Speakers Concerned by Worsening Conditions at Nairobi Facility, as Fifth Committee Discusses Conference Management, Capital Upgrade Projects

Speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today expressed their concern over the deteriorating conditions at the Organization’s Nairobi conference centre, which are hindering the facility’s capacity to provide conference services.

Egypt’s delegate, speaking for the Group of 77 developing countries and China, noted the utilization rate of conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi dropped to 39 per cent in 2017 alone. Yet the overall utilization rate for all calendar bodies in the four main duty stations was 81 per cent in 2017, which meets the established benchmark of 80 per cent. We are puzzled why problems appear to persist without proposed solutions, he said, adding that the Group expects the issue to be addressed promptly.

In introducing the Secretary-General’s report on the pattern of conferences, Under Secretary General for General Assembly and Conference Management Catherine Pollard said it addresses the worsening conditions at the Nairobi conference facilities which create an immediate risk to the calendar meetings hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat).

Babou Sene, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), who introduced its related report on the pattern of conferences, recommended that the General Assembly ask the Secretary General to propose an immediate solution to address the poor conditions at the Nairobi conference facility.

Nirmal Raj Kafle, Chair of the Committee on Conferences, introduced its 2018 report, which was approved at its substantive session held from 4 September to 10 September of this year. The session gave Member States an opportunity to engage with the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management in New York and relevant duty stations in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.

The Fifth Committee then turned its attention to its second agenda item concerning construction and property management. Christian Saunders, Assistant Secretary General of the Department of Management’s Office of Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary General’s progress report on the proposal for the renovation of the North Building at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile.

A second delegate from Egypt, speaking for the Group of 77, emphasized ECLAC’s vital role in Latin America and the Caribbean as the voice of the United Nations and a repository of regional information and knowledge. The Group trusts that appropriate measures will be set up to ensure risk mitigation, particularly in the design phase starting next year, is part of the renovation plan. He urged the Secretariat to use the lessons learned from other capital projects under way in the Organization, and also urged the project managers to use locally sourced and manufactured materials and meet project timelines and cost estimates.

Mr. Saunders said the project aims to dismantle and reconstruct the North Building’s envelope, using the existing structure, to produce a safe and efficient office building that meets all codes. The project will extend the building’s useful life and provide a productive and healthy working environment for years to come.

In introducing the Advisory Committee’s report on the ECLAC renovation project, Mr. Sene said the ACABQ again backs the implementation of strategy 2, option 1. The Advisory Committee also believes additional details on the expected efficiency gains should be included in future progress reports.

Also speaking today on the pattern of conferences was the delegate of Qatar.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 2 November, to fill vacancies in subsidiary organs and make other appointments.

Pattern of Conferences

NIRMAL RAJ KAFLE, Chair of the Committee on Conferences, introduced its 2018 report (document A/73/32), which was approved at its substantive session held from 4 September to 10 September of this year. The session gave Member States an opportunity to engage with the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management in New York and relevant duty stations in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.

On matters related to the calendar of conferences and meetings, the Committee on Conferences reviewed and adopted the draft revised calendar for 2019 and recommended the General Assembly approve a request for six bodies to meet exceptionally during the main part of the seventy third session. Regarding meetings management, the Committee on Conferences reviewed the statistical data surrounding the use of facilities and the resources which service these conferences. The Conference Committee is working to improve the use of resources by the 10 calendar bodies that have used less than the applicable benchmark of allocated resources over the past six years.

The Conference Committee also discussed the timely processing and issuance of documents and expressed its support for signing more memorandums of understanding to use temporary staff, particularly in understaffed language services, he said. The Committee on Conferences asked the Secretariat to continue making the issue of conference services for persons with disabilities a priority and received Secretariat input regarding feedback from a global e survey on the quality of conference services.

CATHERINE POLLARD, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, introduced the report of the Secretary General on the pattern of conferences (document A/73/93), for which considerable efforts have been made to present information in a more strategic way. The report outlines several important developments, focusing on innovation as well as the delineation of responsibilities in the provision of conference services that was implemented in New York, Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. The report also underscored the increasing trend of non calendar meetings at those four duty stations, she said, emphasizing that the associated workload is adding tremendous pressure on existing resources allocated for servicing calendar meetings. In addition, the report addresses a worsening of the conditions of the conference facilities at the United Nations Office at Nairobi which are posing an immediate risk to the servicing of calendar meetings hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat).

On the processing and issuance of parliamentary documents and publications, she said the Secretariat is pleased that the General Assembly has welcomed the reorganization of translation services which enables self revision of translation, which is likely to improve timeliness of the language services while ensuring high quality translation. While the situation regarding the timely issuance of documents has improved in recent years, it remains a challenge, particularly as it relates to the Fifth Committee, she said, explaining that high priority will continue to be given to processing the reports of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and to working closely with all author departments.

Turning to conference management operations, she said that while the nature of the Department’s work is constantly changing, its main objectives � guaranteeing quality, timeliness, cost effectiveness, sustainability and accessibility, as well as ensuring the implementation of mandates on multilingualism � remain unchanged. Much attention is being devoted to innovation, particularly as it relates to new technological applications and refining work methods. We are firmly committed to staying this course in 2019 and beyond, she said, drawing attention to innovations that have led to additional efficiencies and quality gains, including the One Stop Shop application, the e deleGATE portal, the digital version of the Journal of the United Nations and the e Blue Book directory of permanent missions. She added that her Department is also enhancing its document management system, expanding its computer assisted translation and machine translation platform, upgrading interpreter assignment software, examining the technical feasibility of remote interpretation and testing improved speech-to-test technologies.

