Press Releases

     

    GA/AB/3586
    3 November 2003

    INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT, SECRETARIAT
    POST STRUCTURE AMONG ISSUES RAISED IN
    FIFTH COMMITTEE BUDGET DEBATE

    NEW YORK, 31 October (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning took up a series of reports highlighting various aspects of the Organization’s financing and the need to achieve greater productivity in 2004-2005, and concluded its general debate on the proposed programme budget for that period.

    Among the issues addressed in the reports were the use of information technology and information management within the United Nations system, functioning of the Development Account and the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), the post structure of the Secretariat, and modernization of the conference facilities in Nairobi. 

    Representatives of Pakistan and Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), insisted that investments in information and communication technology (ICT) were key to the modernization of the United Nations and achievement of productivity gains within the Organization.  In that connection, Canada’s representative expressed disappointment that the use of technology had not brought about more efficient working practices in several regional commissions, where the ratio of General Service staff remained high in relation to the number of Professional posts.

    Responding to that concern, the Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, Warren Sach -- who also introduced several reports today -- said that a policy was in place to address the problem.  There had been 41 per cent more General Service posts than Professional posts in 1998-1999.  That percentage had fallen to 37 per cent in the current biennium.  The budget proposal for the next biennium envisioned a General Service to Professional ratio of 1.33 to 1.

    Japan’s representative stressed that for the Organization to be able to implement its activities as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, it was inevitable to address the top-heavy post structure of the Secretariat.  The staff at the D-2 and D-1 levels comprised 2 and 6 per cent of the staff, respectively.  Those figures were too high.  The post structure of the United Nations should become more pyramid-shaped, with more staff at the P-1 to P-3 levels.

    The representative of Pakistan supported the activities of UNFIP and welcomed the fact that the United Nations was increasingly inclined to explore the concept of international partnerships.  For example, yesterday’s High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development had been aimed at that goal.  Endorsing a comprehensive and long-term approach adopted by the Fund, he welcomed the fact that the Fund had incorporated the Millennium Development Goals in its activities.

     

    Botswana’s representative confirmed the position of the African Group on the need to modernize conference facilities in Nairobi.  He accepted recommendations contained in the report before the Committee, on the understanding that they constituted phase 1 of the project, which envisioned increasing the capacity by some 300 seats, installation of modern, simultaneous interpretation equipment and upgrading the sound, air-conditioning and data-distribution system.

    Documents were also introduced by Sumihiro Kuyama of the Joint Inspection Unit (through videoconferencing from Geneva); the representative of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, Jaime Sevilla; the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Conrad S.M. Mselle; Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Central Support Services, Andrew Toh; Executive Director of UNFIP, Amir Dossal; United Nations Controller, Jean-Pierre Halbwachs; and Muhammad Yussuf of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU).

    Also participating in the discussion were representatives of the United States, Oman, Mauritius, Cuba, Uruguay, Syria and Nigeria.

    The Committee will continue its consideration of the reports introduced today and take up the issue of the United Nations common system at 9:30 a.m. Monday, 3 November.

    Background

    The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning was expected to conclude its consideration of the budget for the next biennium and take up several reports in connection with that proposal, including those on information technology, the development account, the financial situation of the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) and conference servicing of regional groups.

    The Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report presenting his reviewed information and communication technology (ICT) strategy (document A/57/620), which was initially submitted in his plan of action during the fifty-fifth session (document A/55/780).  By resolution 56/239 of 24 December 2001, the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to resubmit the plan of action, taking into account the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).  Those focused on the need to develop a specific plan to improve efficiency and provide a clear definition of responsibilities within the Secretariat, ensure improved coordination and reduction of duplication.

    Outlining the proposed strategy, the Secretary-General states that tangible returns would be sought in such core areas as sharing and dissemination of the Organization’s institutional knowledge, administrative and management processes, and servicing the United Nations organs and governing bodies.  The main “building blocks” of the new plan of action include creating a robust infrastructure; putting in place security provisions to ensure business continuity and systems integrity; ensuring reliable connectivity with the field; and providing efficient utilization of personnel in possession of focused skills in key technologies and practices.

    Annex I to the report contains a table of most notable projects and initiatives envisioned for 2002-2005.  Under the new plan, the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) would continue to play a pre-eminent role in the administrative process of the Secretariat for at least another five years.  Also important would be such information systems as Galaxy, e-PAS, Human Resources Handbook, Budget Information System and ProcurePlus.  In the area of knowledge-sharing, the strategy envisions functioning of “information hubs” in focus areas, which would comprise global “communities of interest” dedicated to substantive subjects chartered by the Organization.  As part of the restructuring of the Department of Public Information (DPI), Web-based activities are being strengthened and centralized.

    An essential requirement in the area of e-management and knowledge-sharing is the need to enable field offices to connect to the United Nations Secretariat network, the report states.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations has taken a leading role in ensuring that the local infrastructure at all peacekeeping and political missions is adequate and capable of connection to Headquarters through satellite and land-based links.  The proposed strategy also includes plans to connect the United Nations information centres (UNICs) to the Intranet by using secure virtual private network technology.  The Information Technology Services Division is responsible for the provision of central support and ensuring full connectivity to the Secretariat Intranet.

