Press Releases

    GA/AB/3493
    5 March 2002

    FIFTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS SIX REPORTS BY OFFICE OF INTERNAL OVERSIGHT, INCLUDING ISSUE OF REFUGEE SMUGGLING AT NAIROBI OFFICE

    Beginning Resumed Session, Scheduled for 4-15 March,
    Committee Also Hears Reports on Other Outstanding Issues

    NEW YORK, 4 March (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) began its first resumed session today, hearing the introduction of a series of reports and discussing organizational matters for the two weeks of the session. The Committee, meeting this morning and this afternoon, has before it a large number of important issues, ranging from the mandatory age of separation from the Organization and the functioning of the United Nations Pension Fund to the arrears of the former Yugoslavia and the work of the internal oversight system.

    Introduced to the Committee this morning were the reports on the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS); common services at Geneva; construction of additional office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa; standards of air travel accommodation; availability of documentation; review of public information activities; and the work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

    In connection with the OIOS report on the investigation into allegations of refugee smuggling at the Nairobi Branch Office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), several speakers also stressed the need to take action against corruption and take corrective measures to prevent further abuse not only in Kenya, but anywhere in the world. In this connection, the representative of Australia said that the case sent a strong message that resettlement should be provided to those most in need and not those who could pay for it.

    Following the introduction of another Oversight Office report, the representative of Japan advocated a reform of the management and speedy appointment of a new Executive Director of the Office of Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), expressing concern over the fact that considerable resources had been wasted as a result of mismanagement and misconduct on behalf of the programme’s administration. He also welcomed the publication of the report on the so-called "boat project", which provides information on the investigation of allegations that the ODCCP Executive Director had improperly provided funding to his personal friend and fellow sailor -- the captain of a 90-year-old wooden sailboat.

    [According to the report, the OIOS concluded that the evidence did not support the allegations that the Executive Director had arranged for the captain’s assistance at ODCCP’s expense. The investigation concluded, however, that the management of the "boat project" and the use of resources were unsatisfactory.]

    Other statements in the debate touched upon issues ranging from the work hours of the cafeteria to the exceptions made in issuing first- and business-class air tickets to United Nations personnel.

    While noting a reduction in the number of such exceptions, the representative of Pakistan said that the total extra cost associated with them was still very high. He supported the proposals of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) to streamline the system and make it more transparent, suggesting that the names of the persons for whom exceptions were made should be included in future reports on the matter. He added that tickets purchased in capitals were often cheaper than those bought at United Nations Headquarters and requested a detailed statement in that regard.

    Several speakers expressed dissatisfaction with the contents of the Secretary-General’s report on a review of the Secretariat’s public information activities outside the Department of Public Information (DPI). The Chairman of the ACABQ, Conrad S.M. Mselle, said that the report was neither comprehensive nor responsive to the requests of the Advisory Committee.

    The representative of the United States said that instead of substantive feedback, the document provided a list of departments and their activities, without analysis of their interplay with the DPI. She hoped that the Department would readdress the issue within the comprehensive review of its activities, which it was currently undertaking "with a good degree of sincerity". She looked forward to analysis, objectivity and substantial input in the future.

    In connection with the Secretariat’s note on the languages used for preparation of documents and publications of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the representative of Syria stressed the importance of all ESCWA documents being distributed simultaneously in Arabic and English. It was a shame that even Arab members of the staff of ESCWA, which was made up of 13 Arabic Member States, did not submit draft documents in Arabic.

    Documents before the Committee were introduced by the Principal Inter-Agency Officer of the Secretariat of the Chief Executives Board, Gary Gabriel; Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services Toshiyuki Niwa; Chairman of the Advisory Committee, Conrad S.M. Mselle; United Nations Controller Jean-Pierre Halbwachs; Chief of the Oversight Support Unit of the Department of Management, Alida Ferrena-Mahmud; Director of the Programme Planning Budget Division Warren Sach; and Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, Dileep Nair. Most of them also responded to questions and comments from the floor, as did the Director of the DPI Public Affairs Division, Thérèse Gastaut.

    Statements were also made by representatives of Spain (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Cuba (on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China), Egypt, India and the United Republic of Tanzania.

    The Committee will continue its consideration of organizational matters and take up the revised estimates resulting from the strengthening of the role of internal oversight services at the International Tribunals at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 5 March.

    Background

    This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to begin its first resumed session, taking up a variety of items on its agenda, ranging from the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) project to the reports of the Office of Internal Oversight Services.

    IMIS

    The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s thirteenth progress report on the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) project (document A/56/602), according to which IMIS is used to meet the Organization’s requirements in personnel management, budget implementation, accounting, payroll, procurement and travel. In order to ensure the System’s continued viability, the Secretary-General proposes to begin modernization work in January 2002 and complete it by May 2003. To implement his recommendations, the Assembly would be requested to approve an additional provision of some $5.64 million under the IMIS Fund, to be financed from the investment income reported under the Fund at 30 June 2001.

    According to the document, in 1999, the Assembly approved the budget estimates of $77.6 million for the development of the IMIS. The overall level of expenditures was currently expected to amount to $78.6 million, representing additional requirements in the amount of $975,700 for such unforeseen additional activities as extensive data cleaning and verification essential for the implementation of the payroll module.

    Additional costs associated with required technological update of the System amount to some $4.7 million. Also, as temporary staff is to be maintained longer than initially anticipated to support the implementation of the payroll module away from Headquarters, the staff cost projections for general temporary assistance show additional requirements of $594,500. Some additional expenses are also envisioned in connection with travel, training and contractual services requirements.

    An addendum to the IMIS project report (document A/56/602/Add.1) refers to lessons learned from the development and implementation of the System. According to the document, in the absence of a commercially available software, the system has been created at a relatively low cost of $78.5 million, invested over 13 years. It consolidates administrative data from eight major duty stations, and the quality and timely delivery of all data have improved immensely. The IMIS has changed the management culture within the United Nations. Nevertheless, the experience gained from the development of the IMIS clearly indicates a need for constant attention to its technological status, for its components should meet rapidly changing industry standards and respond to ever-evolving needs of the Organization. Adequate resources need to be allocated to its maintenance and further enhancement.

