|For information only - not an official document.|
|Press Release No: UNIS/GA/AB/46|
|Release Date: 10 May 2000|
|Fifth Committee Discusses Lebanon, Golan Heights Peacekeeping,
Budget Implications of Millennium Summit
NEW YORK, 9 May (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) concluded its general discussion of the financing of several peacekeeping missions this morning, and commenced its discussion of the programme budget implications of a draft resolution on the Millennium Assembly.
Speaking on behalf of the Arab Group on the financing of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the representative of Lebanon said for the past three years the Assembly had called on Israel to pay for the damage caused by its 1996 attack on UNIFIL's Qana headquarters, but the Secretary-General reported that it still had not done so. Israel’s failure to respect its obligations caused the Arab Group deep regret and consternation, he said, and it called for a similar demand to be made in a resolution this year.
The representative of Israel said he deeply regretted the loss of innocent life in Qana, but that the Hezbolah militia must bear full responsibility. Damages incurred by peacekeeping missions were a risk Member States took, and the attempt to place the financial burden for Qana on Israel alone was one-sided and political. It was time to change the annual resolution, he concluded.
The representative of Syria raised concerns about the working conditions of local staff in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). UNDOF’s administration and the Office of Human Resources Management must do more to ensure equity between local and international staff of that mission, he said, as good working conditions for local staff played a prime part in ensuring the mission's success.
The representatives of the United States, Nigeria (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), and France also spoke on peacekeeping financing. The Chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operation's Finance Management and Support Service, Compton Persaud, answered Member States' questions.
When the Committee turned its attention to the budgetary implications of the draft resolution on the Millennium Summit, the representative of the United States told the Committee that he had expected the Millennium Assembly would have no budgetary implications, as additional costs could be easily accommodated in the relevant Secretariat Departments' budgets. He asked why a provision was sought for press coverage, given that there would, hopefully, be widespread interest in the Summit, and so television networks would cover it.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said he had expected programme budget implications, but he needed more details of the requirements. The Republic of Korea wanted only minimal expenditure on the Summit. Tunisia's representative added that Member States must take into account that the Secretariat could not provide too much detail, as Member States had still not provided clear guidelines on how they wanted the Summit conducted. However, preparations for the Summit should not be further delayed.
The representatives of Cuba, Egypt, Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Algeria, Israel, New Zealand, China, Italy and the Committee's Chairman, Penny Wensley (Australia), also spoke on the programme budget implications. The Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), C.S.M. Mselle, introduced that body's comments.
The Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, Warren Sach, and the Director of the Department of Public Information's News and Media Division, Salim Lone, answered Member States' questions.
The Committee will meet again Wednesday, 10 May, to continue its discussion of the budget implications of the Assembly's Millennium Summit draft resolution.
Committee Work Programme
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to continue its general discussion on financing peacekeeping missions, and commence consideration of the programme budget implications of a draft resolution before the General Assembly on the Millenium Summit.
[For introductions to the various reports on financing peacekeeping missions, see Press Release GA/AB/3365 of 8 May.]
The Committee had before it a statement on the programme budget implications of draft resolution on the Millenium Summit (document A/C.5/54/60). In it, the Secretary-General explains that the General Assembly is considering the structure and coverage of the Millennium Summit. He expects that, if the Assembly adopts
HOUSSAM ASAAD DIAB (Lebanon), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group of States, said the Assembly had, for the past three years, called on Israel to bear all the costs of its aggression on the Qana headquarters of the United Nations force. The same resolutions called for the Secretary-General to take all steps to ensure Israel abided by the resolutions. The reports of the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) indicated that Israel had not abided by the resolutions, despite the Secretary-General’s attempts. No response had been received to three letters he had sent on the matter.
The Arab Group expressed its deep regret and consternation at Israel’s failure to respect its obligations, acquired because of its criminal aggression against UNIFIL in Qana, he said. The deliberate Israeli aggression against a United Nations mission headquarters led to a massacre of 102 civilians -- mostly women, the elderly and children -- who had come to seek refuge. There should have been no violation of those sites. The person the Secretary-General entrusted to investigate the bombing had stated that it was deliberate. The attack was really a violation of the United Nations, and the death of innocent civilians at that site should lead all Member States to call on Israel to shoulder its responsibility and to pay all indemnities and compensations, if only to ensure that such attacks did not set precedents.
The Arab Group demanded that the international community, through the United Nations, adopt a resolution similar to that adopted for the past three years to oblige Israel to pay for the costs of its aggression, and called on the Secretary-General to adopt stricter measures to force Israel to abide by its obligations. In addition, the Arab Group noted that, in previous reports, the costs of the aggression had been detailed in the report, and details of the incident in Qana had been provided. There was less detail in the current report. These details and costs should be mentioned, thereby giving the events the importance they deserved. The Arab Group thanked UNIFIL for its positive role, despite all the difficulties it faced. It also appreciated the sacrifices that had been made by that Force.
ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) said he was satisfied that the Secretary-General had addressed some concerns his country had expressed last year in the discussion of the financing of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), in particular those relating to improving the working conditions of local staff employed by the Force. Those conditions needed to be improved, following the hardship that was experienced after the Force was transferred from Damascus. However, despite some responses, UNDOF’s administration and the Office of Human Resources Management must do more to ensure equity between the local and international staff of the mission. Good working conditions for local staff were of primary importance in ensuring the success of the mission. Local staff had not received the hardship allowance that was given to international staff. He did not understand why they were not given the allowances, since both types of staff enjoyed the same privileges and immunities.
The ACABQ had previously acknowledged that the mission was working in a high risk area, he said. The Secretary-General had reported the terrain was hilly and harsh. He was surprised that the Secretariat had not taken those circumstances into consideration, despite the Fifth Committee taking note of last year’s ACABQ recommendations on the mission and agreeing with all its recommendations.
Many logistic and administration facilities still needed improvement following the mission command’s move from Damascus, he said. The Secretariat had taken action to meet some concerns, however, many others had not yet been met. One full year had passed since the Assembly had passed its resolution 53/226, and it was already the beginning of summer, but air conditioning was not provided for some buildings occupied by local staff. That would make it more difficult to work in the area. He would have expected that all buildings would have air conditioners before the advent of summer.
He noted that the Secretariat had provided limited access to internal e-mail to local staff, he said. It was odd that the Secretariat would not allow them access to the Internet, when so many of the Assembly’s resolutions encouraged greater use of the Internet, not just use of internal e-mail. The Internet was now available in Syria, and he could not understand the reasons that might result in preventing local staff from having access to it.
The Assembly had also called for continued effort to use local staff in posts previously occupied by international General Service staff, he said. He noted that the Secretariat had again considered transferring General Service posts to local level posts, but that it had decided that, for operational reasons, that was not possible in UNDOF. Those reasons had not been provided in the report. At the same time, he noted the Secretary-General was asking for another General Service post for the mission. By failing to transfer General Service posts to local-level posts, benefits that could apply to local staff were lost. In particular, it inhibited local-level staff from undertaking temporary assignment to other missions, in accord with the mobility criteria which was a main aspect of the work conditions of United Nations staff. UNDOF local staff should receive all their entitlements without any discriminations, he concluded.
ROYAL WHARTON (United States) said the United States was a strong supporter of UNIFIL. However the use of General Assembly funding resolutions to pursue claims against Member States was not correct procedure. Thus, he had opposed resolution 53/227 and the previous resolutions on the matter, as they contained sections requiring Israel to pay the costs for the Qana incident. Those resolutions were not consensus resolutions.
The Secretary-General was the appropriate party to present and pursue the Organization’s claims against a Member State, he said. Using a funding resolution to legislate a settlement was inappropriate. It was also politicizing the work of the Fifth Committee, and that should be avoided. The United States would work for compromise on the matter, but could not accept any resolution that referred to the incident in Qana and to Israel using the same terms that were used in the resolutions that the United States had opposed in the past.
RON ADAM (Israel) said that, on the issue of UNIFIL, and after hearing the statement from the representative of Lebanon, he wanted to clarify a few facts about the Qana incident. That unfortunate incident occurred under certain circumstances. Based 300 metres from the United Nations camp, the Hezbolah decided to draw fire towards Lebanese civilians in the camp. Israel had officially warned the United Nations the same day of the dangerous situation. The Hezbolah fired dozens of rockets. Israel could not and would not tolerate bombs falling on its territory and would not stand by when people were being killed.
After three consecutive days of Hezbolah bombings, and numerous warnings, the Israeli Defence Force had to put a stop to the situation, he continued. It had to be re-emphasized that Israel had not been aware of the presence of civilians and deeply regretted the loss of innocent life. The Hezbolah must bear full responsibility. United Nations peacekeeping operations had incurred damages in the past and, in fact, still did, everywhere they had been deployed as a result of armed conflict. It was a risk Member States took when sending forces, including civilian police and civilians. The attempt to place the burden on Israel alone was a one-sided and political initiative of the General Assembly. It was time to change the annual resolution.
Mr. DIAB (Lebanon) said that Israel was willing to finance the aggression that violated the UNIFIL post and killed civilians, which had cost it millions of dollars, but it refused to pay the amount the Assembly had called for in its resolutions over the past three years.
What the representative of Israel called a mistake, he said, was only one of many crimes and mistakes over the 22 years of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Israel’s history in Lebanon was all mistakes and crimes, and it was not enough to be sorry. What he wanted above all was that, in the United Nations and in this Committee, Israel came to understand Lebanon's position; why it was insisting on the full implementation of resolution 425 (1978), and why it insisted on general peace and a fair solution to the Middle East question.
