28 October 2005

Consultative Mechanism Proposed for UN Policy-Making Consistency, as Fifth Committee Continues Debate on 2006-2007 Budget

NEW YORK, 27 October (UN Headquarters) -- As the Fifth Committee (Advisory and Budgetary) held its third day of debate on the proposed 2006-2007 budget, the United States representative called for a change in the culture of policy-setting at the United Nations and said Governments -- especially major contributors -- should "forcefully" exercise their collective voices in providing policy direction to the various agencies of the United Nations system.

She said it was troubling that agency secretariats set policy and not Member States.  Changing that would require internal coordination among the interested parties, so that once an agreement on policy was reached, it remained consistent throughout the vast United Nations system.  While open to suggestions, the United States proposed the creation of a consultative mechanism in New York to provide consistency and cohesion as the relevant parties gathered together.

She said where the United Nations' role was relevant and the activity was efficient and served a purpose, it was necessary to continue.  But it was necessary to put an end to activities that were duplicative and could not be justified by reasonable standards of efficiency and effectiveness.  Over the years, "a Byzantine patchwork" of activities, committees and institutional entities had proliferated that bore little relation to their original purpose.  Further, without a thorough review of mandates and other management reforms, the United States would find it very difficult to reach agreement on the 2006-2007 budget.

The representative of the Russian Federation supported curbing the growth in Organization expenditures and ensuring cost-effective implementation of global tasks.  He said the implementation of decisions taken during the World Summit should be, as much as possible, financed through a rational reallocation of available resources.  However, there were reasons behind the increase in budget expenditures, everything from new political missions to expanded safety and security-related measures.  The scale of the Organization's resources emphasized the urgent need to find opportunities to increase the Secretariat's efficiency, strengthen budget discipline, take cost-saving measures, and identify and abandon obsolete and ineffective programmes.

The representative of Cuba said his country would reject any attempt to withhold payment by a main contributor, to pressure delegations or to impose conditions using scandalous reports in the press of a given country.  Cuba would not accept any attempt to condition the adoption of the budget on reform initiatives that had been put forward in the Summit Outcome.

The representative of Burkina Faso was among the speakers who pointed out that along with reform, the United Nations must also pursue the essential goals of development, which had been adopted at important international conferences and summits.  He said the challenges facing the Organization remained enormous, especially in Africa.  Even in the midst of today's austerity, certain factors needed to be taken into account when considering the budget, including adequate support for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the situation at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

While sharing the opinion of the Advisory Committee, which was "by and large in agreement" with the proposed budget, the representative of Switzerland said she hoped the Fifth Committee did not spend a disproportionate amount of time arguing over questions at a micromanagement level.  Instead, the Committee should focus on strategic priorities and conclude its consideration in a speedy manner with a short and concise resolution.

Also speaking today were representatives of the Republic of Korea, Zambia, Indonesia, Jordan and Qatar.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 28 October.


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to continue its general debate on the proposed regular budget of the United Nations, which it began on Tuesday (for detailed information, see Press Release GA/AB/3695 of 25 October).


ANNE W. PATTERSON ( United States) said that the budget should include the cost of the important management reforms approved in the Summit outcome.  That could not wait another biennium.  She introduced the concept of a "unitary UN" as an analytical framework to give coherence to the UN system.  It was necessary to see how all functions and programmes in the United Nations system related to each other and, more importantly, to the Organization's core purposes.  That was important, because over the years "a Byzantine patchwork" of activities, committees and institutional entities had proliferated, bearing little relation to their original purpose.  Duplication, overlap and inefficiencies had too often been the expensive result of a lack of coordination in programme planning and implementation.  In that connection, she stressed a strong need for some central coordinating mechanism, which would serve as an information and policy clearinghouse.  Its principal objective was to beget consistency in the approach to the myriad problematic issues confronting the United Nations system today.

It was troubling that the agency secretariats set the policy agenda for organizations, and not Member States, she said.  It was necessary to change that culture.  Governments, especially major contributors, needed to exercise forcefully their collective voices in providing policy direction to the agencies.  That would require internal coordination among the interested parties, so that once agreement on the position was established, it was reflected and remained consistent in all venues of the United Nations system.  While open to suggestions on how to best facilitate coordination in that respect, the United States would like to propose the establishment of consultative mechanism in New York, which would bring relevant parties together.  The organization of that mechanism could be structured in ways to also take account of the special interests that members may have in its overall work.

