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Report of the 4 April 1995 Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters
EC/SC.2/73

Administrative and Financial Matters (SCAF), 3 July 1995

I. INTRODUCTION

1. The 4 April 1995 inter-sessional meeting of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters was opened by its Chairman, His Excellency Ambassador J. Esper Larsen (Denmark).

II. DISCUSSION OF PROVISIONAL AGENDA

2. The Provisional Agenda (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.7) was adopted without comment.

III. ADOPTION OF THE REPORT OF THE 16 JANUARY 1995 MEETING

3. The draft report of the 16 January 1995 meeting of the Sub-Committee (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.9) was approved without change.

IV. STATEMENT OF THE DEPUTY HIGH COMMISSIONER

4. The Deputy High Commissioner reviewed major refugee developments in the first quarter of 1995. In regard to policy and programmatic issues, he welcomed progress made in the discussions of the Working Group on Executive Committee Working Methods and in the informal consultations on UNHCR's budget structure. The transparency of the Office's budgets and the quality of governance provided by the Executive Committee were key elements in maintaining the credibility essential to the success of UNHCR operations. He also noted the positive outcome of the 3 April informal consultations on service packages; this was yet another step in enhancing UNHCR's emergency preparedness and response mechanisms. The need to pursue other areas of institutional development, particularly in relation to human resources management, was also stressed.

V. HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGEMENT

5. The Chairman drew the Sub-Committee's attention to the documents entitled UNHCR's Career Management System Project (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.8) and Report on the Deployment of Female Protection and Field Staff (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.11).

6. The Director of UNHCR's Division of Human Resources Management spoke of the extensive staff involvement in the development of the Career Management System (CMS) and of the different ways that the CMS would benefit General Service and Professional staff. As to field staff, more efficient and fair procedures will be initiated, allowing the Office to recognize and reward effective staff members and train or separate those who are not fully effective. For the CMS project to succeed, the working environment within UNHCR would need to change, in particular the management culture. A CMS pilot project will begin in September 1995 in the Regional Bureau for Asia and Oceania and the Division of Human Resources Management and will continue until March 1996. Results will be evaluated, changed as necessary and finalized after further consultations within UNHCR. Planning was under way for related training activities. This extensive training would have resource implications; details of such training, and any necessary funding increases, would be shared with the Sub-Committee in due course. The Director concluded by noting that the comprehensive approach of the Office, dealing with the organizational culture as well as the tools of human resources management, was seen as a pioneering effort; it had earned recognition from other United Nations agencies.

7. Regarding female protection staff, the Director of the Division of Human Resources Management called the attention of the Sub-Committee to the limitations of the statistical data contained in document EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.11; the statistics were based on computer records which were only able to capture certain job titles. Thus, while the figures contained information on operational protection and legal officer staff, they did not include other senior female staff in related policy positions; this fact needed to be borne in mind in interpreting the statistics for female protection staff at Headquarters. Similar caution needed to be exercised in interpreting statistics for the field; for example, the statistics did not indicate the number of women in senior management positions. The Director reminded the assembly of UNHCR's efforts in regard to gender-sensitive training which was directed at both male and female UNHCR staff.

8. In their comments, delegates agreed on the need for an efficient CMS and for its timely implementation. Delegations requested to be kept apprised at future meetings of the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters of concrete progress made in relation to the CMS. One speaker underscored the need for leadership from senior UNHCR management on the CMS project. Several delegations mentioned the need to identify, at an early stage, the costs associated with the CMS project, particularly the related training programme. One delegate suggested that an informal contact group be established between Sub-Committee members and UNHCR to develop closer and regular consultations on the substance of CMS, particularly during the seven-month implementation of the pilot project.

9. Regarding the new performance evaluation report, one delegation stressed that staff needed to be reassured that fair procedures were in place which would protect staff from the arbitrary judgements of individual managers. On a related subject, the delegation requested for the next Sub-Committee a report on the role of the UNHCR Mediator. The same delegation also made suggestions on assuring fairer disciplinary hearings in UNHCR.

10. A number of interventions related to staffing issues. Attention was drawn to the rapidly expanding staffing levels of UNHCR; the question was asked as to how the CMS could accommodate such a situation. A request was made for regular information on female protection and field staff; this could be given in the context of a fuller report on progress towards improved management of human resources in general. One delegation asked if there was a limit on the tenure of the Chairman of the Staff Council, as was the case in some other organizations keen to ensure that those holding office had recently worked in operational positions. The value of having the staff representative address the Executive Committee was also alluded to.