Again, Israel had sought political debate on the issue, he said. Such debate was not within the mandate of the Fifth Committee. The bottom line was that the financial burden that members of the Fifth Committee had shouldered for 20 years was created by the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and its subsequent refusal to follow the Security Council's demand that it withdraw to internationally recognized borders. UNIFIL’s mandate was, in part, to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Israel’s refusal to withdraw in accordance with Council resolution 425 (1978) had prevented UNIFIL from implementing its mandate. Its task had been reduced to ensuring the peaceful character of its area of operations and, more precisely, that part not under Israeli occupation. In doing so, it also afforded a measure of protection to the civilian population.
Lebanon believed in the principle of collective responsibility, he said, and was committed to it. However, the Fifth Committee had stressed through the last three years’ resolutions on UNIFIL financing that it did not wish to create a precedent whereby a State carried out an aggressive act against a United Nations mission -- obstructing the mission and killing civilians -- and United Nations Members States assumed the cost of the damage caused. The resolutions confirmed that Israel must fulfil its responsibilities under international law. Ignoring the Assembly resolutions calling for it to pay for the damage it caused was a clear insistence on politicizing the issue, and ignored the financial burden that placed on Member States. Lebanon had confidence in the Secretary-General’s ability to ensure resolutions were implemented, and it would continue to monitor the situation. He hoped the next UNIFIL performance report would inform the Committee that the resolution had been fully implemented.
Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that every time the Fifth Committee discussed UNIFIL financing, Israel tried in vain to justify its act of aggression in targeting a symbol of peace -- the mission’s headquarters. That act of aggression against innocent Lebanese had left a trail of blood and destruction. For the third year, Israel ignored the international community’s call that it bear the financial costs of its aggression. The act in 1996 was just more proof of its systematic policy of international terrorism. Israel claimed it supported peacekeeping operations, but he could not accept that claim as genuine when it had also bombarded a peacekeeping operation.
What was also ironic, he said, was that Israel claimed it possessed a right to self-defence that could be exercised anywhere in the world, but denied the same right to Lebanese trying to defend their land, their dignity and their people. The representative of the Israeli occupying forces had said Israel knew of a military presence close to Qana, but it nevertheless attacked the United Nations in flagrant disregard of the fact that it was the symbol of the international presence there. One hundred two civilians had been killed in Qana, but Israeli acts of aggression continued today. Very recently, there had been news reports of new attacks on the infrastructure of Lebanon, on civilian facilities in Lebanon, and on defenceless Lebanese. On 4 and 5 May, it had attacked and shelled Lebanese areas, killing and injuring innocent civilians and destroying vital infrastructure.
Mr. ADAM (Israel) said that his delegation agreed with the delegation of Lebanon that the Administrative and Budgetary Committee should not be drawn into a political debate. Unfortunately, he had done so. Israel called attention to the situation in Lebanon. Israel had decided to withdraw its forces in Lebanon by July 2000 in the framework of a peace agreement with Syria and Lebanon. So far, Israel’s efforts had not been met with reciprocal responses.
The withdrawal was set to take place, and Foreign Minister David Levy had officially informed the United Nations in a letter to the Secretary-General, he continued. The Foreign Minister had further informed that Israel intended to cooperate with the United Nations in implementation of its decisions. Israel would do its utmost to assist the United Nations in performing its tasks, including the restoration of international peace and security. Israel hoped that, instead of the preparation of annual ritual speeches to the Committee, his Syrian and Lebanese neighbours would be prepared with speeches to be delivered at a peace table. He hoped the call for peace would soon be answered.
Mr. DIAB (Lebanon) said that the representative of Israel had forced him to take the floor again. In response to what was said by Israel, Israel could avoid drawing a political debate into the Committee by paying the entire amount owed to Lebanon. The Arab countries had met in Lebanon and had supported Lebanon’s claims, urging Israel to implement Security Council resolution 425 (1978) and to carry out a full and unconditional withdrawal. It also affirmed the right of Lebanon for compensation for harm carried out by Israel on the people and infrastructure of Lebanon.
His delegation insisted that the United Nations discharge its responsibility for implementation of resolutions and that UNIFIL assume responsibility for safety. Israel would no longer be able to use the pretext that Syria and Lebanon were the reasons for the threat to peace and security in the region. Israel’s history was full of massacres and mistakes. Lebanon insisted that resolution 425 be implemented and rejected the idea that Israel remain on the borders. Israel must respect peace and security in the region.
Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that the rejected claims by the representative of the occupying State also made him take the floor again. It was not the first time Israel had claimed to withdraw from Lebanon. At the same time last year, Israel made a similar declaration and the situation had stayed the same. Words must be matched with deeds. Only then could the international community believe Israel’s claims.
