Press Releases

     

    GA/AB/3575

    14 October 2003

                                                                                                                                                 

    BUDGET COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS 10 STATES RETAIN GENERAL
    ASSEMBLY VOTING RIGHTS, AS UNPAID CONTRIBUTIONS
    DUE TO FACTORS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL

    Also Takes Up Reports on Pattern of Conferences

    NEW YORK, 13 October (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) recommended this morning that the General Assembly allow ten States -- Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Comoros, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, the Republic of Moldova, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, and Tajikistan -- to retain their voting rights in the Assembly until 30 June 2004, despite their level of accumulated unpaid contributions to the United Nations, under Article 19 of the Charter.

    According to Article 19, if a Member State falls behind in the payment of its dues by an amount equal to its assessments for the two most recent years, it will lose its right to vote in the General Assembly, unless the Assembly decides that non-payment is a consequence of factors beyond its control.

    By the terms of a draft appointed by the Committee, introduced by the representative of Sweden following informal consultations, the failure of those countries to pay their minimum amount was due to such circumstances.

    The representatives of Niger and the Central African Republic expressed their gratitude to the Committee for their support and expressed hope that their countries would be able to swiftly overcome their problems in order to meet their obligations to the United Nations.  A representative of Syria spoke in explanation of position on the draft after action was taken.

    Also this morning, as the Committee took up a series of reports under its “pattern of conferences” agenda item, Chen Jian, Under Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, informed the Committee about progress in implementing the reform of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, which was aimed at improving the quality, timeliness and cost-effectiveness of its performance.  “If the devil is in details, then the bigger devil is in implementation”, he pointed out, stressing that, unlike previous reforms, the ongoing endeavour was clearly targeted, results-oriented and time-bound, its implementation geared to tangible results.

    Listing the main achievements of the reform, he said that most significantly, the Department had been able to achieve a sound budgetary position, thanks to rational meetings and documents planning, and attendant organizational restructuring and workflow optimization.  There had been considerable reductions in over-expenditure in such areas as temporary assistance and overtime.  The past year had allowed the Department to determine whether it was moving in the right direction.  A difficult year, it represented a quantum leap from knowing what was wrong to doing what was right.

    Speakers in the ensuing discussion expressed concern over continued underutilization of conference services by numerous organizations, which led to a waste of resources, and advocated better planning and organization, respect for timetables, and increased discipline in starting and ending meetings.  They supported the measures to improve timely submission and issuance of documentation, including introduction of so-called “e-Flow” and “print-on-demand” initiatives.

    Statements were made by representatives of Italy (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), the United States and Jamaica.

    Other documents before the Committee were introduced by Chairman of the Committee on Conferences, Mohammad Tal, and Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, Conrad S. M. Mselle.

    The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 14 October, when it will begin its discussion of items related to the scale of assessments and continue its consideration of the pattern of conferences.

     

    Background

    The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning was expected to take up several reports on the pattern of conferences.

    The Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences (document A/58/194) presents the latest developments in connection with the Assembly’s requests contained in its last year’s resolution on the matter (document 57/283), including those on documentation and publications, translation and interpretation matters, and information technology.  The document also contains statistics on the utilization of conference-servicing resources and facilities, according to which the overall utilization factor for 2002 (75 per cent) is 6 per cent lower than in 2000, but one percentage point higher than in 2001.  A modest increase in utilization is reflected in New York, Geneva and Vienna, with Nairobi demonstrating a sharp drop of 10 percentage points.  The drop in utilization in New York from 2000 to 2001 was due to the increase in time lost from late starts and early endings on meetings.

    Resolution 57/283B contained several provisions related to conference services for the meetings of regional and other major groupings of Member States, including a request for the Secretary-General to submit a report on the cost implications of providing more predictable and adequate services.  In response, the Secretary-General suggests considering an option of setting aside one large room with full interpretation services, either weekly or daily, which could be allocated on a first-come first-served basis.  Alternatively, additional services could be built into the requirements of regular sessions that require a substantial number of meetings by regional and other major groupings.

    Regarding documents and publications of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in Arabic -- an issue of great relevance to the Member States of the region -- the report states that ESCWA has kept the situation under review and continued to urge author divisions to provide Arabic drafts to the extent possible.  While in the current biennium, the percentages of documents and publications to be issued in Arabic are estimated at 82 and 55.5 per cent, respectively; in 2004-2005 those percentages are projected at 100 and 92 per cent.

    Among the issues addressed in connection with translation and interpretation matters are the rate of self-revision, the situation in regard of informational meetings on terminology vacancies and vacancies in the translation services.  The report states, in particular, that while the total number of vacancies has dropped from 28 to 16 for all duty stations, the overall situation still needs improvement.  For Arabic, English, French and Spanish, the depletion of the present roster is the reason why vacancies cannot be filled immediately.  Competitive examinations for English and Arabic are near completion, however, and examinations in the other two languages are scheduled in September.

    Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on the reform of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (document A/58/213), which was initiated in the second half of 2002.  According to the document, the reform has led to considerable reductions in temporary assistance and overtime expenditures, thus enabling the Department to stay within its budget for 2002.  Most notable among the measures taken by the Department are enhancement of coordination, optimization of work flow, internal redeployment of resources and organizational restructuring.

    Among recent initiatives, the report lists a system of electronic transmission of documents; a slotting system to regulate timely submission of documents for processing; introduction of printing on demand; and an “E-Meets” electronic meeting management system. Efforts are also made to synchronize documentation requirements and meeting schedules through electronic means. The decision to restrict the holding of night and weekend meetings, placing emphasis on strict adherence to the calendar of conferences and meetings, has made possible better programming and more cost-effective delivery of services by the Department and enabled intergovernmental bodies to conduct their work with greater efficacy.

    The Secretary-General adds that, although initial results are promising, complications have emerged and adjustments will continue to be made.  Among planned actions, the document mentions a major study of integrated global management of conference-related resources, which will be conducted in cooperation with the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and a comprehensive study of workload standards and performance measurement.

    An annual report of the Committee on Conferences (document A/58/32) contains a draft calendar of conferences and meetings at the United Nations for 2004 and a text of a draft resolution recommended by the Committee to the Assembly following its latest session.  Aside from the calendar of conferences, the text addresses the issues of utilization of conference services and facilities; reform of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management; documentation and publication-related matters; and information technology.

    Having considered all the issues on its agenda, the Committee on Contributions recommended that the Assembly give careful consideration to the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005 for conference services, taking into account the conclusions of the Committee.  It also sought assurances from the Department that documents would be equally accessible in all official languages under the e-Flow system.

    By the terms of the draft resolution proposed by the Committee, the Assembly would welcome the initial steps to reform the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, stressing that the reform should be aimed at improving timely delivery of documentation and quality of conference services with a view to meeting the needs of Member States as efficiently as possible.  Recognizing user satisfaction as a key performance indicator, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to take a user-oriented approach towards conference-services management.

    Further noted in the document is the fact that reform measures would include a study of the global management of conference-related resources, as well as comprehensive study of workload standards and performance measurement.  Also among the suggestions contained in the document, are a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the current approach to summary records and review of the list of bodies entitled to them.

    According to the Secretary-General’s report on the filling of the remaining vacancies in the Arabic and English Units in the Interpretation Section at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (document A/57/783), unexpected delays have occurred in the process of filling remaining vacancies there.  Appropriate measures have been taken, however, and by the end of 2003, the Section will be completely staffed with Nairobi-based staff members.

    Another document before the Committee -- a report on the utilization of conference facilities and services at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (document A/57/809) -- provides statistical information on the use of conference facilities and services at the Office for 2002-2003.

    In a related report (document A/57/7) the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions takes note of the Secretary-General’s report on filling the remaining vacancies in the Arabic and English Units in the Interpretation Section and on utilization of conference facilities and services in the Nairobi Office.

    Although the Secretariat could have done more to justify the need for restoration of funds and expansion of services as far as information technology is concerned, the Advisory Committee maintains that adequate investment in information and communication technology is necessary to promote long-term efficiency and sound management.  Such investment should eventually lead to savings and better practices in the Secretariat.  For example, introduction of such technological innovations as remote translation and videoconferencing should diminish the need for travel of staff.  Also, in view of the emphasis that the Department is placing on global management and the possibilities for workload sharing and efficiencies, the Advisory Committee is of the opinion that it is possible to reduce estimated requirements for contractual translation and editorial services in New York.

    Also before the Committee was a report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) entitled strengthening the Department of Public Information within the existing capacity, in order to support and enhance the United Nations Web site in all official languages of the Organization:  follow-up (document A/58/7/Add.1), in which the ACABQ takes note of several reports of the Secretary-General in this regard.

    Regarding the reform of the Department for General assembly and Conference Management (A/58/213), the ACABQ attaches particular importance to the concept of integrated global management of the Department and strongly believes that an interactive capability among the various systems used by duty stations to track conference-servicing capacity is an essential prerequisite of the global management of the Department.  The Advisory Committee also takes note of the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening the Department of Public Information (A/58/217) and the Pattern of Conferences (A/58/194).

    Action on Drafts

    INGA ERIKSSON FOGH (Sweden) introduced a draft (document A/C.5/57/L.2) by which the General Assembly would agree that the failure of Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Comoros, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, the Republic of Moldova, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, and Tajikistan to pay the full minimum amount necessary to avoid the application of Article 19 of the Charter was due to conditions beyond their control, and would be permitted to vote in the Assembly until 30 June 2004.

