G-77 seeks to phase out "gratis personnel" as soon as possible

UNITED NATIONS, June - The Group of 77 and China have called for the phasing out of all “gratis personnel” in the U.N. system “as soon as possible.”

The issue was whether they should be phased out this year or by the first quarter of next year. The Fifth Committee of the General Assembly recenlty agreed that the recruitment or redeployment of UN staff to replace gratis personnel should be completed by February 1999.

One delegate said most members of the Fifth Committee were outraged by the fact that the Secretariat was not forthcoming even with regard to the total number of gratis personnel serving in the U.N. system.

“We are given different figures at different times,” he said. However, the total number of gratis personnel, on a conservative estimate, is said to be around 300.

Although they were originally only in peacekeeping operations, gratis personnel are now working the departments of political affairs, humanitarian affairs, the Economic Commission for Europe and the International Criminal Tribunals sitting in the Hague and in Tanzania.

The G-77 has objected to gratis personnel because they dilute the concept of the international civil service. Moreover, even their loyalties are in question since they are paid for by their home governments and take instructions from them.

The G-77 also holds the view that no gratis personnel should hold a position which involves decision-making. Since they are paid by their governments, they are not international civil servants.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said gratis personnel were staffers loaned to the United Nations by governments. “The governments paid their salaries, and the U.N. merely provided them only with office space, photocopying machines, and basic support,” he said.

“It was a phenomenon that had expanded very rapidly with the sudden expansion of peacekeeping, where there were not sufficient personnel to handle 80,000 troops in 18 different places around the world,” he added.

Member states had answered the call, and sent experts— many, but not all, military, to help run peacekeeping, he said.

“They had also expanded into political affairs, which had brought up the question of the dilution of the essence of the international civil service. The General Assembly had felt that it was, and called for the eventual phasing out of such personnel,” Eckhard said.