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The nineteenth session of the UNEP Governing Council met from 27 January - 7 February 1997 but suspended its meeting on the final day because delegates could not agree on a proposal for the creation of a high-level committee to oversee UNEP. On 21 March 1997, officials from 34 countries met in Geneva and decided to create a new multinational committee to mediate the dispute and offer advice on UNEP's future. The exact role of the Committee would be determined at the resumed nineteenth session.

The resumed nineteenth session met at UNEP Headquarters from 3-4 April 1997. Delegates decided to establish a High-Level Committee of Ministers and Officials as a subsidiary organ of the Governing Council. The new Committee will have a mandate to consider the international environmental agenda and to make reform and policy recommendations to the Governing Council. It will also provide guidance and advice to UNEP's Executive Director, enhance UNEP's collaboration and cooperation with other multilateral bodies, including the environmental conventions and their secretariats, and will help mobilize adequate and predictable financial resources for UNEP.

The new High-Level Committee of Ministers and Officials will consist of 36 members, elected by the Governing Council from members of the UN and its specialized agencies. Members will serve for two years and represent regions as reflected by the current structure of UNEP's Governing Council. The President of the Governing Council and the Chair of the UNEP Committee of Permanent Representatives (CPR) will be invited to attend the meetings, which will take place at least once a year in Nairobi and may also be convened elsewhere in connection with major international environmental meetings. The European Community and other regional intergovernmental economic organizations may attend.

The Governing Council decided, with a view toward strengthening the CPR, to revise its mandate. The CPR will: review, monitor and assess the implementation of decisions of the Governing Council on administrative, budgetary and programme matters; review UNEP's draft programme of work and budget; review reports requested of the Secretariat by the Governing Council on the effectiveness, efficiency and transparency of the Secretariat's work; and prepare draft decisions for consideration by the Governing Council based on inputs from the Secretariat.