The aim of the discussion was to present a report on how funds have been spent, and to provide a projection on the funds required for the activities to be undertaken by the Interim Secretariat during the interim period.
The Executive Secretary, Arba Diallo, presented the review as contained in document A/AC.241/31. He said the report covered the activities recommended by the INCD for the interim period, and examines the status of the pledges and contributions to the Voluntary and Trust Funds. The first part looks at the Trust Fund through which the Secretariat"s expenses are met. The second part is on the Voluntary Fund to support the participation of the developing countries.
As of 31 December 1994, the Trust Fund had received US$1,958,297, of which the US$200,000 for staff expenses is almost exhausted. The Swiss Government has granted an additional US$500,000 to cover information activities, NGO participation and one staff member. The WHO and FAO have supported a consultant and specialist, respectively. The Secretariat has 16 officials, seven of whom are funded through extrabudgetary funds. Diallo said the staff is needed during the interim period in view of the increased responsibilities given to the Secretariat. This will require US$1,720,000.
During the INCD sessions, the Secretariat will require consultants and may also need to compile and communicate reports on measures adopted by members during the interim period. This activity is without precedent in other Conventions. Diallo noted that in line with the 49th General Assembly"s programme budget implications (PBI) document, the cost of financing consultations will be revised downwards from US$417,000 to US$70,000.
He stated that the Secretariat, in collaboration with NGOs, will undertake public awareness programmes that target both policy-makers and the general public in order to ensure a better understanding of the Convention. In order to play a catalytic role, the Secretariat may, on request, facilitate the implementation of the resolution on urgent action for Africa by providing various forms of assistance at the regional, subregional and national levels.
There is a balance of US$500,000 from the US$2,169,859 contributed to the Voluntary Fund. While US$900,000 is required to finance 70 developing country participants, or US$550,000 for a participant from each of the least developed countries, the fund only has US$330,000, for this purpose.
Most of the developing countries endorsed the activities and budget proposed by the Executive Secretary. Philippines, on behalf of the G-77 and China, said that the Secretariat"s proposals were realistic given the activities assigned to it for the interim period. These tasks require a corresponding financial contribution. Algeria maintained that there is no intention of expanding the Secretariat"s mandate, but the INCD should not lose sight of the future role of the Secretariat in assisting affected countries and playing the role of facilitator. The Secretariat should use NGOs and others to facilitate information sharing. Mauritania sought an explanation on how the estimated US$1.389 million needed for urgent action for Africa was defined. His government has estimated that US$450,000 is needed in Mauritania alone. Bolivia asserted that given that 900 million people are affected by desertification, the Secretariat is bending over backwards to get the job done with limited funds.
The developed countries were more cautious about the role of the Interim Secretariat, especially regarding activities that other institutions are currently undertaking or that can be adequately undertaken by other institutions. On behalf of the EU, France made five comments on the document. 1) The INCD sessions should be financed from the regular UN budget and the Secretariat cannot allocate money to a scientific group before the Committee has agreed on whether there should be one. 2) The Secretariat should play a substantive role in public awareness, but funds are already available elsewhere. 3) Regarding the implementation of urgent action for Africa, funds are also available from bilateral donors. UNDP could also support the Secretariat in the role that General Assembly resolution 49/234 has assigned to it. 4) Case studies should not be funded, since there is no longer any need for them. 5) With regard to personnel, it would be useful to give specific details on the staff funds required, what the donors have specified and the type of staff that are currently available.
The US noted that when considering the budget: 1) due to the resource situation, the Committee should be cautious about duplicating efforts; 2) activities related to this Convention should be based in the field as much as possible; 3) caution should also be exercised when comparing this Convention to others, since this Convention has a bottom-up philosophy; and 4) the more resources that are devoted to the center (ie., the Secretariat), the less money is in the field. Regarding the scientific group, a decision is needed before allocating money.
Canada reiterated that budget estimates should correspond to the tasks given to the Secretariat. This Convention is different from others since it emphasizes decentralized activities. Canada will fund the Secretariat and countries for appropriate activities, and provide support for the legal adviser. He pointed out that NGO support should be accounted for under the Voluntary Fund, and not the Trust Fund. Burkina Faso said that just because the Convention has a bottom-up approach does not imply that the Secretariat should not have any money. Decentralization does not mean that all action should happen in the field while the Secretariat does nothing. Diallo pointed out that support funds for NGOs cannot be placed under the Voluntary Fund since the General Assembly resolution says that this fund is to support developing country delegates only.
Japan stated that the most important decision is that on the interim role of the Secretariat and the budget should be a reflection of that decision. He feared a "Catch 22" situation. Some of the proposed activities can be implemented by bilateral or multilateral organizations. He asked for an explanation regarding the discrepancies between the INCD budget adopted by the General Assembly in December and A/AC.241/31, which was prepared in November. Australia supported the US and, like Japan, requested that the linkage between A/AC.241/31 and the regular budget of the UN be shown and that there be some coordinated information on the contributions from other agencies. Diallo responded that the proposals for the regular budget are in accordance with the General Assembly resolution of 23 December 1994, and added that services budgeted for in the regular UN budget will not be covered by the Voluntary Fund.
Diallo stated that the Secretariat had hoped that, upon request, it could provide funds to affected country Parties, however, they can direct them to the various donors. Tunisia stated that funding should not only be provided on a bilateral basis and urged the developed country partners to show renewed commitment to the implementation of the Convention during this interim phase. Benin expressed surprise at the apparent suggestions to renegotiate a Convention in which multilateral agreements were already covered. Niger proposed that there should be a special support fund for urgent action for Africa, which could help NGOs and others. This could be a flexible fund so that support could be requested when urgent action was needed and the Secretariat could assist. The Secretariat personnel should not be reduced. Uganda expressed the hope that the pre-Convention political goodwill would prevail and that additional support would be provided from the regular UN budget, to enable affected countries to live up to their expectations.
The Republic of Korea noted that the proposed budget corresponds to the tasks given to the Secretariat and said that his country would be increasing its contribution.
Kjelln then summarized the discussion. 1) There was general appreciation of the work of the Secretariat. 2) The purpose of the discussion was not to agree on the budget, since these are voluntary funds. 3) This is an important period in the Convention and sufficient funds must be available. 4) While affected countries have indicated the action needed, there are budgetary constraints. 5) It is necessary to determine a logical distribution of work to be done efficiently and specify who would do it. 6) Although the Convention calls for decentralization, activities may need to be more centralized during the interim period. 7) There are divergent views on the document, but additional information would be provided on the funds, since there have also been indications elsewhere of the amounts. 8) The question of methodology in presenting the report may also require consideration, an issue that can be also be raised at the next session of the General Assembly.
Kjelln also noted that although delegates were not being asked to pledge funds, the discussion was complex due to the fact that: the Secretariat document was prepared before the conclusion of the General Assembly"s discussions last December; the delegates to the INCD and General Assembly were different; the decision makers on financial matters were in the capitals; the UN system has inherent weaknesses; and other UN agencies had made financial contributions during the negotiating process, but the situation on further funding was still unclear.
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