    Entrusted with coordination and harmonization of ICT initiatives is the Information and Communications Technology Board -- an interdepartmental body established through Secretary-General’s bulletin ST/SGB/2001/5.  Chaired by the Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, the Board was fully constituted in October 2001, and its six subject area task forces began operating in January 2002.

    Another Secretary-General’s report before the Committee on ICT deals with the implementation of General Assembly resolution 57/304 of 15 April 2003 (document A/58/377), which addressed the scope of the information and communication technology strategy.  In the course of a review of the matter during the fifty-seventh session, the Secretariat provided to the Assembly concrete examples of the impact on the ICT activities of the budget cuts, which were introduced in 2002-2003.

    The power blackout that affected the United States on 14 and 15 August and its impact on the United Nations activities provided a clear example of the risks involved in operating an ICT infrastructure with inadequate safeguards and support services, the report states.  As a result of having to rely on a single Internet service provider, due to lack of funding to procure a back-up provider, Internet services were not available immediately after the electrical power was restored. As a consequence, connectivity with the field was interrupted, and IMIS operations, electronic mail and the United Nations Web site were not operating.  The Official Document System (ODS) was not available, as well.

    The Secretary-General points out that, as the Organization has come to rely on several ICT infrastructure components and services for its everyday operations, it is critical that these be treated more as essential utilities, rather than as optional investments.  Without prejudice to the need for solid justification in the case of systems development initiatives, essential infrastructure maintenance should never be compromised.

    In a related report (document A/58/7), the ACABQ states that the report of the Secretary-General on ICT strategy represents an advance compared with what has previously been submitted, but more remains to be done to move from a mere aggregation of what the United Nations is already doing to a clear and focused strategic plan.  In particular, the link between the three main focus areas of the strategy and actual estimates for each of the sections of the proposed budget for 2004-2005 has not been made clear.  The timing of the formulation of the budget and the consideration of the ICT strategy by the Assembly may have hindered the ability of the Secretariat to reflect the strategy in current budget estimates, and future estimates for ICT should be explained with clear references to the ICT strategy.

    The Advisory Committee further notes that a lack of effective governance and leadership is the cause of the apparently piecemeal systems and databases developed in the Secretariat as a whole, including those for peacekeeping activities.  The number of task forces and the frequency of meetings should be minimized; moreover, the role of the Steering Committee on Reform and Management Policy in the governance of ICT needs to be clarified.  The Advisory Committee continues to be unhappy with the structure and scope of leadership in this area.  The proposals of the Secretary-General on governance would not provide coherent integrated and consistent leadership in directing ICT for the United Nations.

    If the current trend continues, the Organization may well spend in excess of $1 billion (including peacekeeping) in the next five years. It is now necessary to ensure that such expenditure leads to greater benefits by streamlining processes, by increasing efficiency and productivity, and by ensuring that Member States have accurate and timely information for decision-making.  The Advisory Committee, therefore, recommends a thorough review of the resources devoted to ICT coordination, control and direction throughout the United Nations with a view to the creation of a new senior position of Chief Information Officer of the United Nations.  The incumbent would report directly to the Deputy Secretary-General and should possess a high degree of technical experience and expertise along with proven managerial and leadership ability.

    A note by the Secretary-General before the Committee (document A/58/82) transmits the Report of the Joint Inspection Unit entitled “Managing information in the United Nations system organizations:  management information systems”, whose objective is to review the experiences of management information systems within the United Nations system and draw lessons thereon, and to provide a set of guidelines on the matter.

    Although there have recently been some positive developments in related matters, not all executive managers in the United Nations system have fully recognized the importance of information management, the report states.  The first step towards effective management of information resources is to develop an organization-wide information management strategy.  A number of organizations in the United Nations system are developing or are interested in introducing an integrated organization-wide resource management system called the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.  This solution would have merits, including support for results-based management.  However, many organizations have failed to meet the necessary conditions required for cost-effective implementation of such a system, including streamlining existing work processes, putting a management structure in place, and establishing an operational plan.

    The Inspectors also found that no commonly agreed way of computing costs of management information system projects has been established within the United Nations. A number of organizations are not even in a position to provide financial implications of their management information system projects.  The report recommends that legislative organs should request the executive heads of respective organizations to prepare and submit, for review and appropriate action, a comprehensive strategy for information management/management information systems.   Also recommended in the report is nomination of a Chief Information Officer and establishment of a standardized cost classification.

    A related report (document A/58/82/Add.1) transmits the comments of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU).  The members of the CEB generally concur with most of the findings and conclusions of the report, and agree with the actions recommended by the JIU to foster greater cost-effectiveness and promote more sharing and learning among the organizations of the system in the exploitation of modern ICT to improve management.

