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: FLEXIBLE WORKPLACE AT THE UNITED NATIONS HEADQUARTERS, AT THE FIFTH COMMITTEE DURING THE MAIN PART OF THE 74TH SESSION OF THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY (New York, 6 December 2019)
1. I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China on agenda item 135, Programme Budget for 2020, in particular the progress report on the implementation of a flexible workplace at United Nations Headquarters.
2. At the outset, the Group of 77 and China would like to express its appreciation to Mr. Patrick Carey, Director, Division of Administration (New York), Department of Operational Support, and to Ms. Julia Maciel, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, for introducing their respective reports.
3. The Group of 77 and China recognizes the impact of transformational initiatives of the Organization that contribute to the United Nations being more effective, adaptable and modern. Nevertheless, the G77 and China is convinced that such initiatives should be implemented in a manner that acknowledges the financial constraints the Organization faces, as well as its evolving work practices and the needs of staff.
4. The Group appreciates the update provided on the implementation of the flexible workplace project at the United Nations Headquarters, and the steps that have been taken since the last progress report. The Group notes that 17 out of the projected 26 floors of the Secretariat have been reconfigured as of August 2019, with an overall additional capacity of 994 staff and an estimated 374 remaining. We support the recommendations of the Board of Auditors and the Advisory Committee on the need for the Administration to closely monitor and conclude the project in 2020, within the estimated cost.
5. As this additional capacity increases, the Group looks forward to receiving more detailed information on the status of the termination of leases in commercial buildings, on the relocation of staff, the potential reduction in rental costs arising from the relocation and the related impact on the proposed resource level for the relevant section in the proposed programme budget for 2020.
6. The Group notes that the project is expected to finalize by the end of 2020 as previously envisioned in the Second Progress report, and with an overall projected cost that remains at $54,981,400, of which over $34 million were incurred during the period 2015-2018 and $13,049,200 are estimated for the completion of the project schedule in 2019. The Group therefore acknowledges that the Secretary-General is requesting the remaining $7,931,700 of the overall cost as an appropriation for the conclusion of the project in 2020, taking into account that there will be no rental savings in the course of that year.
7. However, the Group feels the need to reiterate that a well-substantiated, reliable, and predictable business case is essential for the Committee's consideration of costly major transformation initiatives, especially when expenses are planned to supersede the overall projected cost of the project, and self-financing options are not to be implemented. We are also concerned about the decline in the scores in productivity compared to the previous years, as reflected in the latest post-occupancy staff survey in May on flexible workplace strategies.
8. In this regard, while the Group remains supportive of an independent evaluation of the project, we will consider the utility of the evaluation being conducted by an external consultancy given that the project is in its final stage. We will also consider the merits of the use of in-house expertise, while being cognizant of the heavy programme of work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Board of Auditors
9. The Group reiterates that flexible workplace should never simply be a matter of space management, but a holistic arrangement of physical space, information and communication technology, human resources and other support programmes. The successful implementation of flexible workplace requires not only reconfiguration of workspace, but enhanced information technology support and revised human resources policies.
10. The Group looks forward to discussing the lessons learned to date on the implementation of flexible workplace as well as the relation it has with flexible working arrangements, and in this regard recognizes the Secretary General's efforts in updating the Secretariat with the recent Bulletin and Information Circular on flexible working arrangements.
11. In closing, Mr. Chair, the G77 and China assures you of its commitment to engage constructively on this agenda item while considering it against the backdrop of all construction projects amid the current financial constraints.
I thank you, Mr. Chair.