9 March 2005
UN Strategy for Information, Communication Technologies among Issues Taken Up by Budget Committee
Facilities for Economic Commission for Africa, Work of Liaison Offices, Report of UN Fund for International Partnerships Also Discussed
NEW YORK, 8 March (UN Headquarters) -- Under its review of the programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning addressed a number of issues, including: a strategy for information and communication technologies in the United Nations system; construction of additional office facilities for the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; the New York liaison offices of United Nations entities headquartered elsewhere; the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships; and standards for air travel.
Welcoming efforts to carry out a modern information and communication technologies (ICT) strategy throughout the United Nations Secretariat, the representative of Belgium, on behalf of the European Union, said such a strategy must ensure further integration, standardization and unification of infrastructures throughout the United Nations system. He, therefore, deplored the huge differences that would remain between the ICT strategies of the United Nations Secretariat and the specialized agencies.
The representative of the Republic of Korea, while welcoming the fact that the implementation of ICT strategy in the United Nations had contributed to a reduction in overall support costs and estimated savings of $33.3 million, said a more proactive approach was needed to coordinate ICT efforts within the United Nations system to ensure that the requirements of all organizations and Member States were met as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Among the examples of such coordination within the Secretariat, he mentioned coordination of Internet service among the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and various other entities in Africa. Such synergies existed not just within the Secretariat, he said, but across the United Nations system as a whole, and they should be exploited wherever possible.
As the Committee turned to the construction of additional office facilities at the ECA in Addis Ababa, the representative of Jamaica, on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, noted that, according to the report on that matter, the original implementation schedule had been revised to ensure that the final project was Headquarters-Minimum Operating Security Standards (H-MOSS) compliant, and the construction phase was now scheduled to start in June. She trusted that the Commission would make every effort to meet the targets set in the revised project schedule.
Other speakers on the issue expressed the hope that the new facilities would address the acute need for office space and enable the Commission to accommodate the United Nations organizations that were presently located outside the compound. They also thanked the Government of Ethiopia for its support of the project, in particular by granting additional land amounting to some 27,260 square metres.
Several speakers also expressed support for the important work performed by the New York liaison offices of United Nations organizations that were headquartered elsewhere and hoped the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) would consider ways, during its consideration of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2006-2007, to strengthen the offices.
The representative of South Africa said the liaison offices provided a valuable link for Member States and other Secretariat structures with the parent offices, which could not be replaced by ICT. Also, the various liaison offices performed important substantive activities that differed from parent body to parent body. She was, therefore, not convinced of the merits of any proposal to consolidate those services.
Regarding the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), South Africas representative said that partnerships with non-State actors played a growing role in the work of the Organization, and recent conferences had given further impetus to the growth of partnerships in terms of both project partnerships on the ground and strategic global partnerships. The UNFIP activities continued to play an important role with respect to implementation of commitments made at the major United Nations conferences and summits and to working towards the Millennium Development Goals.
The Committee recommended that the General Assembly take note of the report of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships.
Other matters addressed during this mornings meeting were the review of operation and management of United Nations Libraries, and standards for air travel.
Reports were introduced by Eduardo Blinder, Director, Information and Technology Services division; Jonathan Childerley, Senior Management Analyst, Department of Management; Amir Dossal, Executive Director, UNFIP; and Vladimir Kuznetsov, Chair, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.
The representatives of Ethiopia, United States, Russian Federation, Syria, Cuba, Brazil and Guatemala also took the floor.
The Committee will take up the administration of justice within the United Nations at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 9 March.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning continued its consideration of the programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005. It had before it:
-- The report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the review of operation and management of United Nations Libraries (document A/59/373);
-- The Secretary-Generals report on review of liaison offices in New York of United Nations organizations that are headquartered elsewhere (document A/59/395) and the related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/59/552);
-- The Secretary-Generals report on the information and communications technology strategy (document A/59/265) and the related ACABQ report (document A/59/558);
-- The Secretary-Generals report on construction of additional office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) (document A/59/444) and the related ACABQ report (document A/59/572);
-- The Secretary-Generals report on standards for air travel (document A/59/523) and the related ACABQ report (document A/59/573); and
-- The Secretary-Generals report on the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) (document A/59/170).
