The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) opened the first part of its resumed seventy‑fourth session today, approving its provisional work programme amid an outcry from some delegates over the General Assembly’s 14 January decision to expand membership of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) without consulting them.
In the wide-ranging meeting, delegates also reviewed progress on the capital master plan, the United Nations information and communications technology (ICT) strategy, the Joint Inspection Unit’s annual report and service conditions for members of the International Court of Justice and judges at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.
Among those voicing concern about the Assembly’s ACABQ decision was the representative of the European Union delegation, who worried that expanded membership will hamper the Advisory Committee’s ability to deliver to its clients if certain elements are not addressed. An informal discussion on how the expansion will affect work methods is much needed, he stressed.
“This digression from established practice, and even the rules of procedure, is very much at the forefront of our minds,” said the United States representative, as it bypasses the Fifth Committee’s consensus-driven approach — a point echoed by the United Kingdom’s delegate who said it undermines the Fifth Committee’s goal of achieving the broadest possible consensus. “It should never happen again,” added Japan’s representative. Circumventing the Main Committees on matters of critical importance is a serious defiance to their central role.
On the topic of the United Nations ICT strategy, Patrick Carey, Acting Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of Information and Communications Technology, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the status of implementation, described progress made since 2014. The number of data centres has been reduced from 44 five years ago to two today, many systems have moved to cloud hosting and the number of help desks has declined from 131 to one. Governance policies meanwhile have been strengthened and emerging technologies leveraged. His Office — which became operational on 1 January — has created a more coherent ICT landscape across the Secretariat, he assured.
Parama Sen, Chair of the Audit Operations Committee, presenting the Board of Auditors’ third annual progress report, however, pointed out that the two ICT strategy decision-making bodies had not met regularly, and critical actions for information security — such as network segmentation and classification of information assets — remain pending. A disaster recovery exercise not only failed to meet targets, but highlighted problem areas which already had been flagged. Of the Secretariat’s 740 websites as of 31 December 2018, 360 had not been built on approved technologies. And as of March 2019, the ICT units of 27 United Nations entities, offices and departments at Headquarters, offices away from Headquarters and regional commissions had yet to be harmonized, she warned.
With that in mind, Abdallah Bachar Bong, ACABQ Chair, introducing that body’s related report, recommended that the Assembly request the Secretary-General to submit a final progress report at the seventy-fifth session, which would contain full and accurate data on the implementation status of each phase of the ICT strategy, as well as proposals for a follow-up strategy that apply to the entire Secretariat — including field missions. The Secretary-General should also be requested to establish — prior to the start of the next strategy — a baseline of ICT expenditures, assets, services and applications.
In the ensuing discussion, Guyana’s delegate, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, called the uptake of the Board of Auditor’s recommendations since 2012 “rather abysmal”, as only 20 per cent of them have been fully executed. Other recommendations have either been contested or are at various stages of implementation. The Group expects the Secretariat to implement the Board’s recommendations urgently and in full, she said, and that the lack of progress in reducing ICT fragmentation — a key objective of the ICT strategy — will be addressed as a matter of priority.
On that point, the United States representative warned that “in the face of constant and ever-increasing cyberattacks, the continued lack of compliance with ICT policy directives leaves the Organization increasingly vulnerable”. It is essential that the Chief Information Technology Officer exercise Secretariat-wide control over information security.
Turning to the capital master plan, Andrew Nye, Chief of Facilities and Commerce Activities in the Department of Operational Support, introduced the Secretary-General’s seventeenth progress report, noting that all administrative tasks required to close the plan were completed by March 2018, with the exception of some invoices subjected to two ongoing arbitration cases brought by the construction management company. The total approved funding for the capital master plan and the final cost of completion is $2.15 billion, he said.
In that context, Guyana’s delegate, speaking again for the Group of 77 and China, expressed concern that the financial close-out of the project would be delayed by the ongoing arbitration cases and would incur additional attorneys’ fees and arbitral expenses — estimated at $2 million. She looked forward to hearing from the Secretary-General on the status of those proceedings.
