Statement by Ambassador Joseph Torsella on the Conclusion of Work of the Fifth Committee at the First Resumed Session of the 66th General Assembly

Ambassador Joseph M Torsella
U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
Washington, DC
April 2, 2012


Mr. Chairman, after long, arduous and good faith negotiations on several issues my delegation is disappointed with the general outcome of this session and the fact that we could not reach agreement on many of the most important items.

Despite that disappointment, the United States is encouraged by the unity demonstrated in the Fifth Committee regarding our shared concerns about the significant cost overruns in the Capital Master Plan (CMP) which the UN now reports have tripled since December to $265 million, not including any “associated costs.” The United States is deeply troubled by this situation, and stresses the importance of determining exactly how and when these overruns occurred and the Secretary General providing information about what steps will be taken to mitigate the cost overruns. In that regard, we look forward to the results of an external forensic construction audit as a first step in assigning responsibility and recovering costs.

The United States believes that stricter oversight must be applied to this project which is why we supported the general consensus to give the Secretary-General authority to commit only up to an additional $135 million for the project this year while requesting practical options to finance such commitments while remaining within the approved project budget. We reiterate our call for the Secretary-General to find cost savings and economies rather than simply assuming that additional assessments to complete the project will be forthcoming. We want to make it very clear that our support for the CMP is conditional on significantly improved management and budget discipline. Our support does not extend to a blank check. The United States also looks forward to more frequent updates on the project and its financials.

In addition to the resolution on the Capital Master Plan, the United States was pleased that the Committee reached consensus on a few other items, such as the Secretary General’s limited budgetary discretion.

However, the United States strongly regrets that the Fifth Committee was unable to reach agreement on and instead deferred a number of important issues, including controlling excessive and completely unjustifiable spending on air travel and on improving the transparency and accountability of the United Nations by publishing for public viewing the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) audit reports. After four long weeks, during which we learned that an astonishing $54 million of the Secretariat’s $74 million air travel budget for New York and Geneva is spent on business class fares, we could not agree on a reform as commonsensical as requiring UN interns – interns! – to fly economy. That is a very troubling judgment on the Fifth Committee’s ability to carry out its basic oversight responsibilities.

On the issue of audit reports, Mr. Chairman, some Member States’ resistance to this openness is particularly ironic when so many Member States are committed to the principles of open government. Citizens everywhere have a right to see whether their tax dollars are being spent wisely. Who among us could tell the journalists or researchers, for example, in our home countries with a straight face that we here in New York in this room have the right to read these documents, but they do not? We are deeply disappointed with the lack of action on this proposal for the second session in a row, not for ourselves but for the institution of the United Nations, and we hope that the Committee can make progress on this and other unresolved issues in the May session. In the meanwhile, we invite all member states who profess support for transparency to publicly state their position on this simple, straightforward, and long-overdue reform.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for all your work.


PRN: 2012/063