    In a related report (document A/58/389), the Advisory Committee agrees with the CEB that the JIU report provides a good overview and inventory of the experience in management systems in the United Nations system and a good baseline for understanding the great variety of experiences across the system.  The ACABQ also points to the continuing need for a technical analysis of various systems that would enable decision makers to obtain an understanding of relative costs and benefits.  It is also important for the organizations to provide a time frame for the completion of information technology projects. In response to a request for clarifications on the CEB response to one of the recommendations, the Advisory Committee was informed that CEB members felt that the Chief Information Officer should be able to interpret the substantive guidance and policy advice emanating from legislative bodies, in accordance with operational requirements of concerned organizations.  In that connection, the ACABQ points out that while from time to time legislative bodies may provide guidance, their primary role is to set policy rather than advise on it.

    Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s third progress report on the implementation of projects financed from the Development Account (document A/58/404), which contribute to capacity-building in developing countries in specific areas related to follow-up to global conferences in the economic and social fields.  According to the document, both the implementation rate and reporting on results have improved.  The approach, where the support of the project is provided through the use of capacities and knowledge that already exist in the Secretariat, appears to be both cost-effective and relevant.

    According to the document, such operational modalities as joint execution, networking of expertise, application of ICT, building of partnerships and ensuring local ownership, prove to be beneficial for the use of the Account’s limited resources.  Evaluation and monitoring of Development Account projects with strong focus on lessons learned, results and accomplishments should be further improved, the report concludes.  Lessons learned should effectively feed into the design of new projects and activities.

    In a related report (document A/58/7/Add.5) the ACABQ asks for increased emphasis on the pace of implementation of projects and on the results achieved, rather than on a description of efforts taken and processes followed in the course of implementation.  The ACABQ concurs with the Secretary-General’s conclusions on the matter and recalls that it has made a number of comments and recommendations on the Development Account in its first report on the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005. It recommends that the Secretary-General incorporate information on the implementation of projects financed from the Development Account in his proposed programme budgets, thus, obviating the need for presenting a separate report.

    Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) (document A/58/173).  According to the report in 2002, the Fund continued to play its role as a focal point for the partnership with the United Nations Foundation, and collaborated with the Foundation to support innovative, high-impact projects.  Special emphasis was placed on working with the United Nations implementing partners and the United Nations Development Group on joint proposals at the field level.  At the end of 2002, the programme portfolio stood at 251 projects totalling $489 million, involving project activities in 120 countries carried out by 39 United Nations implementing partners.

    A total of $69.3 million has been programmed for the year 2002 -- $33.1 million for projects relating to children’s health, $20.6 million for projects concerning the environment, $10.3 million for projects regarding population and women, $3.1 million for projects in the peace, security and human rights area, and $2.2 million for institutional capacity-building.

    The Secretary-General’s report on the review of the post structure of the United Nations (document A/58/398) was prepared pursuant to General Assembly decision 57/574, in which it took note of last year’s report of the Secretary-General on the matter (document A/57/483) and requested the Secretary-General to include, in the context of the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005, more information on the question of post structure, and in particular to provide a comparison of the post structure of the Secretariat with other multilateral organizations not covered in the report.

    Responding to that request, this year’s report confirms the findings reported in document A/57/483.  Following a new analysis of the post structure in the United Nations and other bodies of the United Nations system, the document states that no anomalies were noted that could be characterized as top-heaviness of the Secretariat structure vis-à-vis comparative post structures throughout the organizations of the United Nations common system.

     In a related report (document A/58/7/Add.5), the ACABQ recommends that   the General Assembly take note of the report of the Secretary-General. Notwithstanding, the Advisory Committee points out that the comprehensive review was conducted with a number of critical constraints.  For example, the Advisory Committee expresses concern over the fact that the Secretary-General was not in a position to obtain data from “some organizations, particularly those outside the United Nations common system, and some governments”, which considered “data on grade structure to be sensitive” and were reluctant to provide it to the Secretariat.

    Another report before the Committee discusses the cost implications of providing more predictable and adequate conference services to the meetings of regional and other major groupings of Member States (document A/58/397).  At present, it is the practice of the Organization to service such meetings on an ad hoc basis from within the existing capacity of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.  While no dedicated resources have been allocated in the programme budget for those services, the costs associated with them have customarily been met from within the overall budget resources of the Organization.

    An analysis of the existing mandate for servicing such meetings, the capacity of relevant departments and offices and the level of resources currently available, as well as the level of resources in the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005, leads to an unavoidable conclusion that a change in mandate and consequent programming of additional conference time and allocation of related financial resources would be the most practical solution to providing more predictable and adequate conference services to the meetings of regional and other major groupings of Member States.

    Should the General Assembly decide to change the mandate and establish, effective for the biennium 2004-2005, such arrangements for meetings of the regional and other major groupings of Member States, additional resources in the amount of some $7.97 million would be required for the biennium 2004-2005.

    Having considered this report, the Advisory Committee (document A/58/7/Add.5, II) found the additional information provided to it regarding the requirements for security coverage, cleaning and utilities to be unconvincing.  The ACABQ is of the opinion that the estimate for those purposes in the amount of some $3.23 million, can, at this stage, be deleted.