It was not the first time a statement had been made by Israel indicating its intention to withdraw, he said. His delegation found it strange that a declaration of intention to withdraw would be made without working towards the conditions that would lead to the implementation of peace. Statements were not enough. Commitments must also be made to implement other resolutions and the Madrid terms of reference. Israel must be committed to peace.
COMPTON PERSAUD, Chief of Finance Management and Support Services, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, then answered questions raised by Syria on UNDOF. He said that working conditions of local UNDOF staff had been the subject of ongoing dialogue in the UNDOF Staff Committee. Many improvements had resulted from the dialogue, some of which were detailed in the Secretary-General’s report on UNDOF. Efforts to address the remaining issues were ongoing.
The issue of the air conditioning was among those, he said. All UNDOF buildings had not yet been provided with air conditioning because the camp needed electrical upgrading to accommodate the additional power load. Some of the upgrading had now taken place, and the remaining buildings would be air conditioned by mid June. He noted, however, that those buildings that still lacked air conditioning housed both international and local staff.
Regarding access to e-mail, UNDOF’s communication facilities had required upgrading to provide e-mail access to all staff, he said. The e-mail upgrade had been completed in January, and in March the system was reconfigured to provide internal e-mail to all staff, both international and local. International access would be completed in the next two months for all staff. Last year, when the matter was first raised, a decision had been taken to restrict local staff Internet access, but that had been reversed.
On the replacement of General Service staff with local staff, he explained that, prior to the preparation of the budget, detailed instructions had been issued by the United Nations Controller to all missions to carefully review the possibility of using local posts rather than General Service posts. In UNDOF, after a comprehensive review, it was determined that further conversions were not practical, based on the tasks the staff must undertake. However, the possibility would continue to be reviewed for all missions.
Regarding the assignment of local-level staff to other missions, he said a number of local staff had been assigned to other missions for the past several years. At the same time, the Secretariat must be cognizant of the needs of UNDOF and ensure that its activities were not disrupted. A reasonable balance must be achieved.
Regarding the hardship allowance paid to some UNDOF staff, he would ask the experts on the allowance to speak with Member States at their informal consultations. Following the Fifth Committee’s previous discussion on the remuneration of UNDOF local staff, the Office of Human Resources Management was asked to review local salary scales and to consult with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to see if there was any need for additional allowances in view of the move. The mission headquarters had only moved 45 minutes away from Damascus, he noted, and the United Nations provided transport to and from the new headquarters. The review was ongoing, but he expected the remuneration issue would be fully addressed this year. However, he noted, hardship allowance as presently constructed was an expatriate benefit, approved only for certain types of appointment under the staff rules and regulations.
LAURENT GARNIER (France), speaking on the financing of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), said he understood the process of preparing final reports for that Force was lengthy, and that certain issues had to be solved. The main difficulty was in calculating the amounts owed to troop contributors. The Secretary-General’s report had said there was a gap of some $130,000 between resources available to pay contributors and the amounts needed to reimburse them. He would like to be informed as to whether the figure was definitive or still at the “almost definitive” stage. He asked if all requests had been received and evaluated, and whether it included write-offs.
Because different methodologies were used in two tables in the report -- one detailing resource requirements and the other expressing them according to the nature of expenditure -- Member States could not properly compare estimates and requests, he said. He asked for further information on the information they contained. The Assembly had previously recommended that final liquidation reports should have sufficient data to allow Member States to determine the impact of retroactive reimbursement of troop contributors, and he felt that the recommendation had not been fully applied in this instance.
The Committee then turned its attention to the programme budget implications of a draft resolution before the General Assembly on the Millennium Summit.
C.S.M. MSELLE, Chairman of the ACABQ, introduced that body’s comments on the programme budget implications for the Millennium Summit. As indicated in the statement of the Secretary-General, under the terms of the draft resolution (document A/C.5/L.83/Rev.1), the structure and composition of the Millennium Summit and the composition and modalities for four interactive round tables to be held in concurrence with the plenary meetings would be established, in accordance with the procedures set forth in the annex to the draft resolution.
He said the assumption was that the four round tables would be held consecutively -– not simultaneously –- but in concurrence with the plenary meetings, that the round tables would have at least 40 seats and would be chaired by a head of State, that interpretation would be provided in all official languages of the United Nations, and that all of the round-table meetings would be held in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. The estimated requirements for the Department of Public Information would be in the range of $544,600 to $731,200 and for the Office of Central Support Services in the range of $567,300 to $670,400. Those amounts would be in addition to the $450,000 required for security coverage and $193,000 for protocol.
The ACABQ was informed that the total requirements for the Millennium Assembly amounted to some $2.95 million, he continued. The reason for the range of requirements was that two main elements remained to be decided at the intergovernmental level, namely, whether the round tables would be held as open or closed meetings and how extensive the reconfiguration of the Economic and Social Council Chamber would need to be. The ACABQ was also told that two options were being considered to improve sight lines in the Chamber. The simpler option would cost approximately $6,000, and a more extensive reconfiguration involving the construction of a platform in the Chamber would cost some $110,000.
