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Secretary-General Unveils $3.22 Billion Budget Proposal for 2023 to Fifth Committee, Noting Advances in Results-Based Management, Managing Liquidity over Past Year

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) of the General Assembly, in New York today:

I welcome this opportunity to introduce the proposed programme budget for 2023.  But before starting, I would like to thank you for your generosity and your patience.  You are going to listen to the most boring speech I do during this year.  If you compare it with what I said in the General Assembly, you will notice that indeed, your patience will be very much welcomed.  But these things are what they are, and I think it is my obligation to bother you with my own words so counting on your generosity, let me go on.

I do so in the context of a world that is challenging us on every front.  Conflicts are upending the globe.  Poverty and hunger are on the rise.  The number of refugees and internally displaced persons is reaching new highs.  Financing for development is coming too little and too late.  Our commitments to combat the climate crisis pale in comparison to the scale of this existential threat.  Meanwhile, the pandemic and its impacts are far from over.

The role of the United Nations has never been more vital — and we are stepping up.  We are improving our adaptability and breaking silos.  Our reforms continue to help us deliver better.  We are shifting our centre of gravity from Headquarters to the field.  We are speeding our decision-making process and moving it closer to the point of delivery.  We have made significant progress in strengthening our internal controls and I know this is a matter of great interest to this committee.

In June, I signed the second Statement of Internal Controls for the Organization.  It provided assurances to Member States that mandated activities are being implemented effectively and efficiently; that our financial reporting is reliable and compliant with the International Public Sector Accounting Standards; and that our practices and procedures properly reflect the regulatory framework.  The second Statement also enables us to benchmark our efforts to strengthen internal controls.  It provides for a more systematic approach to managing risk.

Following the adoption of our evaluation policy in 2021, we have moved ahead in training programme managers and rolling out new resources to strengthen evaluation of our work.  The Secretariat-wide risk register was finalized in 2020 and corresponding risk mitigation plans were put in place in 2021.  Individual departments, offices and missions — starting with the larger ones — are developing entity-level risk mitigation plans.  By early next year, all entities should have plans in place.

A working group under the Management Committee is monitoring implementation efforts and adjusting risk mitigation measures.  The working group will also oversee the full reassessment of the current portfolio of corporate risks.  We are also making progress in increasing transparency for the use of resources and delivery of results.  Thanks to the reforms introduced, Member States are now able to access more information, more often.

The complete roll out of the Umoja Extension 2 solution enables for the first time the capture of comprehensive data in one system, from the programme planning and budget to the actual results and use of resources.  More information has been made available to Member States and the Advisory Committee through portals — namely the Budget Information Pilot and the Budget Results Dashboard “” — with better capabilities to retrieve and analyse resource and programmatic information.

Member States now have access to the Uniformed Capabilities Support Portal providing real time information.  Troop- and police-contributing countries now have higher visibility over the payment of their reimbursements and conclusion of memoranda of understanding.

Starting this month, Member States will have access to more information on staff and demographics through the new United Nations Secretariat Workforce portal.  All senior managers are provided with real-time management information through the expanded Management Dashboard to support effective and timely decision making.  The Management Client Board enables client entities to provide feedback on management strategies and operational support.  With that feedback, the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and Department of Operational Support continue to prioritize initiatives to help ensure the most effective delivery of mandates.

Our reform of the development pillar also continues to yield results.  More than 9 out of 10 Governments expressed appreciation for the COVID-19 responses of the United Nations development system — from health to humanitarian assistance and socioeconomic support.  Eighty-seven per cent of Governments confirmed that our Resident Coordinator system has scaled up support to countries to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.  Ninety-one per cent of host Governments indicated that the United Nations today is more relevant to their country’s development needs.  Ninety-two per cent felt that the new Cooperation Frameworks have enabled them to effectively address and respond to national priorities.  We are fully respecting the principle of ownership by Governments in our partnership.

These perceptions are backed by tangible impact on the ground.  In 2021, our repositioned United Nations country teams helped deliver 1.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines; facilitated access to nearly 50 million out-of-school children — half of them girls; extended access to water and sanitation to close to 50 million people and supported 70 countries to strengthen regulations for decent work for persons with disabilities.  The new peace and security architecture is more integrated, with our Peacebuilding Office serving as a hinge between peace and security and development.

We will continue to forge ahead with reforms, and we are committed to doing even more to improve effectiveness and better support Member States.  We know these efforts yield results.  I am proud that our reforms have allowed us not only to respond quickly and effectively to the challenges of an unprecedented global pandemic, but also enabled us to survive one of the worst financial crises for the United Nations in more than a decade.

