As Fifth Committee Reviews Status of Construction Projects in Africa, Speakers Advocate Affordable Visitors’ Fees, Proper Oversight to Prevent Further Renovation Delays
Delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) called for affordable visitor fees for the historic Africa Hall at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa and for effective oversight of the Hall’s renovation as well as that of the conference services facilities at the United Nations office at Nairobi, stressing the need to push forward both projects in a timely manner.
Ethiopia’s delegate, stressing that the renovation of Africa Hall is an opportunity to strengthen the Organization’s relationship with the continent, said that the facility will be able to sustain itself with enhanced visibility through affordable fees.
Uganda’s representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, noted the Africa Hall’s historic nature and cultural heritage and advocated for affordable service fees for a wide range of guests, including other low-income visitors, and to add other groups such as children, persons with disabilities and all students to the fee waiver category.
Echoing the importance of accessibility, Pakistan’s representative, speaking for the Group of 77 developing countries and China, also asked the Secretary-General to revisit the draft fee waiver scheme to include additional groups so there is a fee category that accounts for local circumstances and currency. Conserving the landmark site’s heritage and the building’s original design and appearance is key, as are effective governance, internal controls and accountability to ensure the project is implemented within budget and the revised project schedule.
Turning to the conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, Uganda’s delegate stressed the need for proper oversight and governance of a project that aims to fill the growing needs of agencies, funds and programmes based in Nairobi to attract larger-scale meetings. Concerned with the Secretariat’s assertion that the recruitment of an Information Technology Officer yielded no suitably qualified candidates, he planned to understand the recruitment process dynamics during informal consultations.
Likewise, Kenya’s delegate said she was not convinced that the recruitment process could not yield suitable candidates, given her country’s vibrant information and communications technology sector. As the host country for the Office, she urged the United Nations system to increase its funding to correct the deteriorating conditions and limited capacity so the Office can live up to its billing as a truly African headquarters of the Organization.
Chandramouli Ramanathan, Controller, Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Finance and Budget in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretariat’s relevant reports on the two projects: the renovation of the Africa Hall at ECA and the deteriorating conditions and limited capacity of the conference services facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi. Juliana Gaspar Ruas, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that body’s related reports.
In the first order of business, delegates threw their support behind the Secretariat’s proposal to ask the Assembly for a $4 million appropriation to keep the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia running. In his introduction of the Secretary-General’s report on the matter, Mr. Ramanathan said that the $4 million represents the international component for the Extraordinary Chamber’s operation in 2023, accounting for projected voluntary contributions of about $0.5 million. Ms. Gaspar Ruas introduced the ACABQ’s related report.
Pakistan’s delegate, speaking again for the Group of 77 and China and noting that voluntary contributions have steadily decreased over the years from $17.7 million in 2015 to $3.6 million in 2021, strongly encouraged the Secretary-General to fulfil the persistent financing gaps by mobilizing funding through voluntary contributions from Member States. A financial failure would be a renewed tragedy as the Cambodian people seek justice he said, warning that it would be a serious setback to the international community's fight against impunity.
Cambodia’s delegate called upon all Member States – especially of the Group of 77 and members of the Steering Committee – to support the Secretary-General’s proposed subvention to ensure the predictable funding for the Extraordinary Chambers’ remaining activities. Concerning the proposed budget of $1.52 million for the Extraordinary Chambers’ national component, he said his Government would provide a similar commitment of its direct funding contribution to cover operational costs and at least the first six months of national staff salaries.
The Fifth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 28 November to review the changes to the budgetary cycle, UMOJA and funding for the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
CHANDRAMOULI RAMANATHAN, Controller, Assistant Secretary-General for Programme Planning, Finance and Budget in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the use of the commitment authority and request for a subvention to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (document A/77/513). The report outlines the substantive progress and results the Extraordinary Chambers has achieved under each of the judicial cases and provides an update on the legal framework’s establishment for the completion of its work and residual functions. The report also underlines the Extraordinary Chambers’ continuing financial challenges in 2022 and lays out the 2023 requirements for the international component.
Despite the Secretariat’s ongoing fundraising efforts, the declining trend of voluntary contributions is ongoing in 2022, he said. The Extraordinary Chambers has continued to implement measures to address the funding shortfall, while maintaining its most critical functions to avoid any impact on the judicial proceedings. These measures include the freezing of recruitment against vacant posts, unless hiring is absolutely necessary for the uninterrupted continuation of judicial proceedings. In combination with the $7 million subvention from the regular budget for 2022, these measures have ensured that the funds cover the operations of the Extraordinary Chambers’ international component through 2022.