    By the terms of the draft, the Assembly would also take note of the information provided by Niger and conclude that its failure to pay the full minimum amount was also due to conditions beyond its control and would be permitted to vote in the Assembly until 30 June 2004.

    The draft was adopted without a vote.

    BOUBACAR TANKOANO (Niger) thanked the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the European Union and other groups that had taken to the floor in support of Niger’s request.

    NAJIB ELJY (Syria), said that the Arab delegation would like to draw attention to paragraph 3 of the draft which took note of paragraph 82 of document A/C.5/57/39 on the situation of the Comoros, which states that the Committee on Contributions agrees to review any future requests from the Comoros in the light of its payment record.  Agreeing to take note of this paragraph did not mean its acceptance, he stressed.  The economic and social crisis and the fact that the Comoros had not been able to benefit from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative would prevent Comoros from being able to pay the minimum required.

    FERNAND POUKRÉ-KONO (Central African Republic) thanked the members of the Fifth Committee for their support in this matter and said that his country would endeavour to keep to the timetable that had been drawn up.

    Introduction of Reports

    MOHAMMAD TAL, Chairman of the Committee on Conferences, introduced that body’s report, saying that the document covered the work carried out by the Committee since its substantive session in 2002 and included specific recommendations to the Assembly, as well as directives to the Secretariat.  The practice of the Secretary-General, successfully initiated last year, of reporting on the majority of issues on the agenda in two consolidated reports had continued, enabling the Committee to consider the items in a more cohesive manner.  For the first time this year, the Committee on Conferences had also decided that, in order to provide more relevant advice to the Assembly, it would recommend a draft resolution that reflected the Committee substantive discussion.

    Regarding utilization of conference-servicing resources and facilities, the Committee had noted that, while the overall utilization rate of 75 per cent in 2002 for the four duty stations showed a marginal improvement over 2001, it was 5 percentage points lower than the benchmark established by the Assembly, still representing an unacceptable loss of resources.  The Committee had also noted that the planning accuracy factor, a useful tool for the Secretariat, should be considered when evaluating bodies and requested the Secretariat to continue to consult actively with the bureaus and secretariats of the bodies that consistently underutilized their resources.

    The Committee had reaffirmed that the provision of conference services to regional and other major groupings facilitated the work of the main committees and other United Nations bodies, but was unable to consider the proposals for providing services to those groups on a more predictable basis in the absence of the Secretary-General’s report on their cost implications, which was then pending.  That report was now available for the Committee’s consideration.

    Regarding the reform of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, he said that the Committee had encouraged continued implementation of the measures outlined.  It was noted that a comprehensive study of workload standards and performance measurement was planned.  In addition, a cost-benefit analysis of summary records and a review of the bodies entitled to them were requested.

    This was not the year for a detailed look at documentation and publication-related matters, he continued.  Nevertheless, the Committee had requested that the rules concerning simultaneous distribution of documents in all official languages be followed with respect to the Official Documents System and the United Nations Web site.  It also reiterated its request that documentation in the six official languages be made available in accordance with the six-week rule.

    New technology had been a subject of a videoconference with participation by the chiefs of conference services and senior staff at Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.  While the Committee had welcomed the progress made so far in integrating information technology into management and documentation-processing systems, it noted with concern the situation at the Nairobi Office and urged that steps be taken to institutionalize the integration of modern technology across all duty stations.

    CHEN JIAN, Under Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, said that the aim of the current reform of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management was to improve the quality, timeliness and cost-effectiveness of its performance.  Unlike previous reforms, however, the current endeavour was clearly targeted, results-oriented and time-bound, its implementation geared to tangible results.  Because, if the devil was in the details, then the bigger devil was in implementation.

    He went on to list the main elements of the reform and achievements so far, including introduction of a document slotting system and greater compliance with meeting schedules.  Most significantly, the Department had been able to achieve a sound budgetary position, thanks to rational meetings and documents planning and attendant organizational restructuring and workflow optimization.  Mechanisms had been established for more efficient management of resources.  As a result, there had been considerable reductions in over-expenditure in such areas as temporary assistance and overtime.

    That was no armchair exercise, however, he said.  The past year had been a learning process for the Department, during which time adjustments had been made in response to a myriad of complications, unforeseen or unforeseeable, without relaxing efforts at reform.  For example, as a first step towards electronic processing of documentation, the Department had introduced e-Flow for the electronic transmission of documents.  Bearing in mind the long-term goal of full-fledged printing-on-demand, the Department had also installed the first batch of related equipment, as part of a mix of traditional and modern technology that would respond to varying needs in the most cost-effective manner.

