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Seventy-sixth Session,
11th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Concerned by Unequal Geographic Representation among Staff, Limited Career Prospects for Some, as Fifth Committee Reviews Progress in Human Resources Reform

Improving Accountability in Secretariat, Supply Chain Activities also Discussed

Amid praise for efforts to strengthen the United Nations internal anti-corruption measures, ensure gender parity and promote high standards of competence among its staff, delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today pointed to continued imbalances in the equitable geographic representation among Secretariat employees and limited career prospects for existing personnel as major sources of concern.

In a wide-ranging discussion on human resources management, Cameroon’s representative, speaking for the African Group, expressed regret over stalled progress on the longstanding issue of geographic representation, lamenting that senior managers in the Secretariat are “far away” from reaching the target of appointing 50 per cent of staff from unrepresented and underrepresented States to posts subject to geographic distribution.

On that point, Pakistan’s delegate, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, joined others in urging the Secretary-General to step up his efforts, especially at the senior levels.  He recalled the system of desirable ranges established in 1960, which measures progress towards achieving a wide equitable geographical distribution of Secretariat staff.  “We stand ready to engage in negotiations to advance the sixty-year-old mechanism,” he assured. 

Agreeing that the United Nations leadership must “lead by example”, the representative of Switzerland, speaking also for Liechtenstein, supported the Secretary-General’s approaches to recruit, develop and retain a mobile, field-oriented, high-performing, multilingual and diverse workforce.  Japan’s delegate similarly urged the Secretary-General to “bring in fresh ideas” and to promote workforce succession planning in efforts to advance management reform.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, speaking also for Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, meanwhile expressed concern about the prospect of hiring more external candidates, and about proposals put forward on staff mobility — which could further reduce career opportunities for existing staff members.  At the same time, he warned against allowing the United Nations to become a “closed club”.

Echoing that concern, Mona Fattah Wahidi, Chairperson of the Staff Council of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), speaking on behalf of the Staff Management Committee staff representatives via videolink, said that while some strategies including agility, accountability and diversity sound promising, deviations remain in recruitment, inadequate career prospects for internal staff, and misuse of the delegation of authority.  Staff are being consulted on such matters, but in a nominal way.

The Fifth Committee also discussed how to strengthen accountability in the Secretariat.  Christophe Monier, Director of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s eleventh progress report on the topic.  Abdallah Bachar Bong, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), presenting its related report, highlighted the need to define individual accountability and instances of co-responsibility between Headquarters and field locations.

Rounding out the half-day discussion, delegates also focused on supply chain activities within the Secretariat.  The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking for the Eurasian Economic Union as well as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, expressed support for the additional accountability and transparency measures proposed in the area of competitive bidding.  In that process, general procurement principles must be aligned with the values of best value for money, fair international competition and the needs of the United Nations.  The Secretary-General also should provide more detailed information on the question of “environmentally secure and sustainable purchases” and consider its possible impact on the diversification of vendors, especially those hailing from developing countries.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s related report, Christian Saunders, Assistant Secretary-General within the Department of Operational Support, highlighted several initiatives, notably investments in the transition to a circular supply chain, a revitalized concept for strategic deployment stocks, inventory management and asset optimization and rationalized contract management.

In other business, the Fifth Committee Chair drew attention to comments by the Secretary-General and those of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination on the report of the Joint Inspection Unit (document A/75/551/Add.1), as well as to the related statement by the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, which will be uploaded to the Fifth Committee website.

Also making presentations today were Martha Helena Lopez, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources, who introduced the Secretary-General’s report on Secretariat staff demographics, and Elia Yi Armstrong, Director of the United Nations Ethics Office, who presented the Secretary-General’s report on activities of the Ethics Office.  Fatoumata Ndiaye, Under Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, introduced the audit reports of the implementation of post-employment restrictions for staff involved in the procurement process, and of demand and source planning for peace operations.  Gopinathan Achamkulangare, Chair of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced via videoconference a report reviewing contemporary practices by United Nations system organizations in external outsourcing of services to commercial service providers.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Morocco, China, Mongolia, Philippines and the United States, as well as a representative of the European Union who spoke in observer status.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

Human Resources Management

MARTHA HELENA LOPEZ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources, first introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Composition of the Secretariat: staff demographics” (document A/76/570 and Corr. 1), covering 1 January to 31 December 2020.  The report provides an overview of demographic variables, such as age and gender, and structural elements of the workforce, and it covers staff movements and staff subject to the system of desirable ranges.  She said the report has undergone substantial upgrades and now provides enhanced analytics data and in-depth analysis on factors that impact the long-term outcome of human resources reform efforts to realize a diverse and inclusive workplace, with staff that reflects the diversity dimensions of the people it serves.  Simultaneously, she said efforts are under way to make most demographic information available to all Member States through expanded online reporting.  The aim is to make demographic staff data available on a continuous basis, allowing for tailored analysis as needed. 