Miguel Mourato Gordo, Director of the Office of Human Resources Management’s Global Strategy and Policy Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the service conditions for members of the International Court of Justice and judges at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. Mr. Bachar Bong presented ACABQ’s related report.
Also speaking today were representatives of Botswana (on behalf of the African Group), Mexico and China.
Organization of Work
RUDOLPH MICHAEL TEN-POW (Guyana), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed hope that all delegations will engage in a spirit of compromise, aiming to reach a common outcome that is in the best interest of the United Nations. “Receiving documents in a timely manner is critical to facilitating our deliberations,” he said, reiterating that the issue of human resources management should be considered holistically, rather than in a piecemeal manner, with a view to reaching outcomes on gender parity, equitable geographical representation at all levels, refining performance management and addressing deficiencies in the staff selection process. It is likewise important to continue to hold all those selected to work at the United Nations accountable in their service, he said, noting that the Group will engage in the review of the accountability system.
KATLEGO BOASE MMALANE (Botswana), speaking for the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that his Group will pay close attention to such items as the information and communications technology (ICT) strategy, human resources management, the Arusha branch construction and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), reiterating the importance of adequate financing for that mission. He anticipated that the Fifth Committee will do its utmost to overcome the difficulties encountered during its consideration of human resources management, he said, emphasizing that accountability is a central pillar of effective and efficient management, which requires commitment at all levels of the Secretariat, with a particular onus on the Secretariat’s hierarchy.
JAN DE PRETER, European Union delegation, reiterated full support for improving the Fifth Committee’s work methods with a view to conducting negotiations in a more productive manner. He expressed regret over the way in which the membership of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) was expanded through the General Assembly plenary, circumventing established practice and rules of procedure, and undermining the Fifth Committee’s role. He voiced concern that this expansion will hamper the Advisory Committee’s capacity to deliver to its clients, if certain elements are not addressed, and an informal discussion on how the expansion will affect work methods is much needed. The European Union will work with all parties to ensure that human resource management reforms meet the needs of the United Nations, he said, calling for the timely submission of documents in all official languages. He attached great importance to the roll-out of a strong accountability framework, stressing that the United Nations must continue to foster a culture of ethics and transparency, and work to prevent and address any type of misconduct. He likewise looked forward to reaching a solution on the global service delivery model and agreed with the vision proposed by the Secretary-General.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said that the Fifth Committee’s inability to reach decisions on critical agenda items, particularly those with policy considerations, inhibits the advancement of the Secretary-General’s reform agenda and the important goals set by Member States. She added that the United States remains deeply concern about the lack of respect for consensus demonstrated by the Group of 77. The General Assembly’s vote to enlarge the ACABQ by five members bypassed the Fifth Committee’s consensus-driven approach. “This digression from established practice, and even the rules of procedure, is very much at the forefront of our minds,” she said, adding that her delegation intends to continue to engage constructively, in a spirit of consensus, with all partners on all items during the resumed session.
JESÚS VELÁZQUEZ CASTILLO (Mexico) stressed the need for the Secretariat to move towards a more modern, agile and effective approach to human resources management. He added that his delegation will be closely following the Fifth Committee’s deliberations on the Global Services Delivery Model, taking into account its aim of transparency and an adequate assessment of the costs and advantages of outsourcing services. Mexico will also focus on and participate constructively in the Fifth Committee’s discussions on the Joint Inspection Unit’s reports, the pension scheme for judges of the International Court of Justice and the criminal tribunals, as well as the status of implementation of the ICT strategy.
ROSIE GRIEVES (United Kingdom) said that her country, having left the European Union, will be negotiating from now on in its national capacity. It will remain an active member of the Fifth Committee and a strong proponent of a stronger, effective and efficient United Nations. Describing staff members as the United Nations most valuable asset, she said that the Organization’s workforce should truly represent and understand the people it serves. “That means looking beyond a definition of diversity based simply on nationality and gender,” she said. She added that the manner through which the Advisory Committee was enlarged in January undermined the principle that the Fifth Committee should strive for the broadest possible consensus. There was no justification for such actions and the United Kingdom hopes to see a sincere effort to rebuild trust during the resumed session.