    In a related report (document A/56/684), the ACABQ states that it has no objection to the Secretary-General’s proposal related to the maintenance and technological enhancement of the System. The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) recommends approving the additional provision of some $5.63 million under the IMIS Fund and requests that future requirements for the System be presented in the context of the regular budget proposals.

    Noting that discussions continued on the establishment of the IMIS as a common service for United Nations funds and programmes, the ACABQ requests that the issue be addressed as a matter of priority. The Advisory Committee is aware of IMIS shortcomings and technological obsolescence, which have rendered it unattractive to various funds and programmes. The report also notes with concern that there has been no identifiable progress in eliminating the technical difficulties, which make it impossible to install a local IMIS system at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The ACABQ regrets the limited progress achieved so far in the implementation of IMIS in peacekeeping operations and the International Tribunals and recommends that the Secretary-General submit a report on a strategy in that regard.

    Geneva Common Services; Office Facilities at Addis Ababa

    The Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General on common services in Geneva (document A/56/417/Rev.1), which describes existing cooperation among specialized agencies and organizations and provides an update of the progress achieved in creating a more formal common services structure there. The report states that despite the statutory autonomy of each Geneva-based specialized agency, significant collaboration exists between them in such areas as budget and finance, conference services, travel and transportation, telecommunications, information technology, medical insurance, security, procurement, library services, and management of human resources and facilities.

    As part of the structured approach to common services, a Management Ownership Committee has been established under the chairmanship of the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, the report continues. Tasked with determining the scope and pace of implementation of arrangements for common services at Geneva, it is composed of the heads of all Geneva-based specialized agencies, the United Nations Office at Geneva and programmes, as well as of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Trade Centre. The Committee’s three-tier structure includes the Management Ownership Committee, a Task Force on Common Services and technical working groups. Several priority areas have been identified to strengthen existing common services tools or to develop new common approaches. They include joint purchase service, banking, travel and cleaning services, and the provision of electricity.

    Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on construction of additional office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Addis Ababa (document A/56/672). The report says that the secretariat of ECA is experiencing a serious shortage of office space as a result of the relocation of several offices of United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes in Addis Ababa to the United Nations compound. The complex situation on the ground and an expansion of humanitarian and development activities in the region in the last few years have led to increased demand for office space. Attempts have been made to alleviate the shortage by converting some common areas and conference-servicing space to office use. These temporary measures have compromised fire safety standards. Many offices are of a substandard quality, without daylight and proper ventilation.

    The report says that additional office space for some 316 staff is needed. To resolve the problem, taking into account standard average office space requirements per staff member and projected increases in the number of core staff, the construction of a new four-story office building with a total area of 6,770 square metres at a total cost of some $7.71 million is proposed. The construction costs of some $7.71 million could be financed from within the available balance of the "construction-in-progress" account, which the Assembly in April 2001 decided to retain in the account pending its consideration of all related matters.

    The Secretary-General requests that the Assembly appropriate some $7.71 million for the construction of additional office space at Addis Ababa, using existing resources available within the construction-in-progress account.

    In a related report (document A/56/711), the ACABQ says that, based on previous experience, a delay in approving the funds might lead to higher costs in the long run. The Advisory Committee, therefore, recommends that the Assembly authorize the appropriation of some $7.71 million to be funded from within the available balance of the construction-in-progress account. The Advisory Committee recommends, however, that the Commission should consider the possibility of leasing unoccupied office space to suitable outside commercial concerns. An agreement with the host Government for tax exemption with regard to materials for the project should be concluded as soon as possible, but no later than the commencement of construction.

    Noting that the current proportion of unusable office space to total available space is some 51 per cent, the ACABQ requests that the use of the proposed 6,770 square metres of additional space be re-examined so as to maximize office space and minimize common and temporary space.

    Travel Standards

    The report of the Secretary-General on standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/55/488) covers the period from 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000. During the period under review, standards for air travel were governed by General Assembly resolution 42/214, according to which all individuals who had previously been entitled to first-class travel were required to travel at the class immediately below first class. The Secretary-General and the heads of delegations of the least developed countries to the regular and special sessions of the Assembly, whose travel is financed by United Nations, constitute an exception to this rule. In the same resolution, the Assembly authorized the Secretary-General to exercise his discretion in making exceptions to allow first-class travel on a case-by-case basis.

    Generally, in reviewing cases that may warrant an exception, the Secretary-General takes into consideration medical reasons and cases when normal standards of accommodation are not available. Exceptions are also made if a traveler is considered an eminent person, such as a former head of State, or a prominent person who is donating his or her services free of charge to the Organization. The traveler who, after completing a full day of work, is required to travel through the night in order to resume work immediately upon arrival also receives an exemption. Annexed to the report is information about such exceptions.

    In March 1998, the Secretary-General decided, as an exception, that all air travel of the Deputy Secretary-General should be in first class, in keeping with her special status. During the reporting period, 10 such journeys were carried out at a total additional cost of $26,783. To strengthen the authority of its President, the General Assembly, in resolution 53/214, decided that he should have authority to use the funds provided for the budget for his Office. The President of the fifty-fourth session of the Assembly undertook eight trips by first class at a total additional cost of $30,561.

    Altogether, from 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2000, the Secretary-General authorized, as an exception, 46 cases of first-class air travel and 30 cases of business-class travel. Also, to ensure personal safety, the Secretary-General was accompanied on all trips by a personal aide/security officer at an additional cost of $55,662 for 13 trips. There were also several cases in which air travel was undertaken at a standard of accommodation higher than normal entitlement, for which no exception had been sought in advance. In such cases, subsequent approval was sought for an exception. The details of such cases are annexed to the report.