Turning to the report titled “Practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour, 1 January to 31 December 2020” (document A/76/602), the nineteenth such report, she said it provides an overview of the administrative framework, summaries of individual cases and information taken into account by the Secretary-General when disciplinary measures have been imposed.  It contains statistics on the numbers and types of cases received and the numbers and disposition of completed cases.  An additional section contains statistics on the handling of cases received and closed between 1 January and 30 September 2021. 

She then drew attention to the Secretary-General’s reports from the seventy-third, seventy-fourth and seventy-fifth sessions concerning staff mobility, contributing to the goal of a decentralized and agile management paradigm for the effective management of human resources.  Noting that the Secretariat has advanced several reforms, she said her Office presented the Secretary-General’s report titled “New Approach to staff mobility:  building an agile Organization by providing opportunities for on-the-job learning and skills development (document A/75/540/Add.1).  While the report’s consideration was deferred, staff mobility remains paramount to the Organization, with staff and managers viewing it as important in addressing the professional growth of staff and allowing employees to benefit from United Nations mandates. 

Under the new approach, she said mobility is defined as a way for staff to benefit from diversity in the Secretariat and to acquire skills through continuous learning.  It highlights the link between learning and skills development, on one hand, and career fulfilment on the other.  Explaining that professional excellence must be the primary career driver, linking advancement with skills acquisition and consequently, learning, she said staff moves in the “Professional and higher” categories, as well as field service in the D and E categories, are expected to double from current levels under the new approach.  Attention will be paid to staff working in hard duty stations, with priority given to those staff who have spent more than two years in those stations.  The approach will be implemented on a gradual basis and current staff will have the opportunity to opt in.  Acknowledging that full implementation of staff mobility is a long-term endeavour, she said amendments to the Staff Regulations and Rules were presented.

To advance agility, she said her Office completed a comprehensive review of the Secretariat’s 20-year-old competency framework.  It overhauled leadership and management programmes and developed a new career satisfaction framework, with tools and resources to help staff achieve career fulfilment.  The geographic representation strategy meanwhile provides a focused approach to make progress in this important area.  She went on to recall that in 2018, the Secretary-General requested the General Assembly to lift barriers hindering staff in General Service and related categories from competing for “Professional” level jobs.  Efforts aim to extend equal treatment to all candidates for P-2 and non-YPP to G-level staff, and in the field service category, up to the FS-5 level.  Efforts also aim to eliminate the “G to P” system.  The proposal to remove barriers will not only alleviate difficulties for such staff to achieve career satisfaction but will help improve equitable geographic representation, when un- and under-represented countries are selected for posts.

ELIA YI ARMSTRONG, Director, United Nations Ethics Office, presented the Secretary-General’s report titled “Activities of the Ethics Office” (document A/76/76), and provided information on the Ethics Panel of the United Nations.  On the strengthening of the independence of the Ethics Office, she said several measures are currently being considered for approval:  Direct presentation of the annual report by the Ethics Office to the General Assembly, which allows the Office to communicate directly to Member States; an enhanced role for the Independent Audit Advisory Committee to strengthen the Secretariat’s accountability framework; a proposal for the Ethics Office to be able to consult the Fifth Committee on matters pertaining to the Secretary-General wherein he or she may have a conflict of interest; and a proposal to raise the rank of the Head of the Ethics Office to the level of Assistant Secretary-General.  

Noting that the Ethics Office’s 2020 report once again highlighted the merits of and rationales for those measures, she outlined the Office’s various activities and achievements over the course of 2020, which were mostly accomplished through remote means of communications amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Office responded to a total of 1,681 requests, with the largest category — requests for ethics advice on conflict-of-interest matters — accounting for 691 requests.  As a key annual outreach activity, the Office facilitated the 2020 Leadership Dialogue with the Office of the United Nations Ombudsman and Mediation Services with some 40,000 personnel participating, the largest number since the launch of the Dialogues in 2012-13.  The Office also handled 138 enquiries on the policy on protection against retaliation for reporting misconduct or cooperating with duly authorized audits or investigations, she said.

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/76/733, A/76/724 and A/76/551).  He turned first to the report titled “Composition of the Secretariat:  staff demographics”, which recommends that the Secretary-General submit an updated human resources strategy at the seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly which addresses issues that have consistently proven challenging.  The strategy should also include information on the implementation of recommendations by the Board of Auditors, as well as the impact of lessons learned during the pandemic.

He stressed the need for more extensive analysis of the statistical data in the report, citing in particular the lack thereof on the high number of forecasted retirements in the period 2020-2040.  On staff resignations, he said more systematic and comprehensive data collection is needed, including through exit interviews, to enable better trend analysis, identify challenges and strengthen the Organization’s operational workforce planning.  He trusted that the Secretary-General would ensure that language requirements are clearly defined in job openings.  The Secretary-General should address the significant number of vacant posts subject to geographical distribution, as well as the high number of geographical posts temporarily encumbered by staff without geographical status without delay.  He also recommended that future reports provide breakdowns of high-level positions, disaggregated information on internal and external appointments, and comparable statistical data on vacant posts and recruitment timelines.

