31 October 2001


NEW YORK, 30 October (UN Headquarters) -- In a short meeting this morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) continued its consideration of the budgetary requirements arising from the comprehensive review of peacekeeping operations, and took up some aspects of human resources management, including the issues of delegation of authority and the use of consultants and retirees. (For background information on peacekeeping, see Press Release GA/AB/3471 of 29 October.)

Peacekeeping Operations

On peacekeeping, the representative of the Republic of Korea urged quick action on the proposals by the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations to enhance the Organization’s effectiveness and capacity to plan, deploy, manage and support peacekeeping operations. Suggesting that the next budget estimates for the support account should be presented in a results-based budgeting format, he also said that the increase in resources for peacekeeping operations should not be at the expense of their efficiency and effectiveness. The current exercise should be seen as part of a continuing reform process, and not as an opportunity to request resources that were not clearly and specifically related to the increase in peacekeeping needs. In that respect, he applauded the ACABQ for the high level of budgetary discipline exercised in its deliberations on the matter.

In managing peacekeeping operations, better coordination was needed between various departments, Headquarters and field operations, he continued. Division of labour, responsibility and accountability should be clarified between departments. Activities in such areas as procurement, inventory management, information technology, financial administration and recruitment needed to be coordinated between Headquarters and field missions. Expressing deep concern about the safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel, he said the question should not be considered separately from the related report to be submitted by the Secretary-General.

In conclusion, he supported strengthening the resident audit component of missions. The services provided by resident auditors had been effective in deterring mismanagement, waste, abuse and fraud. From 1994 to 1999, the activities of 15 resident auditors had helped to recover about $9.5 million in fraud-related and other over-payments, and led to additional savings of some $9.3 million. An extensive restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and a significant increase in its staff and resources would warrant subsequent evaluation of the impact of the reform.

Human Resources Management

As the Committee turned to human resources management, the representative of Iran, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) on the delegation of authority had been considered by the Committee during the fifty-fifth session, and the General Assembly had already endorsed the Unit’s recommendations last June. It had also expressed its wish to further consider the matter in the light of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). The JIU report on consultants had been discussed in the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC). It was possible to avoid the debate on both matters in the Fifth Committee now by simply endorsing the recommendations of the CPC and calling for the implementation of the decision of the General Assembly, fully taking into account the views of the ACABQ on both items.

The representative of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) stressed the need to approach the complex subject of human resources in full possession of the facts. On the delegation of authority and the JIU report on the matter (which the Committee had already examined), the Union was concerned over the comments and recommendations of the ACABQ on the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM). By resolution 55/258, the Secretary-General was asked to report on "responsibility in the reform of human resources management, as well as the monitoring and control mechanisms and procedures" to the fifty-seventh session. A short-term solution must be found to that issue, which had been before Member States for many years. The Union would be vigilant in ensuring that the fifty-seventh session achieved concrete results in that respect.

The question of retirees could not be discussed independently from the overall report on staff policy, he continued, which the Secretary-General was to present at the next session. Additional information was required for the discussion on the ceiling on salaries. On the use of consultants, he noted with interest the reports before the Committee (see below) and said that, on the principle of geographical balance, the choice of consultants must be consistent with the rules and regulations of the United Nations. The criterion must be the highest quality of service at the lowest cost. The Union endorsed the ACABQ’s recommendations regarding the establishment of an inventory of skills in the Secretariat. Budget documents should provide more information on requirements for consultants and justification for the use of outside expertise. He regretted that there was no satisfactory system for comprehensive management of information. Given the workload of the session, the Union was ready to follow a consensus to postpone the issue.

The Committee is planning to conclude its discussion on both items at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 31 October.

Documents before Committee

According to the report of the Secretary-General on consultants and individual contractors hired by the United Nations in 1999 (document A/55/321), a total of 2,382 persons were engaged as consultants that year, including 669 women, 55 retirees and 342 non-retired former staff under age 60. A total of 3,220 separate contracts were issued for consultants during the year, and 886 persons engaged as individual contractors for 1,643 contracts. The majority of engagements were for administrative services and programme implementation. The largest occupational group (some 20 per cent) comprised economists, who are brought in mainly as consultants. In 1999, consultants were paid $23.8 million (23 per cent from the regular budget and 67 per cent from extrabudgetary sources), while individual contractors were paid $5 million (54 per cent from the regular budget). Total fees decreased since 1998 by $1.2 million for consultants, and by $1.4 million for individual contractors.