    Whether or not to change the existing mandate for the provision of conference services to regional and other major groupings of Member States is a policy decision to be made by the General Assembly, it states.  Should the Assembly decide to approve a change in the existing mandate, the Advisory Committee recommends that an estimate of $4.74 million be approved, subject to the procedures for the use and operation of the contingency fund.  The Secretary-General should report, in the context of the first performance report on the programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005, on the utilization of the amount appropriated.

    The Secretary-General’s report on the proportion of General Service staff to Professional staff in the regional commissions (document A/58/403) confirms -- as noted in resolution 56/253 -- that a higher overall ratio of G to P posts exists in four of the regional commissions than in other economic and social departments.  Those commissions are:  Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

    The report attributes the current proportion of G to P staff there to broader coverage of services under the programme support component of the regional commissions, which include not only finance, budgeting, management and personnel administration, but also the management of technical cooperation programmes, conference and library, security and other services.  While ICT investments will eventually lead to improvements in the efficiency of support services, most regional commissions continue to rely heavily on their own staff owing to limited availability of outsourcing opportunities in their localities.

    Commenting on this document, the Advisory Committee (document A/58/7/Add.5, III) recommends that the Assembly take note of the report and that information contained in it also be considered in the context of the review of proposed resource requirements for the regional commissions for 2004-2005.

    Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on improving and modernizing the conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi in order to accommodate adequately major meetings and conferences (document A/58/530).  According to the document, with an increased number of meetings over the past four years, the seating capacity and versatility of the Conference Centre no longer meet the requirements of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), for which they were initially constructed, owing to the large number of participants from non-governmental organizations.

    Two phases have been identified to improve and modernize conference facilities at Nairobi.  The initial phase would involve the modernization of existing conference facilities at an estimated cost of $3,479,000. It envisions increasing the capacity by some 300 seats, installation of modern simultaneous interpretation equipment and upgrading the sound, air-conditioning and data-distribution system.  The second phase involves possible additional construction in the future.

    In a related report (document A/58/7/Add.6), the Advisory Committee recommends that the Assembly authorize the modernization of the existing conference facilities at Nairobi at the total estimated cost of $3,479,000.

    Regarding expenditures deriving from inflation, the Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General (document A/58/400), which contains information on the practices followed by other international organizations in budgeting for currency fluctuations, inflation, reserves account and funds and working capital funds.  According to the Secretary-General, the information is based on the recently updated study of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination on budgeting in organizations of the United Nations system.

    The Advisory Committee, in a related report (document A/58/7/Add.5, IV), finds the information provided in the annex to the Secretary-General’s report useful and well organized.  The ACABQ points out that it has commented quite extensively on the issue of additional expenditures deriving from inflation and currency fluctuations and recommends that the Assembly take note of the report of the Secretary-General.

    In view of the critical financial situation of INSTRAW, the Committee was going to consider a report of the Secretary-General on the financial situation of that body (document A/58/426).  In addition to other measures, the Assembly, by resolutions 57/175 and 57/311, urged the Secretary-General to appoint without delay a Director of the Institute.  According to the document, mainly because the Director had not yet been appointed and the level of activities has been low, expenditures for the period from 1 January to 30 September 2003 were below previous estimates and amounted to $360,253.

    As a result of the lower-than-expected level of expenditures for the period from 1 January to 30 September 2003 and the additional grant of $250,000 from the United Nations regular budget approved by the General Assembly in its resolution 57/311, it is possible to project the unencumbered balance of the INSTRAW Trust Fund at the end of the year at approximately $450,000.  Those resources would allow continuation of operations of the Institute to the end of May 2004, albeit at a sub-optimal level.  It is proposed that the Assembly take note of the report.

    Improvements to Current Process of Planning and Budgeting

    The documents on this issue included the report of the Secretary-General on improvements to the current process of planning and budgeting (documents A/58/395 and Corr.1) and the report of the Joint Inspection Unit on the review of the United Nations budgetary process (document A/58/375).  Both documents recall that during last year’s session, the Secretary-General in document A/57/387 expressed his view that the current process of planning and budgeting in the United Nations was seriously flawed, because it was complex, protracted, disjointed, time-consuming and rigid.

    This year, the Secretary-General, in his report, proposes a strategic framework to be considered biennially, consisting of two parts:  an improved and renamed medium-term plan, and an interlinked and expanded budget outline to ensure a strategic connection between programmes and resource allocation.  The Secretary-General also proposes the enhancement of the role of the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) with respect to monitoring programme performance and evaluation.  The proposals follow upon the adoption of results-based budgeting by the General Assembly and streamlined presentation of the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005, now being considered by the General Assembly.

    The Joint Inspection Unit, in its report, concurs with the Secretary-General on the need to improve the process.  The Inspectors point out that various elements of the process need to be reviewed, based on a clear identification of their deficiencies, to better reflect and serve the shift to results-based budgeting and management.

