues related to peacekeeping, while ensuring that all other important agenda items in front of the Committee were equally provided with needed time.
Other speakers on the issue were the representatives of the United States, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico and Nigeria.
Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services; Jayantilal Karia, Director, Accounts Division of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts (Officer-in-Charge Procurement Service); and the representative of Singapore then continued the ongoing discussion on procurement and related investigations.
The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 16 June, to consider reports on reform, the Capital Master Plan, use of open source software, and financing of the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning will consider an interim report by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on peacekeeping financing cross-cutting issues (document A/60/880).
In the report, the Advisory Committee notes that, usually, it first considers reports on individual peacekeeping operations in order to identify pertinent matters and then a general report, including cross-cutting issues that pertain to more than one mission. Pointing out that it had not yet received a number of Secretary-General reports on peacekeeping missions, including on the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the Advisory Committee gives a summary of issues of general application which is preliminary in nature. The Advisory Committee will revert to its general report on the basis of future submissions from the Secretary-General and the outcome of relevant deliberations in the Assembly.
Regarding temporary assignment of staff to other missions, the Advisory Committee points out the need to strive for balance between the benefits of using staff from established missions to provide necessary expertise in new missions and the home missions' need for the skills that they must do without on an extended basis.
There appeared to be a continuing problem with the use of general temporary assistance in peacekeeping missions, according to the report. General temporary assistance was designed for peak workload or to replace staff on maternity or sick leave and should cover periods of less than 12 months. Although exceptions have been made in the past, unless justified by special circumstances, the procedures for the use of general temporary assistance should be strictly adhered to.
On air operations, the report notes that starting with the 2004/2005 period, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has utilized a new costing structure for air operations, but that no evaluations of the effects and benefits of that costing structure has been conducted. It should be determined whether the change of air operations contracts to the new costing structure had resulted in greater efficiency, savings or other benefits. The Department should continue to explore ways to increase regional management of air assets and coordinate with the Department of Political Affairs regarding sharing air assets between peacekeeping operations and special political missions.
Addressing quick-impact projects, the report notes that in a number of cases, the duration of these projects had exceeded the two-year limit imposed by General Assembly resolution 58/315. It is for the Assembly, according to the Advisory Committee, to decide to change that policy or to grant exceptions. The Assembly may also wish to bring the matter to the attention of the Peacebuilding Commission. The Advisory Committee has also noted cases where overhead costs were inordinately high.
As for fraud, the report states that fraud cases have a financial ripple effect, and there were direct and indirect costs. The Advisory Committee may revert to the matter after having considered a number of forthcoming reports that touch on the role of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the question of controls in peacekeeping operations. On another matter, the report states that the use of consultants should be limited to those special circumstances where specific technical knowledge is not available in-house. Even in those cases, consultants should be made to train United Nations staff.
The report further notes that a number of missions continue to experience high vacancy rates. The Advisory committee reiterates its request that recruitment and placement procedures be improved. A gradual replacement of international staff with national staff should be encouraged, as it contributes to capacity-building and transfer of skills to the local population. In a related matter, the Committee cautions against the use of United nations volunteers as "cheap labour" or for tasks that could be carried out by national staff.
And finally, the Advisory Committee welcomes continued development of the integrated mission concept. It calls for special attention to the relationship between the role of the United Nations and that of other agencies and organizations (both within and outside of the system) in peacekeeping missions, including the leadership that the United Nations should exercise. Special attention should also be paid to the organizational structure of complex missions in order to avoid unnecessary fragmentation and duplication.
Introduction of Report
RAJAT SAHA, ACQBA Chairman, introducing the interim report contained in document A/60/880, said the Advisory Committee had not had the opportunity to have a detailed consideration of peacekeeping matters of a cross-cutting nature. The interim report is a summary of issues of general application which the Advisory Committee had, thus far, identified. The Committee would present its full general report on peacekeeping operations in the fall, once it had had the chance to examine the budgets of all peacekeeping operations and a number of forthcoming reports that would have an impact on those operations. The general report would be forward-looking, with recommendations that should guide the work of the missions in the preparation of the next round of peacekeeping budgets.
CATHERINE POLLARD, Director, Peacekeeping Financing Division, informed the Committee that submissions of documentation had been later than anticipated as a result of approval of mandates by the Security Council. Also, during the main session of the Assembly, a number of budget proposals had been approved which had had an impact on the preparations of the budgets.