YASUKO NISHIMURA (Japan) said that her delegation will carefully study the accountability system, the ICT strategy and human resources management, both in their own merits, as well as in light of the purpose of reform: to ensure better delivery on mandates. As human resources management is essential to the efficient operation of the United Nations, the Organization must acquire, train and retain highly skilled staff. She cited the United Nations Charter in recalling the importance of recruiting staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible, voicing concern over the use of the undefined term “regional diversity” and its potential inconsistency with geographical representation, where no one country can replace another. She reiterated Japan’s request that the Secretary-General focus on ensuring equitable geographical distribution within the Secretariat and solve the issue of non- and underrepresentation of some Member States. Finally, she underlined the critical importance of preserving the Fifth Committee’s practice of achieving agreement by consensus, recalling the 14 January plenary meeting on ACABQ expansion and stressing that circumventing the Assembly’s Main Committees on matters of critical importance is a serious defiance to their central role. “It should never happen again,” she said.
DAOPENG FU (China), associating with the Group of 77, said that administrative and budgetary management matters are the foundation for the effective operation of the United Nations. China expects all parties will continue to promote the Fifth Committee spirit — cooperation, consultation, constructiveness, compromise and consensus — to ensure a successful outcome of the session. Welcoming the Secretariat’s progress in implementing the accountability system, he said it should now adapt to the requirements of management reform, enhance accountability, strengthen the comprehensive budget performance management and improve the internal control mechanism. It must also take measures to address geographical representation and the underrepresentation of developing countries. He expressed hope that all parties will seek consensus on the global service delivery model so that the Secretary-General’s reform proposal can be adopted during the session. China looks forward to receiving further information on the ICT strategy and the assessment of the Police Division.
Capital Master Plan
ANDREW NYE, Chief of Facilities and Commerce Activities Service, Department of Operational Support, introduced the Secretary-General’s seventeenth annual progress report on the implementation of the capital master plan (document A/74/302). He said that all administrative tasks required to close the plan were completed by March 2018, with the exception of some invoices subjected to two ongoing arbitration cases brought by the construction management company. Noting that the Office of Legal Affairs is vigorously defending the interests of the United Nations in those cases, with the help of outside counsel, he said the financial position of the project remains consistent with projections presented in the Secretary-General’s last three reports. The total approved funding for the capital master plan and the final cost of completion is $2.15 billion, which comprises appropriations for the original project scope of $1.88 billion; donations of $14.3 million; interest income and the plan’s working capital reserve amounting to $159.4 million; and $100 million in funding for enhanced security upgrades.
ABDALLAH BACHAR BONG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced its report on the seventeenth annual progress report on implementation of the capital master plan (document A/74/573). In the report, the ACABQ notes the completed construction work and administrative close-out activities, as well as the two ongoing arbitration cases. The Advisory Committee also trusts that the updated status of the arbitration cases and their related costs will be provided in the Secretary-General’s next progress report.
SONDRA CHEONG (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, took note of the reports of the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee on the status of the capital master plan. Voicing concern that the financial close-out of the project would be delayed by the ongoing arbitration cases and would incur additional attorney’s fees and arbitral expenses – estimated at $2 million – she said the Group looks forward to hearing from the Secretary-General on the current status of those proceedings. Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on the recommendations of accessibility experts, she underlined the need to ensure that there are sufficient donor-provided funds to properly maintain recreational facilities and equipment through the end of their useful life — namely seven years. She also encouraged the Secretary-General to explore alternate funding arrangements to ensure that those facilities continue to operate beyond seven years, and that those expenses are not transferred to Member States. On the protection of assets, she welcomed efforts towards verifying and locating all of the Organization’s missing assets and noted with appreciation that the actual cost of utilities at the Headquarters complex decreased by $17.3 million — more than 48 per cent — to $18.6 million from 2006-2007 to 2016-2017, and is expected to drop further in the 2018-2019 biennium to approximately $18.3 million.