Turning next to disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour, he recommended, among other things, that the General Assembly request the Secretary-General to ensure transparency, proportionality and consistency in the exercise of this discretion, and to include in his next report detailed information on the criteria applied in the determination of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.  He said managers have the responsibility to lead by example and emphasized the importance of ensuring increased transparency of managers’ conduct with enhanced accountability.  He noted the significant increase in the average time taken to dispose of cases after their referral, recommending that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to enhance the rate of disposal of cases, including by applying a benchmark that considers the ideal scenario of 3-4 months for the processing of a case, and to provide an update in his next report.  It should also ask the Secretary-General to expedite work on addressing racism and discrimination on the basis of race and to provide an update in his next report.

Finally, he turned to activities of the Ethics Office for 2020, welcoming the increased participation in the voluntary disclosure initiative and noting the Office’s efforts to conduct outreach, training and education.  More broadly, he noted the increase in the number of inquiries regarding institutional integrity, as well as “limited progress” in establishing a consolidated online gift registry.  Regarding the reporting line of the Office, the proposed change has not been justified, he said, reaffirming that any revisions to the Office’s stature, reporting line and governance structure would have significant consequences for the Secretariat and the United Nations as a whole.  He recommended against the proposal to raise the rank of the Head of the Ethics Office to the level of Assistant Secretary-General, as it has not been justified in terms of the independence of the function or the positioning of the Office within the organizational structure, among other factors.  The current D-2 level is appropriate for directing the Office’s work.

MONA FATTAH WAHIDI, Chairperson of the Staff Council of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), speaking on behalf of the Staff Management Committee staff representatives via videolink, said staff members at all levels have exerted exceptional efforts to keep the United Nations operations and services running over the last two years.  “This was demonstrated by the up-to-date deliverables and lengthy hours of remote work in such difficult circumstances,” she said.  However, such circumstances and insecurity took a substantial toll on staff members’ physical and mental health.  Recognizing efforts by the United Nations management to address staff safety, mental health issues and physical back-to-office challenges, she nevertheless called for more support on those fronts and for the Organization to respond to continuous calls for equal treatment across all categories and levels and reasonably flexible and accommodative arrangements. 

On human resources strategies, she reiterated her serious concerns regarding staff members’ future of work “and the unclear path which the Organization is drawing for its workforce”.  While some strategies including agility, accountability and diversity sound promising, deviations remain in recruitment, inadequate career prospects for internal staff, misuse of the delegation of authority and shortfalls in terms of fair representation of different groups.  Staff are being consulted on such matters, but in a nominal way.  The removal of career advancement barriers for General Service staff and other related categories is one key step towards real rightful reform, she said, expressing support for the previously proposed pilot project through which General Service and related categories of staff may apply to professional posts outside those allocated for the Young Professionals Programme.

She also expressed regret that the Organization is relying more and more on individual contractors instead of directing its efforts towards the improvement of internal expertise and skills.  “The talk of new contractual modalities is of great concern to all staff members, and we count on your support to improve the existing conditions of service and make sure that existing contract modalities are used to their maximum potential,” she said, also calling for the implementation of continuous contracts for those eligible staff in all categories and the application of fair use of rosters, which will minimize the recruitment period and motivate staff to compete and enhance their skills and knowledge.  Turning to disciplinary matters, she said abuse of authority and harassment of different natures are still occurring in various duty stations where staff sometimes opt to keep quiet to avoid retaliation and lengthy, stressful processes.  Staff members need to trust the system to be encouraged to report misconduct, she said.

MUHAMMAD JAWAD AJMAL (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended progress made thus far on improving human resources management, especially with regards to the simplification and streamlining of rules and policies and changes in conditions of service.  Also praising steps taken to strengthen internal anti-corruption measures and to ensure a safe environment for staff to report misconduct, he nevertheless said imbalances in equitable geographic representation in the Secretariat remain a major source of concern.  Efforts to reach out to potential candidates from unrepresented and underrepresented countries, particularly developing countries, have not been successful.  Urging the Secretary-General to step up his efforts in that regard, especially at the senior levels and with due attention to troop- and police-contributing countries, he also recalled the system of desirable ranges established in 1960, which measures progress towards achieving a wide equitable geographical distribution of Secretariat staff.  “We stand ready to engage in negotiations to advance the sixty-year-old mechanism and are willing to embrace changes for the advancement of our Organization,” he said.  He also noted with concern that the overall number of women in senior positions remains below 50 per cent, and the percentage of women from developing countries in senior positions is disproportionately low. 

He went on to express concern that the average age of Secretariat staff members continues to reflect an upward trend, and that the entry level positions — particularly at P-1 and P-2 levels — continue to fall, which limits the space for achieving important human resources targets, including the rejuvenation of the organization and acquiring fresh talents from the different regions of the world.  Language skills also constitute an important factor in the selection processes, and good command of the official languages in specific duty stations should be given due consideration during the recruitment process.  “It is imperative that the staff implementing the mandates of the United Nations is doing so in a rule-based environment which also exemplifies diversity, flexibility and dynamism, an environment that motivates and facilitates the staff members to put out their best efforts in serving the rest of the world,” he said.