The residual functions include judicial activities related to reclassification of case file documents, possible review of convictions, implementation of judgments, and protection of victims and witnesses, as well as preservation of and access to the Extraordinary Chambers’ archives. “Approval of the subvention request will ensure that the ECCC can discharge its residual functions in an orderly, timely and meaningful manner,” he said. This will let the body promote accountability for the grave crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge and ensure it takes the necessary steps towards the Extraordinary Courts’ permanent legacy for the Cambodian people. He said the Secretary-General is seeking the General Assembly’s approval for a $4 million appropriation for the Extraordinary Chambers’ international component for 2023, accounting for projected voluntary contributions of about $0.5 million. He said the support would enable the United Nations to meet its obligations in accordance with the Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia. At the same time, the Secretary-General will carry out intensive outreach and fundraising efforts, he noted.
JULIANA GASPAR RUAS, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its eponymous report (document A/76/7/Add.17). She said the Advisory Committee reiterated the need to expedite case completion and intensify efforts on fundraising and cost efficiency. Noting that the Extraordinary Chambers is entering its residual phase with an initial three-year assessment period, the Advisory Committee encouraged that body to seek an orderly closure on all judicial activities, actively preserve its legacy and enhance national ownership. All efforts should be pursued to ensure the accessibility of the Extraordinary Chamber’s archives as an important component of international humanitarian law for the general public. Any unused balance concerning the commitment authorities for past periods should be returned to Member States, she stressed.
In noting that commitment authorities have functioned as a bridging mechanism and that appropriating the subvention would act as a disincentive to potential contributions, the Advisory Committee emphasized that subvention should remain a commitment authority. Regarding the resource requirements for 2023, she said the Advisory Committee remains unconvinced on the requested level of resources for the international component. The Extraordinary Chambers and the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials should redouble efforts on cost efficiency. The Secretary-General, she reiterated, should present options to ensure that a single Secretariat entity oversees operational, budgetary and financial interactions with the Trials. The Advisory Committee recommended that the Assembly should authorize the Secretary-General to enter into commitments an amount not to exceed $3.4 million to supplement the voluntary financial resources of the international component for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2023. This, she noted, reflects a 15 per cent reduction from the requested subvention of $4 million.
JIBRAN KHAN DURRANI (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the Group remains seized with the efficient and effective operation of the Extraordinary Chambers. Ensuring adequate and sustainable financing for the body is a priority for the Group, he said commending Cambodia for its commitment to provide in-kind contributions and fund most of the national component over the past five years. The Group also commends Member States who have provided extra-budgetary resources, yet it remains concerned over the persistent financial challenges, even with various fundraising efforts, he said. He particularly noted that voluntary contributions have steadily decreased over the years from $17.7 million in 2015, to $3.6 million in 2021.
The Group strongly encourages the Secretary-General to continue his work to mobilize funding, through voluntary contributions from Member States, to fulfil the persistent funding gaps for the Extraordinary Chambers, he said. It remains critical for the international community to ensure that the Extraordinary Chambers has the necessary financial means to ensure full accountability for the crimes perpetrated during the former Khmer Rouge regime and manage its judicial archive, in line with international standards. A financial failure would be a renewed tragedy as the Cambodia people seek justice and have waited for decades for these efforts to reach belated fruition, he said, warning that it would be a serious setback to the international community's fight against impunity. The Group supports the Secretary-General's proposal to supplement the extra-budgetary resources for the year 2023, he said.
SOVANN KE (Cambodia), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, called upon all Member States – especially that Group and members of the Steering Committee – to join his country in supporting the Secretary-General’s proposed subvention to ensure the predictability of funding for the remaining works. He also endorsed the proposed 2023 budget for the Extraordinary Chambers. Concerning the proposed budget of $1.52 million for the national component, he pledged that his Government would provide a similar commitment of its direct funding contribution to cover operational costs and at least the first six months of national staff salaries. For the second six months amounting to $0.46 million, Cambodia will request continued financial support from other donors.
Construction and Property Management
Taking the floor again, Mr. RAMANATHAN first introduced the Secretary-General’s seventh report on the progress in the renovation of the Africa Hall at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa (document A/77/339), which provides an update on the project since the last progress report. Solicitation of the contract for the main renovation works of the Africa Hall was successfully completed during the reporting period, with the construction contract awarded in August 2022. The project is set for substantial completion in June 2024, instead of May, as was anticipated when drafting the report. This date is nine months later than forecast in the previous progress report, he noted.
