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General Assembly: Fifth Committee

Note: Owing to the liquidity crisis and the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting our Organization, only a partial summary of statements made in today’s meeting of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is available at this time.  The complete summary will be issued later as Press Release GA/AB/4363.

Organization of Work

The representative of Guinea, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, acknowledged recent efforts to issue Secretariat reports on time but underscored the need for further improvement as it is critical to facilitating discussions.  Human resources management should be considered holistically as a package rather than in a piecemeal manner, in order to reach concrete outcomes on such issues as gender parity, equitable geographical representation, performance management and staff selection.  Accountability is also necessary in any entity.  The Group places special emphasis on this issue and will actively participate in the Committee’s deliberations on other issues, he said, including the construction of and property management at the United Nations Office in Nairobi and the subvention for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, as well as the standards of accommodation of air travel, the United Nations common system and the report of the Joint Inspection Unit.

The representative of Mali, speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, acknowledged an improvement in the problem of the late issuance of reports by the Secretariat, adding however that there is plenty of room to do better.  In the same vein, he regretted the lack of interpretation during crucial parts of the Committee’s work.  Emphasizing the importance of human resources and a diverse workforce that is equally and geographically representative of the Organization’s membership, he said that the topic requires the Committee’s greatest attention and that this session must strive for a positive outcome, thus giving clear direction to the Secretary-General to bolster management reform.  Turning to the construction of conference facilities at the United Nations Office in Nairobi, he stressed the importance of using local capacity and local materials, in addition to drawing upon best practices and lessons learned to ensure that the project is completed on time and on budget.

The speaker for the European Union said that the bloc remains a staunch supporter of more modern and more effective human resource policies at the United Nations.  In that regard, the Secretary-General should use the full extent of his prerogatives under the Charter.  This session offers, for the first time, an opportunity to focus on human resources management issues and strive to agree on reform principles to meet the Organization’s current and future needs.  Turning to accountability, he said that the Organization must continue to foster a culture of ethics and transparency to prevent and address any type of misconduct.  He went on to reiterate full support for improving the Committee’s working methods with a view to making its meetings more efficient and productive.  While acknowledging the special circumstances of the resumed session, he said that the lack of proper multilingualism is detrimental to its inclusiveness and ultimately its quality.  Hopefully, this problem can be resolved sooner rather than later.

The representative of the United States expressed support for the critical efforts being made by the Secretariat to improve mandate delivery, increase transparency, and empower managers and staff, as per General Assembly resolution 72/266, which set into motion the Secretary-General’s comprehensive management reform plan.  However, Member States must not abdicate their responsibility to act on decisions that have been pending for several years and they must work to strengthen, when appropriate, policies that underpin reform efforts.  She looked forward to considering the Secretary-General’s tenth report on accountability and the opportunity to assess the Organization’s accountability framework, as well as results-based management and the important work of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division.  She encouraged the Secretariat to fully leverage the efficiencies that the Umoja enterprise resource management system can bring, and added that her delegation will work to resolves other important items, including air travel, conditions of service for judges, construction at the United Nation Office in Nairobi, and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The speaker for Mexico said that the work programme includes issues of interest to his delegation, as they imply the possibility of continuing to reform the Secretariat to build an agile, effective and efficient Organization.  Human resources are important assets of the Organization, but personnel costs represent a large part of its expenses.  Therefore, it is essential that the Secretariat apply policies and modern and effective procedures that match the size and relevance of the services provided by the United Nations both in its Headquarters as well as in the field.  Mexico supports moves to eliminate the use of the first class in air travel based on lessons learned from virtual meetings and remote work during the pandemic, he said.

The representative of China noted that no resolution on human resources management has been adopted in the past two years, depriving an opportunity for the Secretariat to receive due guidance from Member States.  Geographical representation is a longstanding issue, and the number of unrepresented and under-represented Member States has yet to be lowered.  The Secretariat should take effective, tailored and result-based measures to address this issue, especially under-representation of a vast number of developing countries.  China supports the Secretariat to further enhance accountability, continuously strengthen the comprehensive budget performance management and improve internal control, with the aim of better supporting management reform.

