KAMPALA. A United Nations committee responsible for scrutinising its budget and administrative issues has punched holes in Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s report recommending, among others, the relocation of key services at Regional Service Centre Entebbe (RSCE) to Nairobi, Kenya.
The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budget Questions (ACABQ), as the 16-member committee of experts is formally called, wants the secretariat to re-work the Global Service Delivery Model (GSDM) reforms based on additional UN General Assembly guidance.
A third version of the revised proposals prepared by an expert contracted by the New York secretariat was transmitted to ACABQ on May 1, with a recommendation to consolidate backend UN administrative functions in three dispersed locations; Nairobi, Budapest and City of Mexico.
The reforms first initiated six years ago during Ban Ki-Moon’s tenure, are calculated to reduce costs and increase responsiveness of field staff while promoting a round-the-clock operational efficiency hinged on a “follow-the-sun” support model.
In a 14-page report dated June 13, ACABQ members cited various flaws in the secretary-general’s recommendations and concluded that the UN General Assembly tasks him, during its 73rd session in September, to submit a “new proposal for global service delivery model”.
The committee, for instance, noted that the revised GSDM proposal “reflects higher costs with lower savings and a longer break-even period.”
The UN secretariat revised the reform’s 2018-19 budget by $4m (Shs15b) to $52m (Shs198b) and cut back expected savings by roughly $5m (Shs19b) while raising the transition costs by $2m (Shs7.6b).
ACABQ’s appraisal shows that the ambitious project would break-even in the fifth year, rather than the third as originally stated, and cumulatively save just one-quarter of the projected $39m (Shs148b).
“The (Advisory) Committee reiterates that the proposal for a Global Service Delivery Model should focus both on achieving improvements in the delivery of administrative services and on reducing the related cost,” the committee noted.
It has also said only two Global Shared Service Centres be established, instead of the proposed three, one of which should be in Africa where approximately 50 per cent of UN personnel are located.
The choice of location is proposed to be to other competitors along new evaluation criteria to be developed by the UN General Assembly.
The Committee also questioned why the 684 staffing posts remained unchanged after the number of proposed Global Shared Services Centres dropped from four to three when Malaysia declined hosting such a centre in its capital, Kuala Lumpur.
The ACABQ is a geographically-representative 16-member team elected by the UN General Assembly whose members in theory serve in personal capacity, and not as emissaries of their countries, for a three-year period.
Their report is not final. It is expected to be formally tabled to the world body’s 5th Committee, comprising representatives of all UN member countries, on June 20 or 21, according to diplomatic sources.
By that time, it would be procedurally late for discussion since the 5th Committee is scheduled to wrap up its business on June 22 and resumes sittings at the earliest in October after the September UN General Assembly.
The listed cracks and a recommendation for the UN secretary-general to prepare a new report altogether is a relief for Uganda where President Museveni protested planned closure of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, and a heart-break for Kenya whose capital, Nairobi, had been favoured.
Ugandan diplomats, particularly those accredited to the UN, have also been working overdrive to sway the fortunes for Uganda and have, at least for now, scored.
Some 290 employees at the RSCE have been listed to lose their jobs if the UN adopts the reforms, according to details in a leaked United Nations internal briefing paper.
The confidential document shows that Ugandans number 205 among staff to be sacked when finance, human resources and administrative functions are relocated under the reforms. The ACABQ endorsed the principle of the GSDM in its recommendations to the UN’s 5th Committee.
Speaking by telephone from New York, Uganda’s Permanent Representative, Amb Adonia Ayebare, said: “The report is going through the legislative process of the UN, and Uganda hopes that the right questions will be asked, especially on criteria on selection of locations and any other technical issue member states would deem necessary going forward.”
Some 28 out of 45 existing locations, which met the minimum requirements, were evaluated based on cost, including staff, operational and overhead expenses; qualified local workforce, including availability, quality and language; and location suitability based on quality of life and country risks and infrastructure.
Top Foreign Affairs officials in Kampala were by press time unavailable, having been split between attending the reading of the 2018/19 national budget and accompanying a visiting high-powered Chinese government delegation.
Key issues at hand
Piecemeal reports. “The (UN) secretariat should have submitted one consolidated revised or re-issued document for the consideration by the General Assembly.”
Re-work proposal. “…the General Assembly request the secretary-general to submit, during the main part of (UN) 73 session, a new proposal for the establishment of two Global Shared Service Centres.”
Cost control. “The Global Service Delivery Model should result in increased efficiencies and cost savings…and new proposal [should] clearly reflect [this].”
Management. “The Advisory Committee is not convinced that the Global Service Delivery Model requires a separate management structure overseeing the management of the individual centres.”
Address dissent. “[Ensure] continued close consultations with member states, including potential host countries, of the project and current hosts of UN entities which may be impacted by [reforms].”
Proposal. A third version of the revised proposals prepared by an expert contracted by the New York secretariat was transmitted to ACABQ on May 1, with a recommendation to consolidate backend UN administrative functions in three dispersed locations; Nairobi, Budapest and City of Mexico.