    In terms of concordance of draft resolutions prior to their adoption by the Assembly, the Department was going to expand its pilot project during the current session from the First Committee to the Fourth and Sixth Committees.  Expending that practice to all resolutions, however, would depend largely on changes in the working methods and programmes of work of the main bodies.

    As only so much could be done at a given time, a number of projects had been intentionally set aside at the initial stage of reform, he said.  Building on the success so far, the Department was getting ready for more new projects.  For instance, it had launched a comprehensive study on integrated global management of conference-related resources covering the four main duty stations.  Also vigorously pursued was consolidation of reports on related subjects.  The Department intended to set up task forces to look at ways to more effectively deal with those reports, that were not within the purview of the Secretary-General and propose solutions.

    In conclusion, he said that the past year had been pivotal for the reform, as it had allowed the Department to determine whether it was moving in the right direction.  It had also been a difficult year, as it was a quantum leap from knowing what was wrong to doing what was right.

    Introducing related reports of the Advisory Committee, Chairman of the ACABQ, CONRAD S. M. MSELLE, introduced a correction with reference to “the concept of integrated global management of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management”, which should have read “the concept of integrated global management of conference-related resources”.  He also stressed that interactive capability among various systems used by the duty stations to track conference servicing capacity was an essential prerequisite of global management of conference resources.

    Statements

    ROBERTO MARTINI (Italy), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associates States, expressed his concern at the continuing underutilization of conference services by numerous bodies, leading to a waste of resources.  The Union, therefore, supported the efforts being undertaken by the President of the Committee of Conferences to encourage greater usage of conference services by those bodies and equally supported the initiative of the Secretary-General to pursue consultations with the secretariats of the bodies concerned.  He hoped that those efforts would help to eliminate waste, especially through the reduction of unnecessary meetings.

    Regarding night and weekend meetings, he said that their prohibition allowed for a better-organized work routine, all the while making savings.  That decision should be applied with rigour, he said, and it provided a good example as far as further improvements in other areas were concerned.

    The Committee on Conferences must ensure that the timetables of meetings were strictly respected, he continued. In particular, documents must be made available sufficiently before their consideration. The Union supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to give free access to the public to the ODS, and to make a study of workload structures and performance measures.

    CANDICE EBBESEN (United States) said that her delegation had found the report on the Reform of the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management (A/58/213) to be a positive sign for the future of conference servicing.  Of all the reforms implemented by the Department, her delegation particularly welcomed the measures to alleviate the documentation backlog by introducing upstream planning, establishing a slotting system, implementing electronic documents processing and rigorously enforcing page limits.  Her delegation also appreciated the online version of the United Nations Journal.

     

    With respect to the Pattern of Conferences, her delegation shared the concern of the Committee on Conferences that the utilization factor at the four duty stations in 2002 was 75, five points below the benchmark of 80, and only a one-point improvement from 2001.  The loss of resources as a result of late starts, early endings and cancellation of meetings would be largely avoidable if the chairmen of the various committees planned appropriately and communicated closely with the Department.

    Regarding meetings of regional and other major groupings, her delegation was strongly in favour of maintaining the current policy of providing conference services on an ad hoc basis.  The ad hoc arrangement had proved to be successful in the past and could continue to be successful if groups clearly communicated their requests to the Department as early as possible.  Further, her delegation would encourage the Department to work with the chairmen of the other main committees and major conferences in making arrangements with regional groups.

    The Department comprised 16 per cent of the United Nations budget and had made strong efforts to avoid budget overruns in 2002-2003 that had been unfortunately common in 1999, 2000 and 2001, she continued.  It was, therefore, her delegation’s view that providing regular budget funding for regional and other groups that met on an as necessary and erratic basis would weaken the Department’s current strong budgetary position.  Perhaps more important, only the expenses of the Organization should be borne by Member States.  Her delegation would also have to disassociate from consensus regarding the Calendar of Conferences for 2004-2005, she said.  It did not support providing conference services to the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian Peoples, and by extension, could not agree to allow that body an exception to meet during the General Assembly.

    NORMA ELAINE TAYLOR ROBERTS (Jamaica) said that she was pleased with the activities carried out by the Department, particularly in the area of documentation production and distribution.  She also appreciated the work to provide conference services to regional groups and noted an improvement in that area.  She hoped that with advance planning, further improvements would be achieved.

    Turning to the “print-on-demand” initiative, she expressed hope that the new procedure would be applied in a careful manner to avoid affecting the right of Member States to receive parliamentary documentation needed for their work.  Noting various provisions related to the posting of documents on the Official Document System in all official languages, she also said that the principle should not be applied in “a totally inflexible manner”.

    In conclusion, she added that her delegation supported the time lines for reforms and would support further work in that area.

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