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Updated On: Thursday, March 30 2017
Development Issues

Speakers Question Travel, Consultancy Costs, as Fifth Committee Examines Proposed Budget of First United Nations Conference on Migration

Content by: UN General Assembly

Delegates questioned the nature of proposed additional travel and consultancy costs for the United Nations first-ever conference on migration, scheduled for 2018, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) examined reports detailing the event’s budget requirements.

Holding a conference to adopt a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration marked a milestone for international efforts, delegates said.  But the Secretary-General’s proposed $1.2 million price tag in 2017, and an additional $442,000 in 2018, to do so was excessive, according to the United States’ representative.  She said it would reflect poorly on Member States and the United Nations while opening the Organization to criticisms of being overly focused on conducting meetings instead of delivering on mandates.

The European Union’s delegate said he was surprised that no potential existed for absorption and reprioritization during the 2016-2017 biennium and also to learn that the United Nations Secretariat, several regional commissions and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had requested the assistance of consultants instead of in-house capacities.  Chad’s representative, speaking for the African Group, called for funding the conference and its preparatory process through the regular budget, with the voluntary trust fund covering travel and the participation of representatives from developing countries.

Pakistan’s representative supported the Secretary-General’s proposal.  As the large-scale cross-border movement of people showed no signs of abating, he said the pathway towards a global compact presented a moment of truth following the watershed 2016 high-level plenary meeting and the unanimous adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.  The real challenge at hand was translating commitment into action.

Bettina Tucci Bartsiotas, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, introduced a statement by the Secretary-General on the programme budget implications of the draft resolution authorizing the conference.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced a related report, recommending a number of reductions for the consultancy requirements and travel of staff and experts.  It also recommended against resource requests of conferencing facilities and an additional staff position within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

In considering reports on standards of accommodation for air travel, delegates raised a range of concerns about the sharp and costly spike in exceptions to existing rules while suggesting ways to reform a “fragmented” processing system marked by a low compliance level with the advance purchase policy and recurring overspending in budgets.  Succinctly summing up a common view, the United States’ representative said “air travel must be reformed”.

Urging further efforts to curtail overspending, delegates pointed to a ballooning number of Secretary-General-approved exceptions.  The European Union’s representative anticipated discussions about how a more centralized system could increase visibility and efficiency.  Speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Ecuador’s delegate looked forward to a close examination of the approved exceptions and emphasized that any policy changes or new formulations continued to remain the exclusive prerogative of the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly.

Stephen Cutts, Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the issue and Mr. Ruiz presented a related Advisory Committee report, containing recommendations, including that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to implement a pilot cost reduction scheme from January to December 2018.

The Fifth Committee also discussed proposed additional resources for 2017 for the Panel of Experts for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with Ms. Bartsiotas and Mr. Ruiz introducing the related reports of the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee, respectively.

The Committee will meet again at a date and time to be determined to continue its resumed session.

Standards of Accommodation for Air Travel

STEPHEN CUTTS, Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on standards of accommodation for air travel (document A/71/741 and A/71/741/Corr.1), which provided information on the matter for the two-year period ended 30 June 2016, comparative statistics of the period ended 30 June 2014, and trend analyses for the past 10 years.  In its resolution 67/254 A, the General Assembly had decided that, for official travellers below the level of Assistant Secretary-General and with certain provisos, the standard of accommodation for air travel would be business class if a single-leg journey was nine hours or more, and if a multi-leg journey of the combine travel time was 11 hours or more.  The Assembly had requested that the Secretary-General modify his administrative instructions to determine the duration of a journey based on the most economical route available, provided that the total additional time did not exceed the most direct route by four hours.  It endorsed recommendations to establish economy class for air travel for consultants and individual contractors, taking into account the circumstances of the traveller and the interests of the Organization.