    According to the Secretary-General's report on the same subject for the period from 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001 (document A/56/426), for that period, 27 cases at a cost of some $160,867 have been submitted for travel of heads of delegations of the least developed countries to the regular and special sessions of the fifty-fifth session of the Assembly. Also during the reporting period, the Secretary-General authorized 67 exceptions -- 37 cases of first-class air travel and 30 cases of business-class travel. The total additional cost incurred as a result of those exceptions amounted to some $125,091.

    The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on travel standards, submitted during the fifty-fourth session, covering the period 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999 (document A/54/382).

    The ACABQ, in its report on the 2002-2003 proposed programme budget (document A/56/7) reiterates its belief that it is necessary to clearly specify the nature of the events where first-class air travel for officials or eminent persons is approved.

    In another related report (document A/56/630), the ACABQ welcomes the streamlining of procedures, as well as the reduction in the overall number of exceptions and their costs during the period 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001. It also reiterates the need for clear criteria to determine the "eminence" of travelers and that such criteria should be applied to individuals rather than groups. The Advisory Committee recommends that exceptions on medical grounds should be granted on the merits of each case.

    Programme Budget for Biennium 2002-2003

    Another report before the Committee (document A/C.5/56/12) is entitled "Simultaneous availability of parliamentary documentation in electronic form in the six official languages on the United Nations Web site". According to the report, the Office of Central Support Services is currently developing full multilingual functionality within the optical disk system (ODS) project, which, once completed, would allow the users to choose any of the six official languages on the ODS home page. The United Nations Web site is freely accessible to the public, and it serves as an invaluable tool for dissemination of information about various activities of the Organization. Whereas the Web site is free, however, the ODS is available as a subscription service for the general public.

    Currently, the versions of the United Nations Web site in various official languages follow the same format and contain the same categories of documentation, but vary in coverage. Not all years are available for all languages. The Department of Public Information (DPI) makes available some parliamentary documents on the Web site, but, in general, their posting there is limited. Some of those documents are posted as needed for United Nations conferences and events. Users seeking timely information and background materials have repeatedly requested the posting of current and past documents.

    The document concludes that in order to ensure simultaneous availability of parliamentary documents in the six official languages on the Web, it would be most practical to make ODS free to the public. Enhancing the Web site for that purpose is not as feasible, because it was not designed as the document repository system. Once a policy decision was made on the matter, the site could be modified, however, to provide hyperlinks to the parliamentary documents on the ODS. To accommodate the changes, administrative instructions on United Nations Internet publishing would need to be revised. The Secretariat intends to address the feasibility of free access to ODS towards the end of the year.

    The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on a review of public information activities in the United Nations Secretariat outside the DPI (document A/C.5/56/17). According to the report, in response to a request of the ACABQ to clarify what constitutes outputs for public information and programme implementation in substantive departments and offices, the DPI conducted a review of the structures that had included information activities in the 2002-2003 proposed programme budget. The report recalls that the Advisory Committee had observed that, in some cases, the difference between outputs classified as public information and those undertaken as part of the programme has become blurred. The programme planning rules and regulations do not designate a separate category of outputs for public information and activities.

    The Department's raison d'être is to ensure that United Nations substantive work succeeds by ensuring that a global message reaches a worldwide audience, the report continues. The DPI represents all of the organizational units of the Secretariat and gives a public face and meaning to the work of the United Nations to build public support for the Organization as a whole. Included in the review are the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Office of Legal Affairs, the Department of Political Affairs, the Department for Disarmament Affairs, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the regional economic commissions.

    The report lists examples of the activities carried out by those departments and offices. The DPI regularly provides its expertise to other departments and offices in the formulation of communication strategies for their intended audiences. It also possesses important communication tools, which include a network of information centres and the United Nations Web site.

    Departments and offices produce public information materials without the assistance of the DPI, if a specific mandate requires them to produce technical information products for a limited audience. Joint efforts between the DPI and other offices are most successful when the Department is included from the beginning in the preparatory process for major activities. Public information priorities should be part of joint strategic planning among all units involved and should be discussed prior to the submission of programme budget proposals.

    The note by the Secretariat on the languages used for preparation of documents and publications of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) (document A/C.5/56/19) provides information on the current situation with regard to the use of Arabic and other languages at the Commission and indicates steps to improve the issuance of documents in Arabic, which is most relevant to the requirements of the member States of the region.

    According to the document, the drafting and translation capacity of ESCWA for the preparation of documents in Arabic appears to be adequate, but there is room for improvement in regard to the proportion of such documents issued. The ESCWA has taken steps to encourage staff to prepare their drafts in Arabic, increase the number of documents and publications translated into that language and reduce the time needed for translation. The Secretary-General intends to monitor the situation closely and will report on the progress achieved in the context of his proposed programme budget for 2003-2005.

    OIOS Reports

    The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting a report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on its investigation into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement of the "boat project" at the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP) (document A/56/689). In late 2000, the OIOS received reports alleging improper conduct by the ODCCP Executive Director for funding and equipping a personal friend -- the captain of a 90-year-old wooden sailboat -- in exchange for the captain's assistance with the Director's voyage on his personal sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean. Although extensive investigations did not support this allegation, the OIOS did identify multiple incidents of mismanagement and waste in connection with the case.

    The report provides details of the investigation and management failures it identifies in connection with the "boat project". Both the Executive Director and the person he tasked to manage the project, the Officer-in-Charge of the Operations Branch, must be held accountable for those failures. Primary responsibility rests with the Executive Director, who promoted the project, despite the objections of ODCCP staff. He also approved some $500,000 for the project without having established funding sources. The OIOS does not assign responsibility to ODCCP staff, however, as they simply did as they were told.