Where the United Nations' role was relevant and the activity was efficient and served a purpose, it was necessary to continue it, she continued.  On the other hand, it was necessary to put an end to activities that were duplicative or could not be justified by reasonable standards of efficiency and effectiveness.  In cases where the United Nations did not have a competitive advantage, it should defer to other organizations.  Resources freed through that process should be allocated to activities deemed relevant, effective and non-duplicative.  In some cases, it would be necessary to add to agency responsibilities.  The key linchpin, though, was to have a consultative mechanism in place to add coherence and consistency.  Absent the inclusion of a thorough mandate review and other management reforms, the United States would find it very difficult to reach agreement on the 2006-2007 budget.

Among specific budget proposals, she addressed the need to increase the efficiency of the United Nations public information function.  In particular, it was necessary to consider the justification to continue spending resources for United Nations information centre activities in North America and agree to consolidate information centres in other regions to the maximum extent feasible.  The United Nations should fully exploit technological advances that would make public information functions more efficient and effective.  Resources saved from such measures could be used to strengthen public information activities in other areas.

It was also necessary to reduce the cost, frequency and duration of conferences and meetings, she said.  Inter-sessional meetings of main or subordinate bodies should be funded through voluntary contributions, or not held at all.  The mandates of over 300 subordinate bodies or subsidiary bodies reporting to the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council needed to be scrutinized to identify duplication and ensure relevance.  The marginally useful Committee on Conferences should be eliminated.  She also proposed to give the Secretary-General broad authority to redeploy posts and resources from lower to higher priority areas in the 2006-2007 budget.  As for the proposal to lift the freeze on General Service staff hiring, that measure should be extended and not lifted until critical reforms were actually in place.

Among other needs, she mentioned the need to reduce excessive travel allowances, phase out the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), rationalize the use of consultants, consolidate multiple liaison offices, rationalize information technology among United Nations agencies, and phase out the regular programme for technical cooperation.  While supporting the objective of promoting the decolonization process in accordance with the Charter, she also maintained that it was ultimately within the authority of an administering Power to determine when its obligations under Article 73 (e) ceased.  The United States would welcome real progress in the delisting of the remaining territories, which was blocked by political considerations.  It also did not support regular, periodic visiting missions.

Turning to the Secretary-General's proposal to create a fund to address the impact of currency fluctuations and inflation, she said it would be better to wait until the dollar strengthened before considering such a mechanism.  Also, the convening of groups of governmental experts on disarmament was threatening to become a substantial and unnecessary drain on the budget.  In an era of limited budgets and competing priorities, that was wasteful, and the United States would oppose convening and funding such groups.  The portion of the Department of Disarmament Affairs budget devoted to support for the Conference on Disarmament and related activities in Geneva would decrease from some $4.3 million to $4.1 million.  If the Conference continued to be deadlocked on agreeing to a work programme, that was a logical area to seek further reductions.

Her delegation believed that the United Nations Forum on Forests and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) should be funded exclusively on a voluntary basis, she continued.  Better performance measures were needed for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  While supporting its work, she urged the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to continue to improve on its efforts to establish global strategic objectives, measures and indicators.

On the question of Palestine, her country sought the abolition of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the Division of Palestinian Rights, because both were inimical to the aim of ensuring that United Nations monies were directed to the highest priorities and of achieving a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Now, with increased prospects for peace, with Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian elections, and step to take greater responsibility for good governance, such programmes only undercut the chances of a durable, just peace.

SONG YOUNG-WAN ( Republic of Korea) said he was concerned that there might be too many ways to approach a budget and they were attempting all of them at once.  Instead, the Committee should ensure they are not merely overburdening the United Nations with a welter of new requirements.  The Organization's goals should be efficiency and effectiveness, and achieving those goals would require a balanced approach.  He added that oversight and accountability were also crucial, and he welcomed the Secretary-General's efforts to strengthen oversight through the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and an independent external evaluation.

He drew attention, as other delegations had, to the slightly misleading figure of 0.1 per cent real growth between the budget for the present biennium and the 2006-2007 biennium.  He recalled that initial estimates for the 2004-2005 budget period were revised upward substantially, so the change from estimate to estimate was closer to 20 per cent.  He said he expected that this budget proposal would be revised upward, continuing the pattern of budget growth.  He was pleased to see that results-based budgeting was taking root as a methodology.  He agreed with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) that the Secretariat should continue to sharpen this tool so it could be used most effectively.