    According to the report, planning and programming at the United Nations suffer from a lack of strategic guidance and poorly conceived programmes.  The medium-term pan is proving to be both untimely and inflexible for detailed programming, and an impractical tool for priority setting.  The budget outline has exhausted its mainly political purpose to facilitate adherence to the consensus practice in view of the financial constraints imposed on the Organization, and is failing to be a meaningful tool for setting priorities.

    The cost of the budgetary process for a biennium exceeds $20 million, the Inspectors continue.  On average, this is comparable to some 0.75 per cent of the budget, or the level of the contingency fund.  This cost would be significantly higher, however, if the national costs of Member States’ internal review and participation in the process were considered.  The Inspectors believe any reformed budgetary process must be more cost-efficient.  At the same time, Member States' oversight role throughout the process must not be diminished.

    Based on these considerations, the Inspectors pose several alternatives to be considered by the Assembly.  The option preferred by the Inspectors, however, involves preparation of a strategic framework; a strategic programme budget; an enhanced system of monitoring and evaluation; and an improved governance process.  It envisions elimination of the medium-term plan and the budget outline used in the present process, instead using the programme budget document as the main programming instrument for the biennium, to be strategically conceived based on the strategic framework.

    Commenting on those two documents, the Advisory Committee (document A/58/7/Add.5, I) points out that proposals to replace the present four-year medium-term plan by a biennial programme plan and to revise the role of the CPC would require a policy decision by the General Assembly.  In considering the future of the outline, it would be essential to take into account its importance as a tool for early involvement of Member States in the planning and budgeting process of the Organization.

    The Advisory Committee further cautions against the possibility of loading the budget outline with excessive additional information, thus, transforming it into a preliminary programme budget.  Therefore, it requests that the content and format of the new budget outline be clarified in the mock-up documents.  The Advisory Committee also requests that the timing for the submission and consideration of both parts of the “strategic framework” should be clarified in the report containing those mock-ups.  The ACABQ also expresses hope that the Secretary-General will clarify the proposed measures to improve the current process of programme performance, monitoring and evaluation, including a modified biennial programme performance report and improved format and timing of evaluation reports.

    With regard to the proposed identification of resources for monitoring and evaluation activities in all sections of the budget, the Advisory Committee is of the view that the proposal appears to be an essentially administrative measure and should, as such, be addressed in the context of the proposed programme budget, rather than in the context of overall issues intended to improve the process of planning and budgeting.

    And the last document before the Committee today was the Secretary-General’s report on intergovernmental review of the programme budget and medium-term plan (document A/57/786), which provides additional information on the Secretary-General’s proposals in connection with the review of the budget process and recommends that the role of the CPC be redefined.  In connection with the development of results-based budgeting, the CPC would have a strengthened role in the assessment of the results achieved at the end of the budget or plan period.  The Committee could rearrange its programme of work, enhance its working methods and guide the Secretariat in further refining the basic elements of results-based budgeting and developing tools for measuring results.

    To avoid duplication and facilitate the deliberations by Member States, the CPC would no longer have responsibility for reviewing the medium-term plan, the budget outline and the programme budgets.  While specialized intergovernmental bodies would continue to review relevant portions of the plan and programme of work within their own area of expertise, it is proposed that the entire plan and budget would, henceforth, be subject to a single-stage intergovernmental review by the Fifth Committee, which would continue to take into account technical recommendations of the ACABQ.

    Introductions

    SUMIHIRO KUYAMA, Inspector of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), through videoconferencing from Geneva, introduced the report of the Unit entitled Managing information in the United Nations system organizations:  management information systems (document A/58/82).  Despite the fact that the Organization had already spent over $1 billion on developing management information systems, the coordination of such systems was not satisfactory, he said.  In that connection, the report pointed to the need to develop an organization-wide information strategy in order to increase management efficiency.

    JAIME SEVILLA, representative of the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced a note by the Secretary-General transmitting his comments and those of the Chief Executives Board on the JIU’s report on management information systems (A/58/82/Add.1).

    CONRAD S.M. MSELLE, Chairman of the ACABQ, introduced the related report of the ACABQ.

    ANDREW TOH, Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Central Support Services, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on information and communication technology strategy contained in documents A/57/620 and A/58/377.  Governance of ICT activities in the United Nations Secretariat had been identified as a major concern, he said.  In that regard, a working group was currently in the final stages of finalizing the guidelines for the establishment of a project review committee to take stock of how ICT activities were managed in the Organization.

    Mr. MSELLE then introduced the related report of the ACABQ contained in documents A/58/7 and A/58/7/Corr.1.

    Statements

    JERRY KRAMER (Canada), also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said that investment in ICT was key to modernization of the United Nations and achievement of greater efficiency.  He welcomed the approach adopted in that respect.  The ACABQ had showed wisdom in supporting investments in ICT in the coming biennium, despite its concern over management and governance issues.  Member States should be provided with a better picture of how investments in ICT translated into efficiency and savings.

    He added that his concern about productivity gains was linked to the issue of a high ratio of G to P staff in regional commissions.  He had expected that the report before the Committee would show that the use of technology had brought about more efficient working practices.  The time had come to tackle that issue.