The speaker for Japan, noting that the Committee has not approved a human resources management resolution in several years, said his delegation intends to engage constructively with all partners on this item and on accountability, the jurisdictional setup of the United Nations common system and air travel.  The jurisdictional setup is a key factor to ensuring inter-agency fairness in service conditions for staff, and his delegation will consider the Secretary-General’s proposed options from the perspective of the common system’s stability.  Worthy of discussion on the issue of air travel is creating a single threshold to establish a more simplified, efficient process.  A new threshold should achieve cost- efficiency, he said, anticipating the consideration of various working methods more frequently used due to the pandemic.  Welcoming the Pension Board’s report on governance, he said it is a positive signal of its commitment, and Japan anticipated receiving concrete reform plans in the main session, which should include substantial changes to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its performance.

The representative of Indonesia, aligning himself with the Group of 77, said the United Nations has become the cornerstone of global deliberations to tackle the ongoing pandemic, relying on the Fifth Committee to ensure its proper financing and functioning.  As the Committee faces a daunting task ahead, he said his delegation will remain an active member and proponent of a fair, effective and transparent United Nations, with administrative and budgetary matters being among clear parameters of its operations and performance.  Reiterating Indonesia’s full support for the improvement of the Committee’s work, he said negotiations must be conducted in a more productive manner, with delegations engaging constructively and considering the spirit of compromise.  The main objective must be to reach a common outmode to achieve consensus for the best interest of the Organization.

The speaker for the Russian Federation, noting that 50 reports have been submitted for Member States’ consideration, expressed his delegation’s readiness to consider the Secretary-General’s proposals, primarily whether they meet criteria for the Secretariat’s efficient and effective functioning.  The Assembly last adopted a full-fledged resolution on human resources management at its seventy-first session.  Now is the time to set the correct course for personnel policies of the Organization.  Citing paragraph 3 of Article 101 of the United Nations Charter, which defines the principle of personnel selection, he stressed the need to improve geographical representation.  The Russian Federation is wary of new approaches that have not received Member States’ approval, including regional diversity.  Any actions by the Secretariat on its own initiatives must comply with Assembly resolutions and decisions.  Underlining the key parameters of the personnel diversity framework developed by the Commission on International Civil Service (ICSC) and approved by the Assembly during the seventy-third session, he said it is important to consider various matters, including cultural aspects, multilingualism, and representation of different generations.  The Secretary-General’s report on the review of the personnel policy is not fully consistent with ICSC framework.

Also speaking on this topic were representatives of Botswana, Republic of Korea, Ecuador and the United Kingdom.

The Fifth Committee then approved its organization of work (A/C.5/75/L.24) without a vote.

Human Resources Management

CATHERINE POLLARD, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, presented five reports of the Secretary-General dealing with human resources management.  The report titled “Overview of human resources management reform for the period 2019–2020 and an outlook beyond” (document A/75/540) highlights the influence of Organization-specific concerns and broader contexts on human resources reforms, with an emphasis on achievements and results rather than the inputs and activities that were needed to put them in place, she explained.  The same report articulates the three longer-term outcomes — agility, diversity and accountability — that the reforms will ultimately achieve.  It also presents the way ahead and priorities for the near future.

Turning to the report titled “New Approach to Staff Mobility: Building an agile Organization through providing staff with learning and skill development opportunities on-the-job” (document A/75/540/Add.1), she said that the Organization used to focus on geographic and functional mobility.  Its new approach — which closely links career advancement with skills acquisition and development — is geared towards geographical movement to ensure mandate delivery and opportunities for staff to gain broader experience through service across Headquarters and non-Headquarters locations.  This new approach is being implemented on a gradual basis over a long term as currently serving staff retire and newly recruited staff join the Organization.

The reports titled “Composition of the Secretariat: staff demographics” (document A/75/591) and “Composition of the Secretariat: gratis personnel, retired staff and consultants and individual contractors” (document A/75/591/Add.1) feature, for the first time, additional in-depth analysis of factors that have an impact on progress towards improving diversity in the Secretariat, with a focus on key challenges and opportunities towards achieving gender parity and geographical diversity.  She added that the report titled “Practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour, 1 January to 31 December 2019” (document A/75/648) includes summaries of individual cases and information to better explain some of the factors taken into account when disciplinary measures were imposed.