The ACABQ was told that there were no plans for selling television coverage of the Millenium Assembly to the media, he said. Consideration should be given to charging a user fee to private sector media. The ACABQ had asked whether the arrangements for the Assembly would result in any permanent upgrades to the facilities at Headquarters and had been told that the only permanent upgrade envisaged was the acquisition of a wireless local area network (LAN). Such important events as the Millennium Assembly presented an opportunity to upgrade facilities, and, in that connection, the ACABQ recommended that efforts be made to maximize long-term benefits to the Organization.
He said that there was no precedent for the use of ranges of requirements in statements of programme budget implications and that the practice eroded the meaning of the exercise. The Advisory Committee understood that some of the uncertainties regarding requirements had to do with intergovernmental decisions over which the Secretariat had no control. The ACABQ recommended that the Fifth Committee inform the General Assembly that, should it adopt the draft resolution, an additional appropriation of up to $1,401,600 would be required in the programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001.
THOMAS REPASCH (United States) said that it was his expectation that the negotiations in the General Assembly on the Millennium Assembly would not have given rise to a statement of programme budget implications. It was the United States’ expectation that additional costs, if any, would be easily accommodated within the budgets of the Department of Public of Information and the Office of Central Support Services. Many of the expenses listed under both sections were things that the Secretariat did in a normal state of affairs. Why were extra expenses necessary? On the option to reconfigure the Economic and Social Council Chamber, the United States believed that that Chamber was suited for a round table. Why was a reconfiguration necessary?
On the issue of media coverage for the event, the United States wondered what provision would be necessary for press coverage, he said. The Department of Public Information regularly made provisions for the press anyway. On the $80,000 for a tent to accommodate media spillover, the United States wanted additional information on why a tent was needed, as it was not a part of the resolution. On the issue of television coverage, the expense listed seemed very high. He hoped that there would be widespread interest in event, and that television coverage would be provided by media companies. Why did the United Nations have to bear such a great expense? The same applied to radio and photo coverage. He also had questions on the expense for Web coverage.
DULCE MARIA BUERGO RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that Cuba endorsed the Organization’s efforts to celebrate that Summit and would like to take the opportunity to clarify a few issues. Cuba sought confirmation from the Secretariat on a number of issues. Cuba had hoped that the programme budget implications would have been introduced in March. If that had been done, they would have received information earlier regarding the expenditures for the Millennium Summit. Paragraph 4 pointed out that consultations would be ongoing with delegations. In the follow-up to negotiations in General Assembly on the issue, it was Cuba’s understanding that in the months prior to Assembly Summit, conference services for consultations were included in the programme budget implications.
Regarding the procedure indicated in the document, additional requirements would be taken from the contingency fund based on the first performance report, she continued. Could the Budget Director confirm the procedure for using the contingency fund to cover requirements needed for the conference? On the question of costs proposed for security coverage, it would be useful to have a breakdown of that figure. She said that Cuba wanted to recall that substantial cuts had been made and discussed in the Fifth Committee last year. The Department of Public Information had seen considerable cuts across the board in temporary assistance and for general operating costs. Cuba felt that those cuts could have a direct effect on the issues at hand in the report. Cuba wanted to draw attention to that, since it felt that the reductions adopted by the General Assembly would be felt at the time of the Millenium Assembly. Those cuts might have a negative impact on the event.
AHMED H. DARWISH (Egypt) said that the Arabic version of the programme budget implications included an amount of $800,000. The figure in the English version was only $80,000. That amount should be corrected in the Arabic version. His delegation had similar queries as those raised by delegate of the United States. Egypt wondered whether an event of such magnitude would be sold to the media. Was the Department of Public Information going to sell that important event to the media? Was it possible or feasible, and would it be done? Concerning the $90,000 for the set-up of bilateral rooms, Egypt did not see why bilateral rooms should be furnished. Heads of State normally met there anyway. They were used to such rooms.
JOHN ORR (Canada), speaking also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said he believed Member States were basically supportive of the Millenium Summit, but that they did not want to spend a lot of money on it. They also felt it should not be used as a way to fund activities that Member States had refused to fund in the United Nations regular budget process.
Therefore, he was puzzled that extra funds to cover activities in the draft resolution were even required, he said. The resolution in question set out the meeting rooms that would be used for the Summit. It made no mention of any need for a film festival, such as the one outlined in the resource request. He asked for an explanation of the reasoning behind the request for additional media and other ancillary resources.