In its resolution 69/274 A, the General Assembly requested that the Secretary-General limit the use of exceptions, conduct an analysis of the trends, and report thereon to the body, he said.  During the period covered by the current report, the largest increase of exceptions had been in the category of prominent persons caused by a stricter interpretation by the Administration than required.  The Assembly also requested that the Secretary-General review the use of exceptions for the category of prominent persons and to report thereon.  In the same resolution, the body requested that the Secretary-General report any new trends for making use of frequent flyer miles, detailed updates on the implementation of the Office of Internal Oversight Service’s recommendations on the comprehensive audit of air travel activities, and consolidated data on the gains achieved.  It also requested reporting on the effects of the implementation of Umoja in travel administration and an assessment of the United Nations standards of accommodation regarding class of air travel.  Furthermore, the General Assembly had endorsed the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions’ recommendation to conduct an analysis on the lump-sum option and provide an updated proposal in the context of the present report.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related report (document A/71/822), reiterating that resources for official travel should be utilized judiciously in the interest of the United Nations.  On standards of accommodation, the Advisory Committee noted the evolution since the 1970s of business class and recommended that the General Assembly review the United Nations policy on entitlements regarding first-class travel.  It took into consideration the frequent official travel by senior personnel on behalf of the Organization and recommended that the General Assembly ask the Secretary-General to implement a frequent flyer mile programme for official travel by personnel at the level of Assistant Secretary-General and above, beginning no later than January 2018.  The Advisory Committee noted that the Secretary-General had not included any proposal relating to the lump-sum payment option in his report.  For cost reduction, it recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to implement a pilot scheme from January to December 2018.

JONATHAN VIERA (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, concurred with the Advisory Committee’s recommendations on the issue of first class travel.  On frequent flyer miles, the Group understood the challenges in implementing such a programme at the corporate level and agreed with the findings that such a programme would outweigh any associated benefits and would require additional resources.  Concerned about the report’s attribution of the spike in travel exceptions that had been approved by the Secretary-General to changes that had been endorsed by the General Assembly, he said the Group would seek clarification on the issue and why such travel had been treated as exceptions, when paragraph 20 of resolution 67/254 A clearly mandated standards of accommodation for air travel.  He also noted with concern the low compliance rate with the advance purchase policy directive, agreeing with the Advisory Committee that the Secretariat should be encouraged to make stronger efforts in that regard.  Any policy changes or new formulations continued to remain the exclusive prerogative of the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly.

FIONA GRANT, European Union, said the same strict discipline that Member States applied to themselves must be applied to the United Nations as well.  The General Assembly could and should further refine its policy guidance on air travel to the Secretariat.  The huge increase in the number and cost of exceptions was a serious concern.  The accountability of managers to secure the judicious use of funds must be strengthened and incentives should be found to deal with long-standing weaknesses, including a low compliance level with the advance purchase policy and recurring overspending in travel budgets.  Inviting the Secretary-General to carry out a comprehensive review of air travel policy, she said that with Umoja, the Secretariat was now able to provide the General Assembly with comprehensive information on air travel activities.  Regarding the “fragmented” United Nations travel processing functions, she looked forward to discussing in informal consultations how a more centralized system could increase visibility and efficiency, and urged the Secretary-General to continue to make every effort to innovate and improve working practices.  In line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, she fully supported all steps by the Secretariat to reduce reliance on air travel, notably through technological solutions such as video-conferencing.

MAURA CONNELLY (United States) said “air travel must be reformed”, emphasizing that the Organization must continue to mitigate travel and associated costs by ensuring travel occurred only when necessary to implement mandate-related activities, by conducting virtual meetings and limiting the number of exceptions to the standards of accommodation.  Agreeing with the Advisory Committee’s findings, she said economy class should be the United Nations standard, as it was for national Governments of many Member States, and travel time requirements for the use of business class should be re-evaluated.  “Many Member States, including my own, have adjusted their travel policies to reflect modern-day travel alternatives and budgetary realities,” she said.  “The United Nations must adapt and focus its resources to where they can have the most positive impact on mandate delivery.”

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Expert Panel, Global Migration Compact

BETTINA TUCCI BARTSIOTAS, Assistant Secretary-General, Controller, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on estimates in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the General Assembly and/or Security Council, as they related to the Panel of Experts on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document A/71/365/Add.9).  The proposed resource requirements for 2017 for the Panel amounted to $697,400 and the creation of five additional positions in New York and associated travel and costs.

She also introduced a statement by the Secretary-General (document A/C.5/71/19) on the programme budget implications of draft resolution A/71/L.58 titled “Modalities for the intergovernmental negotiations of the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration”, in which the Secretary-General proposed $1.2 million in additional funds in 2017 under the 2016-2017 programme budget, charged against the contingency fund, for the conference on the matter.  An additional $442,000 would be required in 2018, under the 2018-2019 programme budget.  By the text, the General Assembly would decide to hold an intergovernmental conference to adopt an agenda for migration, ask the Secretary-General to prepare a note on the organization of the conference to be decided by Member States by January 2018 and request the General Assembly to organize a series of informal thematic sessions in 2017 to facilitate safe and orderly migration.

