6 December 2005

Fifth Committee Speakers Stress Need to Reach Agreement on 2006-2007 Budget by End of Year

NEW YORK, 5 December (UN Headquarters) -- As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met on its organization of work for the rest of the session this morning, over 20 speakers voiced their concern over the lack of time in the face of the Committee's heavy workload, in particular in relation to the Organization's budget for 2006-2007, and examined the reasons for the late issuance of required documentation.

With just a few weeks left till the end of the main part of the session, Norway's representative -- supported by Jamaica on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China and several other speakers -- stressed the need to reach agreement on a budget resolution by the end of the year.

Referring to the discussions "in the margin of our deliberations and in the media" on the possibility of not having a decision on the full 2006-2007 budget by the end of this year, Norway's representative said that such a situation would harm the Organization, which was already in a fragile cash flow situation due to late payments from Member States.  A budget covering only the first few months of the biennium would jeopardize the implementation of the programme activities and mandates decided by Member States, including the reform process.

As for the final date of the Committee's work, its Chairman, John W. Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), said:  "Taking an optimistic view, we believe it is possible to conclude our work in a revised time frame."  Responding to a comment from China's representative, who recalled that the Committee was supposed to finish its work on 9 December, he said that the final date of work on 23 December seemed more realistic at this point.

"Even with strict prioritization, even with night and weekend meetings, it is a tall order to conclude our work before 23 December, but we can do it", Norway's representative agreed.

In that connection, Jamaica's representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, requested that arrangements be made, from now on, for night and weekend meetings, with interpretation.  That position was supported by the representative of South Africa, who spoke on behalf of the African Group.

However, Switzerland opposed night and weekend meetings without a clear understanding on which items would be deferred.  The Committee should focus on time-bound issues, she said.  In that connection, Canada's representative, who also spoke on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said that night and weekend meetings did not need to be provided with conference services.  The delegations she represented were ready to participate in such meetings, once a budget resolution was on the table.  Similar sentiments were expressed by the representative of the United Kingdom, on behalf of the European Union, who expressed readiness "to work and work and work", but objected to the night and weekend meetings -- not just "to save a couple of dollars", but because, at this point, there was no language on the table.

Speakers also expressed their preferences for the prioritization of work during the remaining weeks of the session and insisted that it was necessary to focus on the most urgent and important items on the Committee's agenda.  While Norway felt that such items as administration of justice, the common system, Joint Inspection Unit and programme planning could be deferred, Jamaica's representative was not prepared to identify any items that should be deferred at this point, saying that it was necessary to see how negotiations were going.  She hoped to see all the items already introduced to the Committee "cleaned up" during the current week.  South Africa's representative also did not subscribe to the position that only time-bound issues needed to be concluded.

Japan's representative said that, among other things, he attached high priority to the scale of assessment and the Capital Master Plan.  His delegation was willing to work day or night, but he believed that it would be more conducive to success to hold informal informals, without interpretation.

Among other items discussed in this regard were the International Tribunals, the Organization's second performance report, and the report of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).  On the latter, some delegations wanted to defer the item, but the United States and Argentina (on behalf of the Rio Group) wanted to address it during the current session.  The United States representative said that over 40,000 families depended on the United Nations common system.  The item had been deferred already and further delay would send the wrong signal.

Commenting on such proposals, Egypt's representative said he was not aware that delegations were supposed to prepare "shopping lists" of items to be deferred.  A priority for one delegation was not a priority for another; all issues were equally important.  The fact that the Committee was facing a problem, due to late issuance of documentation, should not be a pretext to defer any issues -- all issues were equally important.  As for the night and weekend meetings, any attempt to avoid them was an excuse not to work.  It was very strange that those who criticized the Committee for the slow pace of its work were the same delegations that did not want to work on evening and weekend meetings.

On the late issuance of documentation, several delegates, including the representative of the United Kingdom, on behalf of the European Union, insisted that there must be greater accountability for programme managers who did not submit reports on time.  The representative of South Africa, on behalf of the African Group, suggested that stronger action should be taken by the Committee to address the problem.

Sharon Van Buerle, Director, ad interim, of the Office of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, described several reasons for late issuance of documentation, including late submission of information by author departments and the need to include the latest information in the reports to be presented to the Assembly.  For example, special political missions had grown in complexity and number -- there were 30 of them now.  While the Secretariat had requested the information from the field that needed to be included in relevant reports as early as August, information on the missions in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone had only been received three days ago. That information was now subject to intensive review.  Up to now, work had been progressing on preparing revised estimates in connection of the September Summit Outcome.  All the staff were busy servicing the priorities and "all things could not be done at the same time".  Thus, some reports had been delayed, to some extent.

Also speaking this morning was the Acting Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Rajat Saha, who said that the Advisory Committee was now taking up statements on programme budget implications of several Main Committees' drafts and expressed hope that most relevant reports of the ACABQ would be issued next week.

Also participating in the debate were representatives of India, Brazil, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Committee will take up the Capital Master Plan, after-service health insurance, and a report on the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships at 10 a.m. Friday, 9 December.

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