THIBAULT CAMELLI, representative of the European Union delegation, in its capacity as observer, said that “the wealth of this Organization lies in its people”.  Those who work at the United Nations are instrumental to delivering on its mandates, upholding its principles and defending its value, he said.  After four years of debate, they should be given the guarantee of an improved labour framework, alongside modern and effective human resources policies.  The bloc will continue to support all the Organization’s efforts to enhance its workforce diversity.  With this in mind, he encouraged further efforts towards achieving gender parity at all levels, including in the field.  He also called for the rejuvenation of the United Nations and a new focus on interns and enhanced training.  Multilingualism is important, he said, underscoring the need for linguistic diversity to be adequately reflected in human resources management.  He looked forward to discussing the Secretary-General’s proposals on disability inclusion, which will be presented in a later session.

He went on to welcome the Secretary-General’s Global Human Resources Strategy, which includes a more proactive talent acquisition process and a transformed organizational culture, he said.  On the updated approach to staff mobility, he stressed that it is in the interests of staff, their mandates and the people they serve.  Further training for staff and managers, as well as a smoother G-to-P transition, is also necessary to give individuals an opportunity to develop their careers to the fullest.  The rollout of a robust accountability framework is necessary, he said, in order to address any type of misconduct.  He underlined the need to strengthen the independence of the Ethics Office.  Finally, in order to translate these goals into tangible and clear guidelines for the Secretariat, he said he looked forward to finalizing discussions on the proposed amendments to Staff Regulations and Rules.

MIKE MARTIN AMMANN (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said the United Nations workforce is its most valuable asset.  “The Organization depends on personnel who bring their expertise and capacity to bear for the realization of all its mandates,” he said, underlining the need for modern and streamlined human resources management that enables a high-performing workforce.  Voicing regret that the Committee has not been able to reach agreement on this agenda item for several sessions, he listed three critical areas for the way forward.  First, United Nations leadership must “lead by example” and treat human resources management as a clear priority.  Modern and appropriate human resources management is key in realizing management reform, which is in turn an essential pillar of other reform processes.

 Second, he supported the Secretary-General's approaches to recruit, develop and retain a mobile, field-oriented, high-performing, multilingual and diverse workforce and commended his thorough analysis conducted to identify the root causes of the lack of diversity in recruitment and for launching a Geographical Diversity Strategy.  However, more attention is needed to gender equality and workforce rejuvenation, especially in leadership and middle management positions as well as field services.  Third, personnel mobility is key to building a highly skilled, dynamic and versatile workforce and offering employees attractive learning and career development opportunities.  This is relevant not only to enable the United Nations to meet today's challenges in a highly interconnected and increasingly complex world, but also to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Organization’s workforce.

EVGENY V. KALUGIN (Russian Federation), also speaking on behalf of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, said the number of reports before the Fifth Committee on human resources management keeps growing each year and requires attention.  Describing the recommendations on that topic put forward by the Advisory Committee as a good basis for compromise going forward, he said the group will evaluate all related proposals in line with the questions of enhancing the effectiveness of personnel policy; how they would provide for the needs of the United Nations; and whether they are in line with the financial capacity of Member States.  At the present stage, it makes sense to focus on the question of equitable geographical representation.  Noting that the group takes a cautious approach to new proposals in that area — and especially to proposed approaches that have not been approved by Member States — he stressed that all procedures must be in line with General Assembly resolutions.

He went on to express concern about the prospect of hiring more external candidates, as well as over new proposals put forward on staff mobility — which could further reduce existing staff members’ career opportunities — while also warning against allowing the United Nations to become a “closed club”.  The personnel of the Secretariat should reflect diversity on various fronts, including cultural attitudes, multilingualism, different generations of staff, and be representative of persons with disabilities.  However, he warned that the current proposal being considered on that issue is not fully in line with the guidelines of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC). 

FELIX-FILS EBOA EBONGUE (Cameroon), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77, said that human resources management is central to the smooth functioning of the Organization, which should better represent the rich diversity of its membership, particularly through equitable geographical representation.  The implementation of equitable geographical representation in line with the Charter of the United Nations is long overdue.  African States regret that despite the engagement and the readiness of the Group of 77 to achieve some progress on this very longstanding issue during the Assembly’s seventy-fifth session, no substantial discussion took place.  This is the year that the Committee will show a collective will to engage in frank and sincere negotiations, with the aim of reaching a successful outcome.

The Group notes with concern that senior managers of Secretariat departments and offices are far away from achieving the target of appointing at least 50 per cent of staff from unrepresented and underrepresented Member States to posts subject to geographical distribution, as stipulated in their compacts, he said.  The Group once again strongly underscores the need to fast-track the increase of the representation of developing countries at all levels and particularly at senior levels.  The Group is equally concerned about the situation of numerous geographical posts occupied by staff who do not meet the geographical criteria.  The Group recognizes the efforts of the Secretary-General towards gender parity and believes that more are needed to attract and retain more female staff, particularly from the African continent, to work in field operations.