Conditions of Service for Judges
MIGUEL MOURATO GORDO, Director, Global Strategy and Policy Division, Office of Human Resources Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Conditions of service and compensation for the members of the International Court of Justice and President and Judges of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals” (document A/74/354). Part I focuses on salaries and other service conditions, while Part II provides updated information on the comprehensive review of the pension scheme for Court members, as well as for the Residual Mechanism President and former judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
In Part I, the Secretary-General proposes no changes to the service conditions, and thus, there are no financial implications, he said. The pension scheme options outlined in Part II represent an update to the proposal contained in report A/66/617, which are as follows: a defined benefit scheme with a flat accumulation rate over 18 years of service; a defined contribution scheme with investment earnings defining benefits; a cash lump-sum; and a defined benefit with different accumulation rates for first and second nine-year terms, which is the current scheme. Part II also contains updated information on liabilities for the projected benefits for these options up to 2058, as well as some of the considerations expressed earlier by the International Court of Justice in favour of preserving the current scheme.
Recalling that the Court’s statute prohibits salaries, allowances and compensation of Court members from being decreased during their office term, he said that any changes to the pension scheme which may be adopted by the General Assembly further to the present review will not impact the pensions of serving or retired judges, if those changes are less favourable than the current arrangements. Suggestions by the Court and the International Residual Mechanism have been accommodated in the report to the extent possible, he added, noting that the Court has expressed a strong preference for the option of no change from a belief that the current pension benefit scheme is satisfactory.
Mr. BACHAR BONG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, presented its related report (document A/74/7/Add.20). On the comprehensive review of service conditions and compensations for officials other than Secretariat officials, the Advisory Committee recommends the approval of the Secretary-General’s proposal for no changes to be made in the current remuneration system and other service conditions. The Advisory Committee likewise recommends that the current pension scheme for the judges be maintained.
Ms. CHEONG (Guyana), speaking for the Group of 77 and China, said that since the Fifth Committee last addressed the remuneration and service conditions for judges, the overall service conditions for Court members and judges of the International Residual Mechanism have improved. For example, the revised education grant scheme for staff members in the Professional and higher categories has been extended to Court members and to the President of the International Residual Mechanism. The Assembly also decided to update the language of travel and subsistence regulations, bringing them in line with the new relocation package for staff in the Professional and higher categories. She noted that the update to the pension scheme was conducted mainly with in-house expertise, encouraging the use of in-house expertise whenever possible. The Group will be interested to learn details about the options for the four pension schemes presented by the Secretary-General, she said, noting also that equality among judges is a basic principle of international dispute adjudication among Member States, a topic in which the Group will actively engage.
Information and Communications Technology
PATRICK CAREY, Acting Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Information and Communications Technology, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Status of Implementation of the Information and Communications Technology Strategy for the United Nations” (document A/74/353). He said that since the General Assembly endorsed the Secretary-General’s five-year ICT strategy in December 2014, much progress has been made towards the goal of a coherent, reliable and efficient deployment and use of ICT in the Organization. Among other things, the number of data centres has been reduced from 44 five years ago to two today, in Valencia and Brindisi, and many systems have moved to cloud hosting. The number of help desks has declined from 131 to one, while the number of applications in use has been reduced from 2,340 to 988. In addition, governance policies have been strengthened, while emerging technologies have been leveraged in order to develop innovative tools and solutions. The integrated Office of Information and Communications Technology that became operational on 1 January has meanwhile created a more coherent ICT landscape across the Secretariat. Challenges remain, however, he said, emphasizing the critical need to ensure consistent investment in infrastructure and equipment replacement cycles, as well as stronger compliance with ICT policy directives to reduce the vulnerability of information systems.
