Seventy-eighth Session,
27th Meeting (AM)

Resident Coordinator System Funding, Diverse Workforce High on Agenda, as Fifth Committee Resumes Session amid Cash Crisis

Delegates Warn Hiring Freeze Debilitates Mandate Delivery

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) resumed its seventy-eighth session amid the cash crunch confronting the Organization, delegates pressed all States to pay their assessed contributions and ensure that the Organization’s staff represents the world it serves, in terms of geographical representation and gender parity. 

“What is the point of approving a budget we’re not willing to collectively fund?” asked Australia’s delegate, who also spoke for Canada and New Zealand.  In 2023, 51 Member States did not pay their regular budget assessment in full and 140 did not pay on time.  Setting high expectations without ensuring the necessary resources is a recipe for underperformance, she stressed, noting that the Secretariat’s aggressive cash conservation measures have resulted in debilitating its workforce. 

Along similar lines, Singapore’s delegate, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also expressed concern about the dismal state of the United Nations liquidity due to non-payment of assessed contributions, including by one major contributor.  Cost-saving measures have resulted in hiring and spending restrictions, as well as reduction of Secretariat support for meetings in New York and other locations.  Member States that have the capacity to pay their assessed contributions must do so in full, on time and without conditions, he said.

“Adopting budgets is not enough,” stressed the representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer.  Expressing concern about the continuous attempts to undercut the independence of supervisory bodies, he said the Committee must continue to adequately fund all mandates, including the Independent Institution for Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as for the orderly liquidation of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS).

Qatar’s delegate, who spoke for the Gulf Corporation Council, noted that the States in this group have paid in full their assessed contributions for 2023 and some have paid in full for 2024, as well.  He called on all States to do the same, while stressing the importance of improving the financial status of the Organization.

On financing the resident coordinator system, the Committee will begin consideration of a proposal to shift a significant portion of the funding to the regular budget.  Many delegates stressed the importance of deliberating carefully on this, even as they stressed the importance of predictable and sustainable funding for the system.

A well-coordinated United Nations system at the country level “is in all of our interests”, the representative of United Kingdom stressed.  Highlighting the impact of funding shortfalls on the resident coordinator system, he called for sustainable, adequate and predictable funding to enable it to effectively support Governments on their development journey. 

China’s representative noted that this budget proposal is being submitted to the Committee due to the absence of an agreement among Member States on the reform of the funding model for the resident coordinator system.  He expressed concern about this practice and said the reform should not be a mere exercise of transferring the funding responsibility, originally borne by developed countries to the entire membership.  He stressed the need for broad and patient consultations and exploration of multiple funding options.

Mexico’s delegate, who described the resident coordinator system as the “articulator” of United Nations efforts on the ground, acknowledged that its funding has been an Achilles heel.  Looking forward to the details of the Secretary-General’s proposal, he expressed regret that it will be introduced so late:  only a couple of days before the session is due to end.  Given its importance, this proposal should be discussed with sufficient time and with the rigor it requires, he added.

The Republic of Korea’s delegate stressed the need for transparency, accountability and effectiveness in the financing of the resident coordinator system.  It is also crucial to ensure that the proposed new way of financing can get constructive oversight down the road, he said, adding that the Committee must remain informed on discussions concerning this in the Economic and Social Council and other fora.

“This is a delicate debate,” Uruguay’s delegate said, as he cautioned against prejudging the outcome of this discussion.  Given that it could lead to an additional burden, especially for developing countries, many of whom are already finding it difficult to meet their existing financial commitments, he called for a long-term process of dialogue to achieve consensus in this area.  The representatives of Costa Rica and Japan also stressed the need for careful and measured study of the resident coordinator funding proposal. 

The representative of the United States, noting that his country is the largest voluntary donor to the resident coordinator system, said the new proposal will represent one of the largest shifts of voluntary funding to the regular budget in recent memory.  Therefore, it is crucial to consider this proposal in a way that focuses on transparency and accountability, he said.  Further, he added, noting that the resumed session will last one week longer than in years, he hoped that the additional week will lead to better discussions and fewer agenda items being deferred.  However, he cautioned, per Parkinson’s Law, work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.  If that is the case, the Committee should consider reverting to a four week session.

Uganda’s delegate, speaking for the Group of 77 and China, also noted the extension of the programme of work by one week, and said it is crucial not to squander that time.  Calling for timely submission of reports, he said this is vital to conclude the session on time.  The Russian Federation’s representative underscored that all reports must be issued on time in the six official languages.  He also requested the participation of the Coordinator for Multilingualism in the forthcoming briefing by the Controller on the liquidity situation so that delegates can understand how austerity measures are affecting multilingualism.

