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        General Assembly
10 November 1999

Fifth Committee

Summary record of the 33rd meeting
Held at Headquarters, New York, on Wednesday, 10 November 1999, at 10 a.m.

Chairman:Ms. Wensley.............................................................(Australia)
later: Mr. Sial (Vice-Chairman) .................................(Pakistan)
later: Ms. Wensley (Chairman)..................................(Australia)
Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions: Mr. Mselle


Agenda item 121: Proposed programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001 (continued)
First reading (continued)
Section 21. Regular programme of technical cooperation (continued)
Section 22. Human rights (continued)
Section 23. Protection of and assistance to refugees (continued)
Section 24. Palestine refugees (continued)
Section 25. Humanitarian assistance (continued)
Section 26. Public information

The meeting was called to order at 10 a.m.


Section 24. Palestine refugees (continued)

29. The Chairman invited the Committee to consider section 24 of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001. In that connection he drew attention to the recommendation of the Committee for Programme and Coordination contained in paragraph 393 of its report (A/54/16).

30. Mr. Moktefi (Algeria) said that his country supported unreservedly the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and its programme of work. He called on the international community to maintain its assistance to Palestine refugees and he said that he shared the concern expressed by the Advisory Committee in paragraph VI.24 of its report at the potential deterioration of the services provided by the Agency. He asked the Secretariat to provide an update on the financial situation of the Agency, on which a report had been issued for the period July 1998-June 1999.

31. Mr. Kondo (Japan) expressed the hope that the opposing parties would be able to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement to the problem of Palestine refugees and affirmed that his Government would continue to offer them its support. He welcomed the activities undertaken by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and noted with satisfaction that a high-level post was to be redeployed from New York to Amman. However, he wondered how the Agency went about reporting to three different organizations, namely the United Nations, UNESCO and WHO.

32. Ms. Buergo Rodríguez (Cuba) said that she fully supported the activities of UNRWA, and was concerned at the projected decrease in resources. Noting that it had not been possible to implement fully some activities planned for the current biennium, she invited the General Assembly to take the necessary measures. In her view, it might review the terms of the resolution mentioned by the Advisory Committee in its observations on section 24, which dated from December 1974, or it might consider increasing regular budget funding for substantive activities. Her delegation requested that the report of the Commissioner-General that had been submitted to the Fourth Committee should also be submitted to the Fifth Committee, together with the related report of the Advisory Committee.

33. Mr. Tabb (United States of America) said that the United States remained committed to supporting the Agency, to which it had contributed $77 million in 1999. His delegation noted with satisfaction that the programme of work was in conformity with programme 22 of the medium-term plan and that the Agency had adopted a programme-based approach to the preparation of the budget for voluntarily funded activities, which would make its operations more transparent and would thus encourage donors. There was a risk that the frequent changes of personnel in key posts might continue to undermine the functioning of the Agency and the discharge of its mandate. He criticized the description of the expected accomplishments, which was too general, and, with regard in particular to paragraph 24.12, he wished to know whether there was a database that would enable the number of persons who could be categorized as among the most disadvantaged to be determined. He emphasized that it was impossible to assess the accomplishments without standards and objectives. He invited the Agency to redouble its efforts to attract and retain qualified staff.

34. Mr. Elgammal (Egypt) said that he fully supported the activities of UNRWA. The impact on those activities of the lack of resources was cause for concern, and he therefore believed that it was necessary to consider financing them from the regular budget so that the Agency could implement all its programmes. His delegation was grateful to UNESCO and WHO for the education and health services that they were providing for Palestine refugees.

35. Mr. Adam (Israel) said that his country was seeking, to the extent possible, to facilitate the work of the Agency, which he considered to be a vital factor of stability for large sections of Palestinian society. The problem of refugees was among several issues that lay at the heart of the peace talks under way between Israel and its Palestinian partners, and Israel was concerned at the financial crisis that had affected the Agency for several years. His delegation noted with satisfaction the efforts at restructuring and the new programme-based approach to budgeting. The budget proposal had been submitted in its new format to the Fourth Committee, and the Fifth Committee was awaiting it with interest. He expressed the hope that the Agency would be able to finance its entire programme of work for the biennium 2000-2001 and overcome its financial difficulties.

36. Mr. Odaga-Jalomayo (Uganda) said that his country accorded the same importance to the section as it did to section 23 and it feared that the reduction in the Agency’s resources might affect the quality of its services. He wished to know whether the reduction in the number of posts financed from extrabudgetary resources meant that the posts in question would be abolished or left vacant. The establishment of small-scale and microenterprises financed through revolving loans would help to improve the lives of the refugees. In any case, the Agency must be allocated the resources it required.

37. Mr. Sach (Director, Programme Planning and Budget Division) said that he understood the concern expressed with respect to the projected decline in extrabudgetary resources. The Agency’s financial difficulties were described in the report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA for the period from 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999 (A/54/13 and Add.1), which had been submitted to the Fourth Committee. It was certainly not possible to submit that document formally to the Fifth Committee but delegations could, however, refer to it. The Commissioner-General indicated inter alia that the Agency was facing a cash shortage in extrabudgetary resources of $5 to 20 million as at the end of 1999, and that its activities might be disrupted. That projection had had no impact on the budget estimates submitted to the Fifth Committee, and they remained at the same level as for the current biennium.

38. Regarding the expected accomplishments and, in particular, paragraph 24.12 of the proposed programme budget, the annual report of the Commissioner-General contained statistics on the percentage of the population living in poverty in certain fields of operation. The poverty alleviation programme provided for assessments on the basis of indicators, and consisted of a large number of specific projects.

39. Mr. Moktefi (Algeria) said that it was difficult to accept that the reports on the financial situation of the Agency, or any other body, whether it was funded from the regular budget of the United Nations or extrabudgetary resources, could not be transmitted, for information purposes, to the Fifth Committee. The information contained in those reports could be very useful for delegations in the context of the consideration of the budget estimates.

40. Ms. Buergo Rodríguez (Cuba) said that she agreed that the report on the financial situation of the Agency should be transmitted to the Fifth Committee. Her delegation, which shared the concerns expressed by other delegations, considered that the Agency should be provided with additional resources and that those resources should be charged to the regular budget.

41. Mr. Kondo (Japan) said that his delegation was awaiting with interest the discussion that would take place in the context of informal consultations concerning the respective functions of the three oversight bodies with regard to evaluation of expected accomplishments and accountability of senior staff.

42. The Chairman said that he took it that the Committee had completed its first reading of section 24 of the proposed programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001 and wished to refer that section to informal consultations for further consideration.

43. It was so decided.

44. Ms. Wensley (Australia) resumed the Chair.


The meeting rose at 1 p.m.

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