    AIZAZ AHMAD CHAUDHRY (Pakistan) said that the use of ICT was very important for the achievement of efficiency and productivity gains within the Organization.  The documents before the Committee emphasized that there was still a lot of scope for improved use of ICT.  He supported, in general terms, the reports presented today.

    Introductions

    WARREN SACH, Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the reports of the Secretary-General on the Development account (document A/58/404), the review of the post structure of the Secretariat (document A/58/398), the cost implications of providing more predictable and adequate conference services to meetings of regional and other major groupings of Member States (document A/58/397), the proportion of General Service staff to Professional staff in the regional commissions (document A/58/403), improving and modernizing the conference facilities in Nairobi (document A/58/530), and the question of additional expenditures deriving from inflation and currency fluctuation (document A/58/400).

    Responding to a question asked by the representative of Canada concerning the ratio of General Service to Professional staff, he said that the matter had been and was continuing to be addressed.  Paragraph 65 of the introduction to the budget had illustrated the progress made over past years.  In the biennium 1998-1999, there had been 41 per cent more General Service posts than Professional posts.  That number had since fallen, and in the new biennium 2004-2005 the ratio of General Service to Professional staff was just 33 per cent higher.

    Mr. MSELLE introduced the relevant reports of the ACABQ contained in documents A/58/7/Add.5 and A/58/7/Add.6.

    AMIR DOSSAL, Executive Director of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships, introduced the report of the Secretary-General on the Fund (document A/58/173).

    Addressing the comprehensive review of the post structure of the Secretariat and additional expenditures deriving from inflation and currency fluctuations, SHINICKI YAMANAKA (Japan) said that Member States had quite often pointed out that the post structure of the Secretariat was top-heavy and should become more pyramid-shaped, with more staff at the P-1 to P-3 levels.  That issue had been addressed in several General Assembly resolutions, including 41/213, 51/241, 54/249, 56/253 and 57/305.  In particular, in resolution 57/305, the Assembly had reaffirmed its request to the Secretary-general not to decrease the proportion of entry-level posts for budgetary purposes.

    In order to enhance the capacity of the United Nations to implement the tasks entrusted to it as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, it was inevitable to address the top-heavy post structure of the Secretariat, he said.  His delegation would like to request the Secretary-General to compare it with the post structures in government organs of major countries, in addition to those of other international organizations, which also tended to be top-heavy.  While the Assembly in its decision 57/574 had requested the Secretary-General to provide a comparison of the post structure of the Secretariat with other multilateral organizations not covered in document A/57/483, as well as with those of some Member States, no information had been provided on a comparison of the post structure of the Secretariat with Member States.

    Regarding grade equivalencies, he said that on the basis of a recommendation of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), the Assembly had approved grade equivalencies between the United Nations common system for the P-1 to D-1 levels and respective grades of the United States Civil Service.  According to the Secretary-General’s report, staff at the D-2 and D-1 levels comprised 2 and 6 per cent of the staff, respectively.  Those figures were too high.

    Regarding additional expenditures deriving from inflation and currency fluctuations, he said a comprehensive solution to the problem was necessary.  In its resolution 41/213, the Assembly had approved efforts to absorb those expenditures, to the extent possible, through savings from the budget, without causing in any way a negative effect on programme delivery.  In that connection, he believed some savings, including those accruing from the economic measures introduced by the Secretary-General in February last year, should be utilized to the maximum extent possible.  As currencies invariably fluctuated and the United States dollar was likely to fluctuate further during the coming biennium, he questioned the validity of the current system of adjusting the estimate in a short time frame, on the basis of the latest forecast of inflation and the exchange rates.

    MELANIE ATTWOOLL (United States), commenting on the report of the Secretary-General on the review of the post structure within the Secretariat, asked that the Office of Human Resources Management fully implement organizational guidelines and review processes with a view to managing the staff table, as a whole.  Her delegation concurred with the suggestion contained in the report that programme managers should have greater flexibility to take staffing decisions, so long as they did not distort the staff table.

    Regarding the disproportionate level of General Service to Professional staff, she said that even though the ratio had decreased, the current staffing ratios were of particular concern to the United States.  Her delegation was troubled that past investment in information technology had not resulted in efficiencies.  For example, there was a high ratio of secretaries for Professional posts.  In an age when personal computers had reduced the need for secretarial support, such a large proportion was unnecessary.  Her delegation would appreciate receiving additional views form the ACABQ on that matter, she said.

    With regard to the United Nations Office at Nairobi, her delegation had noted that a request had been made for over $1 million to be funded through the contingency fund.  Why was that necessary? she asked.  Further, why had it not been included in this year’s budget document?

    Mr. CHAUDHRY (Pakistan) supported the objectives of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships.  He was particularly pleased that the Fund had incorporated in its activities the Millennium Development Goals, which were very important for his delegation.  He endorsed the direction set out in the report before the Committee as far as adoption of a comprehensive and long-term approach was concerned.