She went on to say that the Secretariat is developing a new career enhancement framework to help staff achieve career fulfilment.  In that regard, she recalled the Secretary-General’s request in 2018 that the General Assembly lift barriers which hinder staff in the General Service and related categories from competing for positions at the Professional level.  Removing such barriers would not only alleviate some of the difficulties which General Service staff face for career enhancement and satisfaction, but also contribute to the Secretariat’s efforts to improve equitable geographic representation.  Hopefully, the Assembly will consider that and other proposals favourably, she said.

ELIA YI ARMSTRONG, Director, United Nations Ethics Office, presented the Secretary-General’s report titled “Activities of the Ethics Office” (document A/75/82 and A/75/82/Corr.1), saying that 2019 was its busiest year, having responded to 2,141 requests for services, compared with 1,966 in the previous year.  The Office continues to advise on due diligence, reputational risk management and best practices in corporate compliance programmes, she said.  Going forward, the Office is counting on adequate budget support for the Financial Disclosure Programme, which helps staff identify and manage personal conflicts of interest.  She went on to highlight the merits of the Secretary-General’s proposals, made in 2017, for strengthening the Office’s independence.  Those include direct presentation of the Office’s annual report to the General Assembly, the ability for the Office to bring matters to the attention of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee, and increasing the rank of the Head of the Office, which would promote greater acceptance by senior leadership of ethics advice and reinforce the importance of the ethics function in the Organization.

ABDALLAH BACHAR BONG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s related reports on human resources management (documents A/75/765, A/75/756, A/75/775, A/75/771 and A/75/776).  Among other things, he recommended that the Assembly request the Secretary-General to provide annual performance information, broken down by entity, and to evaluate the rating system used for staff performance appraisals.  He acknowledged the Secretary-General’s efforts to ensure business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic and to support the health, well-being and work-life balance of staff.  The next overview report should include an update on lessons learned and challenges experienced during the pandemic for the planning of future work.

He requested that the Secretary-General provide both greater clarity and updated information on the current status of the approved staff mobility framework, which was paused in 2017.  For now, major components of the new approach on mobility remain undefined or require more analysis and clarification, including on the impact on external recruitment.  Taking into account the projected doubling of mobility costs — from $36.8 million to $76.9 million — in the first eight years of implementation, he recommended that the Secretary-General, in his next report, explain how mobility costs can be contained within existing resources.  The ACABQ also recommended that the Board of Auditors oversee the new mobility approach, given its scale, costs and risks.

Commenting on the two reports on the Secretariat’s composition, he said that the Advisory Committee looks forward to guidelines to optimize the use of locally recruited staff and to build more local capacity.  He also reiterated the Committee’s recommendation that more analysis be undertaken on increasing the number of high-level Secretariat posts, with specific long-term solutions to be submitted to the Assembly for its consideration.  The ACABQ also looks forward to the inclusion of more junior-level posts in the context of further budget submissions.  With regards to gratis personnel, retired staff and consultants and individual contractors, he expressed concern about the ongoing reliance of retired staff, saying that that runs counter to the need to rejuvenate the Secretariat.

Turning to the Secretary-General’s report on disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour, he noted, among other things, an increase in the average time taken to dispose of cases.  He encouraged the Secretary-General to do more to fully recoup losses arising from misconduct by staff members, and to provide more information on ways to strengthen protections for staff who come forward with complaints.  He concluded by saying that, subject to the comments and recommendations set out in its report, the ACABQ recommends that the Assembly take note of the report.

Mr. BONG also introduced the ACABQ’s related report on the activities of the Ethics Office (document A/75/515).  Among other things, he conveyed the Advisory Committee’s call for a consolidated online gift registry throughout the Secretariat.  He noted that any revisions to the stature, reporting line and governance structure of the Ethics Office would have implications for the Secretariat and the Organization as a whole.  He went on to say that the proposal to reclassify the position of Head of the Ethics Office to the Assistant Secretary-General level is not justified, given that the credibility of the Office’s advisory role does not reside in the level of its Head but rather in its mandate and functions.

PATRICIA NEMETH, President, United Nations Staff Union and Vice-President for Conditions of Service of the Coordinating Committee for International Staff Unions and Associations of the United Nations System, said that the Staff Unions shared the ACABQ’s concerns regarding the Secretariat’s human resources strategy, which lacks a detailed vision of how to attain the high-level aspirations that it invokes.  She noted that neither the strategy for 2019-2021 nor its successor were drafted in consultation with the Staff Unions, an anomaly that hopefully can be corrected in the future.  The Staff Unions also echo the Advisory Committee’s concerns regarding the latest mobility proposal, she said, adding that claims that “staff representatives generally support the new approach” are an overstatement.