BABOU SENE, Vice-Chair of the ACABQ, introduced its related report on the pattern of conferences (document A/73/458), saying the Advisory Committee welcomes the harmonized conference management strategy and looks forward to receiving more details about future delineations in the delegation of authority and the assessment of individual capacities in conference management. It noted, too, that most projects were developed and implemented using in house capacity and expertise. On remote interpretation, the Advisory Committee noted the potential impact on quality and trusted that the Secretary General will provide additional justification of the proposed pilot project for the General Assembly’s consideration.

Turning to the Nairobi conference centre, he said the ACABQ recommends that the Assembly ask the Secretary General to submit a proposal for addressing the matter expeditiously. Regarding accessibility, the Advisory Committee noted that requirements and ramifications encompass much wider considerations across headquarters locations and other duty stations, as well as considerations for current and future staff members and Member States. The Advisory Committee trusts that the Secretary General will consider the breadth of issues associated with accessibility and the context in which to report annually in a comprehensive manner.

KARIM SAMIR ISMAIL ALSAYED (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the proposed draft resolution on the pattern of conferences would serve as an excellent framework for a timely and successful conclusion of the agenda item. The Group gives great importance to the effective delivery of quality conference services, in accordance with the equal treatment of the six official languages of the United Nations. He noted that the overall utilization factor for all calendar bodies in the four main duty stations was 81 per cent in 2017, which meets the established benchmark of 80 per cent. Yet the Group’s most pressing concern continues to be the deteriorating conditions at the Nairobi conference centre, which hamper its capacity to provide conference services. The use of conference facilities in Nairobi declined to 39 per cent in 2017 alone. The Secretariat report notes that the current conditions create an immediate risk to servicing the main calendar events in Nairobi and we are puzzled why problems appear to persist without proposed solutions.

Pleased that the use of conference facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) remains high in 2017, at 90 per cent, he said that regular renovations and urgent technological improvements are needed so the facility can maintain its cutting edge conference services. With respect to staffing, he acknowledged the Department’s efforts to address the staffing challenges. The Group welcomes the Department’s initiatives relating to innovations in meetings and documents management and notes that most projects have been developed and carried out using in house capacity and expertise. The Group also welcomes the harmonized conference management strategy and looks forward to detailed information on the agreed elimination of responsibilities regarding conference management across the four duty stations.

JASSIM SAYAR A. J. AL-MAAWDA (Qatar), associating himself with the Group of 77, emphasized the importance of the digitalization of the Organization’s archives, which contributes to its institutional memory while assisting delegations as they shape their views on issues under discussion. He noted that his Government in 2018 completed the fulfilment of its pledge to contribute $5 million over five years to support the digitalization project. He also reaffirmed Qatar’s sponsorship of the effort going forward.

Construction and Property Management

CHRISTIAN SAUNDERS, Assistant Secretary-General, Office of Central Support Services, introduced the Secretary General’s progress report on the proposal for the renovation of the North Building at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile (document A/73/351). The project is moving forward as planned, he said, with the onboarding of a project manager and independent risk management services, the establishment of a stakeholder committee and the establishment of an overall governance structure. An audit of the project by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) took place in March, covering such areas as progress, risk management (including anti fraud measures), governance structure and procurement activities. The Office concluded that satisfactory management structures were already in place or in the process of being set up, he said.

He explained that the project aims to dismantle and reconstruct the North Building’s envelope, using the existing structure, to attain a safe, code compliant, functional and efficient office building that will extend its useful life while enabling a productive, healthy and sustainable working environment for years to come. Next year will see the start of the design phase, including the use of innovative technologies, energy efficient features, more efficient use of space and provisions for more office space. The design will include provisions for persons with disabilities as well as full compliance with health and safety codes, including national seismic codes. Once fully operational, the renovated North Building will be a completely sustainable net zero building and a living structure that interacts dynamically with the environment, its users and society along with being a good example of the Organization ‘walking the talk’. He concluded by saying that, based on the various analyses contained in the report, the General Assembly is requested to approve the overall scope and maximum cost of the project, the requested resources for 2019 and the establishment of a multi year account.

Mr. SENE introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report (document A/723/457) and recommended approval of the actions proposed by the Secretary General, including the establishment of a multi year construction in progress account. The Advisory Committee reiterates its recommendation for the implementation of strategy 2, option 1, but believes additional details on the expected efficiency gains should be included in future progress reports. The Advisory Committee notes the Secretary General’s intention to mitigate project risks during the design phase and looks forward to the results of the Monte Carlo risk analysis. The ACABQ also encourages the Secretariat to share the applicable lessons learned from other capital projects under way in the Organization, such as at the ECA, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and in Geneva. These lessons would include, for example, knowledge gained with respect to seismic mitigation and energy efficiency, he said.

MOHAMED FOUAD AHMED (Egypt), speaking for the Group of 77, emphasized the relevance of the five regional commissions to the Organization and Member States. Established in Santiago in 1965, ECLAC was founded to contribute to the economic and social development of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Commission serves as a regional reference for United Nations guidelines. It is also a repository of information and knowledge and a centre of multilateral cooperation focusing on enhancing regional development. He noted that after the 2010 earthquake in Chile, ECLAC concluded that the North Building, originally constructed as a temporary structure in 1989, needs mitigation measures. The Group welcomes the Secretariat’s efforts to meet the project’s 2023 completion date. Noting the qualitative risk assessment workshop held in July 2018 and a similar workshop scheduled for the first quarter of 2019, the Group trusts that appropriate measures will be set up to ensure risk mitigation, particularly in the design phase.

He also emphasized the importance of making effective use of lessons learned from other capital projects under way in the Organization. He referred to the seismic mitigation project at ESCAP and the Africa Hall renovation at ECA. He particularly pointed to the use of locally sourced and manufactured materials and the need to adhere to project timelines and cost estimates.

Source: United Nations