    At present, he continued, the United Nations was increasingly inclined to explore the concept of international partnerships. For example, yesterday’s High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development had been aimed at that goal.  He did not know to what extent the Fund would play a facilitating role in that respect, but it was showing positive tendencies.  He wanted to know what the Fund’s role would be in streamlining the relationship of the United Nations with the private sector.

    Commenting on the reports related to the modernization of conference facilities in Nairobi, COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE (Botswana) reconfirmed the position of the African Group on the issue.  He did agree with the statement in the report that modernization and improvement of Nairobi conference facilities should remain a priority.  Despite delayed issuance of the report, he welcomed the document as a step in the right direction.  The review of the situation had confirmed an expected increase by another 5 per cent of the number of meetings at the Nairobi Office in 2004-2005 and the poor physical condition of the conference centre.  It had also highlighted technological backwardness of the facility.  In further reviews of the situation, particular attention should be paid to those issues.

    Regarding the role of the information and communication technologies, he wanted to emphasize the need to continue investment in ICT across the board.  As for the recommendations and conclusions of the report, for the time being he accepted recommendations in paragraphs 22 and 23, on the understanding that they constituted phase I of the project.  He would continue to follow the issue.

    Mr. SACH responded to a question on why certain proposals for construction at the Nairobi Office had not been fully incorporated in the initial budget proposals.  He said that it was under the encouragement of Member States in April of this year that the requirements of Nairobi were more thoroughly examined, and that had been done in the middle of this year.  There was a great deal of equipment that had to be renewed, he said, and it was found to be appropriate to update each and every conference room.

    Replying to questions about post structure, he said that P-1 to P-3 posts had been increased over the years.  There was a persistent effort to increase the entry-level positions and to revitalize the Secretariat.  Furthermore, in 2004-2005, there was a lower proportion of D-1 and D-2 positions than in 1998-1999.

    Regarding the need to limit the number of General Service staff to Professional staff in the regional commissions, he said it was being looked into.  The matter could not be pursued, however, if there was consensus on the abolition of General Service posts, but not on the creation of new Professional posts.

    Turning to comments about the need for comparisons of the post structure of United Nations Secretariat to that of other organizations, he said that could be done, but it was a large and logistically difficult exercise.  In order for such a review to be carried out effectively, it would require an enormous amount of resources.  The nature of grade pyramids in different agencies varied greatly, and such a study would need to be undertaken with great care, he said.

    Responding to questions from the floor, Mr. DOSSAL, Executive Director of UNFIP, stressed the importance of the Dialogue on financing for development and said that the Fund worked on the type II partnerships, and networks of public-private partnerships.  Last year, the Secretary-General had made recommendations on improving the work methods on partnerships, which included a proposal to establish a partnership office to carry out various aspects of related activities under a single umbrella.  Essentially, the idea was to ensure that the identity of individual units would remain, but greater efficiency would be achieved.  He hoped in the coming months that recommendation would be implemented.

    As the Committee concluded its debate on the budget proposal, HUSSEIN MUGAIBIL (Oman) supported the position of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and said that for the Organization to carry out its increasingly complex activities, it needed to receive proper financing.  He agreed that the reform process should not be overlooked in the budget.  The amount of resources provided should not have an adverse effect on the activities of the United Nations.  He also reaffirmed the need to provide adequate financial and human resources for all the priority areas of the United Nations, in order to attain greater progress in efficiency, while ensuring flexibility in redeployment of resources and staff.

    He attached great importance to information technology, he said, which played an important role in the efforts to improve the productivity of the Organization and reduce expenditures.  He also supported the need to further improve the methodology of the budget, through results-based budgeting.  He wished for greater precision in the formulation of desired outputs.  There should be concordance between the results and objectives, based on the medium-term plan.  It was also necessary to attach priority to the objectives of development.

    JAGDISH KOONJUL (Mauritius), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said that the Alliance supported the Secretary-General in his efforts to reform the administrative and financial systems of the United Nations.  The Alliance was particularly interested in mainstreaming the results-based budgeting system, and felt that process would benefit from increased use of information technology and resources.  The medium-term plan was also of great importance, he said, and was a critical tool that facilitated the inclusiveness of Member States in the decision-making process of the United Nations.

    Continuing, he said that more flexibility should be given to programme managers, with a view to realizing concrete outcomes.  The Alliance also attached importance to the economic and social agenda of the United Nations and stressed the importance of the role of the Department of Public Information in the current critical times.

    The United Nations should strengthen its capacity to maintain momentum in the follow-up to United Nations conferences on development issues, he said.  The Alliance also highlighted the importance it attached to the conference to review the Barbados Plan of Action on the sustainable development of small island States, to be held in 2004.  It should have a focused agenda in order to ensure the necessary outcome, he said.

    The Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts and United Nations Controller, JEAN-PIERRE HALBWACHS, in his closing remarks, thanked all the delegations that had taken part in the debate on the proposed budget for 2004-2005.  The number of delegations who had taken part in the debate and the quality of the debate did confirm that it was an important task.