RICHARD CROKER (United Kingdom) highlighted several areas of importance to his delegation, starting with the issue of mobility.  A modern and mainstreamed approach, which harnesses experience from the field and different headquarters while allowing staff to rotate out from the toughest duty stations, will benefit the Organization.  Noting the need for career advancement and incentives, he went on to highlight the importance of diversity in terms of geography, gender and age.  “But we also encourage the United Nations to be truly representative of the global population […] including staff with disabilities, different ethnicities, races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexualities and other characteristics,” he said.  He also noted that for staff to feel motivated, excellence must be incentivized and rewarded and underperformance dealt with.  “Hearing that 99.6 per cent of staff were rated as exceeding or meeting expectations raises questions about how effective the current system really is,” he said.

HIND JERBOUI (Morocco), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said that the Organization’s ability to deliver on its mandate relies on a qualified and diverse workforce.  She praised the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen human resources management and make it more gender-balanced and accountable.  She expressed her support for the promotion of an international work force with the highest standards of competence and integrity and welcomed the analysis made regarding the recruitment process.  In addition, she welcomed the recommendation to provide equal opportunities to the recruitment of external and internal candidates and the Secretary-General’s efforts to ensure wider geographical representation.  Further, she welcomed efforts to ensure better gender representation among staff, including senior management positions.  She commended the work of the Ethics Office as it endeavours to ensure all staff perform their duties with the high standards of conduct required as members of the international civil service.

KAWASAKI YUTA (Japan) said Member States have failed in previous years to give appropriate guidance to the Secretary-General, and he called for redoubled efforts to do so, while fully taking advantage of negotiations by clusters and more focused discussions of each item.  “It is our common priority to achieve a more diversified Organization, based on Article 101 of the United Nations Charter,” he said.  He reiterated Japan’s request for the Secretary-General to redouble efforts to address the under- and un-representation of some Member States.  He expressed concern over the imbalance between the number of entry-level professional posts and those for senior levels within the Secretariat, encouraging the Secretary-General to “bring in fresh ideas” and to promote workforce succession planning and agility in efforts to advance management reform. 

RONG SICAI (China) said geographic representation remains a core concern and expressed regret over the lack of momentum for progress achieved between 2016 and 2020.  The number of un- and under-represented Member States has reverted to a higher figure, and there are widening gaps in geographical posts, disproportionately from developing countries.  He urged the Secretary-General to reinforce targeted policy measures and to adopt an accountability mechanism for their application, recruiting to geographical posts from the severely under-represented Member States in order to realize the goal of equitable geographic representation by 2030.  He welcomed the Secretary-General’s introduction of workforce analytics in his latest staff demographics report and expressed hope that the Secretariat provides more data on cross-comparison between different categories, taking stock of progress in recruitment and identifying causes of the persistent human resources management challenges, with corresponding measures for improvement proposed.

ENKHBOLD VORSHILOV (Mongolia) raised the issue of filling vacant posts, especially at senior levels, expressing trust that the renewed geographic representation strategy will set timebound targets.  On gender balance, he welcomed the Secretary-General’s commitment to increase female Secretariat staff and looked forward to continued efforts at all levels, including with candidates from un- and under-represented Member States, in line with the Charter’s Article 101, with due consideration for geographic representation.  He likewise welcomed outreach under way to create equal opportunities for candidates from developing countries, agreeing on the need for an analysis of activities to be taken by the Secretariat.  He expressed support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve human resources management, as well as to strengthen the accountability system and internal anti-corruption measures.  He expressed hope that Member States will arrive at a consensual outcome on a human resources management mechanism this year, underscoring Mongolia’s continued engagement on these issues.

MARIVIL VILLA VALLES (Philippines), associating himself with the Group of 77, underscored the importance of an inclusive workforce.  His delegation acknowledges the improvements made on gender parity in the Organization, especially at the senior level positions for the past years.  The ratio of women to total staff in the Professional and higher and field service categories increased from 37.6 per cent to 40.9 per cent during the 2016-2020 period.  Noting the launch of the talent pool initiative to better leverage the female workforce within the United Nations common system, he sought updates on these initiatives especially in terms of measuring their performance levels and delivery of outcomes.  The percentage of women participating in the field increased by 0.1 per cent from 2019 to 2020 to 24.3 per cent in peacekeeping operations and special political missions.  While expressing support for various measures to enhance women’s participation in the field, he requested the Secretary-General to implement more concrete measures to ensure diversity among United Nations interns.