PARAMA SEN, Director of External Audit and Chair, Audit Operations Committee, introduced the third annual progress report of the Board of Auditors on the implementation of the ICT strategy (document A/74/177). Summarizing its key findings, she noted that the two ICT strategy decision-making bodies did not meet regularly and that critical actions for information security — such as network segmentation and classification of information assets — remained pending. A disaster recovery exercise not only failed to meet targets, but also highlighted problem areas which had been flagged in the past. Moreover, similar exercises going forward were postponed. She went on to say that out of the Secretariat’s 740 websites as of 31 December 2018, 360 were not built on approved technologies. The global Enterprise Network Operations Centre project was suspended temporarily in light of management reforms, she said, adding that the consolidation of service desk resources, assets and field-level operations of the former Department of Field Support with the Unite Services Desks was suspended and expected to be completed by the end of 2019. She went on to note that, as of March 2019, the ICT units of 27 United Nations entities, offices and departments at Headquarters, offices away from Headquarters and regional commissions had yet to be harmonized.
Mr. BACHAR BONG, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions Chair, said that the Advisory Committee notes the overall progress made in the implementation of the ICT strategy and recommends that the General Assembly request the Secretary-General to submit a final progress report for consideration at its seventy-fifth session. That report should include full and accurate information on the implementation status of each phase of the ICT strategy, as well as proposals for a follow-up strategy that apply to the entire Secretariat, including field missions. The Advisory Committee also recommends that the Secretary-General be requested to establish, prior to the start of implementation of the next strategy, a comprehensive baseline of ICT expenditures, assets, services and applications, as well as ongoing and planned ICT projects and initiatives. He went on to recommend that the Assembly request that the Secretary-General include in his next report a review of the status of ICT policy compliance by all Secretariat departments and offices and to ensure full implementation of the 10-point action plan on information security as a matter of priority.
MEGAYLA AUSTIN (Guyana), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77, said that the rate of implementation of the Board of Auditor’s recommendations since its first audit in 2012 has been “rather abysmal”, with only 20 per cent of recommendations being fully implemented. Other recommendations have either been contested or were at various stages of implementation. The Secretariat must implement the Board’s recommendations urgently and in full, particularly in the areas of governance, delegation of authority, performance management, information security and Umoja upstreaming. She added that the Group expects that the lack of progress in reducing ICT fragmentation – a key objective of the ICT strategy – will be addressed as a matter of priority. Such a reduction will improve interoperability and simplicity while also addressing information security in a more comprehensive manner. She added that the Group encourages the Secretary-General to intensify efforts to procure more ICT goods and services from developing countries while also ensuring the most cost-effective use of resources and economies of scale.
GRACE LEVIN (United States) said that her delegation is pleased to see progress made on the ICT strategy and the many accomplishments that have been achieved, including the implementation of security mechanisms to address cyberattacks. But challenges remain, she said, supporting the Secretary-General’s decision that all ICT budgets be reviewed by the Office of Information and Communications Technology, thus helping to facilitate global sourcing opportunities and strong asset management. She added that ICT consolidation and integration — a key part of the Secretary-General’s management reforms — has yet to be fully implemented, with some 27 Secretariat units not yet consolidated. “While the state of information security has significantly improved, in the face of constant and ever-increasing cyberattacks, the continued lack of compliance with ICT policy directives leaves the Organization increasingly vulnerable,” she said, adding that it is essential that the Chief Information Technology Officer exercise full Secretariat-wide control over information security. She went on to say that her delegation looks forward to discussing the Joint Inspection Unit’s timely recommendations on the benefits and risks of cloud computing and the synergies that could achieved by maximizing the potential of the United Nations International Computing Centre.
Joint Inspection Unit
EILEEN A. CRONIN, Inspector and Chairperson of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced its 2019 report and 2020 work programme (document A/74/34), recalling that in 2019, the Unit completed seven system-wide reports, two single organization reports and one management letter. The mix of products reflects its distinct mandate in applying a system-wide perspective, while also supporting individual legislative bodies through management and administration reviews. The thematic mix of the 2019 reviews demonstrates its versatility in covering an array of topics essential for strengthening the United Nations ability to enhance accountability, undertake reforms, harness technological progress and support fulfilment of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals related to gender and climate change adaptation.