11. The Director of the Division of Human Resources Management underlined UNHCR's commitment to the implementation of the CMS project. He said that a report on progress towards the implementation of the CMS and an evaluation of the pilot project could be prepared for the Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters meeting immediately preceding the Executive Committee. He welcomed the idea of a regular exchange of information between Sub-Committee members and UNHCR staff working on the CMS. The Director said that the growth reflected demands upon the Office. UNHCR was seeking to move towards a more flexible staffing profile which would reflect recruitment to meet specific needs; the CMS would take this staffing pattern into account. The Director said that according to the present constitution there was no limit on the number of terms the Chairman of the Staff Council could serve.

VI. EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE WORKING METHODS

12. The Chairman drew attention to an interim progress report, prepared by the Secretariat, on the deliberations of the Working Group on Executive Committee Working Methods (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.15). Although it was not the Chairman's intention to hold parallel discussions in the Sub-Committee before the Working Group finished its deliberations, he suggested that further thought might be given to, firstly, whether the six-page limit on the length of Executive Committee documents should also be applied to country chapters and, secondly, in what languages these country chapters would be issued. Both of these issues have implications for the volume of Executive Committee documentation and related costs.

13. The Secretary of the Executive Committee informed delegations that the translation, editing, reproduction and distribution of documentation was the most expensive aspect of an Executive Committee annual session, costing some $ 1.2 million in 1993, of which $ 383,000 were charged to voluntary funds. The Secretariat felt that the majority of country chapters could be produced within the six-page limit, where such country chapters related to one country and to one refugee caseload. Streamlining of the regional overviews which form the first part of each regional grouping of country chapters and overlap with the Overview document could further reduce documentation. This measure alone would lead to a reduction of some 500 pages and represent savings of $ 475,000. As to the second proposal, while policy documentation would continue to be produced in the official languages of the Executive Committee, further savings could be envisaged if country chapters were produced only in the working languages (English and French) and, upon request, in the other official languages; a decision on this point would require a change in Rule 30 of the Executive Committee Rules of Procedure (A/AC.96/187/Rev.4). If the Sub-Committee was in agreement, such a decision could be taken at a Special Meeting of the Executive Committee in June 1995.

14. In their interventions, delegates strongly favoured limiting all documentation to six pages. The proposal to reduce the translation of country chapters was also welcomed, although it was stressed that these should be made available in any other official language, as requested. The importance of receiving documents well in advance of the meetings was often emphasized. In this context, one delegation proposed that documentation should reach delegations at least three weeks before the meeting in question; if the deadline was not respected, the Committee could decide to postpone the related agenda item. A compulsory deadline for receipt of documents could be established by adopting a formal proposal at a June 1995 Special Meeting of the Executive Committee.

15. One delegation felt that non-governmental organization participation in meetings should be discussed further at a later meeting. Another delegation asked that the question of a drafting mechanism such as the current Friends of the Rapporteur be discussed further in the Working Group; the delegation suggested that the Rapporteur could usefully extend his functions beyond the duration of the annual Executive Committee session.

16. The Sub-Committee agreed that the six-page limit would also be applied to country chapters. Formal endorsement for this, as well as for the decisions taken in the January Sub-Committee on Administrative and Financial Matters, would be sought at a special meeting of the Executive Committee in June. In anticipation of the Executive Committee's formal approval, however, these decisions would come into immediate effect. In regard to the proposals to introduce a compulsory deadline for the receipt of documentation and to limit the number of languages in which country chapters are automatically produced, it was decided to review these matters further in the Working Group with the aim of also tabling decisions at the June Executive Committee meeting.

VII. UPDATE ON VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION MOVEMENTS

17. The Chairman asked the Committee to reflect on the continued usefulness of this agenda item and the related document; if retained, the length of the document might be reduced.

18. In introducing the Update on Voluntary Repatriation Movements (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.12), the Director of the Division of Programmes and Operational Support called attention to a typographical error on page 9, section 12.1, first sentence, which should read "The return of President Aristide on 15 October 1994 reduced political instability and generalized violence in Haiti and paved the way for voluntary repatriation." The Director also made a clarification in regard to the reference on page 15 to the $ 1.7 million request for Georgia from the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF); this had not been granted.

19. A number of delegations commented or raised particular questions in regard to various voluntary repatriations. On the question of the value of this agenda item and the documentation, one delegation urged caution before deciding on any effort to reduce the documentation provided as it was, at present, the best means to examine a substantial part of the Special Programmes budget.

