53rd Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 74th Session

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14-Jan-2020 01:36:53
Delegations express serious concern as General Assembly adopts text increasing membership of Advisory Committee on administrative and budgetary questions at 53rd plenary meeting.

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The General Assembly today decided to increase the membership of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions — an expert body to examine United Nations budget proposals — from 16 to 21 members, thus achieving more equitable geographical representation, effective on 1 January 2021.

By adopting resolution A/74/L.5, as orally amended, by a recorded vote of 120 in favour to 48 against, with 4 abstentions (Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republic of Moldova, Serbia), the Assembly distributed five seats to each of the Group of African States and the Group of Asian and Pacific States, four seats to each of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and the Group of Western European and other States, and three seats to the Group of Eastern European States.

The Advisory Committee’s major functions include to examine and report on the budget submitted by the Secretary-General to the Assembly; advise the organ concerning any administrative and budgetary matters referred to it; and examine on behalf of the Assembly the administrative budgets of the specialized agencies and proposals for financial arrangements with such agencies.

Today’s Assembly action exposed deep division on the issue among Member States, with one side, mostly developing countries, insisting that enlarging the Advisory Committee’s membership to achieve broader geographical representation is long overdue and the other strongly protesting that the matter should have first been discussed by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).

An observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the last expansion of the Advisory Committee’s membership was decided in 1977, while the United Nations membership has increased by 25 per cent since then. The current distribution between regional groups within the Advisory Committee is incompatible with the objective of broad geographical representation and constitutes an unfair situation that should not have lasted this long.

Algeria’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed the bloc’s endorsement of the Group of 77’s initiative. Enlargement is an issue of political nature rather than a technical one, he said, stressing that Assembly Resolution 32/103 states that members of the Advisory Committee shall be selected from broad geographical areas.

Togo’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said its member States have so far been represented in the Advisory Committee in a very limited way, welcoming the adoption of today’s resolution as a major step forward.

Prior to action, Croatia’s delegate, on behalf of the European Union, had attempted to amend the draft resolution by having the Assembly decide to discuss the matter in the first resumed session of the Fifth Committee in March. However, this move was voted down, as was Japan’s motion to postpone today’s action.

The speaker from the United States pointed out that all decisions aimed at changing the Advisory Committee’s functioning, composition or working methods have historically been taken in the Fifth Committee. Enlargements of the Advisory Committee’s membership in 1961, 1971 and 1977 were all made through Fifth Committee deliberations. “There is no legitimate reason to change precedent”, she said, warning than expanding the body’s membership without any discussion of the broader impact is irresponsible, will further delay the issuance of reports and may dilute its expertise and administrative acumen.

Japan’s delegate expressed regret that today’s resolution was put directly to the Assembly’s wider membership rather than to the Fifth Committee. The implication of bypassing that body goes far beyond the matter at hand, and risks jeopardizing the sound operations of the United Nations more broadly. Building consensus in the Fifth Committee may sometimes be difficult, he said, but it remains crucial. In that vein, he described the Group of 77’s actions as a “serious defiance” of the Assembly’s long-standing rules of procedure and voiced disappointment over its refusal to engage with other delegations on the matter.

His counterpart from the Netherlands said breaking with the process of consensus decision-making is a dangerous precedent, warning that given the United Nations recent budgetary situation “we cannot afford risking an [Advisory Committee] quagmire” in the future. Member States should place the functioning of the system above their national interests, he stressed.

The representative of the Russian Federation agreed that the Assembly should work by consensus. But today’s actions were only taken because no consensus would have been possible. Citing double standards, he warned those delegates complaining about today’s procedure to avoid confrontational tactics in the future.

According to the Secretariat, implementing the decision made today requires $1.84 million (net of staff assessment), which will be included in the programme budget for 2021. It is estimated that $1.37 million would be required to cover the cost of five additional members, the cost of four additional weeks and two additional posts for the Advisory Committee’s Secretariat and associated non-post resources. And $336,000 would be required to cover the cost of four additional weeks of meetings, with interpretation in all six official languages. And $125,700 would be required to cover two additional staff and the one-time cost of modifications needed to the existing office space of the Advisory Committee.

In other business, the Assembly took note of two letters by the Secretary-General (documents A/74/642/Add.1 and A/74/642/Add.2, respectively), in which he informed members that Suriname and Lebanon have made the necessary payments to reduce their arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Australia (also for Canada and New Zealand), Switzerland (also for Liechtenstein), Israel, France, Germany, Chile, Norway, United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea.

The General Assembly will reconvene at a time and date to be determined.

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