Those reports are summarized in yesterdays Press Release GA/AB/3659, as well as the introductions of the report on library services, liaison offices and construction of office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), by, respectively, Dileep Nair, Under-Secretary-General for Oversight Services; Dennis Thatchaichawalit, Chief, Political, Legal and Humanitarian Service of the Programme Planning and Budget Division; and Vladimir Belov, Chief, Common Services Unit of the Programme Planning and Budget Division.
Introduction of Reports
EDUARDO BLINDER, Director, Information and Technology Services Division, introducing the report on information and communication technology strategy (document A/59/265), said the current report was a progress report. An addendum that addressed possible steps for enhancement of the Galaxy system was to be finalized soon. The build-up of the infrastructure had been a priority for the Division. In addition to infrastructure improvements, the Division had undertaken, jointly with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, key operational activities.
Much had been done concerning security, he said. Apart from coping with the unprecedented amount of virus and spam attacks, several strategic issues had been taken up, including risk assessments in all offices away from Headquarters. At the policy level, a bulletin had addressed the proper use of issues. In coordination with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, satellite connectivity had been improved. Using the earth station in Belize, offices could use cheaper voice rates. Subregional offices of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) were also fully connected. Seminars had been conducted worldwide.
He said the establishment of the Project Review Committee had strengthened governance. All ICT (information and communication technology) initiatives now had to be approved by the Committee. The United Nations had participated in a working group that had established a comprehensive ICT strategy. In conclusion, he said he expected progress to continue.
JOHN CHILDERLEY, Chief, Oversight Support Unit, Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, introducing the report on standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/59/523), said since issuance of the report, the Department of Management had set up a database that records details of each exception requested. The administration had also initiated a review of guidelines governing exceptions to standards of accommodation of air travel. That review would identify possible ways to reduce the number of exceptions granted, particularly in the case of first-class travel.
AMIR DOSSAL, Executive director, United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), introducing the report on UNFIP (document A/59/170), said the report showed how the partnership with the Foundation had evolved and building relationships with the private sector had continued. The UNFIP was increasingly seen as a one-stop service for partnerships with the United Nations. The Service had seen exponential growth over the last few years in enquiries about partnerships.
Since the report, the Programme had grown to over $630 million in 2004. Very often, companies, non-governmental organizations and individuals approached UNFIP for advice on how to work with the United Nations system. Capacity for fielding those questions had been built up. Mentioning one example, he said the Polio Initiative was one of the partnerships in which the last mile had been approached. The World Bank had been approached to buy down some of the debt and use the funds saved for buying vaccine. That project had been concluded successfully. Another example was the regrettable events of the December tsunami in Asia, which had brought together the worlds people. Mr. Turner had personally contributed $5 million to strengthen the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The UNFIP was now working with OCHA to strengthen accountability mechanisms.
VLADIMIR KUZNETSOV, Chair, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the related Advisory Committee reports. Regarding the construction for additional office capacities for ECA in Addis Ababa, the Committee cautioned that the new building should allow much more space for regional activities. The ACABQ also recommends that a clear understanding be reached in advance with United Nations entities in order to allow for better planning.
On standards for air travel, the Advisory Committee noted that the number of exceptions had increased significantly and requested that exceptions for first and business travel should be backed up by data. Travel should always be by the most direct and economical route. Given developments in the airline industry, the Committee believes the time had come for reconsideration of the whole issue of first-class travel.
KARL VAN DEN BOSSCHE (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that, while the Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the Library of the United Nations Office at Geneva had adopted advanced technologies, other libraries lagged behind in that respect, which impeded an accurate assessment of staffing requirements. The Union supported, therefore, the elaboration of a new United Nations library policy. Regarding the review of liaison offices in New York, he hoped that the presence of those offices added value to the work of the delegations in the various bodies of that organization. Taking note of the ACABQ comments, he said that issue should be taken up in the broader perspective of the budget negotiations.