The draft resolution before the Assembly should proceed without any need for a statement of programme budget implications, he said. He urged the Secretariat to find ways to reduce the projected expenditures, some of which, such as the television coverage costs and the photographic coverage costs, were perplexing. He asked what would be produced as a result of those expenditures, particularly in light of the additional resources requested to provide support to the media. Was the Secretariat trying to facilitate media coverage of the Summit, or was it producing that coverage itself? Some extra costs should be accommodated by pooling Secretariat resources, he said, for example, by moving existing photocopiers or telephone lines. In addition, based on the explanation provided by the ACABQ, he would prefer that any reconfiguration of the Economic and Social Council Chamber be in line with the cheaper estimate.
ABDELMALEK BOUHEDDOU (Algeria) expressed concern at the high cost estimates the Secretariat had proposed, and wondered about the need for such a level of resources and the timeliness of the request. Algeria believed that the Summit organizational expenses should found from within the resources allocated to the various Secretariat departments concerned. He was also concerned that the approach taken will hold up the already-late negotiations on the Summit.
PARK HAE-YUN (Republic of Korea) said that, given that details about what form the Summit would take were still not certain, he understood that a statement of programme budget implications was necessary. However, when Member States had discussed the regular budget, they had not anticipated receiving such a large statement of programme budget implications at the current time. He sought clarification of the details of the requirements. He had thought that the conference servicing requirements would form part of the normal servicing of General Assembly sessions. The Republic of Korea would like to see the minimal expenditure on the Summit. The Economic and Social Council Chamber should be minimally reconfigured, as the reconfiguration would not be permanent. He was also concerned about the requests related to accommodating the media spillover and about the proposed television requirements.
RADHIA ACHOURI (Tunisia) said Member States had to take into account that they could not ask for too much information from the Secretariat, given that they were also involved in the General Assembly discussions on the planning of the Summit. There was still a great deal to be done before Member States could give the Secretariat clear guidelines for the Summit. She was not trying to defend the Secretariat, she explained, but she believed it should be understood that the Secretariat was working on the assumption that 188 heads of State and government would be attending the Summit, given that the actual number of attendees was not yet available.
When the recent budget discussions occurred, the Assembly’s conception of the Millennium Summit was not clear, she said. Developments had since occurred and the Secretariat was obliged to take those into account. The Fifth Committee should take its members’ respective positions on the Millennium Summit into account. If there was a consensus in the Summit negotiations, it was to give the event all importance and to seek the highest level of media coverage. Preparations should not be further delayed. Of course, Member States deserved responses from the Secretariat, but in the final analysis it must be remembered that they were responsible, because guidelines had not been provided to the Secretariat that would allow it to properly provide the financial data.
Mr. ADAM (Israel) said the Millennium Summit and Assembly was an impressive and important event. The subjects to be discussed were critical. However, it also seemed to be an excellent opportunity for subcontractors to earn money, which could otherwise have been used for African development. He agreed with many of the concerns others had raised. To spend more than $100,000 for the reconfiguration of the Economic and Social Council Chamber for four days looked suspiciously like under-the-table renovation of United Nations Headquarters. Israel supported the renovation of Headquarters, but it should be financed from the programme budget. The Fifth Committee should not approve the statement of programme budget implications as it was presented today, he said, and he asked for a new proposal, in the lower cost range.
MICHAEL JOHN POWLES (New Zealand) said he wished to speak as a facilitator of the Assembly’s organizational negotiations on the Millennium Summit. He had heard many complaints from Member States and others on the Assembly’s slow progress in taking simple organizational decisions on the Summit. The clearest area of agreement in the negotiations was the need for urgency in taking those decisions. He understood the weight and the importance of the issues Fifth Committee members had raised. If they were pursued in a deliberate manner, the issue might be referred to informal consultations, he noted, which would result in further delays. He asked Member States to consider finding a solution that avoided such delays.
WARREN SACH, Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, then answered Member States’ questions. He explained that at the outset of discussions on the Summit in 1997 and 1998, talk was of merely renaming the fifty-fifth General Assembly session “the Millennium Assembly” and, therefore, no costs were anticipated. Since then, things had evolved and arrangements had been put in place through consultations among Member States, including a decision to hold round-table discussions. Financial implications had, therefore, arisen.
To the extent that costs could be predicted, they were included in the 2000-2001 budget proposals, he said. However no details of the specific arrangements had been agreed on by Member States at that stage. Now, things had been made more, but not completely, specific. It was not yet understood whether Member States wanted the round-table discussions to be open or closed. Closed round-table discussions had much lower costs. Until things like that were known, a range of potential costs was all that could be provided.
Some Member States had said that the overall costs were excessive, he said. The closest event for comparison was the United Nations fiftieth anniversary, which had cost between $8 and $9 million. The Millennium activities, including the initial appropriations that were in the programme budget, would cost some $3 million. The proposed costs were modest, but adequate for the purpose.