The Committee then delved into some specific human-resources management issues, including equitable geographical representation in staffing, gender parity and the proposal to remove barriers between the general-service and professional categories amidst the ongoing liquidity crisis.

Last year, the Committee adopted the first comprehensive resolution on human resources management in more than six years.  Many delegates expressed their desire to hear about how it is being implemented in the Secretariat. 

The representative of Uganda, speaking for the Group of 77 and China, noted that the temporary recruitment suspension reduced movement into regular-budget posts by 67 per cent during the reporting period, which put on hold progress towards equitable geographical distribution.  He also pointed out that, while significant progress has been made to achieve gender parity within the UN, “there is a lack of similar and complementary efforts and progress to ensure geographical representation in the Organization”. 

Similarly, Qatar’s representative, speaking for the Gulf Cooperation Council, expressed concern over the Secretariat’s demographic composition, noting that member States of the Council are un- or under-represented — “which has been going on now for some 10 years”. Further, he stressed that there is a structural imbalance in terms of awareness-raising and recruitment, which requires swift, effective action to implement relevant General Assembly resolutions. 

Algeria’s delegate, also calling for further efforts to achieve more equitable and balanced geographical representation within the Organization, emphasized that downsizing policies should not be implemented at the expense of exacerbating the already-disproportionate geographical representation in the Secretariat.  He nevertheless welcomed progress made in 2022 regarding gender parity and the increase of female staff.

 However, the representative of the Russian Federation expressed regret that senior posts have long been dominated by representatives from the Group of Western European and Other States.  He then spotlighted a new initiative to consider gender-inclusive amendments to the rules and regulations governing UN staff.  He stressed that a substantive discussion of the concept of gender is outside the Committee’s purview, also noting such amendments are composed in English and include terms with no equivalent in other UN official languages.

The representative of the Philippines, speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), meanwhile, said that the Secretariat should reflect a diverse workforce that encompasses a variety of perspectives.  In this context, she called for efforts to improve equitable geographical representation — especially from un- or underrepresented Member States — and welcomed the Secretary-General’s efforts to improve gender parity at all levels.  Turning to the proposal to allow general-service staff to apply for professional posts, she said that an expanded talent pool will help strengthen efforts to promote such representation and parity. 

On that proposal, Ethiopia’s representative, speaking for the African Group, recognized the need to remove administrative barriers faced by general-service and field-service staff in applying for professional posts.  However, she said that this transformation will be beneficial only to the extent that it helps the Organization address prevailing challenges — including the absence of equitable geographical representation.  She said, therefore, that this proposal must be accompanied by policy guidance from the General Assembly. 

For her part, Switzerland’s representative, also speaking for Liechtenstein, welcomed the proposal to open opportunities for general-service staff to apply for professional posts. Reducing barriers is important for the motivation of those concerned, she said, stressing that the proposal should avoid the creation of new artificial barriers and ensure attractive career development for all staff in that category.  She underscored, however, that the Organization can only fulfil its role as a quality, attractive employer if it is able to pay salaries and recruit the best people.  “In this liquidity crisis, it is the responsibility of the Member States to do our part,” she observed.

The Committee also heard the introduction of various reports pertaining to its work today.  Carolina Fernández Opazo, Inspector and Chairperson of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced the annual report of the Unit for 2023 and its programme of work for 2024 (document A/78/34).  Federica Pietracci, Senior Programme Management Officer of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s note on that report (document A/78/731) as well as the Secretary-General’s note transmitting his comments and those of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination on that report (document A/78/695/Addendum).

Martha Helena Lopez, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources and Amjad Al-Kumaim, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced the reports on the composition of the Secretariat (documents A/78/569A/78/569/Add.1A/78/745 and A/78/745/Add.1), the practice of the Secretary-General in disciplinary matters and cases of possible criminal behaviour (documents A/78/603A/78/603/Corr.1 and A/78/756), seconded active-duty military and police personnel (documents A/78/602 and A/78/762), and monitoring of staff attendance (documents A/78/604 and A/78/759). 

Ms. Lopez also introduced the report of the Secretary-General on data on system-wide compensation costs (document A/78/600), while Mr. Al-Kumaim also introduced the related report of that Committee (document A/78/757).  Eileen Cronin, Inspector, Joint Inspection Unit, introduced its report on review of mental health and well-being policies and practices in United Nations system organizations (documents A/78/695JIU/REP/2023/4A/78/695/Add.1).  The Committee also heard from Laura Johnson, staff union representative, speaking via video conference from Geneva.

For information media. Not an official record.