    The Oversight Office made several recommendations as a result of its investigation, including appropriate action by the Secretary-General, as supervisor of the Executive Director, and by the Commission of the ODCCP, as overseer of the Office. In particular, it stressed the need to consider recovery of losses as provided for by United Nations financial and staff rules. The ODCCP should also examine the process of assigning its financial disbursements to determine whether similar cases have occurred. In the note transmitting the report, the Secretary-General takes note of the report's findings and concurs with its recommendations and reports that measures have been initiated regarding the recommendations.

    The Committee also had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting a report of the OIOS on its inspection of administrative and management practices of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (document A/56/620). The Nairobi Office, which began operations in 1996 as part of the Secretary-General's review of the efficiency of the United Nations administrative and financial functioning, was created to render common administrative services primarily to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat).

    According to the report, the OIOS reviewed the administrative and management practices of the Nairobi Office in March and April 2001 to assess client satisfaction with its services. The review focused on the administrative and financial management, human resources, security, support and information technologies services provided by the Division of Administrative Services. The Oversight Office found that, although the Department of Management had clarified the authority delegated to UNEP and Habitat in numerous instances, the relationship of the two entities with the Nairobi Office remained unclear.

    While various Secretary-General's bulletins defined the role mandate of the Nairobi Office, they did not reflect a clear relationship between the functional responsibilities of the Office and the governing bodies of UNEP and Habitat, the report states. It was also necessary to ensure that the Nairobi-based diplomatic missions were regularly informed of the role of the Office and their relationship with it. In that regard, the OIOS welcomed the Director-General's decision to meet regularly with the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

    The Oversight Office also noted that UNEP and Habitat did not have an effective system to monitor the quality of services provided by the Office. The OIOS notes that the problem of attracting qualified Professional staff to the Nairobi Office had contributed to the Office’s inability to fill senior management vacancies.

    Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report presenting the funds and programmes’ updated views on enhancing the internal oversight mechanisms in operational funds and programmes (document A/56/823). The responses received from funds and programmes indicate that most entities have implemented the Secretary-General’s recommendations contained in his report entitled "Enhancing the internal oversight mechanisms in operational funds and programmes, updated version" (document A/55/826s and Corr.1). Most entities have signed memorandums of understanding with the OIOS to reimburse it for its investigation services, and have established oversight committees or enhanced their existing mechanisms to include oversight responsibilities. The Oversight Office is in consultations with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the World Food Programme (WFP) to seek representation on their enhanced audit committees. It also intends to propose the establishment of memorandums of understanding to formalize the provision of audit services to funds and programmes. Pertinent information on the oversight mechanisms at funds and programmes will be included in the OIOS client profile database and in its future annual reports to the Assembly, as appropriate.

    The OIOS report on the investigation of refugee smuggling allegations in Nairobi is transmitted by the Secretary-General’s note contained in document A/56/733. According to the report, an initial assessment by OIOS Investigations Division ascertained the merit of allegations that some staff members of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were engaged in smuggling people. Such activity appeared to be controlled by a criminal network, which enabled those who paid money to emigrate from Kenya. A subsequent investigation by the OIOS-led international task force resulted in the arrest of three UNHCR staff members, two members of an affiliated non-governmental organization and four others. Criminal charges are pending in Kenya against the nine persons involved. The charges include extraction of money from refugees and threats against the UNHCR personnel and diplomatic staff who attempted to make inquiries about exploitation of refugees.

    The investigation also uncovered evidence of poor management in the UNHCR, particularly its Nairobi Branch Office, which provided opportunities for the criminally minded to achieve unjust enrichment at the expense of refugees. The report addresses the problems in processing refugee claims, documentation lapses and the absence of an adequate management structure. Reports were made to the Office managers of the unjust enrichment schemes, but to no effect, because persons who made inquiries were frightened of the threats. The fact that client files were in disarray, with false files sitting next to authentic ones, also helped the wrongdoers to succeed. Managers performed little or no review of the work of the staff responsible for processing applications. Supervision was minimal, and most applications were processed without review.

    The report provides recommendations to rectify the situation and points out that the senior management of the UNHCR has lately taken substantial measures to correct the management failings and improve the operations in Kenya. The Oversight Office also offers a warning: the factors which existed in Kenya, as in other countries with large numbers of refugees, led to the refugee smuggling enterprise. Such conditions could appear wherever the demand for resettlement of refugees who are unable to return home exceeds the willingness or ability of other governments to take them.

    Also before the Committee was a report of the OIOS on the audit of the UNHCR for private sector fund-raising activities (document A/56/759), which have become a major component of UNHCR's fund-raising efforts. Private sector funds supplement funds from the public domain, which have proven insufficient to meet the needs of refugees. The report says that in 2000 private sector funding amounted to some $15 million. Overall, private sector fund-raising activities appear to be successful, with a return on investment of five to one for nine operations conducted between 1995 and 2000.

    At the country level, private sector fund-raising is either carried out directly by UNHCR country offices or through national associations, the report says. National associations are organizations created by the UNHCR for fund-raising activities in the form of a charity under national law. There are currently seven national associations in Argentina, Australia, France, Japan, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

    In its review, the OIOS found that private sector fund-raising policies and procedures require more definition. Self-sustainability, which is a key indicator for a fund-raising operation, and the achievement of financial targets were not explicitly established as objectives for most of the operations. A methodology for return on investment must also be determined. Data on the cost of UNHCR's private sector fund-raising activities were not readily available. The national associations concept must still be proven effective.

    The UNHCR has taken a number of steps to address the issues raised by Oversight Office, the report says, including revised fund-raising guidelines and a global framework acceptable to all country operations. Financial targets have been established for 2001 and 2005 at $15 million and $18 million, respectively. A definition of return on investment will be developed and the national associations concept will be developed to ensure that UNHCR funds are efficiently invested.

    Scale of Assessments

    By his letter dated 18 January 2002 (document A/C.5/56/35), the President of the General Assembly transmits to the Chairman of the Fifth Committee a letter from the Secretary-General on the arrears of the former Yugoslavia (document A/56/767), in which he refers to resolution 55/12 of 1 November 2000 admitting the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to membership in the United Nations. That decision automatically terminated the membership of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia –- the State admitted to the United Nations in 1945.