The report goes on to say that consultants were hired from 146 countries, with five countries accounting for more than a third of all consultants engaged: Canada, Chile, France, United Kingdom and the United States. Individual contractors came from 84 countries. In that category, four countries accounted for 36 per cent of engagements: Argentina, Chile, United Kingdom and the United States. In terms of fees for consultants, nationals from five countries (Canada, Chile, France, United Kingdom and the United States) accounted for 43 per cent of the total expenses. The departments and offices that made the most use of consultants and individual contractors in 1999 included the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); the United Nations Offices at Nairobi and Geneva; the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); and the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Also before the Committee was a note of the Secretary-General transmitting a related report of the JIU (document A/55/59). The report says that, although concern over the use of consultants was expressed by Member States for years, the issue has never been comprehensively addressed. The Unit makes several recommendations to ensure strict observance of existing regulations on the use of consultants, including the development of a skills inventory of staff. The OHRM should review all consultancy requests to ascertain if the required expertise is available "in-house".

Also according to the report, it is necessary to establish clear operational procedures on the handling of consultants’ travel expenses without distorting geographical balance in the awarding of contracts. The Secretary-General should study different methodologies which might be used to achieve geographical balance in the use of consultants, and report on workable options which would enable Member States to make informed choice between alternative systems. There are also recommendations on making information on planned requirements for consultancy services available to Member States. The Secretary-General’s annual report on consultants should include a breakdown of data not only by nationality, but also by developing and other countries and/or regional groups.

The Committee also had before it a note of the Secretary-General (document A/55/59/Add.1) transmitting his comments on the JIU’s report on the use of consultants. In particular, the Secretary-General says that the OHRM is currently in the second phase of implementing the skills inventory project. The resulting integrated system-wide service will enable the OHRM and departmental programme managers to review consultancy requests and determine whether required expertise is available in-house.

Regarding the recommendation to review all consultancy requests, the Secretary-General says it would require establishing a new monitoring mechanism, the cost of which may outweigh its benefits. Given that heads of departments or offices also need to certify the need for consultancy requests, the current distribution of responsibilities provides adequate assurance that duplication can be avoided. A needs assessment study is being considered, however, and if necessary, proposals will be presented to the Assembly.

The Secretary-General further says that the suggestions for clarifying travelling procedures can only provide information on geographical distribution of contracts. Proposed mechanisms do not, in themselves, prevent a distortion of balance in awarding contracts. Travel costs for consultants would eventually be charged to the department that uses the services of consultants. The cost would possibly become a factor in determining which consultant to hire, if there were two equally good candidates.

A report of the Secretary-General on the employment of retirees (document A/55/451) provides information concerning retired staff recruited on a short-term basis in all categories and at all levels during the biennium 1998-1999. Statistical data in the comprehensive annex to the report shows that 551 separate engagements and reappointments of 342 retirees took place during the biennium. Nationals of 57 countries were engaged as retirees, but seven countries accounted for 63 per cent of all engagements. Thirty-five per cent of the retirees were female.

The total cost of fees and salaries for retirees in the biennium was $10.3 million, of which language services accounted for nearly two thirds. Compared to the previous biennium, the number of engagements in the biennium 1998-1999 increased by 1.3 per cent and the number of retirees by 4.3 per cent. Retirees were engaged for longer periods, as indicated by the increase of 24 per cent in number of days worked during the period, and total fees or salaries rose by 20 per cent. In the previous biennium, the average cost for each engagement was $17,620, and in 1998-1999 this increased to $18,642.

A report of the JIU on the delegation of authority (document A/55/857) notes that, in recent years, there has been a marked trend to create a more trusting and less restrictive management style through greater delegation of authority to line managers. The Secretary-General's proposal for additional delegation of authority was at the core of his vision for reform. However, the steps taken over the last few years did not appear very significant, notwithstanding a number of noteworthy efforts to clarify administrative rules and prepare managers for the new tasks.

Overall, the Secretariat appeared to implement delegation of authority on an ad hoc basis, without a well thought-out comprehensive strategy, the Inspectors state. Some measures to decentralize administrative tasks have been presented as delegation of authority, while, in fact, managers have not been given additional decision-making powers. Some officials express a dissatisfaction that the exercise has amounted merely to dumping of clerical tasks, without a concomitant shift of resources. As a result, there is a good deal of confusion, suspicion and discontent among Member States, managers and staff. Some of the "quick wins" heralded by the Administration have been discarded as impractical or deferred.

The Inspectors state that clear, unambiguous and current documents guiding the functioning of the Secretariat are needed to create a climate of administrative discipline and order. It is also necessary to change entrenched bureaucratic habits through leadership and training. Authority must be clearly defined, and formal responsibilities assigned to specific staff members. Success will depend on the support provided to managers by administrative staff and by common services, with a clear definition of their respective roles.