The programme budget I am presenting today is the fourth since Member States approved, on a trial basis, the biggest change in our planning and budgeting processes since the 1970s.  The move from a biennial programme and budgetary cycle to an annual exercise is a major step towards more realistic planning and budgeting and reflects a greater focus on results.  It has improved the accuracy of our resource estimates, enabled us to adapt more quickly to changes in mandates, and allowed us to adjust our planning based on actual programme performance, thereby enhancing mandate delivery and accountability for results.

The annual cycle also provides Member States with an opportunity to provide more frequent direction on resource allocations for the Organization, and to align those decisions with recent or sudden events, such as the global pandemic.  The annual programme budget is more comprehensive, enabling one holistic review by Member States.  Programme performance, programme plans, and resource requirements are integrated in one document and considered at the same time, allowing Member States to better assess the link between resources and planning, and between programme performance and future plans.

The shorter cycle afforded by the annual budget has also enabled us to adapt our programme planning and resource requirements faster to new mandates and changes in our operating environment.  The proportion of new mandates issued within the last two years that were included in the programme budget grew from less than 15 per cent in 2018-2019 to more than 30 per cent under the annual budget.  The rapid adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic is visible testimony to the agility of our responses under the annual programme budget.  The annual programme budget reforms are facilitating a cultural shift towards a more results-oriented Organization.

Programme managers are more engaged in preparing the programme plans and performance targets now focus more clearly on concrete results.  Performance target improvements in subprogrammes have increased from 30 per cent in 2018-2019 to more than 50 per cent in the annual programme budget for 2022.  The inclusion of information on actual performance and evaluation results ensures a continuous learning cycle that leads to more effective mandate implementation.

In the proposed programme document for 2023, we are reporting on the performance of our programmes in 2021.  In instances where our performance fell short, we made adjustments for better results in 2023.  The document now includes a multi-year account of measurable results.  This year’s document includes measurable planned results for 2022 and 2023, and measurable actual results in 2019, 2020 and 2021 for each of the 350 result frameworks.  This offers a comprehensive picture of our programme delivery over the past three years.

Allow me to turn to the resource requirements for 2023.  To fully implement our mandates, we will require a total of $3.22 billion.  This includes a total of 10,122 posts, a net increase of 95 posts, predominantly for the conversion of posts from extrabudgetary funding to the programme budget to provide sustainability.

We estimate that the final programme budget proposal is likely to be $3.4 billion.  This includes about $69 million for re-costing and an increase of $34 million for major construction projects compared to 2022, predominantly due to higher financing for the Strategic Heritage Plan.  Overall, excluding construction projects, and despite several new mandates, my proposed programme budget extends my practice of seeking no real growth.  I would like to highlight four specific elements of our proposals.

First, we propose continued investment in development.  We are proposing a total increase of $3.6 million across United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Regular Programme for Technical Cooperation and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).  This is the fourth consecutive increase proposed for development since the start of my term as Secretary-General.

Second, we propose strengthening our work in counter-terrorism.  Our programme budget requests an additional $4.4 million, including 25 posts, for the Office of Counter-Terrorism, as a conversion from extrabudgetary resources.  This is in line with guidance from the General Assembly.  And the tragic evolution of terrorism in the world, the dramatic problems we face, and the extension of our programmes of support to Member States in the fight against terrorism fully justify the characterization of these posts as sustainable.

The Office of Counter-Terrorism was established by the General Assembly in 2017 and has since relied mostly on extrabudgetary resources from a narrow donor base.  But continuation of core functions is threatened by reductions in extrabudgetary resources.  Our proposal, therefore, constitutes the first phase of a transition towards a more stable and predictable funding for the Office to ensure the full implementation of its mandates.

Third, we seek to strengthen human rights and humanitarian affairs.  In line with the General Assembly’s guidance, building on actions approved last year by the General Assembly, we are proposing an additional $2 million, including 16 posts, to strengthen the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), secure sustainable funding for continuing functions, and address critical funding gaps.  In line with the decision of the General Assembly, we have also frontloaded a more comprehensive programme budget for Human Rights, which will facilitate more predictable resource planning for the Office of the High Commissioner.

And fourth, with respect to common support services, we are proposing the continuation of our strategic action to address racism in the United Nations Secretariat.  The budget proposal for 2023 also includes resources for the Office of the Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse.  This will ensure continuity of this important function and provide a more sustainable funding arrangement.  I must reiterate that this is an absolutely key issue for the reputation of the United Nations.  One of the benchmarks of our work that is increasingly evident in the press and in the actions of Governments refers exactly to the need to strengthen our capacity to combat sexual abuse and exploitation.

The budget proposal for 2023 also includes resources for the Office of the Special Coordinator on improving the United Nations response to sexual exploitation and abuse.  This will ensure continuity of this important function and provide a more sustainable funding arrangement.  We are also putting forward measures to improve multilingualism, in particular by strengthening our language training programmes.

To implement a remaining element of our management reform — in accordance with General Assembly resolution 72/266B — we are proposing the redeployment of a few operational functions, along with the associated resources, from the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance to the Department of Operational Support.