    At the time of that decision, the former Yugoslavia still had outstanding assessed contributions to the Organization, which on 1 November 2000 amounted to some $16.23 million. The country also had credit of $1,846 in the special account for the Transition Assistance Group and an advance of $26,000 to the Working Capital Fund for 2000-2001. In June 2001, the Assembly authorized the allocation of credits in respect of the unencumbered balances of peacekeeping accounts for prior periods. The former Yugoslavia’s share of those credits totalled $8,058 net. Application of that amount brought its total outstanding dues to some $16.22 million.

    According to the document, the Assembly now has an option of approving a write-off of the amounts in question, consistent with the position of the five successor States -– Croatia, Slovenia, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Alternatively, the Assembly might decide to seek payment from the successor States of all or part of those arrears, in which case it also needs to decide whether the arrears, which arose following the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, should be sought. The Assembly might also call on the five successor States to negotiate an agreement regarding the amounts of their respective debt. If they cannot reach an agreement, the United Nations might claim payment from each of them of an amount that it considers an equitable portion of the total.

    Organization of Work

    Committee Chairman NANA EFFAH-APENTENG (Ghana) informed the Committee that a number of reports requested during the main part of the fifty-sixth session for the Committee’s consideration at the first resumed session were currently being prepared. Given the short time available, however, they would not be issued in time for the ACABQ’s consideration.

    DANIEL SOTO (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that in the present session the Committee would deal mostly with budget issues. The Union looked forward, in particular, to the presentation by the Under-Secretary-General for Management on the financial situation of the United Nations. In that regard, the Union would appreciate it if the presentation also outlined the trends of expected expenditures for peacekeeping operations beyond the subsequent fiscal year, so as to assist Member States in their planning for adequate budget provisions.

    The IMIS was an important project designed to enhance the coherence and efficiency of the Secretariat’s management, he said. The European Union was inclined to endorse the ACABQ’s recommendations in that regard. The project had reached an important juncture, however, and it was necessary to consider the mainstreaming of the IMIS into the Organization’s overall administration. All IMIS activities –- present and future -– must be reflected and explained in the context of the Organization’s wider information technology strategy.

    The work of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) was also of great importance to the Union, he continued. The expansion of the United Nations humanitarian and development activities in the region had led to increased demand for office space at the Commission. The Union favoured taking a decision on the matter based on the ACABQ’s recommendations. The Secretary-General’s report on the review of public information activities outside the Department of Public Information (DPI) was important in light of the reviews of public information, publications and libraries that the Secretary-General would present at the fifty-seventh session. In that regard, he noted that the report on the implementation of resolution 54/259 on the cost-effectiveness of publications had not been submitted as it should have been. He also thanked the OIOS for the submission of a number of important reports.

    At the session, the General Assembly would have to review the budget proposals of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and make important decisions concerning the staffing of the Courts, he said. In that regard, the European Union recalled its endorsement of the ACABQ’s recommendations. The Union was committed to the United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the budget for that mission was reviewed, the Union would like to see that it was provided with adequate financial resources.

    On the issue of human resources management, in particular the mandatory age of retirement and the United Nations Pension Fund, he said the Union had a number of questions on the implications of a change to the separation age which must be answered before it could decide on the issue, either at the resumed session or during the fifty-seventh session.

    Concluding, he said the Union believed that the two weeks allocated to the Committee would be more than sufficient. He expected that the Committee would conclude its work on time and without recourse to night and weekend meetings. Given the postponement of a number of important issues initially scheduled for the session, the Union also believed that the Committee should consider dispensing with a March session in future years.

    EVA SILOT BRAVO (Cuba), speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said the Group’s statement on the organization of work would be made at the Committee’s meeting tomorrow morning. She asked that no action be taken on the programme of work pending a conclusion of the item tomorrow. She also requested that a list of reports that should have been submitted at the current session be made available at tomorrow morning’s meeting.

    ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) supported the observations made by the representative of Cuba. The Committee had spent a considerable amount of time in its last session on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and had requested that the Secretariat submit a report on the Force during the current session. That report had not been submitted. He proposed that a full meeting be set aside to take up the issue, at which time representatives of the Secretariat should be present. Indeed, a number of reports were outstanding, including the report on the issue of racial discrimination. In light of the Group’s request, he asked for the presence of a representative of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to explain why the UNDOF report had not been issued.

    Following the discussion, the CHAIRMAN proposed that the Committee defer taking a decision on the programme of work until tomorrow morning. He also asked the Secretariat to provide a list of the reports not available and he invited a representative of the Secretary-General to come to the meeting tomorrow morning regarding the report on UNDOF.

    Common Services at Geneva

    The Principal Inter-Agency Officer of the Secretariat of the United Nations Chief Executives Board for Coordination, GARY GABRIEL, introduced the Secretary-General’s revised report on the matter (document A/56/417/Rev.1). Updating the Committee on the latest developments, he said that development of common services in Geneva was continuing. Significant cooperation between the heads of various entities had resulted in increased unity of the system.

    In 1998, he continued, an acquisition consortium had been established, through which various organizations could subscribe to information technology resources. That had led to significant financial savings. There were also further developments in the work of the Joint Purchase Service. In the area of travel, coordinated efforts were being made to secure most favourable conditions and tariffs for travel. Net fare agreements were being sought with several air companies. Also, a working group had been set up to review office and furniture standards.

    AYMAN M. ELGAMMAL (Egypt) expressed hope that the introductory statement would be circulated to the Committee before it acted on the report.

    IMIS

    The Secretary-General’s thirteenth progress report on the project (documents A/56/602 and Add.1) was introduced by Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services TOSHIYUKI NIWA, who said that much had been done in the last year and a half. All the staff at Headquarters were now paid through the System payroll function. Soon, the implementation of the System would be completed at all the duty stations. Work had started at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to deploy IMIS in the field, and the first phase of implementation would be carried out in selected field offices in the first quarter of 2002. At present, IMIS was already successfully operating in Cyprus.