Turning to the 2020 work programme, she said it contains a management and administrative review of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), as well as five system-wide projects covering the ethics function, cybersecurity, use of blockchain applications, environmentally sustainable facilities, policies and practices in the United Nations system organizations and support provided by the United Nations to landlocked developing countries. Seven reviews have been carried over from 2019 and are being completed. The Unit stands ready to respond to the General Assembly request to consider carrying out certain reviews on priority subjects, she said, noting that while it will continue to produce increasingly relevant reports, the real impact depends on the respective legislative bodies compelling their organizations to implement recommendations in the Unit’s reports.
She stressed that all Unit reports should be adequately disseminated and considered in a timely manner, while the inspectors authoring a review could be invited to present their reports to meetings where they are being considered. “It is in the best interest of Member States to maximize the value that they receive from the Unit,” she said, emphasizing that the strategic framework 2020-2029 responds to the call that the Unit focus its work programme on the priorities of participating organizations and Member States. Noting that five targets outlined in the 2010-2019 framework were fully met — including an over-70 per cent acceptance rate of recommendations — she said the present framework identifies five work principles, four long-term goals rooted in the Assembly’s guidance and four thematic work areas. It outlines performance criteria and targets to be used for annual reporting of Unit performance. An assessment will also be undertaken in 2024, she added, noting that the Unit’s work procedures have been supplemented to enhance the rigor in several project cycle stages.
SIMONA PETROVA, Director of the Secretariat and Secretary of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), introduced the Secretary-General’s note on the “Report of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2019” (document A/74/657). Throughout 2019, the secretariats of the Board and the Unit engaged in regular dialogue about current and future cooperation, including the timely preparation of the Secretary-General’s notes containing responses to reports addressing system-wide concerns. During the reporting year, the Secretary-General reviewed the qualifications of three inspectors proposed for appointment in 2020, and of one inspector proposed for reappointment, also in 2020.
Ms. CHEONG (Guyana), speaking again for the Group of 77 and China, said the pertinence of recommendations requires improvement of the figures presented in the report, a matter the Group looks forward to discussing. Reiterating the need for greater coordination in aligning workplans and maximizing synergy among the Board of Auditors, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Joint Inspection Unit, she took note of the annual tripartite meeting held in December 2019. She likewise looked forward to discussing how the carrying over of projects from previous years is occasioned and learning more about the evaluation of the System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The Group will be interested to learn about the impact of recommendations made on change-management approaches and methods. On staff exchange, the Group “found it rather interesting” to discover that the needs of human resources management posed a much bigger puzzle beyond what inter-agency mobility policies sought to address. She looked forward to learning how recommendations were translated to improve data that would support decision-making and enhance Member State accountability. On the 2020 work programme, she encouraged the Unit to continue improving its work methods, and more broadly, stressed the importance of having a well-functioning web-based system for tracking recommendations.
KARIN HOCHHAUS, European Union delegation, welcomed the Unit’s review of change management in United Nations organizations, which touched on important — and still missing — elements necessary for implementing the Organization’s reform agenda. Recalling with satisfaction that the Fifth Committee reached consensus in urging the Secretary-General to implement all recommendations made by the Unit in its report on accessibility to conference services for persons with disabilities, he nonetheless expressed regret that many reports have not been issued in a manner aligned with the topics under consideration by the Assembly. He welcomed that the new strategic approach already prioritizes support for 2030 Agenda implementation and the assessment of reform initiatives across the United Nations system. However, more attention could focus on topics related to recent reform decisions, and on monitoring the impact of cross-cutting issues. He looked forward to the Unit improving its annual planning, encouraging it to also set more ambitious targets for increasing the acceptance and implementation of its recommendations.