Remarks by Cherith Norman, Counselor for UN Management and Reform On Agenda Item 134: Feasibility study: UNHQ long-term accomodation 2014-2034 before the Fifth Committee of the UN General Assembly

Cherith Norman, Counselor for UN Management and Reform
New York, NY
March 28, 2014




AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The United States would like to thank Under Secretary General of the Department of Management, Mr. Yukio Takasu, for introducing the study on the long-term accommodation needs at the United Nations Headquarters for the period from 2013-2034, and Vice Chairman of the ACABQ, Mr. Pavel Chernikov, for the report of his Committee. My delegation appreciates the comprehensive report of the Secretary General—the third one that the General Assembly, has requested on this matter. We believe that the current report answers many of the questions we have raised in the past, and provides strong quantitative and qualitative analysis needed for us to move forward.

However, Mr. Chairman, my delegation is extremely concerned that this far-reaching and time-sensitive agenda item is only now being introduced—in literally the last hours of this first resumed session. This inexplicable delay leaves member states no time for review, discussion, and decision-making during this session. The delay is especially hard to comprehend given that all parties knew of the General Assembly’s request for over a year.

With the information provided in the Secretary General’s report and the clarification that we could have sought during the informal meetings of this Committee, we might have been able to reach a decision this session. We are now very concerned that our inability to conclude this agenda item could result in losing an opportunity for the most cost effective options.

But that is water over the dam. Mr. Chairman., we should learn from what went wrong, but we should be looking forward, toward reaching agreement on this issue as soon as possible.

Mr. Chairman, it is no secret that in the past my delegation has been critical of the Secretary-General’s proposals for meeting the UN’s long-term accommodation needs. We were unconvinced that the previous Secretary-General reports adequately addressed the projected headquarters staff level and that not all feasible alternatives were considered.

In contrast, Mr. Chairman, while recognizing that the ACABQ has raised a number of questions, my delegation believes that the present Secretary-General report addresses many of our earlier concerns in three broad areas: definition of the space requirement based on staffing projections; the cost, financing arrangements, and risks of various options; and the range of options explored.

With regard to definition of requirements, we join other delegations in wanting to ensure adequate workspace for the projected staffing needs. We look forward to reaping the benefits that we have been promised from Umoja. We also support the United Nations adopting modern workplace practices such as flexible work space planning to maximize the use of available space. One of our main concerns was whether the linkage between DC-1 and DC-2 to the proposed DC-5 project made sense for the projected space requirements. We are pleased to see that the new Secretary-General report considers these concerns including proposing to delink the current DC-1 and 2 leases arrangements from the proposed new DC-5 building.

Similarly, we believe that the updated Secretary-General’s report answers many of our questions on risk, cost and financing. We understand that the DC-5 option does not require any up-front assessment for member states, that construction risks would be borne by the UN Development Corporation, and that the UN would have the option to purchase the building and the land for $1 at the end of the lease. We note that while the annual lease costs over the 30 year lease period would be somewhat higher than commercial leasing, the analysis points to more than neutralizing that savings over the life-cycle of the building. We also note that while construction on the North Lawn would be the least expensive option because the UN already owns that land, there are considerable risks regarding the timeline for construction and the means of financing this option.

Finally, we were not convinced that the Secretary-General’s previous report had looked at a broad enough range of options. Again, we believe that the current report explores a wide-range of plausible—if not viable— options. Certainly there are an infinite set of other options that could be examined, but we are convinced that the options presented are representative and sufficient for us to make our decision.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation believes that the Secretary-General’s report provides convincing justification for approving the DC-5 option although we have a few clarifying questions, but we are only one delegation. We appreciate that many delegations also still have questions that need to be answered before we can make our decision. It is clear that we will not be able to take action on this report during the current session, but we should not allow time to be wasted between now and our next opportunity to address this important issue. We do not believe that we need to explore more options. Rather we believe that we should focus on getting answers to our questions. Many of them are raised in the ACABQ report, but to start this process now, we would like to pose a few questions to the Secretariat this morning.

First, we understand that the Secretary General’s report models accommodations requirements for three different staffing scenarios. We would appreciate knowing for the DC-5 and North Lawn options: at what staffing level could all staff members be accommodated in UN owned buildings with no requirement for commercially leased space or excess space in the UN buildings.

Second, as we noted earlier, the Secretary General’s report demonstrates that the North Lawn option is the least expensive in the long-term. Yet, while the report lists this among the viable options, it also cautions that this option is high-risk for timing and financing. Given these risks, we would like to know whether the Secretary General considers this option worthy of further analysis, or if in reality we have only two viable options—DC-5 and the status quo?

Third, construction projects are subject to delays and cost overruns. We would like the Secretary General’s assessment of the risk to member states of incurring additional expenses and delays if the DC-5 or North Lawn option is chosen. We would also like the Secretary General’s assessment of the risk of increased costs for the DC-5 and North Lawn options, if there are further delays in making a decision about which option to pursue.

Finally, we understand that delay in acting on this issue and the UN’s desire to change the lease requirements for DC-1 and DC-2 will require changing the terms of the MOU. Since the MOU is between the host-city and the host-state, we would like to know how the UN is working to achieve these changes.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation is keeping an open mind, but we believe that with the facts and analysis we have currently, the DC-5 option is both the most viable and cost effective option. However, we strongly urge the Secretary General to ensure that all delegations have the information they need, including any issues that need to be clarified based on ACABQ comments and recommendations, well in advance of our discussions in the fall so we do not face the same situation. Additionally, we urge the Secretary General to continue negotiations with UNDC on key issues such as leases for DC1 and DC2.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

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PRN: 2014/061