    Although some mistakes had been made, the Organization had succeeded in implementing the System, he said. Now, five main areas of activity had been identified to address its shortcomings. Work was needed to re-engineer the IMIS front-end application, which would increase its user friendliness and allow remote access to the System using an Internet browser. It was also necessary to rewrite some parts of the application in more modern computer languages. It was important to implement newer technologies and re-engineer certain technical components. The IMIS reporting tool must be updated in line with recent technological developments. The completion of those enhancements would significantly extend the technological lifespan of the System.

    The Chairman of the ACABQ, CONRAD S.M. MSELLE, introduced a related report of the Advisory Committee (document A/56/684).

    Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that he would return to the issue tomorrow, because the reports had been published late.

    He also touched upon the issue of the cafeteria, saying that it sometimes closed at 4:30 or 5 p.m. However, the meetings were continuing at that time, and the delegates had been promised that it would remain open until 6 p.m. He also asked why the cafeteria by the Security Council was now closed.

    RAMESH CHANDRA (India) praised the effectiveness of IMIS at Headquarters and said that the Secretary-General’s report had referred to the pilot IMIS project at three peacekeeping missions. Mr. Niwa, however, had indicated that the project had been successful at only one mission. He asked for further clarification in that regard.

    Responding to comments from the floor, Mr. NIWA said that he had not expected any questions regarding the cafeteria. He would have to come back to them at a later date. As for the implementation of IMIS at peacekeeping missions, it was important to move forward as quickly as possible. There had been some "slippage" as far as implementation of the system in the field was concerned, but first it was important to make sure that IMIS was implemented at all the major duty stations. He hoped that further progress would be made in that regard.

    Construction of Additional Office Facilities at ECA, Addis Ababa

    The Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts and United Nations Controller, JEAN-PIERRE HALBWACHS, introduced the Secretary-General’s report. Paragraph 6 of the document provided information on the number of personnel based on the premises. Over the last few years, ECA had taken a number of steps to resolve the office space situation and had managed to increase the amount of space. The space that had been made available, however, was sub-standard. To address the shortage, the construction of a four-floor office building was being proposed, which would allow the staff from sub-standard offices to be relocated. The parameters for the new building were found in the report. It would ensure flexibility and would include modern energy savings measures. The administrative arrangements were in accordance with ACABQ’s recommendations. It was a straightforward proposal and he hoped the Committee would act expeditiously on it.

    Mr. MSELLE introduced the related report of the ACABQ, saying that body recommended the authorization of the construction proposal.

    Standards of Air Travel

    ALIDA FERRENA-MAHMUD, Chief of the Oversight Support Unit of the Department of Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on standards of accommodation for air travel, noting that some progress had been made in streamlining procedures to decrease overall costs.

    Introducing the related report of the ACABQ, Mr. MSELLE drew the Committee’s attention to paragraphs 5 and 7 of its report.

    IMRAN AHMED SIDDIQUI (Pakistan) said that while he noted a reduction in number of exceptions and costs, the total extra amount was still very high. He supported the ACABQ proposal to streamline the current system and make it more transparent. Also, to render the report more comprehensive, the names of the persons for whom exceptions were granted could be included.

    Highlighting the modalities for air ticket issuance and reimbursement for United Nations travel, he noted that tickets purchased in capitals were cheaper than those purchased at United Nations-designated travel agencies. He requested a detailed statement on the issue. He also noted with regret the undue delays in the reimbursement of tickets purchased in capitals for participation of delegations in United Nations conferences in New York and elsewhere. In such cases, the tickets were not procured through a designated travel agency due to paucity of time. He requested explanation on procedures for the reimbursement of air tickets.

    Programme Budget for 2002-2003

    Introducing related reports of the ACABQ, on the availability of documentation in the six official languages on the United Nations Web site, Mr. MSELLE said the ACABQ had considered the report at the end of the first regular session of the General Assembly in December 2001. The ACABQ noted that the Secretariat was working on the second phase of the new ODS project, which was scheduled for completion in January 2002. ODS users would be able to search for documents in any of the six official languages. Access to the new ODS would be provided free of charge to Member States, accredited non-governmental organizations and United Nations staff members by the end of 2002.

    On the review of public information activities, he said the Secretary-General’s report was neither comprehensive nor responsive to the requests of the Advisory Committee. It was the ACABQ’s intention to follow up on the matter in the context of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005, and he recommended that the Committee take note of the report.

    Regarding ESCWA documents, he said the ACABQ would follow up on the subject in the context of the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005 and recommended that the General Assembly take note of the Secretary-General’s report.

    Mr. NIWA introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the simultaneous availability of parliamentary documentation in electronic form in the six official languages on the United Nations Web site. The current ODS access policy was guided by General Assembly resolution 51/211F of September 1997 on the pattern of conferences. In that resolution, the Assembly encouraged the Secretary-General to develop a policy to make the ODS available to any individual parties on a fee-based service, on the understanding that the service was free for Member States and Secretariat staff.

    To ensure the simultaneous availability of parliamentary documents in the six official languages on the United Nations Web site, he said it was most practical if the ODS was made available free to the public. In that case, the parliamentary documents in the six official languages could be accessed from the United Nations Web site by linking the documents on the ODS from the Web site. If the Secretariat was to move forward in line with that technical solution, the provision of the General Assembly resolution on the ODS access policy would have to be changed.

    Concluding, he said the Secretariat would review the feasibility of free access to the ODS and would present Member States with options, including financial implications, with a view to revising the current ODS subscription policy guided by Assembly resolution 51/211F.

    The Director of the Programme Planning Budget Division, WARREN SACH, then introduced the reports on the review of public information activities outside the DPI (document A/C.5/56/17) and on languages used for preparation of documents of ESCWA (document A/C.5/56/19).