Calling recent measures on delegation of authority "a mixed success", the Inspectors conclude that the reform should involve a systematic approach and identification of areas where delegation is possible. They also stress the need to establish a culture of clarity, transparency and communication; to provide managers with resources and tools to exercise the authority delegated to them; and to establish a framework of accountability, including appropriate monitoring procedures. The Inspectors also recommend updating relevant paragraphs of the Staff Regulations and Rules to reflect changes and provide clear guidance.

Also before the Committee were the Secretary-General's comments on the JIU report (document A/55/857/Add.1), in which he commends the Inspectors' assessment of the policies regarding the delegation of authority. However, many of their general findings and recommendations have been overtaken by events, he states, and a number of reform initiatives appear to have been overlooked, including those on results-based budgeting and review of the administrative budgetary and programming procedures. In some cases, the recommendations advocate new procedures which differ from those already promulgated in the Secretary-General’s bulletin of 28 May 1997.

The Secretary-General states that he is unaware of any non-compliance with established procedures regarding the issuance of administrative instructions or of his bulletins. Much effort is devoted to ensuring that every draft administrative issuance is in strict conformity with established policies. Taking note of the recommendation to ensure consistency of financial regulations, the Secretary-General adds that a thorough review of the Financial Regulations and Rules is currently under way. Steps towards creating a culture of transparency and communication throughout the Secretariat have been incorporated into the human resources management strategy.

Managers need to have authority over their human and financial resources, relevant information and training, the report further states. To that end, he delegates financial management authority to heads of departments and overseas offices through the Under-Secretary-General for Management. When the authority is granted, clear information is provided, defining its scope, expectations and the manner in which it will be monitored. Heads of departments and managers have primary responsibility for ensuring the proper exercise of delegated authority. The Department of Management is responsible for monitoring the exercise of authority and for assisting staff in doing so properly. If necessary, authority can be reduced or withdrawn altogether.

According to the report, the proposed reform envisages enhancement of the monitoring role of the OHRM. A computerized tracking system for the human resources action plan is being prepared for that purpose. Development of an automated system of recruitment, placement and promotion will also facilitate monitoring and reporting. The Secretary-General will continue to ensure effective functioning of the accountability system outlined in the report. The Performance and Appraisal System (PAS) has been complemented by the programme management plan, which includes performance indicators relating to programmatic, financial and human resources management responsibilities. Concurring with the recommendation that there must be full and meaningful consultations with staff representatives, the Secretary-General emphasizes that such a dialogue should be constructive and results-oriented.

According to the ACABQ comments on these matters (document A/56/7), the Advisory Committee supports the Secretary-General in questioning the utility of desirable ranges in procuring consultants’ and individual contractors’ expertise. Pointing out that the weaknesses identified in its previous report largely persist, the ACABQ notes, in particular, that a system for collecting data on consultants and contractors is yet to be established. Installation of the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) at offices away from Headquarters would facilitate collection and analysis of data. It is also necessary to establish areas where consultancy would be required at the very beginning of a financial period. Thus, the proposed programme budget for 2002-2003 should have contained more precise information on requirements and full justification for outside expertise.

The Advisory Committee further reaffirms the need for effective rejuvenation of the Secretariat and recommends including that issue among the areas to be addressed by the OHRM in 2002-2003. It expresses concern that the delegation of authority to programme managers and their accountability for the recruitment of staff, performance management and career development have not been included on the list of areas where the OHRM expects to achieve progress in the coming biennium. The Advisory Committee has concluded that there is currently no effective machinery to monitor the delegation of authority. It also points out that delegation of authority is not synonymous with abdication of responsibility and reiterates that "it is absolutely essential to ensure that what is being delegated is clearly spelled out in writing". It is also important to ensure adequate staff resources to carry out the delegated authority. Monitoring of the implementation of delegated authority should be streamlined in order to avoid excessive reporting and costly bureaucratic processes.

Regarding employment of retirees, the ACABQ states that the General Assembly has dealt with the human resources reform package in its resolution 55/258. Therefore, programme managers should not use their inability to plan for vacancies and process applications in a timely manner as an excuse to engage retired personnel. It also hopes that, with the installation of the IMIS at offices away from Headquarters, the Organization’s monitoring capacity in this respect will improve.

Relevant comments of the CPC are contained it its report A/56/16. According to this document, the CPC expressed its disappointment over the lack of progress in establishing mechanisms to avoid duplication of activities and developing norms aimed at attracting consultants on a wide geographical basis. Welcoming the report of the JIU on the use of consultants, the CPC noted the lack of information on gender perspective in that area. The Committee requested the Secretary-General to study different methodologies which might be used to correct the geographical imbalance in hiring consultants, and to report on the workable options in that respect. The CPC recommended endorsing most of the Inspectors’ recommendations and requested the JIU to review the progress made in implementation of the approved recommendations contained in that report.

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