Welcoming efforts to obtain a modern ICT-strategy throughout the United Nations Secretariat, he said the ICT-strategy must ensure future further integration, standardization and unification of infrastructures throughout the United Nations system. He, therefore, deplored the huge differences that would remain between the ICT-strategies of the United Nations Secretariat and the specialized agencies. He also expressed interest in the relationship between the costs under the second building-block -- securities policies + business continuity (paragraph 15 of the report) -- and the future costs of data-protection, mirror-servers and other back-up devices.
He said the lack of progress on the issue of construction of additional office facilities at the ECA was disappointing and raised questions about the use of considering the item in March or in May. Despite all problems, the Union supported the ACABQ recommendations to make maximum use of the building. He sought clarification on how requests from other United Nations entities to obtain office space in the new building could be accommodated.
He noted with concern that, despite efforts to curtail exceptions to standards of accommodation for air travel, they continued to increase, which in 2004 had represented an additional cost of $442,482. He would like to hear more about the ACABQ proposal on the future limited use of first-class travel. In conclusion, he said the work of United Nations Fund for International Partnerships was an example of public-private partnerships in a win-win situation. It underlined the value of corporate social responsibility and provided seed money for several valuable goals in the sphere of the Millennium Development Goals.
Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, NORMA TAYLOR ROBERTS (Jamaica) stressed that any amendment to the United Nations policy on libraries should be developed in conjunction with Member States. The libraries of the specialized agencies should be invited to participate in the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries. While automation could assist in improving the delivery of services provided by the libraries, attention should be paid to making more documents available in electronic format in all official languages of the Organization. The Group supported the need for harmonization and collaboration on the use of technology and the Internet in all United Nations libraries.
Turning to the construction of additional office facilities at the ECA, she said that the original implementation schedule had been revised to ensure that the final project was Headquarters Minimum Operating Security Standards (H-MOSS) compliant, and the construction phase was now scheduled to start in June. She trusted that the Commission would make every effort to meet the targets set in the revised project schedule. Also, noting the undertaking to keep the project costs within the budget approved by the Assembly in its resolution 56/270, she said that the Group expected the Secretariat to be able to provide the Committee with an update of the financial impact of security-related enhancements to the building design. The Group also wished to express its appreciation to the Government of Ethiopia for generously allocating additional land to the Commission and re-routing public roads to accommodate the project.
On the audit of air safety standards, she noted that the use of air services by the United Nations for peacekeeping was on the increase. While every effort must be made to ensure that aircraft services were procured at best available terms, there could be no compromise on safety. The report before the Committee contained a number of pertinent recommendations, which deserved speedy implementation. She looked forward to ascertaining the status of their implementation during informal consultations.
HAILE SELASSIE GETACHEW (Ethiopia) said that his Government had always shown its commitment for the success of the Addis Ababa project, in particular, by granting additional land amounting to some 27,260 square metres. In order to meet the H-MOSS, the Administration of the city of Addis Ababa had promptly responded to the request by the ECA to re-route and close a very important street that would have separated the major part of the ECA complex from the additional land. It had also closed adjacent parking lots. The Government of Ethiopia and Addis Ababa administration stood ready to cooperate with the ECA in all areas and looked forward to the expedient commencement of the next phases of the project.
KAREN LOCK (South Africa), associating herself with the statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said she hoped that the ECA would be able to implement the revised project schedule for the construction of additional office facilities, and complete the construction phase by April 2007. She also hoped that the new facilities would address the acute need for office space and enable the Commission to accommodate the United Nations organizations that were presently located outside the compound.
Commending the UNFIP, she said it was clear that partnerships with non-State actors played a growing role in the work of the Organization and recent conferences had given further impetus to the growth of partnerships in terms of both project partnerships on the ground and strategic global partnerships.
The UNFIP activities continued to play an important role with respect to implementation of commitments made at the major United Nations conferences and summits and to working towards the Millennium Development Goals.