    A number of delegations also commented positively on the new format of the budget, and he had been pleased to hear that.  Speakers had also commented on the improvement made in result-based budgeting and the need to make further progress.  Progress had been made in that area, but it was recognized that more could be done.  He had also been gratified to hear support for the actions proposed by the Secretary-General in line with his reform initiatives, namely, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Special Adviser for Africa, the strengthening of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the organization of the Department of Public Information, as well as conference management and human rights.

    To facilitate the work of the Committee on the budget, the recosting of the budget had already been issued without waiting for December, as had been the case in the past.  The recosting was contained in document A/58/828.  That had been done in the hope that, with all the necessary information at its disposal, the Fifth Committee would arrive at an early decision on the budget.

    Finally, he recalled that the Secretary-General has indicated in his statement that the budget he had presented represented the bare minimum for the tasks that Member States had requested.  The Secretariat was faced with a paradox whereby, on the one hand, Member States kept entrusting the Secretariat with additional mandates and expected -- and rightly so -- it to deliver on these mandates, while, on the other hand, the will to provide the Secretariat with the resources required for those mandates was not there.

    NORMA GOICOCHEA ESTENOZ (Cuba) said that she had not received answers to the questions she had posed yesterday.  To follow up to what the Controller had said regarding the format of the budget presentation, the General Assembly, in its resolution 57/300, had legislated that the budget should be shorter and more strategic.  However, there had been no intergovernmental agreement on what kind of information should be included in the budget documents.  Yesterday, she had pointed out her delegation’s concern on that matter.  She would like the Secretariat to refer to the criteria it had followed in using that format and eliminating important information.  The General Assembly should have a more normative role in that respect.  The annexes which had been cut from the budget documents were needed for delegations to make an informed decision.

    Mr. HALBWACHS responded that in presenting his report on the reform of the Organization, the Secretary-General had indicated his intention to present a shorter and more strategic budget, which would not contain all the details.  That had been noted in resolution 57/300.  He was pleased that, by and large, a great number of delegations had commented positively on the new format.  How the budget was administered was decided by the General Assembly, which approved the budget section by section.  The Secretary-General did not have the authority to move funds from one part of the budget to another.  None of the existing rules had been affected by the shorter format.

    Ms. GOICOCHEA ESTENOZ (Cuba) said that in paragraph 88 of the introduction to the budget, the Secretariat had simply indicated that the proposed programme budget for 2004-2005 fulfilled the Secretary-General’s promise to deliver a shorter, more strategic budget, with supplementary details provided separately.  The detailed technical costing information previously provided in the annex to each section was now separately provided directly to the ACABQ.  That was wrong, because there had been no decision by the Assembly in that regard.

    Also, in her statement, she had referred not to the transfer of resources between sections, but to a resolution by which the Assembly had adopted results-based budgeting, deciding that any transfer of funds should be done with its approval.  Yesterday, she had asked a number of questions, to which she had not yet received answers.  Also, because of the importance of the item, it was necessary to approach the debate on the budget in a flexible manner.  She suggested that the debate should remain open, giving delegations an opportunity to come back to certain sections of the budget in formal meetings.

    Mr. HALBWACHS added that, after the Secretary-General had made his proposal on a shortened presentation of the budget, a conference room paper had been circulated, which explained how the Secretary-General intended to proceed in that regard.  The delegations had been given an opportunity to contribute to the discussion at that point.  The General Assembly then adopted resolution 57/300.

    SANTIAGO WINS (Uruguay) asked why, in the budget for conference services, funding had not been planned for three important conferences, namely, the follow-up to climate change, the certification and prevention of natural disasters, and the follow up to Yokohama.  Could an approximate cost for each of those meetings be provided? he asked.

    Mr. SACH replied that none of those meetings were included in conference servicing because they lacked mandates.  When such mandates were available, services could be provided for those bodies.

    NAJIB ELJY (Syria) said that his delegation would have wanted the budget discussions to be held on a section-by-section basis, and not as an overall discussion of all aspects at once.

    NONYE UDO (Nigeria) asked for further information regarding the submission of the budget for the Nairobi Office.

    Mr. SACH replied that the current funding related to a phase 1 for modernization of exiting facilities. The total cost of modernization was estimated to be over $3 million.  Only a portion of that had been included in the programme budget, however, so it was a case of piecing together available finance.

    Introduction of Further Reports

    Mr. HALBWACHS introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on an intergovernmental review of the medium-term plan and the programme budget (document A/57/786), and on improvements to the current process of planning and budgeting (documents A/58/395 and Corr.1)

    MUHAMMAD YUSSUF introduced the JIU report on the review of the United Nations budgetary process (document A/58/375).

    Comments of the ACABQ were introduced by Mr. MSELLE.

    Organization of Work

    As the Committee concluded its work for the day, representatives of Syria, Egypt and Cuba noted that documentation on two agenda items was not available.  Lateness in issuance to the extent that it would affect consideration of reports was not acceptable, and they did not agree to deferring the items in question.  Cuba’s representative also said that those responsible should be held accountable for the late issuance of the reports.

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