Across the budget sections, the proposals also demonstrate how our workforce is transforming in line with our global data strategy.  Through reassignment, we are planning to refocus on data management and analysis, to strengthen our normative and advisory work.  The proposals also leverage lessons learned from our responses to the pandemic, especially opportunities for a so-called “next normal”, with more virtual collaboration, reduced travel and enhanced use of technology.

I am proud to report that we are on a positive trajectory towards achieving gender parity across the United Nations system.  We achieved gender parity among senior leadership for the first time in United Nations history — and we did so two years ahead of schedule.  In the Secretariat, the proportion of women in the professional categories and above has increased to over 42 per cent from 37 per cent in 2017 — a 15 per cent annual increase.

I am also pleased to report meaningful results in our efforts to achieve more equitable geographical representation in the Secretariat — and this is despite the slower pace of recruitment over the last few years due to hiring restrictions forced by the precarious liquidity situation and the evolution of the retirement age.

Between 2016 and 2021, the number of underrepresented countries dropped by approximately 20 per cent from 44 to 36 countries.  But this is an effort we must pursue, and this is for me, an absolute priority as I have been clearly telling our dear colleagues in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and Department of Operational Support.  We are working to make even greater progress, and hope that the improved liquidity situation will allow us to avoid new hiring restrictions.  Our experience in relaxing hiring restrictions has shown that vacancy rates do not respond quickly to interventions.

I am thankful that, during the second resumed session, Member States responded to my appeals to address some of the structural problems affecting the liquidity situation of the regular budget operations.  The increase of the Working Capital Fund by an additional $100 million by using a part of the credits returnable to Member States in 2023 will have two effects.  It will permanently increase the liquidity reserves, while averting another liquidity crisis triggered by returning a large amount of unspent funds to Member States in 2023.

Let us be clear, we did not spend the funds in 2023 because those funds were not available and so it is rather ironic that we have to give back funds that we did not spend because we did not receive but that is one of the things that I believe at some stage, the Fifth Committee must look seriously into because it is one of the most absurd budget regulations that I have ever seen in my long career of national public service and international civil service.  However, I must remind you that many of my proposals for improving the financial situation were not considered favourably.  Therefore, we have to keep a watchful eye on the liquidity situation.

This year, despite more Member States paying earlier than before, collections had been trailing estimates by over $260 million.  In September, we had to borrow from the Working Capital Fund, unlike last year when we borrowed only in November.  We collected only 71.9 per cent of the year’s assessment by the end of September, compared to 82.6 per cent last year.  We are hoping that collections will pick up in the last quarter and the year-end arrears will not go up again.

There was, I believe, a very healthy response to the liquidity crisis that mobilized Member States last year.  I hope this mobilization will not disappear.  I think we need to keep this mobilization because the threats are still persistent as you are all aware.  So, we are hoping that collections will pick up in the last quarter and that year-end arrears will not go up again.

I thank those Member States who have changed their payment pattern in response to my appeals.  This year, 53 Member States paid within 30 days, the highest in the last 20 years.  I call on more Member States to pay earlier, so that the pressure on the liquidity reserves can be reduced and we can spend the money when we need to, without fear of disrupting our operations.

Unpredictable payment patterns mean that our expenditure patterns do not give a reliable indication of our real needs over the year, making liquidity planning more challenging.  Money that could not be spent as and when required, because we did not receive it on time, results in poorer programme delivery and refunds even to Member States who have not paid their contributions.  For example, even after retaining $100 million for the Working Capital Fund, we will be returning about $179 million as credits against the 2023 assessments.  This will impact our liquidity for 2023.  Therefore, it is important that we continue to collect contributions as early as possible during 2023.

Knowing when you are likely to pay is important for our planning, especially in the second half of the year.  Therefore, I urge you to notify us of your planned payments, as many of you have been doing. The ‘pledge to predictable payments’, which many Member States have signed already, will be very helpful in managing liquidity constraints.  The more certain we are about the amounts and timing of contributions, the greater will be our confidence in committing funds to deliver our programme of work.  Our repeated brushes with the fiscal cliff over the last few years have taken a toll on our ability to deliver.

I hope that a more stable financial situation will allow us to focus on the substantial challenges confronting us.  Against this backdrop, I look forward to your support for our 2023 programme budget proposals, as we prepare our Organization to better respond to the needs and demands of governments and people.

I am pleased with achievements made possible by the changes to the budgetary cycle — and once again thank you for your support.  The invaluable feedback of Member States has been crucial in improving the format of the programme budget document.  As we conclude the trial period, I trust that we can continue to count on you to advance the annual programme budget reforms we have made a real difference over the past few years.  I welcome this opportunity to engage with you today and assure you that my senior managers will continue to support your deliberations on these proposals.

For information media. Not an official record.