With value engineering measures and a shortened implementation time, the project will still be completed within the approved maximum overall budget of $56.9 million, he pointed out. At the Assembly’s request, the Commission has been working to obtain voluntary contributions from Member States. During its participation at EXPO 2020 in March, ECA showcased the project and met with potential donors. A groundbreaking ceremony was organized in October and helped raise Member States awareness of the importance of contributing financial and material resources. The proposed actions to be taken by the Assembly are set out in section VIII of the report, he said.
He then introduced the Secretary-General’s fourth report on addressing the deteriorating conditions and limited capacity of the conference services facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (document A/77/367), which gives updates on the additional work undertaken from 1 January through 31 August 2022. As mandated by the Assembly, the Secretariat refined the options for implementing the project. The two options presented are broadly similar to those laid out in the previous report: refined options A and B designed to accommodate 7,000 and 9,000 in-person conference participants, respectively, in order to meet short- and long-term requirements. The Secretary-General recommends refined option B.
Through the master-planning and preliminary design efforts undertaken during the reporting period, efficiencies were gained by maximizing the reuse of existing space within the United Nations at Nairobi compound, he said. That minimized the footprint of new construction through initial space planning studies and advanced the project schedule and construction work in order to reduce related escalation and contingency costs. This means a revised maximum overall cost for option A of $228.6 million, which is $14.0 million, or 5.8 per cent, less than the cost reported in document A/77/400; and a revised maximum overall cost for option B of $265.6 million at current rates, a reduction of $13.4 million or 4.8 per cent.
He said the project’s timeline has been extended by nine months and scheduled for substantial completion in 2029, contingent with the Assembly’s authorization to start the project’s design phase at the beginning of 2023. The recommended actions for the Assembly are laid out in Section VIII, paragraph 11.
Ms. GASPAR RUAS, ACABQ Vice-Chair, introduced that body’s related report on the progress of the Africa Hall’s renovation (document A/77/7/Add.16). Noting that the project has been further delayed by nine months to 29 June 2024, she said the ACABQ expressed its concerns that the project is now estimated to be delayed by 3.5 years from its initial timeframe. The current confidence level on timely delivery within budget of 32 per cent — a notable decline of 17 per cent since the previous progress report — is the lowest since the project’s start. As such, the Secretary-General must take all measures to closely monitor and mitigate project risks to ensure timely delivery within the approved overall budget of $56.9 million.
Noting that the Secretary-General intends to partially cover the projected requirements of $18.21 million for 2023 from the unused balance of funding at the end of 2022, which is projected to be $11.97 million, the Advisory Committee trusts that updated expenditures will be provided to the Assembly at the time of its consideration. The Advisory Committee, she continued, makes further observations and recommendations in its report, including on the sharing and application of lessons learned, depletion of contingency provisions, the visitors’ centre’s business case and the related mobilization of voluntary resources. The Secretary-General should continue his engagement and cooperation with the host country to ensure the Hall’s successful renovation, she encouraged.
Turning to the United Nations Office at Nairobi, she then introduced the ACABQ’s eponymous report (document A/77/7/Add.15). The Advisory Committee reiterated the need to implement the project in a timely manner to address the overall condition of the structure while emphasizing that a decision after 2024 would significantly delay the project’s completion and result in additional costs. Such a decision on whether to implement option A or B is a policy matter for the Assembly. The Advisory Committee, she said, sees merit for the Assembly to authorize the Secretary-General to commence the design for option B which will allow building option A alone; option B immediately after the completion of the design phase; or elements of option B later. The Assembly should request the Secretary-General to establish a multi-year construction-in-progress account for the project and roll over the unspent balance from 2022 into that account.
On overall capacity, she said the ACABQ trusts that the Secretary-General will provide more clarity to the Assembly on the concrete numbers of projected in-persons participants as well as the duration of conferences by entities which have committed to utilizing the Nairobi facilitates. Best practices and lessons learned from other construction projects must be incorporated in the project design, including on accessibility, sustainability, net-zero objectives and the overall energy efficiency strategy, she stressed. As security services between the co-located blocks A to J and the conference services facilities projects should be coordinated and cost-shared, the Advisory Committee recommended against the establishment of one Physical Security Officer (P-3) position at this time.
She then noted that the approval of the maximum overall cost of the project in the amount of $228.55 million for option A or $265.66 million for option B at current rates would be subject to the Assembly’s decision. The ACABQ recommended that the Assembly appropriate an amount of $6.16 million for the project in 2023 with $2.27 million under section 29 G (United Nations Office at Nairobi) and $3.89 million under section 33 (Construction, alteration, improvement and major maintenance). This would represent a charge against the contingency fund. She went on to encourage the Secretary-General to continue his engagement with the host country and with all Member States and public and private donors to seek voluntary contributions, including in-kind contributions and other forms of support, to gain efficiencies and offset the project’s overall cost.