ENNO DROFENIK (Austria) speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the report before the Committee was timely and needed. The Union had previously made it clear that it attached particular importance to those horizontal issues and that it was key that the Committee gave the relevant policy guidelines when approving peacekeeping resources. While regretting constraints that had not allowed the ACABQ to comment on the overview report of the Secretary-General, he was looking forward to receiving the relevant ACABQ report in the main part of the next session. That would enable the Committee to pronounce itself on horizontal issues when discussing revised budgets for individual missions. Furthermore, the European Union would like to see a report of the ACABQ on horizontal issues on a regular basis during each second resumed session of the Assembly.
He welcomed the Advisory Committee's findings on the temporary assignment of staff, general temporary assistance, air operations, quick-impact projects, fraud, consultants, high vacancy rates and on integrated and complex missions. The Union shared the concerns raised by the ACABQ. Therefore, it would introduce language elements for discussion in respect of those issues. A discussion of cross-cutting issues would not delay the discussion on peacekeeping operations, but would facilitate and speed up consideration of individual missions. Adequate time should be allocated to cross-cutting issues related to peacekeeping, while ensuring that all other important agenda items in front of the Committee were equally provided with needed time. The Union was committed to a constructive and streamlined a discussion and was confident that such a discussion would enable the Committee to successfully conclude its session by the end of June.
MELANIE J. ATTWOOLL (United States) strongly supported the inclusion of a cross cutting resolution on the administration of peacekeeping. As last year, this year it would be more effective to consider a range of topics applicable to peacekeeping missions in a single resolution. In that connection, she noted that in response to a request in last year's resolution, there had been considerable improvement in the presentation of material. She was pleased that the revised programme of work contained time for consideration of cross-cutting issues. She hoped that with that, the Committee would be able to conclude its work by 30 June.
HITOSHI KOZAKI (Japan) said he attached importance to cross-cutting issues and welcomed the time allocated to the Committee to discuss those issues. He hoped the discussion would take place on an expedited basis.
YOO DAE-JEONG (Republic of Korea) said he understood the Advisory Committee's difficulties, such as late submission of documentation. The short interim report duly identified problems frequently encountered in peacekeeping operations. He shared the Committee's concerns regarding assignment of staff to temporary duty in other missions. That matter should be considered in connection with the Secretary-General's proposal to establish a cadre of career peacekeeping personnel. He noted that among the eight issues raised, four were directly or indirectly related to human resources management.
He said he was eager to hear more about the impact of the new costing structure for air operation suggested by the Advisory Committee. Greater efficiency in operations contracts, regional management and optimal use of air assets, as well as enhanced coordination with the Department of Political Affairs should be further implemented.
DIEGO SIMANCAS (Mexico) also noted the impact of previous cross-cutting resolutions on the peacekeeping operations and execution of their budgets. Therefore, he had asked for the floor to express satisfaction at the report of the ACABQ with regard to cross-cutting activities common to all peacekeeping operations. His delegation would work with others in a constructive way to see that informals led to advance on the matter.
NONYE UDO (Nigeria) said that her delegation and the "Group of 77" developing countries supported the adoption of the cross-cutting resolution and valued the privilege of looking at issues that concerned peacekeeping and had an impact on several missions. Looking at the abridged report presented by the Advisory Committee, even at this late juncture, she wanted to ask for further clarification as to how to treat such a report and when the Chair anticipated the full document.
Responding to her questions, Mr. SAHA said that in document A/60/880 the Advisory Committee had identified some of the cross-cutting issues. He would like the Committee to bear in mind that resolution 59/296 was already operational and that those were additional items that could be taken up in considering the peacekeeping budgets, should the Committee so desire. As for the time line, the Advisory Committee's forthcoming report was going to include some additional items, including those emanating from the reform proposals, discussions on procurement and some other issues, including human resources and management issues. That would affect the time frame.
Ms. UDO welcomed that clarification and said she was pleased to have a brief version of the report. She was not sure how it all fit together, but she always welcomed an opportunity to interact on cross-cutting issues. For now, it was important to see how it would go in informals.
Alleged Procurement Irregularities
INGA-BRITT AHLENIUS, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, reacting to a statement of 12 June by the representative of Singapore (see Press Release GA/AB/3741 ), said the OIOS had provided a comprehensive response to several questions raised in Addendum 3 to the Committee's formal deliberation of 1 June (see Press Release GA/AB/3739 ).