He also welcomed the discontinuation of 3,019 obsolete, ineffective or marginally useful outputs.  He would like to know what resources had been made available as a result of the output discontinuations and would like to see that information in future budget proposals.  The clearance of unnecessary outputs would be valuable and would free up budget resources for high-priority work.

ALEXANDER V. KONUZIN ( Russian Federation) said the proposed budget for 2006-2007 should be considered in close connection with the outcome of the High-Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly held in September, since many new tasks were assigned to the United Nations and their implementation could have serious financial implications.

He noted that, while the budget presented was estimated at $3.6 billion, that with future recosting and the available estimates in that regard, the level was likely to reach $3.8 billion -- meaning the absolute growth in the Organization's expenditures would total more than 5.4 per cent.  He noted the reasons behind the increase in expenditures -- such as new political missions, safety and security-related measure, the introduction of information technology and mandates of the General Assembly.  But, because of the scale of resources, steps must be urgently taken to increase the Secretariat's efficiency, strengthen budget discipline, take cost-saving measures, and identify and abandon obsolete and ineffective programmes.

He supported the ACABQ recommendations to reduce the level of spending on consultants and travel of staff, as well as the additional posts in the Secretariat.  During consultation, he would seek further reductions.  The request for increased funding for "staff training" did not appear very convincing.  He considered ACABQ's recommendations related to staffing and management in the Organization to be very useful.  He believed in the need to curb the growth of the Organization's expenditures and that the main objective of its reform was to ensure a cost-effective implementation of global tasks assigned to the United Nations by Member States.  He said the implementation of decisions taken during the World Summit should be, as much as possible, financed through a rational reallocation of available resources.

TENS C. KAPOMA ( Zambia) stressed that development was among the Organization's main priorities.  Furthermore, the Organization had set up an office at headquarters to solicit support for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).  The role of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was very important.  His delegation was concerned that the tendency to increasingly use extrabudgetary resources for mandated programmes and activities might result in a budget that did not adequately reflect the development agenda of developing countries, in general, and least developed countries, in particular, most of which were in Africa.  In that regard, he stressed that programmes and activities approved by the Assembly should be funded in accordance with Article 17 of the Charter.  Extrabudgetary resources, if they had to be accepted, should have no conditions, except to fulfil the mandated programmes and activities.

Continuing, he expressed concern over the length of time it took to fill vacancies in the United Nations.  He agreed with the ACABQ that there was a need for programme managers to embark on succession planning and begin the recruitment process well in advance of planned retirements to enable all posts that became vacant to be filled within 30 days.  He also urged the Office of Human Resources Management to urgently fill the posts of the Office of the Special Adviser for Africa, which had been vacant for four months.  That Office had a very important role to play in soliciting international support for the United Nations to rally behind the NEPAD initiative.

His delegation was also deeply concerned with the imbalance in the composition of the staff in the Secretariat.  His country, for instance, had a desirable range of 1-14, but was still underrepresented.  Yet, it had qualified and experienced candidates who had applied for jobs in the United Nations, but for some reason had not been recruited.  He supported the recommendation of the Advisory Committee regarding the engagement of nationals in the regional commissions, the Office on Nairobi, and the information centres.  He also reaffirmed that the Organization should use consultants only when in-house expertise was not available.  Consultants should be hired on as wide a geographical basis as possible.

With regard to the Development Account, he noted with concern that $13 million had remained static since the establishment of the Account.  The assumption that savings would be channelled to the Development Account had obviously not worked out as anticipated.  There was a need for a complete review of its funding mechanism.  In that regard, he wanted to know why no additional funds had been put into the Development Account.  Turning to the results-based budgeting format, he said that some of the indicators that the programme managers had come up with for measuring performance were not specific, measurable, accurate, realistic or timely.  It was necessary to perfect the art of results-based budgeting, in the shortest period of time.

In conclusion, he said that Africa needed the international community's assistance to develop the capacity to carry out its development agenda forward.  For that reason, his delegation was requesting increased resources for programmes and activities for Africa's development.

ZONGO SAIDOU ( Burkina Faso) endorsed the position of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China and the African Group and said that measures to promote development had been adopted at important international conferences and Summits, including the Millennium Summit.  That was an indication of the importance of development commitments, including the fight against poverty and hunger.  The United Nations should play a leadership role in implementing those commitments, and adequate resources should be allocated to their implementation.  While supporting the process of the reform under way in the Organization, he believed that the budget should not neglect the development priorities.