Mr. RUIZ of ACABQ then introduced its related report, acknowledging that the expanded mandate of the Panel of Experts would lead to an increased workload.  The Advisory Committee, however, was not convinced that additional tasks could be foreseen with any certainty.  The need for two separate posts in the Professional category was not justified, he said, adding that the Advisory Committee had recommended against the establishment of a P-4 Political Affairs Officer post.  Furthermore, as no adequate justification had been presented to increase meeting services support, it recommended against the establishment of a Meetings Assistant post.  It also recommended a small adjustment to travel related resources, reiterating that existing United Nations system facilities should be used for meetings and related activities.

On the modalities for the intergovernmental negotiations of a global compact for safe orderly and regular migration, the ACABQ recommended a number of reductions for the consultancy requirements and travel of staff and experts.  It also recommended against resource requests of conferencing facilities and an additional staff position within the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Further, the Advisory Committee noted the need for greater clarity of the role of the International Organization for Migration. 

It recommended the following additional appropriations in the 2026-2017 programme budget: $417,400 under section 1, Overall policymaking, direction and coordination; $160,200 under section 2, General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council affairs and conference management;  $79,000 under section 9, Economic and social affairs; $54,000 under section 16, International drug control, crime and terrorism prevention and criminal justice; $97,100 under section 18, Economic and social development in Africa; $71,200 under section 19, Economic and social development in Asia and the Pacific; $48,300, under section 21, Economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean; $52,000 under section 22, Economic and social development in Western Asia; and $8,400, under section 28, Public information.

Ms. PEREIRA (Ecuador), speaking again for the Group of 77 and China, supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to appropriate $1.2 million in 2016-2017 if the General Assembly adopted draft resolution A/71/L.58.  The Group recalled all mandates approved by General Assembly resolution 71/1, which had launched the process of intergovernmental negotiation for the adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration at a conference to be held in 2018.

ABDALLAH BACHAR BONG (Chad), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that given the unprecedented level of human mobility, the response must match the existing challenges.  The 2018 event would be the first ever major United Nations conference on the issue and a major milestone in the field of migration.  In addition, the global compact, which would be adopted, would be the first United Nations document to tackle all aspects of international migration.  The potential cost implications could not be estimated before the adoption of the modalities resolution.  Given that the adoption of “L.58” would generate additional charges to the contingency fund for the 2016-2017 biennium, the African Group called for funding the conference and its preparatory process through the regular budget, with the voluntary trust fund covering travel and the participation of representatives from developing countries.

JAN DE PRETER, European Union, said that given the high priority extended to the issue, he was surprised to see no potential existed for absorption and reprioritization during the 2016-2017 biennium since such efforts should be in line with the established budget procedure under resolution 41/213 and 42/211.  Conference management and travelling staff and experts were expensive categories and all efforts should be made to be economical and efficient in light of scarce resources.  Surprised to learn that the United Nations Secretariat, several regional commissions and Department of Economic and Social Affairs had requested the assistance of consultants, he asked why they could not rely on in-house capacities, as spelled out in operative paragraph 11 of the resolution.

MUHAMMAD ZULQARNAIN (Pakistan), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that following the watershed 2016 high-level plenary meeting and the unanimous adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the real challenge was translating commitment into action.  The pathway towards a global compact presented a moment of truth, particularly as the large-scale cross-border movement of people showed no signs of abating.  Moving forward, greater clarity was required about the International Organization for Migration’s specific role in servicing negotiations, contributions to technical and policy expertise and staff resources to be provided.  Regional economic commissions could also play a role.  Emphasizing that a Member State-led process would effectively service the intergovernmental negotiations in 2018, he expressed Pakistan’s support for the programme budget implications of “L.58”.

Ms. CONNELLY (United States) said it was critical that programme budget implications represented the spirit of the related draft resolutions.  As such, the Secretary-General’s proposal for resources for consultants and staff and expert travel was excessive, reflecting poorly on Member States and the United Nations while opening the Organization to criticisms of being overly focused on conducting meetings instead of delivering on mandates.  Besides the Advisory Committee’s process of trimming some of the proposals, additional streamlining was necessary.

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