She also expressed support for the important work performed by the liaison offices in New York of organizations that were headquartered elsewhere. She hoped the ACABQ would consider ways, during its consideration of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2006-2007, to strengthen the offices. The liaison offices provided a valuable link for Member States and other Secretariat structures with the parent offices, which could not be replaced by ICT. Also, the various liaison offices performed important substantive activities that differed from parent body to parent body. She was, therefore, not convinced of the merits of any proposal to consolidate those services.
She said the liaison offices of the five regional commissions had been consolidated into a single office, the Regional Commission Office in New York. It might be opportune to consider whether that consolidation had been to the benefit of the individual regional commissions and if it had strengthened the substantive work of the commissions. She reiterated that the Assembly should consider means to strengthen certain sections in the regular budget that presently were largely funded from extrabudgetary means, such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). Those matters would be taken up when considering the next budget proposal of the Secretary-General.
YOO DAE-JONG (Republic of Korea) welcomed the fact that the implementation of ICT strategy in the United Nations had contributed to a reduction in overall support costs and estimated savings of $33.3 million, with the bulk of the savings in the administrative and conference service areas. The follow-the-sun approach to resource allocation and the optimal use of satellite Internet links for offices away from Headquarters were strong examples of how support costs had been reduced. He looked forward to hearing from the Secretariat in the near future on the estimates of the return on investment in the context of the budget for the next biennium. Another positive development mentioned in the Secretary-Generals report was the provision of free public access to the Official Document System (ODS).
As the Board of Auditors had pointed out, a more proactive approach was needed to coordinate ICT efforts within the United Nations system to ensure that the requirements of all organizations and Member States were met as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, he continued. Among the examples of such coordination within the Secretariat, he mentioned consolidation of the operations of the Communications and Information Technology Service and the Information Technology Services Division, as well as coordination of Internet service among the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and various other entities in Africa. Such synergies existed not just within the Secretariat, but across the United Nations system as a whole, and they should be exploited, wherever possible.
On human resources, he said that the ACABQ had correctly pointed out that the use of the Galaxy system to automate the assignment of candidates to current vacancies would speed up the selection process. On the other hand, a staff selection system based on quantitative factors ran the risk of judging candidates by their backgrounds, not by their demonstrated capabilities, integrity and devotion. According to the report, the prototype vacancy matching system had been completed, and his delegation would appreciate an initial evaluation of its effectiveness from the Secretariat.
BENJAMIN GARCIA (United States) noted that the ACABQ had called on the Assembly to give further guidance on the use of first-class air travel. He said first-class air travel should be severely restricted and only be utilized in the most exceptional cases.
VLADIMIR A. IOSIFOV (Russian Federation) agreed with the contents, conclusions and recommendations of the report on the functioning of United Nations libraries. He supported the mechanism used by the Steering Committee to modernize the libraries and to enhance effectiveness and accessibility of United Nations services. The Steering Committee had been working successfully in reorganizing and coordinating United Nations library systems. He emphasized the importance of establishing new library policies within offices of the United Nations system and the need for sufficient funding for that goal.
MHD. NAJIB ELJI (Syria) associated himself with the position of the Group of 77 and China and said that, as some of the OIOS recommendations on the United Nations libraries referred to their overall policy and mandate, the views of the Committee on Information were very important in that regard. On standards of air travel, he said that the high costs involved were a source of concern, and he agreed with the ACABQ comments in that regard.
On the review of liaison offices in New York, he appreciated the support for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, but other bodies also had important mandates and did not enjoy the same level of support. More support should be provided to other offices, as well.
Turning to the ICT, he said that technology staff should provide support for all official languages of the United Nations. User-friendly technologies must be made available, and the structures must be harmonized at all work stations. Use of technology should not be an end in itself. Rather, it should be a means of providing information on the Organizations activities and legislative mandates. All methods used should be cost-effective. He supported strengthening the internal chain in the United Nations in that respect. He also noted that the experience with videoconferencing through the Internet had shown that the methodology had not yet been sufficiently developed. He hoped that quick wireless access to the Internet would soon be available more widely. It was very helpful to delegates and visitors. He was also pleased about free access to ODS.