He noted that, compared to the earlier budget, the increase in 2006-2007 did not exceed 0.1 per cent.  The challenges remained enormous, especially in Africa.  In the midst of today's austerity, some factors needed to be further taken into account in the budget, including the need to provide adequate support for NEPAD.  The situation of ECA was also a matter of concern.

The draft budget indicated some $13 million for the Development Account, he continued.  Given the goals involved, he believed that the Account deserved increased attention.  A landlocked country, Burkina Faso believed that the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States should receive increased support.  The United Nations budget could bring peace and security to the peoples of the world and could dissipate widespread feelings of frustration and helplessness.  It must be adapted to the commitments that the Organization had set for itself.  While pursuing reform, the United Nations must also pursue the essential goals of development.

ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY ( Indonesia) said Indonesia expressed its strong determination that all mandated programmes and activities agreed to in the Summit outcome be implemented.  She added that sustained economic growth and sustainable development should receive the utmost attention in the work of the United Nations, which would be in line with the commitment of the Heads of State and Government made during the Summit.

She said the level of resources proposed in the $3.6 billion budget merited their careful consideration.  She stressed the need to strengthen support for the work of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to let it reinforce the necessary substantive and administrative work of the Economic and Social Council.  In addition, Indonesia attached particular importance to the work of the regional commissions in facilitating and promoting regional cooperation in economic and social development.

She said one area that needed serious attention was humanitarian assistance, particularly regarding the detrimental impact of natural disasters, as evidence in the tsunami disaster, earthquakes, hurricanes and mudslides in various regions.  Those disasters required additional resources for humanitarian programmes and activities, and Indonesia noted the increased proposed programme budget in that area for 2006-2007.  Regarding extrabudgetary resources, she said the trend of core development objectives depending on extrabudgetary resources needed to be carefully monitored.  That trend could create paralysis in the development field.  The danger was that extrabudgetary funding was subject to sharp fluctuations and could prove very unreliable.

MOHAMMAD TAL ( Jordan) said he associated himself with the statement made by the representative of Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China.  While Jordan called for adopting the highest standards of efficiency when using available resources, the Committee should not shy away from acknowledging the expansion of the United Nations' responsibility with a commensurate increase in the level of available resources.  In that connection, Jordan believed in the central role of the General Assembly as the Organization's chief deliberative, democratic body in setting policy, appropriating resources and, most importantly, supplying oversight.  He said that full engagement of Member States in all areas of management and budgeting should be maintained and was more necessary than ever.

Jordan viewed extrabudgetary resources as an important supplementary component of regular budget allocations that should be subjected to the same scrutiny as the regular budget.  But, he was concerned by the growth of those resources, as they reached a staggering $5.63 billion, or 62 per cent of overall budgetary allocations.  He was more concerned that $1.67 billion was devoted to substantive activities that required more stable and continuous source of funding.

Regarding the proposal to discontinue 3,019 outputs, he was curious about the mechanisms that led to the selection process.  He was also curious about how the discontinuation of those outputs would have on the streamlining of work in the relevant departments and the levels of savings realized from such activity.  Regarding the work of the ACABQ, he said he valued their pivotal role in providing necessary advice to the General Assembly as it makes its decision on administrative and budgetary matters.  That role, as defined by rule 157 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, should be adhered to.  He added that the neutrality, independence and impartiality of the Committee members were of vital importance to maintaining the body's integrity.

JASSIM ALI ABDULLAH AL-SULAITI ( Qatar) supported the position of the Group of 77 and China and said that the consideration of the budget impacted all activities of the Organization. The decision before the Committee was particularly important, considering the serious criticism to which the United Nations had been subjected in recent months.  Member States must have the leading role in setting the human and financial resources of the United Nations.

Turning to the 3,019 outputs proposed for discontinuation, he acknowledged the need to improve effectiveness, but cautioned against taking measures that would affect developing countries in a negative way.  Another source of concern was presentation of the budget on the basis of a zero-growth approach, particularly at a time when new mandates were being adopted by legislative bodies.  That would lead to a redistribution of resources and reduction of financing for some needed activities.

He added that the Summit outcome was aimed at improving the performance of the Secretariat.  His delegation expected high quality of services to Member States.  Regarding the ACABQ, he said that it was a pivotal body to the work of the Fifth Committee and its independence and consultative role must be maintained.  He also emphasized the important role of the regional commissions in supporting the United Nations development activities.  Sufficient resources must be provided to them, for they must not depend on extrabudgetary resources.