    On the first report, he said that it had been submitted within the context of consideration of the proposed programme budget for 2002-2003. To a certain extent, the document had been overtaken by events. In general, in terms of standard outputs, there were six standard categories, which did not make a distinction between public information and other activities. As had been pointed out by the Chairman of the ACABQ, there was some dissatisfaction with the information provided in the report. The report had been available (although not formally introduced) during the regular session of the Assembly, and the Fifth Committee had had it in mind when it requested a comprehensive review of DPI activities in its budget resolution. It was important to continue to monitor the situation and take it into account when considering the next programme budget.

    As for the use of the Arabic language at ESCWA, he said that item had also been overcome by events. The budget resolution had addressed the issue, requesting the Secretary-General to ensure publication of all documents and publications at ESCWA in Arabic to meet requirements of readers.

    Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that the ACABQ report should be presented in writing. Regarding the ESCWA report, he noted that Mr. Sach had recently visited Beirut, where he had met with ESCWA officials. Undoubtedly, that visit had given him better understanding of the need to improve the use of the Arabic language there. He noted that the drafting and translation capacity of ESCWA for the preparation of documents in Arabic appeared to be adequate, according to the report. Perhaps it was true that the document had been overtaken by events, but it might shed light on some points to be taken into account in the future, particularly as far as the reports issued in response to the requests by the Assembly were concerned.

    As for the recommendation that all documents should be drafted as far as possible in Arabic, he said that it was important to understand that the recommendation was contained in an internal decision -- not a General Assembly resolution. Reference to the language requirements for employment at ESCWA in paragraph 6b of the report also reflected an internal administrative decision by ESCWA, which contradicted relevant Assembly resolutions. According to those texts, knowledge of Arabic –- an official language of the United Nations -- was sufficient for employment at ESCWA, without knowledge of English or French. That should be pointed out clearly to ESCWA.

    He added that it was a shame that even Arab members of the staff of ESCWA, which was made up of 13 Arabic Member States, did not submit draft documents in Arabic. It was also a shame that ESCWA should produce an executive summary in Arabic of documents issued in English, instead of translating them. He would not accept a substitution of executive summaries in lieu of translation. In accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions, all ESCWA documents should be distributed simultaneously for distribution in Arabic and English.

    MELANIE J. ATTWOOLL (United States) said that on the first day of the meetings, she had been hoping to take a more positive approach, but she was completely dissatisfied with the contents of the report on public information activities. The document aimed to look at outputs of various departments and possible overlap in their activities with DPI. Her delegation had hoped to get substantive analytical feedback, but instead a list of departments and their activities had been provided in the report, without analysis of their interplay with the DPI.

    The DPI was currently undertaking a comprehensive review with a good degree of sincerity, she continued. She hoped the Department would re-address the issue in the context of that review, and she looked forward to analysis, objectivity and substantial input in the future.

    MUHAMMAD YUSSUF (United Republic of Tanzania) said that, as he was not familiar with the activities of the joint United Nations Information Committee, he wanted to know about its functions, the time of its creation and its mandate.

    THERESE GASTAUT, Director of the DPI Public Affairs Division, said that the Joint United Nations Information Committee was a subsidiary body of the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), which brought together all information directors of the United Nations system to coordinate public information policies. With the reform of the ACC, its subsidiary bodies had been abolished last October, and new arrangements were subsequently created which were expected to be more flexible and efficient. The United Nations Communications Group had developed into the main mechanism for coordination on communication issues. More information on the matter would be available in an upcoming report of the Secretary-General to be circulated before the next session of the Committee on Information to be held 22 April to 2 May.

    Office of Internal Oversight Services

    DILEEP NAIR, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, then introduced the remaining reports before the Committee.

    Regarding the report on updated views on enhancing the internal oversight mechanisms in operational funds and programmes, he said that, overall, the report found that most funds and programmes had implemented the Secretary-General’s recommendations, with the majority of funds and programmes having signed a memorandum of understanding with the OIOS. The majority of funds and programmes have established oversight committees. A number of funds and programmes had invited the representation of the Oversight Office on their oversight committee. The OIOS was seeking representation on the committees of those entities for which it did not provide audit coverage, namely, UNICEF, UNRWA and the WFP. The issuance of the report was delayed because of extensive consultations with some funds and programmes on the issues contained in the report.

    Turning to the report on the inspection of administrative and management practices in the ODCCP, which had been introduced to the Committee in November 2001, he said that two main points should be emphasized as a result of OIOS inspection. ODCCP’s major strengths included clear mandates, a broad range of expertise, committed staff and a strong field presence. Its major weakness, however, stemmed from over-centralized and heavily personalized decision-making, and the absence of institutional mechanisms to ensure that its activities and projects were properly conceived. The report contained 14 recommendations on how the drawbacks should be corrected. The Oversight Office had urged drastic and immediate change. A number of corrective measures were now being implemented. The OIOS was examining some of the actions reported by management as it completed and reserved judgement on the progress of implementation until carrying out an on-site review, which was tentatively scheduled for spring of 2002.

    Turning to the inspection of administrative and management practices of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, he said that the role and mandate of the Office had been clearly defined in various bulletins of the Secretary-General. The relationship between the functional responsibilities and reporting lines of the Office with respect to its relationship with UNEP and Habitat needed further clarification, however. While the OIOS observed that client-entities were satisfied with services provided by the Division of Administrative Services, there was a need to establish service agreements to ensure that the clients were provided with good-quality services.

    In the area of human resources management, the OIOS was of the view that the Office of Human Resources Management should undertake a review of the current human resources situation in Nairobi and prepare a report for consideration by the Secretary-General, he said. The Oversight Office made some 13 recommendations, which the United Nations Office at Nairobi’s management had accepted.