It had been suggested that costs should be absorbed, he noted. The capacity for that in the regular budget at present was very low, given that for a number of years the United Nations had experienced reductions in both posts and resources. For example, at the time of the fiftieth anniversary, the United Nations had 50 television technicians at its disposal. Now, there were only 25 such technicians and, at peak times such as the Millennium Summit, extra staff were needed. Therefore, the request for some $1.8 million.
Central support services had also been reduced by the Assembly at its fifty-fourth session, he said. That office played a key role in installing televisions, local area computer networks (LANs) and so on. It had received $4.7 million less than the Secretary-General had asked the Fifth Committee to approve. Similarly, the Department of Public Information's budget was reduced. Given that the Fifth Committee had reduced the budgets of the two Departments that had primary responsibility for the Millennium Assembly, there was no pool of resources that could be called upon. Additional costs for conference services were being absorbed, he noted.
Regarding the request for $40,000 for telephones, fax machines and rental of equipment, he explained that the high number of participants meant a large number of journalists would be present, and they would need telephone and computer connections. Most media resources would be provided in Conference Room 1 -– the main press centre for the Millennium Assembly. An overflow tent had been requested because Conference Room 1 would probably not accommodate them all. Regarding the request for additional photocopying equipment, that must be rented because there were no spares or unused fax machines in the Secretariat. Cell phones were needed -– based on the experience of the fiftieth anniversary -- to provide support to the high-level dignitaries who would attend.
Under $80,000 had been requested for LANs, he said. The Conference building did not currently have the required level of links for personal computers. Temporary installments had been considered, but in light of the low cost differential, full installation seemed more efficient. Technicians would have to work on the set up over the holiday weekend before the Assembly commenced, he said, that this meant that contractors would be expensive. Therefore, an expense of $89,900 had been estimated. Explaining the need for connections for personal computers, he said the press could not be accommodated without standard support technology. Thus, the expense for personal computer connections.
Regarding the “range” between $6,000 and $110,000 mentioned for reconfiguration of the Economic and Social Council Chamber, the actual cost would depend on the arrangements Member States' decided on. The lower option would use existing tables and add on a free-standing table in front of the existing platform. There would be no line-of-sight for some delegates, and the Chamber would only accommodate one adviser per participant at the round-table discussions. The $110,000 option would involve building a platform over the existing seating area. It would allow room for two advisers and for lines-of-sight for all. It was clearly a more desirable option, but also more costly. Regarding the provision of rooms for bilateral consultations, 15 rooms were normally provided and equipped during General Assembly sessions, he said. For the Millennium Assembly, it was expected that 28 such rooms would be required.
Regarding the level and cost of media coverage, he explained that cost of television coverage could vary greatly depending of whether the round-table discussions were open, and therefore required coverage, or closed. The estimates presented assumed coverage for both plenary meetings and round-table discussions, and were to provide for hire of television cameras and editing equipment, and to create the television "feed" which would be provided to media. Broadcasters would have their own additional transmission costs and satellite costs, but the United Nations would feed the television footage to them.
The United Nations had not charged for its television footage for about four or five years, he said. It was extremely difficult to charge broadcasters in a universal manner, and some wanted to cover events, but could not afford it. The United Nations received better coverage if the material was free, which more than offset the very small amounts of income that could otherwise be obtained. The preparation of the estimates had been very compressed, he said, and had been driven by Assembly requirements, he said in conclusion.
SALIM LONE, Director, News and Media Services Division, Department of Public Information, said that the statement of programme budget implications was prepared after the entire Department had been mobilized for the event. Every staff member not working at that time on an essential duty would work on the event. The costs were for technical expertise and equipment. The Department saw the Millennium Assembly as a major challenge and would like to make sure that a massive audience saw the confidence the world’s leaders had in the Organization and its ability to tackle the key global challenges on behalf of humanity. The programme budget implications had had been prepared after careful consideration and with that challenge in mind.
On the issue of television coverage by networks, assuring balanced coverage of all events was a priority for the Department, he said, and the Department was best positioned to provide it. Allowing outside networks in to directly cover the event would create space and security problems. As it was, the Department had to provide live video coverage to every delegation. For such reasons, the Department had decided that it should itself provide coverage for the Summit.
On the question of selling the coverage to the news media, the Department did not normally do so, he added. The Department’s mandate was to provide the maximum possible global coverage of what happened in the house. On the question of the Web cast, the Department had to set up six sites in all the official languages. In addition, the Department relied on a provider, who did not charge expenses. However, lines costing some $15,000 for Web sites would have to be established.
As for an external vendor for the group photograph, Kodak had taken the official photograph of the fiftieth anniversary in 1995. The Department of Public Information was allowed to use the photo on a first-use basis. After that, however, the copyright reverted to Kodak. For that reason, the Department was not able to use the photo as it saw fit.
On the cost for giant screens, the Department believed it would be a dramatic innovation to use high-definition screens for the event, he said. It would show that the United Nations was using the latest technology. The screens would be provided free of charge, as would the high-definition television (HDTV). The Department could never dream of doing such coverage with its own resources. But, there would be costs associated with it.
