Delegations Express Serious Concern as General Assembly Adopts Text Increasing Membership of Advisory Committee on Administrative, Budgetary Questions

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 104 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.

Action on Draft

An observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, introduced the draft resolution titled Enlargement of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions: amendment to rule 155 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly (document A/74/L.5). He said that the last decision to expand the Advisory Committee’s membership was undertaken in 1977 while the United Nations membership has increased by 25 per cent since then. The current distribution between regional groups within the Committee is incompatible with the objective of broad geographical representation and constitutes an unfair situation that should not have lasted this long.

Noting that the draft resolution offers a more balanced and just distribution that corresponds to the reality of the United Nations membership in each regional group and ensures such increased participation of developing countries, he stressed that given the importance of the Advisory Committee and its role for the entire organization, broad geographical representation should not be denied nor further delayed. Matters such as the working method of the Committee and conditions of service of its members can be dealt with separately and can be taken up in the first resumed session of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), he added.

In a motion, the representative of Japan proposed the postponement of action by the General Assembly to a later date, as rule 163 of the rules of procedures states that the organ may amend the rule of procedures after a Committee proposes amendments.

The observer for the State of Palestine said that rule 163 concerns drafting of amendments, and L.5 only includes changes to the number of seats. His delegation believes that the plenary can proceed to take action.

By a recorded vote of 50 in favour to 114 against, with 4 abstentions (Belarus, Costa Rica, Russian Federation, Serbia), Japan’s motion was rejected.

An official from the Secretariat, explaining budgetary implications of L.5, said that, should the Assembly adopt it, additional resource requirements would amount to $1.64 million (net of staff assessment) and be included in the programme budget for 2021. It is estimated that $1.17 million would be required to cover the cost of four 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 the one-time cost of modifications needed to the existing office space of the Committee and two additional staff.

The representative of Croatia introduced an oral amendment to L.5 on behalf of the European Union. It would entirely delete operative paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of the draft and replace them with a single new paragraph reading that the Fifth Committee will discuss the Advisory Committee’s functioning and composition in the first resumed session of its seventy-fourth session. He pledged that the Union will engage constructively in the issues related to membership expansion during the Fifth Committee’s resumed session in March.

The representative of Australia, also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, rejected efforts to expand the Advisory Committee. Noting that equitable geographical representation is of great importance, he expressed willingness to engage in discussions on membership expansion. However, he voiced concern about the way in which today’s resolution was tabled, noting that consultations were held only at the last minute. As the draft resolution would impact the United Nations wider budget, it clearly falls under the purview of the Fifth Committee. Moreover, he said, the process being pursued today undermines the precedent that the Fifth Committee � unlike many other United Nations bodies � operates by consensus. He also voiced concern about the Advisory Committee’s growing workload and reduced effectiveness, noting that an expansion of its membership will not fix those challenges. For those reasons, he proposed several other improvements, such as boosting the Committee’s expertise level, changing its working methods and improving in its gender balance which is embarrassingly lopsided. For those reasons, he supported the European Union’s proposed amendments, and should it fail, urged Member States to vote against the draft resolution as a whole.

The representative of 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. Expressing concern about the Group of 77’s decision to ignore that Committee’s clear prerogative by bringing the resolution to the wider Assembly � and without any attempt to reach consensus � she said such an action demonstrates bad faith and could undermine the spirit of trust, compromise and consensus. 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 the its expertise and administrative acumen.

The representative of Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed the bloc’s endorsement of the Group of 77’s initiative. The Advisory Committee’s composition has been reviewed three times progressively. Since 1977, the Organization’s membership increased by 46. Enlargement is not just a budgetary issue, but a political one. The Movement presented a draft during the seventy-second session, but, unfortunately, it was opposed by partners. L.5 is compatible with General Assembly resolutions and the Charter of the United Nations. Resolution 32/103 states that members of the Advisory Committee shall be selected from broad geographical areas. He urged Member States to vote down the amendment.

The observer for the State of Palestine reiterated that the objective is broad geographical representation, enshrined in the Charter and United Nations resolutions.

The representative of Switzerland, speaking also for Liechtenstein, said that his delegation understands concerns for geographical representation, but this discussion on this matter should take place in the Fifth Committee. The Group of 77’s approach will harm the functions of the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly in their future sessions. Enlargement of the Advisory Committee’s membership will cause further delays in the issuance of its reports. Composition must be discussed with the working method, conditions of service and gender parity.