She asked the Assembly to keep pressing for genuine accountability in the area of conduct and discipline.  Harassment and abuse of authority remain leading concerns, but for staff members a lack of trust in the current system and fear of retaliation stand in the way of reporting misconduct.  Simple measures, such as anonymity or a zero-tolerance policy against retaliation, would be better.  Pointing to a set of amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules, she requested the Assembly to dismiss one proposal — intended to limit the jurisdiction of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal to grant interim measures — which was not drafted in consultation with staff.

The Staff Unions fully support the Secretary-General’s proposal to allow all staff serving in the General Service and related categories and in the Field Service category to apply for positions in the Professional category up to the P-3 level, she said, appealing to Member States to end “this obsolete and antagonistic limitation”.  She added that several challenges remain with regards to the Young Professionals Programme, including career stagnation at the P-2, a high percentage of resignations among P-2 and P-3 staff, a low percentage of entry-level P-2 posts, and a lengthy placement process for successful candidates.

The representative of Guinea, speaking for the Group of 77 and China, expressed serious concern about the persistent imbalance in geographical representation in the Secretariat, urging the Secretary-General to expand efforts to achieve equitable geographical representation across the Organization, especially at senior levels.  Due attention needs to be given to troop- and police-contributing countries.  Noting that the system of desirable ranges for representation was established in 1960, he said the Committee should not shy away from embracing changes that come in order to advance the Organization.  Welcoming the continuous rise in the number of female staff members, which stands at 38.4 per cent of the global workforce of the Secretariat, he also pointed out that women represent less than 50 per cent of overall senior positions.  It is disheartening to see that the percentage of women from developing countries at that level is disproportionately low.

The number of entry-level positions, at the P-1 and P-2 level, continue to decrease, he pointed out, arguing that this limits the recruitment of fresh talent from unrepresented and underrepresented developing States.  As language skills are an important factor in selection processes, the two working languages of the Secretariat must be respected and due consideration should be given to a good command of the official languages when selecting candidates for specific duty stations.  Efforts made so far to reach out to potential candidates from unrepresented and underrepresented countries, particularly developing countries, have not been successful, he observed.

The representative of Singapore, speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the composition of the staff should accurately reflect the Organization’s international character.  While commending the Secretariat’s efforts in producing the new Geographical Diversity Strategy, he reiterated that the principle of equitable geographical representation should not be undermined by broader concepts, such as regional diversity.  Achieving equitable geographical representation should receive just as much attention as gender parity in the United Nations, particularly at the senior levels.  ASEAN urges the Secretary-General to take concrete steps to improve the recruitment and rejuvenation of United Nations staff, to address the trend of the ageing workforce, he said.

Requesting the Secretary-General to regularly report tangible improvements in geographical representation to the General Assembly, he also demanded that these updates should include analysis of the root causes of the lack of representation and under-representation of developing countries and measures to tackle them.  Cognizant of the United Nations ongoing liquidity challenges, he however argued that expenditure in training should not be put off in exchange for achieving short-term savings.  In-house capacity should continue to be strengthened.  He urged the Secretary-General to not lose sight of this important aspect of human resources management and to continue investing in the necessary training and development for staff.

The representative of Australia, also speaking for Canada and New Zealand, stressed that the Organization’s most valuable asset is its staff, expressing appreciation to personnel for working under difficult conditions, and to the Secretariat for adapting and improving the welfare of staff.  Underscoring the importance of gender parity, professionalism and efficiency in the workforce, he expressed support for the Secretary-General’s reform efforts.  He went on to express regret that the General Assembly was not able to reach consensus on a human resources management resolution at its seventy-second and seventh-third sessions, stressing the need for the Secretariat to receive clear direction from Member States.