CHRISTOPHER P. LU (United States), applauding the determination and flexibility demonstrated by United Nations staff around the world, said discussions of human resources management are in fact closely connected to the Russian Federation’s current aggression against Ukraine, which poses one of the greatest challenges in recent memory.  Noting that staff members are working tirelessly to respond to the crises emanating from that aggression, he said the United States supports efforts to empower the Organization’s managers to make important operational decisions while also advocating for strong accountability and transparency.  While reaching agreement on issues related to human resources management at the present session will be difficult, “progress must be made”.  For example, there is no reason why Member States cannot agree on various pragmatic measures proposed by Secretary-General, such as those aimed at enhancing the independence of the Ethics Office, he said.

The representative of the Russian Federation repeated that he rejected false accusations related to his country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, noting that its position has been voiced in the Security Council and the General Assembly on many occasions.  He asked the Committee Chair to remind colleagues that the mandate of the Fifth Committee is administrative and budgetary matters, adding that the United Nations has other platforms for considering political matters.

Strengthening Accountability in United Nations Secretariat

CHRISTOPHE MONIER, Director of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Eleventh progress report on accountability:  strengthening accountability in the United Nations Secretariat” (document A/76/644).  He said the report provides information to demonstrate that the focus on strengthening a culture of accountability at all levels of the Secretariat for effective mandate delivery continued throughout 2021.  “As the new management paradigm continues to take root in the Secretariat, senior managers have been empowered to deliver on their mandates, with the expectation that they do so in a transparent, responsible and accountable manner,” he said, adding that the Secretariat remains committed to acting accordingly. 

The enhancement of the accountability framework for monitoring delegation of authority was a priority during 2021, he continued.  A revised and expanded set of key performance indicators were developed for monitoring the use of delegation of authority, and a phased implementation of the indicators continues.  The first statement on internal control was signed by the Secretary-General in May 2021 and published on in the six official languages.  No significant control issues were identified while opportunities for improvement were identified in some areas.  To promote an Organization-wide understanding of accountability, the annual Leadership Dialogue for 2021 led by the Ethics Office focused on accountability, under the question “The Accountability System in the United Nations Secretariat:  How do we understand and make it work?”.  Meanwhile, the “Values and Behaviours Framework” was introduced to guide how relationships are built within the United Nations, how staff members perform their jobs and how they experience the Organization on a daily basis.

He noted that, in his eleventh progress report, the Secretary-General provided an update on the latest efforts made by the Secretariat to strengthen its accountability system.  He outlined the contents of its various sections, including a list of measures taken to enhance the culture of accountability in the Secretariat.  That includes areas such as advancing the implementation of results-based management, strengthening enterprise risk management and the use of evaluation and addressing conduct and discipline issues in terms of prevention, enforcement and remedial actions.  Sections III and IV of the report contain conclusions and recommendations, while three annexes contain such information as the status of implementation of resolutions on administrative and budgetary matters, adopted by the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session.

Mr. BONG, ACABQ Chair, introducing the Advisory Committee’s related report (document A/76/728), noted the steps taken to date and trusted that the Secretary-General will continue the efforts to establish a deeply rooted and sustainable organizational culture of personal and institutional accountability in the Secretariat.  The concept of an accountability system must be anchored by the existing definition of accountability — which has remained in place since the Assembly’s sixty-fourth session — and that it plays a central role in all reform efforts, as well as in all organizational, administrative and operational changes.  Staff performance is closely linked to the implementation of the Secretariat’s mandated activities, and senior managers’ compacts and staff members’ workplans should be aligned with approved programme activities arising from established mandates.  There is a need to expand the Organization’s results-based fundamentals and to establish a related three-pronged approach for management, budgeting and performance.  ACABQ trusts that the Secretary-General will utilize the new evaluation framework’s resources and knowledge base and provide updates in his next progress reports.  Highlighting a need to define individual accountability and instances of co-responsibility between Headquarters and field locations, he recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to provide related concrete proposals.

Noting that the reported high rate of timely submission of reports and related information still does not reflect the operational reality of the oftentimes delayed submission of documents, he highlighted the trend whereby important reports and initiatives are finalized shortly after the completion of the Fifth Committee’s session or during the Assembly’s deliberations.  Such late submissions may have implications for the analysis of the related matters and the way forward, he said, pointing to such examples as human resources management matters and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) evaluation of the accountability system, which will be completed at end of March 2022, instead of June 2021.  ACABQ trusts that, in the future, the finalization of reports will be better planned in advance and in accordance with the annually recurring schedules of both ACABQ and the Fifth Committee, and that all Secretariat departments and offices will ensure the timely submission of reports in an appropriate time frame in order to enable a full consideration of all information and documentation by Member States.

Mr. AJMAL (Pakistan), speaking for the Group of 77, said accountability is central to the viability and efficiency of any organization, including the United Nations.  Intent on constructively engaging in the review of the accountability system, the Group acknowledges efforts made to report on the status of the implementation of:  General Assembly resolutions on administrative and budgetary matters; results-based management; and information on the use and impact of information obtained on the Organization’s performance.  Underscoring the importance of taking more practical steps of institutional and personal accountability into future progress reports, he said that, given current financial constraints, the Secretary-General must continue strengthening internal controls in the accountability system through the constant monitoring of effective expenditures in order to fully implement agreed mandates and programmes.