The representative of Israel joined those speakers who expressed concern over the way today’s draft resolution was tabled and said that limiting the discussion solely to issues of membership engagement does not address other challenges facing the Advisory Committee. She therefore supported the European Union’s proposed amendment.

The representative of France, joining with the European Union and expressing support for its proposed amendment, expressed regret about the process that brought the Assembly to consider the draft resolution before it today. We have contravened our own rules, he said, noting that no group of States should be able to dominate the Advisory Committee in an Organization to which every State contributes. The actions taken by the Group of 77 risk setting a negative precedent with broad repercussions, he said, adding that no serious argument was put forward as to why the Fifth Committee should not consider the matter of membership expansion during its upcoming resumed session. The idea that some States are unable or unwilling to listen to their peers about issues of geographic representation is an insult, he stressed, describing the Fifth Committee’s consensus structure as the most precious tool it possesses.

The Assembly then rejected the oral amendment proposed by the European Union, by a recorded vote of 52 in favour, to 115 against with 3 abstentions (Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina).

The representative of the Russian Federation then proposed an oral amendment to L.5 that would increase the number of seats for the Eastern European Group to 3 and the entire membership to 21.

An official from the Secretariat, presenting revised budgetary implications of L.5, said that should the Assembly adopt it, additional resource requirements would amount to $1.84 million (net of staff assessment) and 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.

The observer for the State of Palestine said that the Russian Federation’s amendment is compatible with broad geographical representation, urging all delegations to vote in favour.

The Assembly adopted the amendment by a recorded vote of 118 in favour to 50 against with 2 abstentions (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guatemala).

The representative of Croatia, speaking on behalf of the European Union on a point of order, reiterated that the issue being discussed today falls solely under the purview of the Fifth Committee, which works on the basis of consensus. That principle carries crucial importance for the orderly functioning of the United Nations, he said, underlining the responsibility to strive for shared ownership of budgetary decisions. He voiced concern that draft L.5 is not in line with established rules of procedure, warning that its adoption could serve as a disincentive to seek consensus in the future. For those reasons, the bloc’s member States will vote against L.5, he said, urging others to do the same.

The representative of Germany, aligning himself with the European Union, added that enlarging the membership of the Advisory Committee will not resolve its current challenges. Moreover, the process being seen today will only further increase the politicization of the work of the Fifth Committee and the Advisory Committee.

The representative of the Netherlands echoed those sentiments, agreeing that the matter of the Advisory’s Committee composition is being politicized and its future functioning jeopardized. Breaking with the process of consensus decision-making is a dangerous precedent, he stressed, 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, requesting Member States to vote against the draft resolution and emphasizing that today’s meeting should not set a precedent for future work.

The Assembly adopted the resolution, 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).

Speaking in explanation of vote, the representative of Chile said that his delegation voted in favour to achieve the objective of equitable geographical representation. However, consensus is the better way. His delegation hopes that this will not create a precedent.

The representative of Norway joined other speakers in underlining the importance of a well-functioning Advisory Committee as well as the stronger participation of developing States in the United Nations. As such, Norway views the Group of 77’s proposal positively. However, he expressed concern about the process employed today and the precedence that could be created by a plenary decision on such a matter, agreeing with other delegates that the membership expansion should have been discussed in the consensus-driven Fifth Committee. Norway’s vote should therefore not be interpreted as a signal of its recognition of the path being taken by the resolution’s proponent, but rather of a more representative Advisory Committee.

The representative of Japan 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 the Group’s refusal to engage with other delegations on the matter.

The representative of Togo, 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. For that reason, the adoption of today’s resolution represents a major step forward, he said, pointing out that the longstanding status quo in the Committee deprived some Member States the right to craft a United Nations that works for all.

The representative of the United Kingdom expressed disappointment over the lack of consideration given to the risks of deliberately circumventing established rules of procedure. Spotlighting his delegation’s willingness to engage in inclusive discussions in pursuit of consensus, he decried that those behind this proposal have not even tried to seek consensus. Geographical representation is an important consideration but should always be viewed in the context of other concerns, he said, adding that the views of all Member States should be taken into account as each has an interest in the functioning of the United Nations and the use of their tax dollars.

The representative of the Russian Federation agreed that the Assembly should work by consensus. 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.

The representative of the Republic of Korea welcomed the expansion in the Advisory Committee’s membership. However, his delegation voted against the draft resolution in light of its belief that the matter lies clearly within the purview of the Fifth Committee and should be considered as part of a more comprehensive reform of the Advisory Committee.

Source: United Nations

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