20. In his response, the Director said that the Office remained open to suggestions for improving the document on voluntary repatriation.

VIII. END OF YEAR ACCOUNTS FOR 1994 AND PROJECTIONS FOR 1995

21. The Controller introduced document EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.10, Information Note on Income and Expenditure for the Year 1994. She said that total funds available in 1994 came to $ 1.53 billion; 29 per cent of these funds totalling $ 446.9 million were available under General Programmes; and 71 per cent totalling $ 1.03 billion for Special Programmes. Expenditures in 1994 totalled $ 1.17 billion or 76.4 per cent of funds available; expenditures for General Programmes totalled $ 390.7 million and for Special Programmes $ 776.1 million. Considerable effort was made in 1994 to review the in-kind contributions as a result of which a significant increase in the level of cancellations may be noted. In addition, the level of unliquidated obligations has been reduced by $ 183.1 million.

22. Among the interventions on this agenda item, one delegate asked how service package type of in-kind contributions will be credited in the future as these are not reflected in the present document. The possibility of crediting service packages as in-kind contributions was being studied at present.

23. There were several queries on document EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.14, Update on 1994 Programme Expenditure and on Programme and Funding Projections for 1995. One delegation remarked on the tremendous growth of the Office over the last two years. The comparison of Headquarters/field staff was revealing. It called for the operating capacity of UNHCR to be kept in mind, the need for delegation of authority to the field to be as complete as possible, and management systems that reflected the field orientation of UNHCR.

IX. INFORMATION NOTE ON UNHCR'S TELECOMMUNICATIONS

24. The Chief of the Information and Communications System Section, introducing the Information Note on Telecommunications in UNHCR (EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.16), gave a comprehensive overview of the telecommunications equipment in use by UNHCR both at Headquarters and in the field. A display of equipment currently in use was made available in the conference room. He stressed that telecommunications was a vital dimension of the Office's capacity to deliver programmes, particularly in field assistance; it also played an essential part in staff security. Furthermore, UNHCR had played a key role in promoting common standards and assuring coordination in the wider area of United Nations field communications.

25. In light of the various interventions on this item, the Chairman noted that there was broad support for the approach being taken by UNHCR to the development of its telecommunication systems and ensuring their compatibility with longer-term initiatives of the rest of the United Nations system.

X. OTHER BUSINESS

26. The Chairman informed delegations that General Assembly resolution 49/221 B of 23 December 1994 requested that the Executive Committee, amongst other bodies, provide, through the Committee on Conferences, justifications for a continuation of its right to receive summary records. This request has been made in the context of steps taken by the General Assembly over the last two years to limit the number of bodies receiving verbatim and summary records of their debates. A decision in that respect will have to be forwarded to the Committee on Conferences before the end of June 1995.

27. The Secretary of the Executive Committee introduced document EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.13, Reconsideration by the Executive Committee of its Need for Summary Records. He recalled that the Executive Committee in 1987 and 1988 endorsed a number of recommendations from a Working Group on Documentation. The decision to streamline the Report of the Executive Committee to some 32 pages was premised explicitly upon the existence of summary records to compensate for the elimination of a narrative account of meetings from the Report. To give up the right to summary records would call into question the basis of the presentation of the Report, making it difficult to maintain its current length. Moreover, in view of the humanitarian and strictly apolitical nature of the work of the Office, conclusions and decisions have always been reached by consensus rather than by vote; the elimination of summary records, which provide scope for a reflection of the statements, explanations and reservations of delegations, might precipitate a break with the well-established tradition of consensus and be prejudicial to the spirit of the work of the Executive Committee. The Secretary therefore recommended that the Sub-Committee indicate to the General Assembly its wish to maintain summary records, and the reasons for this stance. The Sub-Committee so agreed. As to the draft decision included in EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.13, it was decided to strengthen the wording of proposed preambular paragraph 6.

28. Mr. B. Käss (WFP) then took the floor to inform the meeting that, through new pledges, borrowing from other food stocks in the region and diversion of WFP vessels, the actual food shortfall for the Rwanda/Burundi emergency was 76,000 metric tons, rather than 236,000 metric tons as earlier feared. He thanked the donor community for its generosity and expressed his appreciation to UNHCR for assisting WFP in alerting the international community to the still serious situation.

29. There being no further business, the Chairman adjourned the meeting.

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