He also requested additional information on revitalization of post-disaster recovery. As far as income for investment was concerned, the report before the Committee focused on a quantitative approach, but it was important to focus on quality, as well. Regarding Galaxy, he said it was important to look at how it was evolving in the light of the most recent resolution on human resources management. Concern had been voiced by the Assembly, and he hoped the Administration would take it into account. He also requested information about automatic recruitment for vacancies.
He added that one of the reports before the Committee contained information on two Department of Political Affairs projects. One related to the transfer of files within the Electoral Affairs Division and the other to the drawing of a geographical map of the occupied Palestinian territory. He wanted to know why the second project had ended.
BERTI OLIVA (Cuba), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that, regarding standards of air travel, he supported the review of criteria used for first- and business-class travel. He asked the Advisory Committee for clarification regarding the various levels of business class and intermediate classes, as mentioned in paragraph 10 of its report.
He thanked the Government of Ethiopia for its support for the construction of additional facilities for the ECA. He said he trusted that the new time frame would be complied with. As for United Nations libraries, he asked for more details on the statement in the report relating to the lack of motivation for library staff because there was minimal prospect for career development. On the report on liaison offices, he hoped that the ACABQ, when reviewing the matter, would take into account the importance of those offices, which made a real contribution to their organizations mandates. He fully supported the statement of the representative of South Africa on that matter.
CAIO MARIO RENAULT (Brazil) said that, regarding the construction of ECA facilities, he associated himself fully with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, as well as the statement made by the representative of South Africa. He also thanked the Government of Ethiopia for its support of the project.
KARLA GABRIELA SAMAYOA-RECARI (Guatemala), aligning herself with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the representative of Brazil on construction of facilities for the ECA in Addis Ababa, also thanked the Government of Ethiopia for its support of the project.
Responding to comments and questions from the floor, Mr. BLINDER said that the report on ICT had come out in September 2004 and, in the six months since then, significant progress had been achieved. An approved ICT strategy was being finalized, and he hoped it would be presented to the General Assembly during its next session. A series of steps had been outlined to address the digital divide among United Nations agencies, as well. A report would soon be issued on the global approach to data recovery and security. It would contain many answers to the questions of interest to the delegates. A review of Galaxy was being undertaken, and a report on that was being finalized, as well.
On ICT, he said that Syrias representative was right regarding the fact that Internet protocols on videoconferencing were not fully mature. Videoconferencing at the United Nations was now being implemented through a more reliable voice-carrying protocol. The United Nations was also moving ahead in implementing wireless connectivity. Regarding projects undertaken by the Department of Political Affairs, he would be able to present an answer after consulting with representatives from the Department.
PATRICIA AZARIAS, Director of the Internal Audit Division, OIOS, responded to questions regarding the United Nations libraries report. She said that the report would be made available to the Committee on Information within a week. The conclusions on inadequate staff motivation had been made on the basis of staff interviews at different levels in New York and Geneva.
In answering representatives questions, Mr. KUZNETSOV, Chair of the ACABQ, said the rule of who was entitled to first-class air travel was rather broad. Also, a number of exceptions for first-class travel had been authorized for personal aids and security officers. As for some recent developments in the airline industry, he said that there was a trend towards limited use of first-class travel. Some airlines had eliminated first-class entirely, choosing for advanced business-class arrangements. Taking into account the broad definition of people entitled to first-class travel and the latest developments in the airline industry, the Committee, therefore, advised the Secretariat to look into the issue of a review of first-class travel.
Regarding a question about the Galaxy system, he said that efforts had been undertaken to speed up the selection process to fill vacancies by identifying candidates for vacancies expeditiously.
Mr. ELJI (Syria) asked for more information about selection of candidates in the new automated way and wanted to know if that practice was an exception to the recommendations and general rules adopted by the Assembly.
The Committee recommended that the General Assembly take note of the report of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (document A/59/170).
* *** *