The speaker for the European Union, noting that a more modern, efficient human resources system remains at the centre of the Secretary-General’s global strategy on the issue, said United Nations personnel must reflect diversity and gender parity while incorporating new and younger staff.  A well-functioning mobility framework is also important, he said, welcoming the new approach, which should be paired with training and a smoother transition of General Service staff to Professional posts.  Highlighting other important elements, including implementing a robust accountability framework as part of management reform efforts, he said staff actions must reflect the Organization’s values.  Welcoming Ethics Office efforts, he said there must be a continuation of fostering an ethical culture, promoting transparency and preventing and addressing misconduct.  Attaching great importance to proposed amendments to Staff Rules and Regulations, he said all these goals must be translated into tangible and clear guidelines for the Secretariat.  Highlighting the need to find a sustainable solution to address the indemnities paid to seconded active-duty military and police personnel, he expressed hope that the Secretariat’s proposed options are considered as the Fifth Committee tackles the issue of potential conflict between related national legislation and the Organization’s Staff Rules and Regulations.  For the first time, this session provides an opportunity to predominantly focus on human resources management in a manner that will hopefully help the Committee reach a meaningful outcome.

The representative of Mali, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said its members are committed to working towards the Fifth Committee’s approval of a resolution on human resources management.  Taking note of the Secretary-General’s related efforts to achieve equitable geographical distribution in the Secretariat, he underlined the urgent need to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure this balance as part of the overall human resources strategy.  Regretting to note a lack of concrete proposals to achieve this goal, he noted with concern that senior managers of Secretariat departments are far from appointing staff from unrepresented and under-represented Member States to at least 50 per cent of posts.   The process of increasing developing countries’ representation must be expedited so the United Nations can deal with the more complex global challenges that transcend borders.  The African Group is concerned about the vacancy of posts subject to geographical distribution and the temporary occupancy by staff without such status, which negatively affects an already low number of such positions, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 65/247. 

On the issue of gender balance, he highlighted the low percentage of female staff in field operations and called for further efforts to attract and retain them.  In January 2021, the African Group initiated a position statement, “Standing together to combat racism and racial discrimination and all other forms of intolerance at the United Nations”, he said, thanking delegations that co-sponsored it.  While the African Group recognizes the Secretary-General’s related instructions and guidance materials, he emphasized the need to build upon progress achieved and to intensify efforts to rigorously implement all necessary measures to detect, deter and eliminate any room for racism and racial discrimination across the Organization.  He also underlined the importance of equity in the use of the United Nations six official languages and the need to respect the equality of its two working languages.

The representative of Switzerland, speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, said that it was unfortunate that for several sessions, the Committee was unable to reach agreement on human resources management issues, leaving it now with a range of different reports to consider and important decisions to take.  The Organization’s leadership must lead by example and address human resources management as a clear priority, with special attention given to gender equality in leadership and middle-management positions as well as in field services.  He also welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposals on staff mobility, which would enable the United Nations to address current challenges while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of its workforce.

The speaker for Botswana, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that his delegation is pleased to see “a bit of movement” in terms of human resources management, but added that more can still be done, with due consideration to equitable geographical representation at all levels of the Secretariat.  To address the issue of unrepresented and under-represented Member States, the system must be restructured through an equitable share mechanism based on how the regular budget is funded.  He drew attention to the need to review staff selection and recruitment processes, the recruitment of rostered candidates and the alarming growth in senior posts over junior ones.

The representative of the Philippines supported the recommendation of ACABQ to broaden the pool of applicants in the internship programme, particularly from unrepresented and under-represented Member States.  His delegation also agrees that there is a need to reassess the continued hiring of a significant number of consultants and individual contractors for extended contractual periods.  The Secretariat should present options to reduce the Organization’s reliance on individual contractors and improve internal expertise and skills.  The Philippines calls for the continued protection of staff in G-level posts and those with fixed-term employment across all regions, who have very good track records in their respective areas of service.

The speaker for Morocco, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, emphasized that human resources management is the foundation of organizational success.  Commending the attainment of full parity at the senior management level in the Secretariat as part of broader management reform since 2017, she noted that women are largely represented in her country’s mission to the United Nations, numbering 10 female diplomats.  Noting the Secretary-General’s report on reform overview and the Advisory Committee’s related report, she said Morocco will actively participate in the discussion on that topic.

Also speaking on this agenda item were representatives of Libya, Japan and Indonesia.

Closing Remarks

Ms. POLLARD stressed that the Secretary-General is committed to strengthen the Organization and the cornerstone of his efforts is to increase staff from unrepresented and under-represented countries, as well as to address similar gaps among posts not subject to geographical representation.

Mr. BONG then said that he took note of requests for the timely issuance of reports.


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