STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF THE GROUP OF 77 AND CHINA BY MR. SAED KATKHUDA, SENIOR ADVISOR, MISSION OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE TO THE UNITED NATIONS ON AGENDA ITEM 135: PROPOSED PROGRAMME BUDGET FOR 2020, PROGRESS IN THE RENOVATION OF THE AFRICA HALL AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW OFFICE FACILITIES AT THE ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA, AT THE FIFTH COMMITTEE DURING THE MAIN PART OF THE SEVENTY-FOURTH SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY (New York, 6 December 2019)
1. I have the honor to speak on behalf of the Group of 77 and China on agenda item 135: Proposed Programme Budget for 2020, Progress in the Renovation of the Africa Hall and the Construction of the New Office Facilities at the Economic Commission of Africa as presented in the Secretary-General's and ACABQ Reports A/74/328 and A/74/7/Add.19 respectively.
2. The Group would like to thank Mr. Pedro Guazo, Director, Finance Division, Office of Programme Planning, Finance and Budget, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, and Ms. Julia Maciel, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, for introducing their respective reports on the Renovation Project of the historic Africa Hall.
3. At the outset, the Group would like to express its gratitude to the Government of Ethiopia for its continued support to the Economic Commission for Africa and other UN Offices residing in Addis Ababa. We trust that the Secretary-General will continue to strengthen his engagements with the host country, the Stakeholders Committee and the Advisory Board to facilitate the successful completion of the Africa Hall renovation.
4. The Group notes with satisfaction the culmination of the construction of the New Office Facilities (Zambezi Building) project and the remaining components of the Ancillary Works, including the car ramp, and the electrical and sanitary works, which resulted in the issuance of the completion certificate in October 2018. We believe that ongoing engagements between the ECA Renovation Team and the specialized contractors, as well as consultants, is helpful in their risk management efforts.
5. The Group recognizes the progress in the implementation of the renovation of the Africa Hall in the present report. This historic heritage project needs the utmost care and dedication of the team at the site and coordination at the Headquarters level, including stronger partnership with all stakeholders. The renovation work requires multidisciplinary expertise. In this regard, we note ECA's efforts to engage with external experts such as exhibition curators, and those who work on artwork restoration and information technology. However, the hiring process for communication services and resource mobilization experts lacks clarity and the Group will seek explanation during the informal session. The Group further encourages the Secretary General to utilize local knowledge, material, technology and capacity in both the construction and operation of the renovation project.
6. The Group stresses the critical importance of effective governance, oversight, transparency and accountability to ensure that the project is implemented within the approved budget and timetable. We note the fourth annual audit conducted by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) earlier this year, and wish to highlight the recommendations of the OIOS as well as Board of Auditors (BOA) on the need to expedite the activities of the project and avoid any delays in the implementation. We hope to receive a better understanding, during the informal consultations, of the plan of the Secretary General on steps being taken to accommodate the above mentioned recommendations.
7. Avoiding the proliferation of owner-directed changes, and improving the procurement process for the project remains a priority of the Group. In this regard, further confirmation on the planned activities will be sought during the informal. Given the slight decrease in the level of confidence and the delay in delivering the project, we request the Secretary General to strengthen efforts for the timely implementation of the main works package. The Group wishes to hear from the project management team about their plan on how to avoid further delays and the resultant cost overruns.
8. The Group underscores the historical significance of the Africa Hall and the importance to conserve this landmark heritage site. Accordingly, it is important that the renovation of the building takes place in a manner that respects the original design and appearance of spaces while ensuring compliance with international best practices.
9. We are pleased to learn that the planning and design development for the permanent exhibition area is at an advanced stage and is expected to be completed by the end of 2019. We hope that the involvement of the African World Heritage Fund, an official partner of UNESCO, will lead to the interactive exhibition wall being formally recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage.
10. The Group would like to extend its appreciation to the Host Country and the ECA for signing a project-specific agreement setting out the operational arrangements for smooth and rapid customs processing and the timely importation of construction materials. We also have full confidence that the United Nations and the Addis Ababa City Administration will soon sign a lease agreement that would enable the ECA to build a vehicle parking lot at no additional cost to Member States for the parcel of land.
11. In conclusion, the Group would like to assure you of our readiness to engage constructively in the consideration of this agenda item with a view to reaching a conclusion in a timely manner.
I thank you.