Turning to supply chain management issues, he said the Group sees merit in acquiring more data and analysis of several specific aspects related to procurement in the United Nations Secretariat.  Also needed is detailed information on such related activities as innovations by the Secretary-General, including the e-tendering project, and financial implications, benefits and efforts made to reach vendors who may be unable to access the system.  While acknowledging efforts made to promote business opportunities for vendors from developing nations and those with economies in transition, he said the Secretary-General should continue his efforts and explore additional, innovative ways to promote and sustain procurement from them.  Noting with concern that the United Nations Procurement Manual has not been translated into all the six official languages, he recommended action to complete the process as soon as possible.  The Group will further inquire about the Joint Inspection Unit’s suspension of the review of the management and administration of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and subsequent deferment, on its Director-General’s request, and calls for the review’s resumption in the next programme of work, he said.

MIKE MARTIN AMMANN (Switzerland), also speaking for Liechtenstein, recalled General Assembly resolution 72/266, which underlines that responsibility is a central principle of management reform — both at the highest levels of leadership and by the whole personnel.  He expressed support for a solid system for delegation of authority and accountability that “truly works”.  He called for a more robust and effective accountability system, welcoming that the system continues to evolve and encouraging the Secretary-General to continue to bolster it.  He awaited with interest the Secretary-General’s upcoming report, welcoming next steps for strengthening the delegation of powers.  He similarly welcomed efforts by the Joint Inspection Unit, Board of Auditors and ACABQ, as well as results of the current accountability system, from a belief that they will provide pointers for achieving an effective accountability system.  He added that the presentation of documents within the time limits is an important part of accountability.

Supply chain activities in United Nations Secretariat

CHRISTIAN SAUNDERS, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Supply Chain Management, Department of Operational Support, presented the Secretary-General’s report on supply chain activities in the United Nations Secretariat (document A/73/613), which replaced the previous biannual submission on procurement activities.  Procurement is now correctly seen as a key component of a broader set of functions that serves all Secretariat entities in pursuit of their mandates by ensuring they can get the right goods and services to the right place, at the right time, at the right quality and for the right cost.  A discussion on supply chain of the past two years must begin with the pandemic.  Supply chain was fundamental to the Secretariat’s response.

The Office sourced and delivered life-saving medical equipment, diagnostics, consumables, vaccines and other essential goods and services in an environment of extremely scarce supply and intense competition, he said.  The “regular” work continued, amidst unprecedented global supply chain disruptions that persist today and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.  That “regular” work represents the largest and most complex supply chain operations in the United Nations system.  The 2020 procurement spending amounted to $2.7 billion, with the highest expenditure in information technology, air transportation, food and catering, fuel, and building and construction.  The Office has prioritized the implementation of category management, which seeks market-specific strategies for sourcing goods and services in each major category.  This initiative provides clients with global solutions put in place by his Office or in partnership with others.  A key component of the Secretary-General’s reform was to place decision‑making closer to mandate delivery.  The delegation of procurement authority to heads of entity has enabled a nimbler Secretariat and allowed his Office to focus on delivery of key strategic goods and services with high costs and complexity.  These delegations are monitored for compliance and risk management by the Business Transformation and Accountability Division in the Department of Management, Strategy, Policy and Compliance.

The present report outlines several key initiatives, including investments in transition to a circular supply chain, a revitalized concept for strategic deployment stocks, inventory management and asset optimization, rationalized contract management, delivery of engineering support services and further mainstreaming requests for proposals in the area of aviation services.  Opportunities also exist for much greater process automation, digitalization and integration across the supply chain and uniformed personnel management.  The Office will strive to better align its activities with peacebuilding and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a commitment to ensure its clients succeed in implementing their mandates through the provision of effective, innovative, efficient and responsible solutions.  Moreover, the Office will seek to mitigate any negative consequences of its activity, and to create positive contributions to local communities through infrastructure development, including the introduction of renewable energy, capacity-building, business partnerships and transfer of skills.

Mr. BONG, ACABQ Chair, introducing the Advisory Committee’s related report, (document A/76/722), said that, while the Secretary-General’s report provides a comprehensive overview of the activities of the Office of Supply Chain Management, he sees the merit of more data and analysis related to specific aspects of that supply chain management, in particular on procurement and recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to submit his report on an annual basis, with an adequate level of details and analysis, and an emphasis on the Secretariat’s procurement activities.  Future reports should also include a detailed organizational chart of the Office with clear reporting lines.  He expressed concern over the current low level of cooperation and harmonization system-wide in the supply chain, in particular procurement matters and recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to conduct an assessment and provide updated information on the progress made in his next report.  The report should also include information of the application of emergency procurement measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including lessons learned and best practices.