Mr. SACH, Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, said that on the point of the contingency fund and procedure to be followed, the costs related to the programme budget implications would be reflected as charges against that fund. On details for security costs, those costs related to both equipment and personnel. Some 20 security officers from overseas offices experienced in United Nations proceedings would be brought in, in addition to 16 short-term officers hired locally. Some additional requirements were needed for equipment and uniforms for the recruits. As for the informal consultations to be held concurrently with the Millennium Assembly, the costs would be absorbed in the Conference Services budget.
Mr. DARWISH (Egypt) said that his delegation supported the convening of the Millennium Summit and would do everything possible to ensure its success. Mr. Sach had been clear and convincing. On possibility of trying to generate some income for the United Nations, major stations would be interested in broadcasting such an event. It would be wise to explore with various media companies -– without pushing them -- whether they would be interested in broadcasting the event and whether they would pay to do so.
ZHOU QIANGWU (China) said that China had supported convening of Millennium Summit on a number of different occasions. The Millennium Summit was fast approaching. Preparation was important to the successful convening of the Summit. As the representative of New Zealand had said, the organizational work was linked to how many heads of State would attend. In the spirit of economy, arrangements should be made as early as possible for the Millennium Summit, to speed up the preparatory work and guarantee success.
Ms. BUERGO RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that she fully understood the difficulties in providing detailed information. In light of what the Chairman of the ACABQ had said, the intergovernmental process was still ongoing. There was a need for a decision to fully reflect the importance of the General Assembly. That decision would affect other planning procedures for Member States. Cuba took note that informal consultations would be ongoing from now until the Summit.
On security costs, information in writing would be appreciated, she said. Cuba had taken note of the proposal that local guards could be used during the Millennium Summit. Her delegation wondered whether 36 guards could be covered by the officers already available in the United Nations. On the contingency fund, it was no surprise that they should receive a document on budget estimates, since the established procedure was clearly indicated. Requirements for any additional activities approved by the General Assembly would come from the contingency fund. The question regarding procedure had to do with the timing. When would those funds be taken from the account? Cuba sought confirmation from the Secretariat on that point.
RENATA ARCHINI DE GIOVANNI (Italy) said that, as far as reconfiguration of the Economic and Social Council Chamber, her country had put some effort into the possibility of refurbishing that room a few months ago. On the draft resolution, as far as she knew the resolution was going to be revised again, she said. Would the Committee receive another statement of programme budget implications?
Mr. ADAM (Israel) asked if any research had been done on possible audiences for broadcasts of the Millennium Assembly, and whether any agreements existed with national broadcaster to take the coverage.
Mr. SACH said, responding to the procedural questions, that a revision to the draft resolution could require an amendment to the statement of programme budget implications, but such an amendment would only be issued if there were financial implications. Expenditures would be reflected in the performance report and in at least two other reports. It would be crystal clear how resources from the contingency fund had been used.
Regarding the question about television, he said the Secretariat believed the policy of not charging for United Nations footage should be upheld, to ensure the widest possible audience. Major television networks would be contacted to see if they were prepared to pay some voluntary contribution, but he would not want to diminish the potential coverage as a result of any such arrangements.
Mr. LONE said that no study of potential viewers had been done, but there was tremendous interest in the Millennium Assembly and Summit from television broadcasters. For example, when the Secretary-General had launched his Millennium report, the European Broadcasting Union had carried both his statement to the Assembly and his press conference live, as had a number of other broadcasters.
Whether the entire Summit would be carried live by broadcaster was a different question, he added. It would probably be too disruptive to other programming that was important to television networks. Also, the time difference between New York and some centres would mean that it would be better if it were not broadcast live in some places, but broadcast at times when people were actually watching. In any case, the Department of Public Information was working with broadcasters and its aim was for every person with radio or television to have the opportunity to hear at least that part of the Summit discussions that related to his or her region.
The Fifth Committee Chairman, PENNY WENSLEY (Australia), then said she had been advised that there was a clear need for the Fifth Committee to take a decision on the statement of programme budget implications to allow the draft resolution to go to the Assembly plenary tomorrow. She had arranged for a simple draft decision to be prepared during the Committee's discussion. The Committee had a responsibility to reach agreement.
Mr. POWLES (New Zealand) explained that there would be no second revision of the draft resolution before the Assembly on the Summit.
The meeting was then suspended for six minutes for informal consultations on the Chairman's draft decision.
At the resumption of the meeting, the CHAIRMAN said that it was clear that the Committee could not yet take a decision. She had been advised that the absence of a decision would hold up important work that the Assembly President’s office must undertake in preparation for the Summit. The Committee would, therefore, hold informal consultations on this matter first thing this afternoon, and she would schedule a brief formal meeting tomorrow morning to allow action to be taken.
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