PABLO BERTI OLIVA ( Cuba) aligned himself with the position of the Group of 77 and China and said that Member States must exercise equal sovereignty in making a decision on the level of the resources of the Organization, which were needed to implement its mandated activities.  Depressed budgets that did not meet the needs of the Organization, based on the policy of setting conditions, with budgetary ceilings and zero increases, revealed the real political determination of certain States towards the Organization.

He noted that, in the preparation of the budget for 2006-2007, a zero-growth approach had been adopted.  That was very difficult, when talking at the same time about reforming the Organization.  How could the new challenges be met?  While aware of the need for the efficient use of resources, he could not understand how the Organization could maintain a budget that did not grow.  The domination of extrabudgetary resources over and above the regular budget was a source of concern.  It was also very disturbing that resources devoted to development represented a tiny portion of the proposed budget, and the Development Account and the Programme for Technical Cooperation had not seen any increase at all.  The General Assembly had not adopted any resolution approving the zero-growth approach, and he would appreciate it if the Secretariat presented a proposal based on the real needs of the Organization.

He wanted to know why the level of resources of the Development Account had not increased, although significant savings had been achieved.  Also, as the amount presented to the Committee was just an estimate, he wondered about the real level of the resources for 2006-2007, particularly since section 29 of the budget was being revised and had not yet been presented to the Assembly.

He added that, the fact that the Secretary-General had been able to propose deletion of over 3,000 outputs based on the existing rules for programme planning showed that effective implementation of those rules was possible and did not represent an obstacle to the work of the Organization.  However, he was concerned that the majority of the outputs slated for elimination were in the area of development.

Among other things, he also addressed the finding by the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC)that programmatic narratives, in particular the overview parts, were different from the overall orientation parts of the biennial programme plan for 2006-2007.  It was also disturbing that the CPC had not been given an opportunity to examine certain sections of the budget, for they had not yet been published.  Regarding the ACABQ, he said that Cuba greatly appreciated the work of the Advisory Committee as an advisory expert body.  However, its report contained recommendations that exceeded its mandate.  Some even criticized the work of the General Assembly and that was unacceptable.  The ACABQ should avoid making recommendations of a political nature.

On the reform of the United Nations, he noted that the Secretary-General had devoted 94 per cent of his statement to reform and not to a detailed introduction of the budget.  Although his delegation recognized the importance of that process, he believed the budget had been prepared before the adoption of the Summit Outcome.  Once the Assembly had considered detailed proposals regarding that document and taken action on it -- only then should there be a discussion of budgetary implications of matters adopted by the Assembly.  Last but not least, he reiterated that Cuba would not accept any attempt to condition the adoption of the budget on reform initiatives that had been put forward in the Summit Outcome.  Any attempt to withhold payment by a main contributor, to pressure delegations or impose conditions using scandalous reports in the press of a given country would be rejected by his country.

ZOBRIST RENTENAAR ( Switzerland) said Switzerland was committed to strict budgetary discipline, setting priorities and an efficient and cost-effective use of financial resources.  She noted that budget growth reflected the greater security and safety demands placed on the Organization and special political missions.  She noted that it represented less than half of the peacekeeping operations budget, of which there was hardly any intergovernmental scrutiny, and corresponded to just a fraction of global spending for national defence programmes.

She commended ACABQ for its thorough and exhaustive report and hoped that the Advisory Committee's recommendations would help shift the Fifth Committee from a line-by-line scrutiny of the budget proposal towards a more strategic discussion.

Switzerland believed that programmes funded under the human rights and humanitarian affairs portion of the budget needed to be strengthened and given a more balanced and predictable funding structure.  But, she was concerned with the considerable share of operational activities financed through extrabudgetary funds in those areas.  The delegation supported the commitment made at the Summit to double the regular budget of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights over the next five years as an important and long-overdue step in the right direction.  In that same vein, she supported the increase in the regular budget for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UNHCR.

In the area of oversight, Switzerland supported the measures adopted at the Summit to strengthen the expertise, capacity and resources of the OIOS as a matter of urgency.  But, she did not believe additional posts for the OIOS was an adequate response.

She shared the opinion of the Advisory Committee, which was "by and large in agreement" with the proposed budget.  She said she hoped the Fifth Committee did not spend a disproportionate amount of time arguing over questions at a micromanagement level, but focused on strategic priorities and concluded its consideration in a speedy manner with a short and concise resolution.

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