Speakers Praise Cost Savings, Express Concern over Delays, as Budget Committee Examines Progress in Construction of Arusha Premises of Residual Mechanism

Speakers commended the substantial savings rendered in constructing a new facility at the Arusha premises of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, but expressed concern over delays in implementing the $8.8 million project, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) examined the sixth progress reports on the subject.

In the courtroom of the facility, the Mechanism is expected to try the last three fugitives at large accused of being among those most responsible for the genocide and other international crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994. Construction of the facility - which contains the records of historic international criminal proceedings conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda - began in February 2015 and was scheduled to last 12 months, but, owing to technical difficulties on site, it was not completed until December 2016.

Set to become a landmark in the region and beyond, the facility was commended by speakers as a model for future similar projects.

Chad's representative, speaking on behalf of the African Group, welcomed the use of local knowledge, capacity and materials and expressed appreciation for the extensive work and services by the host Government of the United Republic of Tanzania at no cost to the United Nations. While welcoming the substantial completion of the facility, he said the Group would seek further clarification over project implementation delays and the subsequent effects on expenditure.

Noting that re-use of furniture from the Tribunal had resulted in substantial savings for the Organization, he said the African Group looked forward to the Mechanism engaging with other international organizations and judicial institutions that were expected to move to the Facility's vicinity. In particular, the Group would follow up on the possibility of accommodating the Residual Mechanism for Sierra Leone on the current premises. Hopefully, lessons learned would be applied to other construction projects, he said.

Ecuador's delegate, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developed countries and China, also urged the Mechanism to share lessons learned and discuss possible synergies and efficiencies with organizations and institutions expected to relocate nearby. Welcoming the substantial completion of the facility, he looked forward to updates from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) as well as plans for a post-construction audit. He noted that the project had remained within the overall approved budget and said the Group would seek more information about project delays that had reduced projected savings.

Kenya's delegate, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, thanked the Secretariat for its efforts in addressing staff needs in various locations. Taking note of completed activities, he highlighted the effective oversight process and strong teams on the ground. Lessons learned and best practices would be useful inputs in any future construction projects.

Olufemi Elias, Assistant Secretary-General and Registrar of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, introduced the Secretary-General's sixth progress report on the facility (document A/71/753), noting that construction began in January 2012 and was completed on 1 December 2016, with staff moving in to the premises on 5 December 2016. It had maintained an excellent safety and environmental record and had remained well within budget with an unused contingency of $455,000. Those funds, representing 43 per cent of the total contingency, were expected to be returned to Member States at the project's completion.

Describing the new facility, he said lessons learned from other United Nations projects around the world had been applied in its construction and combined with traditional and local references. Those included local symbols, such as the centrepiece of the tree representing justice in the region and the conical shape of the courtroom - reminiscent of Maasai huts surrounding the area - as well as the use of local materials such as wood panels from Tabora and yellow stones from Tanga. In addition, the facility had been constructed by 200 local men and women through an Arusha-based contractor.

To ensure that all post-construction activities were successful, the project would continue to need a project owner, he said. As Registrar, he was ready to take on that responsibility with the same ownership that had been afforded the project thus far. Noting that the project team would vigilantly manage the defect liability period over the course of 2017 and ensure that any required remedial works were completed expeditiously, he said the project's timeline had been extended due to a topological error and a delay in delivering material.

During post-construction, the United Nations would use, as appropriate and economically feasible, any remedies available to recover costs arising from construction beyond the contractual deadline. The Mechanism had worked with the Office of Central Support Services to apply technical guidance and lessons learned from other capital projects by the Organization, and would continue to do so, he said, asking the General Assembly to take note of progress thus far in the Arusha project.

Carlos G. Ruiz Massieu (Mexico), Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introducing its related report (document A/71/812), said the entity looked forward to the project's full completion within the 12-month post-occupancy phase, which had begun on 1 December 2016. He urged the timely completion of all repairs to the items included in the project's punch list, noting that any related cost implications for the Organization should be avoided to the extent possible.

The total project expenditures stood at $8.3 million at the end of 2016 and $1 million was estimated for 2017, he noted. The Advisory Committee looked forward to a report on post-construction phase activities, he said, stressing that the United Nations should not pay for expenses caused by delays and all extra funds should be returned to Member States.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 9 March, to discuss accountability, procurement and after-service health insurance.

Source: United Nations