    On the investigation into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement of the "boat project" at the ODCCP, he said the management failures throughout the project were numerous. They included poor planning, a lack of proper financial management of some $76,000 used on the project, causing loss of property and incurring tax liabilities to ODCCP in contravention of United Nations principles of privileges and immunities. As a result of the investigation, the OIOS had recommended that appropriate action be taken against the Executive Director and the Officer-in-Charge of the Operations Branch for the waste of resources and mismanagement of the project. The Executive Director had been removed from office and a reprimand had been issued to the Officer-in-Charge.

    He then introduced the report on the investigation into allegations of refugee smuggling at the Nairobi Branch Office of the UNHCR, saying that allegations had been received by the UNHCR and the OIOS that some UNHCR staff members and others were demanding money from refugees, asylum seekers and other persons to provide documentation and assurances of resettlement, primarily in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.

    A total of nine persons, including three UNHCR staff members, had been arrested by the Kenya police and had been charged with crimes under the Penal Code of Kenya, he said. Three UNHCR staff members were charged with five counts of conspiracy to threaten to kill the American Ambassador to Kenya and the head of the United States Embassy’s immigration office, as well as three senior UNHCR officials. Three staff members and six others were charged with multiple counts of cheating. All the cases were pending in the courts of Kenya. The Kenya police were actively pursuing other persons involved in the criminal enterprise.

    The Oversight Office recognized that the Branch Office was faced with a task far exceeding its planned programme because of regional conflicts, droughts and other problems which propelled refugees into Kenya, he added. The OIOS recognized that many Branch Office staff members had performed valiantly under difficult circumstances. Many of the deficiencies noted in the report had been corrected by concerted efforts of both senior management of the UNHCR and the new Representative and other staff in Nairobi. He warned the Committee that factors which led to the refugee smuggling enterprise would exist wherever the demand for resettlement by refugees exceeded the ability of other governments to take them.

    Finally, he introduced the report on the audit of UNHCR private sector fund-raising activities. He said the initial findings and recommendations were communicated to the UNHCR in May 2001. The UNHCR had responded positively, and he was pleased to note that all the recommendations had now been satisfactorily addressed.

    ARATA FUJII (Japan) expressed appreciation for the official publication of the "boat project" report, according to which considerable resources had been wasted as a result of mismanagement and misconduct on behalf of the administration of the ODCCP. Reform of the programme’s management was urgently needed, and its resources should be used as efficiently as possible. He hoped that the new Executive Director would be appointed as soon as possible and would do everything in his power to ensure an effective implementation of the programme’s mandate.

    Turning to the report on refugee smuggling in Nairobi, he expressed concern over the situation there, and said that he would appreciate it if he could receive information on future actions to prevent further abuse anywhere in the world.

    HENRY FOX (Australia) welcomed the report on refugee smuggling at the Nairobi branch of the UNHCR. As one of the destination countries for the resettlement of refugees, Australia had taken part in the OIOS investigation, having provided professional staff with expertise on the matter. The case sent a strong message that resettlement should be provided to those most in need and not those who could pay for it. People with integrity should be in charge of resettlement efforts. His country would continue to work with the UNHCR to guarantee integrity of the programme and implementation of the corrective actions. He also stressed the importance of the recommendations, which would allow the UNHCR to improve its ability to combat corruption within resettlement efforts.

    THOMAS A. REPASCH (United States) said that his delegation would give a comprehensive statement tomorrow on the OIOS reports. Today, he only wanted to make a small point. One of the previous recommendations to enhance internal oversight mechanisms at various United Nations funds and programmes was to establish oversight committees there. However, according to the report contained in document A/56/823, UNICEF had indicated that it did not consider it necessary to establish a new committee in addition to its internal audit mechanism, and it did not anticipate additional external participation in that committee.

    Also according to the report, the OIOS would try to get an invitation to sit on that committee, he continued. It might be helpful if a UNICEF representative could explain that position to the Fifth Committee. An indication that UNICEF did not seem to want the OIOS on its committee seemed to go against the very mandate of the OIOS -– an internal oversight body.

    Mr. SOTO (Spain), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that his delegation reserved the right to address the issue at a later meeting, for it had not had sufficient time to study the reports.

    Mr. CHANDRA (India) thanked the Under-Secretary-General for presenting six well-written reports. Regarding the report on refugee smuggling at the Nairobi Office, his delegation had a degree of discomfort when the OIOS offered "warnings" to Member States. He would have liked to hear softer language. On the "boat project", he noted the OIOS recommendation that recovery should be considered for losses as provided by the Financial and Staff Rules, and that once the new procedures for implementing the relevant Staff Rule were established, such action would be considered. More explanation was needed. Regarding the query on UNICEF, while he looked forward to hearing from a UNICEF representative on the matter, UNICEF would see OIOS representation as external because it had its own oversight organ.

    Responding to questions, Mr. NAIR said it was correct that UNICEF was an external programme. The OIOS had recommended that there be an oversight committee to ensure that oversight. Many funds and programmes had their own audit organs. Being represented on an oversight committee would be a way of sharing information. That had been done with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for the last couple of years, and it had proven a useful model. He recommended that the same model be adopted for UNICEF. The Oversight Office would not be involved on a day-to-day basis. The UNICEF had invited the UNDP audit representative to sit on its audit committee, which had fulfilled the need for external representation. Basically, the OIOS was saying that if they had invited the UNDP, why not OIOS? The issue was not yet closed, however.

    On the "boat project" and the recommendation to recover expenses, he said the Department of Management had informed the Oversight Office that that particular staff rule had been under review. Until the review was completed, the OIOS would not pursue recovery. Once the modalities for recovery were completed, the OIOS would follow up on the recommendation.

    Regarding the assertion that the OIOS had gone beyond its remit in extending a "warning", he said it was just as much a warning to themselves. Whenever demand exceeded supply, problems were likely to arise. It was necessary to ensure that measures were put in place to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

    Scale of Assessments

    Acting Committee Chairman JOHN ORR (Canada) said that the Group of 77 and China were currently holding consultations on the matter. He proposed that the Committee revert to the matter later in the session.

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