Among other observations and recommendations, the Advisory Committee notes the overall trends and drivers for reduced spending in 2020 and 2021, due essentially to the pandemic and the changing landscape of peacekeeping, including the liquidation and downsizing of missions, he said.  It trusts that the Secretary-General will provide in his future reports more detailed analysis of the movements of spending, including demand analysis and explanation of changes, as well as justifications for increases under some major commodities, in particular information and communications technology (ICT).

Recalling the Board of Auditors’ recommendations on the timely launch of an expanded set of indicators to cover areas of identified risks related to the delegation of authority, including the lack of segregation of procurement duties, he recommended that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to provide detailed information in his next report.  Further, there should be continued assessment of the performance of the supply chain management and detailed information on the  accountability framework for procurement and the model policy framework, including on the role of the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance in monitoring and evaluating the procurement function.  On aligning the supply chain with the 2030 Agenda, he noted that the Assembly had not considered for approval the concept of environmentally friendly and sustainable procurement and has asked the Secretary-General to prepare a comprehensive report on the content of and criteria for such a concept.  In order for the Assembly to consider this matter, the Secretary-General must do more to refined the understanding of the concept and how it can be applied in practical terms to the United Nations.

FATOUMATA NDIAYE, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, first introduced the report of the audit of implementation of post-employment restrictions for staff involved in the procurement process (document A/76/139), which covers implementation of the Secretary-General’s bulletin, prohibiting staff members involved in the Organization’s procurement processes from seeking or accepting employment or any form of compensation or financial benefit from a United Nations contractor or vendor during or, for a defined period, after their service.

She said OIOS concluded that strong preventive controls, including training and other awareness raising activities, were needed to apprise staff of the provisions of the bulletin and to help them meet its objectives.  However, these controls were not being implemented effectively because of inadequate processes and lack of data to identify the staff who should be the focus of such interventions.  Moreover, key terms had not been defined in the bulletin to clarify the scope of its application and limit its provisions to a core group of staff based on an assessment of risks.  The audit made five recommendations that are being implemented, including for the revision of the Secretary-General’s bulletin on post-employment to clarify its applicability and procedures for reporting violations.

She then turned to the report of the audit of demand and source planning for peace operations (document A/76/595), which was conducted at United Nations Headquarters and in six peacekeeping missions:  United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA); United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA); United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA); United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF); United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP); and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

She said the audits assessed the adequacy and effectiveness of activities and information management systems used to develop demand and source plans as part of the supply chain management process.  The audits found that the missions had made progress in developing demand plans, enabling the Department of Operational Support to improve the visibility of field missions’ requirements of goods and services.  However, these plans were not yet realistic enough to serve as a basis for budget proposals, or granular enough to be effectively used for acquisition and delivery planning and for category management.  A high number of year-end purchases and the suboptimal use of internal sourcing options and system contracts indicated a need for further improvement, she added.

GOPINATHAN ACHAMKULANGARE, Chair of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced via videoconference the report entitled, “Review of contemporary practices in the external outsourcing of services to commercial service providers by United Nations system organizations” (document A/75/551), examining the current status of external outsourcing in United Nations entities, which amounts to an average of more than $3 billion annually across the system.  Its objective was to assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to using the option of external outsourcing, and to outline existing enabling legislation and policy.

Describing methodology, he said a major challenge of the review was to distinguish outsourcing from procurement.  Several new areas have been subjected to external outsourcing, from ICT services, to conducting surveys, to media coverage of the official visit of the executive heads, to name a few.  Among the findings, he said none of the organizations have a dedicated policy or guidelines on outsourcing, and only two formal definitions of outsourcing exist.  As a proportion of total procurement expenditure, outsourcing ranges between 20 and 60 per cent in half of the 23 Joint Inspection Unit participation organizations that provided data.  He pointed out that 93 per cent of overall outsourcing expenditure from 2012 to 2018, totalling just under $21 billion, is accounted for by just six organizations.

Among other actions, he recommended that the executive heads of organizations develop a common Organization-wide definition of outsourcing, as well as corresponding approaches and procedural guidelines.  They should assess the use of supply sources from vendors in developing countries and economies in transition and increase it as applicable.  They should also ensure that sourcing of any strategic, sensitive or high-value service from a commercial service provider is preceded by the conduct of a strategic analysis and ensure that these services are subject to periodic review.  Criterial for the extension of outsourced service contracts beyond standard timeframes also should be developed.

Mr. KALUGIN (Russian Federation), speaking on behalf of the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, expressed support for the additional accountability and transparency measures proposed in the area of competitive bidding.  Those will help suppliers better understand the logic used by the United Nations, and better compete among themselves.  However, in the course of bidding, general procurement principles must be aligned with the values of best value for money; fairness, integrity and transparency; fair international competition; and the needs of the United Nations.  The Secretary‑General’s report on that topic must be broadened and become more analytical.  He should also provide more detailed information on the question of “environmentally secure and sustainable purchases” and consider its possible impacts on the diversification of vendors, especially those hailing from developing countries.  Meanwhile, he said, it is premature at the present stage to discuss the notion of broadening the process of requests for proposals.

For information media. Not an official record.