Mr. DURRANI (Pakistan) speaking again on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, first turned to the ECA and reiterated the need to conserve the landmark site’s heritage and the building’s original design and appearance. Regarding compliance with best practices on current building standards to including equitable access, he said the Group reiterates its stance to ensure accessibility for students, academics, residents and tourists, regardless of their capacity to pay. He also asked the Secretary-General to revisit the draft fee waiver scheme in order to incorporate additional groups, including children, students and persons with disabilities, so they can have a fee category that accounts for local circumstances and currency. Effective governance, oversight, internal control and accountability are needed to ensure the project is implemented within the budget and revised project schedule. He commended the ECA for its effective relations with the Host country, the stakeholders committee and the advisory group and noted the implementation of the recommendations including in the Office of Internal Oversight’s 2021 report.
Turning to the conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, he said that the Fifth Committee must approve the Secretary-General’s recommendations, contained in the present report, to avoid delays in the construction schedule or increases in costs for the dedicated United Nations project management team. The Group stresses the importance of close coordination between the United Nations Office at Nairobi and the Secretariat in New York, particularly the Global Asset Management Policy Service. This is needed to ensure proper oversight and governance in all aspects of the project and incorporate lessons learned from other major construction projects, especially the Capital Master Plan and the Strategic Heritage Plan. He acknowledged the efforts of the Policy Service for the benchmarking mission to the United Nations Office in Geneva to draw on some of the best practices on conferences. The Group hopes that during the project’s implementation stages all efforts are taken to integrate locally sourced and manufactured materials and to use local labour and expertise, he said.
MEDARD AINOMUHISHA (Uganda), speaking on behalf of the African Group and associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, emphasized the historic nature and cultural heritage of the Africa Hall as a standing exhibit for the Pan-African Convention and as a ground for the Organization’s cooperation with the continent on development and security. Service fees must be affordable for a wide array of guests, including students and other low-income visitors, he reiterated before encouraging ECA to add other groups such as children, persons with disabilities and all students to the fee waiver category. He then called on other Member States, donors and patrons to provide voluntary contributions. On project governance and oversight, he encouraged ECA to continue ensuring effective oversight along with the early identification and addressing of any gaps. The project team should increase the utilization of local knowledge, material, technology and capacity on a priority basis, he added.
Turning to the United Nations Office at Nairobi, he underscored the need for adequate conferencing facilities. Given the growing needs of agencies, funds and programmes headquartered in Nairobi and the opportunity to attract larger-scale meetings, maintaining safe, efficient and fit-for-purpose conference facilities is of the utmost importance, he stressed. Noting that the footprint of the current proposals have been reduced significantly, he said he would seek to understand both options’ underlying assumptions as well as their capacities to address long-term needs. He also voiced his concern over the assertion that the recruitment of an Information Technology Officer yielded no suitably qualified candidates and indicated he would seek to understand the dynamics and considerations underpinning the recruitment process during informal consultations. He then underscored the importance of project risk management and acknowledged the proposal to establish an integrated and responsive risk management framework which includes hiring an independent risk management firm.
SEMALIGN KEBEDE ANULO (Ethiopia), aligning himself with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the Africa Hall’s renovation as an opportunity to strengthen the Organization’s relationship with the continent. Once completed, the Africa Hall will be able to sustain itself, he said. This, however, must come from the Hall’s enhanced visibility as well as the application of fees that is considerate of different income levels, he stressed before spotlighting several visibility opportunities. The project team should further consult on the business case of the visitors’ centre and use the fee schemes of other attraction sites as a model for children, all students and persons with disabilities, among others, in the fee waiver category, he requested. Turning to the Hall’s artwork, he emphasized the need to conserve the site’s heritage and respect its originality through the use of local knowledge and materials. Experts from the countries of each art-work’s origin must be consulted and involved. He then called on all Member States to provide voluntary contributions.
SUSAN MWANGI (Kenya), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, spotlighted the United Nations Office at Nairobi’s conference services to emphasize the urgent need to upgrade and expand its facilities. As host country, Kenya has invested significantly in ensuring a conducive environment and will continue to honour its obligations and responsibilities, she said. She then welcomed the Secretary-General’s steps to address the deteriorating conditions and limited capacities of the Office. The proposal merits Member States’ support as an important investment in the furtherance of multilateralism, she stressed as she urged the United Nations system to increase its funding, so the Office lives up to its billing as a truly African headquarters of the Organization. Concerning the recruitment of the Information Technology Officer, she was not convinced that the recruitment process could not yield suitably qualified candidates given her country’s vibrant and visionary information and communications technology sector.