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Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Field Support

30 Jul 2010

With the General Assembly having just wrapped up talks on the Secretary-General’s sweeping proposals for transforming service delivery to United Nations peacekeeping missions, senior field support officials announced today that the world body was poised to approve a new, enhanced global system to match the global enterprise into which peacekeeping has evolved.

“This will be a big departure from the traditional approach to peacekeeping,” Susanna Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, said at a Headquarters press conference on the Secretary-General’s Global Field Support Strategy (document A/64/633).  The five-year paradigm shift from mission-centric planning and financing had “received essentially a full endorsement” from Member States, she continued, stressing that the new approach would, among other things, expedite and improve support for peacekeeping — including critical early peacebuilding efforts — while bolstering assistance for peacemaking, electoral assistance, mediation support and conflict prevention.

Underscoring the “global” nature of the Strategy, she said the new approach would draw extensively upon experiences from past peacekeeping missions, taking into account that such operations were not “one-time interventions”, but had an average life span of five or six years.  As such, there was a need to carry out what the Secretary-General had called a “fundamental shift” to improve the full spectrum of service delivery by providing fast, complete and flexible support to all staff deployed in the field, while at the same time ensuring cost-effectiveness and transparency.

“The new model [looks to] establish a more standardized approach that will lead to better planning, better staff living conditions, increased priority for staff safety and security, and a more environmentally friendly and sustainable presence on the ground,” Ms. Malcorra said.  The new Strategy would also consolidate human and material resources regionally to provide more timely and cost-effective service delivery.  To that end, she said, the plan would create global and regional service centres, while recasting the United Nations Logistics Base at Brindisi, Italy, into a global service provider, and the existing Support Base at Entebbe, Uganda, into a shared service centre for missions in Eastern and Central Africa.

Member States would also allow changes to the Peacekeeping Reserve Fund used to fast-track mission deployment, she said, noting that, instead of capping initial disbursements from that Fund at $50 million, when costs were estimated to exceed that amount, the Secretariat would be able to request up to half the resources for the initial establishment or expansion of any individual peacekeeping operation.

The new modules, she continued, would allow a better overall division of labour and a relocation of functions to improve responsiveness and better address the needs of field missions.  They would also ensure that the pool of suppliers, including regional and local contractors, would be expanded and that contracts would be more evenly spread among them.

Accompanying Ms. Malcorra was Tony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support, who recalled that the three-year-old United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), which was set to be shuttered at the end of January 2011, was one case where expectations regarding rapid deployment had not been met.  Indeed, if the Global Field Support Strategy had been in place, that Mission would have deployed much faster and far more effectively and with a “very significant” impact in light of the way in which events had unfolded.  “We didn’t have it for Chad, but we will have it for peacekeeping mission in the future,” he added.

Both Ms. Malcorra and Mr. Banbury fielded questions about the status of several key peacekeeping operations, including the ones in Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, and Afghanistan.  On the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), Mr. Banbury said he had just retuned from a 10-day visit to the West African nation, where the operation was prepared to support long-delayed elections, if and when they were set.

While acknowledging that past ballots had sparked security problems, he said UNOCI was equipped to handle any eventuality.  There was a growing sense that the elections were likely to be held by the end of the year, but if it was left open-ended, the Secretary-General could return to the Council and ask it to consider, in consultation with the existing Government, UNOCI’s possible role going forward.

Turning to the situation in Chad, he said MINURCAT faced a particular challenge because the Council had asked it to fulfil certain key tasks before the end of the year, while it continued its draw-down process.  The Department was putting in place the capacity to fulfil those tasks, he said, and to that end, construction on a planned police training centre was ahead of schedule.  At the same time, the security situation in eastern Chad was “very tenuous”, and relief workers were very concerned about the Mission’s withdrawal, he said, adding that he was nevertheless impressed with the Chadian force that had been established to protect humanitarian workers.  While the situation was far from ideal, that residual capacity would be present on the ground when MINURCAT departed the region.

In response to a series of questions on the situation in Sudan, Ms. Malcorra said that while the country’s recent, much-discussed presidential elections “were not perfect”, the Department had learned vital lessons that it planned to employ when preparing for January’s expected independence referendum in Southern Sudan.  She said the Department would change its approach from state- to county-level coverage, encompassing some 79 districts.

“This is a huge, huge change,” she said, noting that the Department planned to build 64 new sites and add 600 people and eight helicopters to mobilize throughout the South.  It was ready to support the exercise right from the start of registration at the county level, and if that went smoothly, the stage would be set for a fair, transparent process.  She added that the Secretary-General had just received a request for security and technical support from both Khartoum and Southern Sudan officials.

She said the Department was providing technical support and assistance for registration in the North as well as the South.  The United Nations had a presence in both areas to assist with registration, and would carry out its monitoring role in Khartoum, Darfur, Kordofan and Nile State, among others.  The Organization would work in cooperation with intergovernmental and civil society observers on the ground, including the African Union, European Union, Arab League and the Carter Centre, to make sure that the United Nations had “eyes on the ground” in all areas.