She then referred to a written statement, giving more detailed responses to questions raised. According to that statement, addressing questions raised by South Africa regarding the comprehensive Department of Peacekeeping Operations review, all personnel, including the Chief of Procurement Service, had been interviewed during the audit. As to a query about the audit of the Procurement Service, she said the audit was a work-in-progress document and the OIOS did not see the value in sharing incomplete results on the audit with the Committee. The OIOS did not consider the information provided by the Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of Central Support Services and the debate on the delegation of authority to be relevant in the discussion of cases presented in the comprehensive Peacekeeping Department management audit.
Further to the distributed statement, the OIOS had recognized the existence of a factual inaccuracy in its comprehensive Peacekeeping Department management audit regarding procurement in one particular case, which had been highlighted by the representative of Singapore. It would formally communicate clarifications on the issue, as well as all other relevant issues arising from the work of the Procurement Task Force, to the Department of Management.
She said the Committee might wish to note that the Task Force worked independently of the Internal Audit Division. As a result, every audit finding was re-evaluated to determine whether it was substantively correct, which was a long process. The OIOS, however, was committed to completing those investigations as expeditiously as possible, mindful of the need for accuracy and thoroughness. While also committed to transparency in its interaction with Member States, senior management and the individuals affected, the OIOS was also mindful of strictly maintaining the confidentiality of the ongoing investigation.
JAYANTILAL KARIA, Director, Accounts Division, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts (Officer-in-Charge Procurement Service), said a written statement with answers to questions raised had been distributed. According to that statement, the Secretariat had taken actions on certain recommendations of the Deloitte report. Approval for actions on recommendations which necessitated Assembly authorization was being sought. The study had been commissioned by the Under-Secretary-General for Management. The Secretariat was not suggesting that the Board of Auditors and the OIOS did not have the competence to carry out such a study as assigned to Deloitte and Touche, but pointed out that the study was neither an audit nor an investigation, which were the areas of core competence of the OIOS.
The statement pointed out that no area of studies should be a preserve of external consultants. Rather, assignments should be allocated on a case-by-case basis according to the specific needs of the situation. "Independent" studies commissioned by senior officials of the Secretariat had not and would not be used to challenge the OIOS and Board of Auditors findings. Although studies had a legitimate use in problem solving, they must be used selectively. The role of the OIOS and the Board of Auditors remained as defined by the Assembly.
He said Deloitte Consulting had been engaged to study internal controls. The study was not an audit report. It was prudent to further improve internal controls once weaknesses had been identified. The Secretariat was addressing the issues raised by the OIOS in its audit of procurement in peacekeeping missions. Actions taken by the Secretariat would be discussed in its report on procurement to be issued. The draft of the study had been carefully checked for factual and contextual accuracy, although that standard process did not require that such checking be undertaken by every individual involved in procurement.
He said, while the Secretariat had procedures, systems and reporting tools, certain issues were left with staff to monitor and oversee due to limitation of system integration. The Deloitte study had focused on internal controls. That study followed the emergence of a serious procurement fraud, which had led to the arrest and guilty plea of a staff member of the Procurement Service.
In response, RAZIFF ALJUNIED (Singapore) said he would need time to study the responses and to respond to them. His initial reaction was that some of his questions had been responded to and some others had been misunderstood, "totally ignored" or evaded. He said that, as the Deloitte report had not been evaluated comprehensively, the status of the study was, therefore, dubious. Until there was a proper understanding of the report, the report did not "hold any water". Since the Deloitte report did not have any standing, one should desist from referring to it.
Who had done the fact-checking? he asked. Could the Secretariat confirm, as it had suggested, that in fact-checking there was no need to consult with senior managers and former senior managers? He noted that his question, voiced on 12 June, regarding an attempt by the Secretariat to link the case of eight staff with that of the Volcker Report, had been evaded. He required a response from the Secretariat to his statement. His question regarding the contents of the comments of the Department of Management to the OIOS had been completely ignored. He would come back to other issues at a later stage.
The Committee's Chairman, JOHN WILLIAM ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda), announced that the Secretariat needed more time to respond to some of the issues raised by the representative of Singapore.
Mr. ALJUNIED (Singapore) said, in response, that he had asked for clarifications to a report. If he did not get proper explanations, the process could continue indefinitely until questions were no longer evaded. He added that, lest his delegation be considered to be the only one asking for additional time on the matter, he wanted to put on record that the Secretariat was unable to respond to his questions today and had, thus, requested more time.
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