Remarks by Ambassador Joseph M. Torsella, U.S. Representative to the United Nations for UN Management and Reform, at the Conclusion of the 68th Main Session of the Fifth Committee, before the General Assembly Plenary

Ambassador Joseph M Torsella
U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform 
New York, NY
December 27, 2013


Thank you Mr. President.  The United States is indeed pleased that after so many long days and nights of difficult discussions, weeks of intense and important debates, and months of hard work by so many people, we have a United Nations budget for the 2014/15 biennium that follows the same responsible trend established in the last biennium - a reduction in the starting level of the new biennium from the final spending level of the last, and a dramatically different trend line of essentially level spending since 2010-2011, in comparison with the biennium to biennium increases of 15% in the previous decade.

We welcome the major first step toward streamlining the organization represented by the 2% reduction in the staffing table, for the first time in many years.  As we have said many times, staffing costs represent the primary driver of the vast expansion in the UN regular budget in previous biennia and this agreement is a recognition that the first step in addressing spiraling costs is to eliminate unnecessary, duplicative or outdated posts.  Likewise, we applaud the action taken today to freeze UN pay for one year and UN allowances for two.  At a time when the budgets and crucial services of many common system organizations have been squeezed, these measures will hold compensation costs in place until we can act in the next session on the recommendations to bend the 5-year pay curve down to an appropriate level, and make the total compensation package more sustainable the session thereafter.

We are also very pleased that there will be no new assessment on taxpayers for the final portion of the 2012/13 recosting bill.  And while we are disappointed that this budget did not end the practice of recosting entirely, we are encouraged to have at last commissioned an independent study on recosting reform that will enable us, if we have the political will, to make long-needed changes to this antiquated process next fall. Likewise, we are optimistic that our agreement on recosting today combined with the post adjustment and allowance freeze we approved will remove much of the variability of past biennia.  We further hope and expect that the Secretariat will continue their management reform efforts and continue to utilize financial risk management tools to find further efficiencies that will minimize the impact of any additional financial requests and recosting needs not already covered in this budget.

These milestone measures mark a new commitment to real fiscal discipline at the United Nations at a tough time for hardworking families around the world. They benefit not only taxpayers, but the people around the world who depend on the United Nations.  All of us want and deserve a United Nations that is sustainable, effective and credible, and today's budget represents a recognition by Member States that business as usual is not sustainable.

There are other significant achievements, Mr. President.  We have advanced the important work of the United Nations missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mali, and elsewhere.  We have strengthened the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Environment Program in follow up to Rio+20, and the support given by the Department of Political Affairs to the Central African Republic, to name a few areas.

Of course, there is more the General Assembly could have done this session. We are especially disappointed that the pressure of time prevented Member States from approving a mobility proposal as we were urged to do by the Secretary-General, and well as the proposal to establish the UN Partnerships Facility, which would provide coherence and guidance to the many private and non-governmental entities working with the UN to enable them to provide for the neediest people around the world.  Key concerns about the implementation details of mobility had been addressed over the past few weeks through intensive dialogue and hard work with other Member States and the Secretariat.  We were prepared to move forward, and we are deeply disappointed that the Fifth Committee was not able to complete its work on these items.  The United States reiterates today our support for a managed mobility program, our commitment to working constructively with all colleagues to achieve it in just a few weeks' time in the first resumed session as a matter of priority, and our gratitude to the Secretary-General for his passion and determination on this issue.

It is crucial for both Member States and the Secretariat to continue to manage with vigilance during the upcoming biennium to protect the gains we have made over the last few years.  We thank the Secretariat for their efforts over the course of 2012/13 to manage prudently and responsibly, not on behalf of any Member State, but because that is their obligation to this Organization.  Our shared goal should be to ensure that the United Nations can maximize the results that it delivers with the amount of resources that Member States are collectively able to provide.

In closing, we wish to thank the Secretary-General again for his leadership in proposing revised budget levels that seek to do more with less by capitalizing on ways to do business better and smarter and that respond to the fiscal climate affecting many Member States.  We also thank his senior managers for their tireless work this session and throughout the year.  In particular we commend Chef de Cabinet Susana Malcorra, Under Secretary-General Yukio Takasu and Assistant Secretary-General and Controller Maria Eugenia Casar for their commitment to reform.

Mr. President, we would have not been able to complete our work without the leadership of Ambassador Janne Taalas.  His dedication, relentless drive and inexhaustible energy navigated the Committee through many difficult issues that threatened to derail this budget and other issues. We were also kept on track by our dedicated bureau members and Ms. Sharon van Buerle and her team.  We are grateful, Mr. President, to have been in your wise and firm hands at various points in this process.  And I finally want to acknowledge both our colleagues among the like-minded group, and our negotiating counterparts, especially the always tough, but always gracious, calm and professional, Ambassador Peter Thomson, the Chairman of the G77+China.  I must say, Mr. President, this is the first time in my life I wished I did have a fedora, because if I had it, I would tip it back to Ambassador Thomson.  Thank you.


PRN: 2012/280