‘All roads lead to the Fifth’

Date: 
Wednesday, 30 January 2019

At the United Nations, there is a popular saying – all roads lead to the Fifth – the “Fifth” here is the General Assembly’s main Administrative and Budgetary Committee, where all financial and programme matters concerning the UN system, are discussed.

In this series on the work of the General Assembly, UN News gives you an inside look at the critical work of the Fifth Committee.

Ambassador Gillian Bird, the Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN and the current chair of Fifth Committee, explained the unique role of the Committee to UN News in an exclusive interview.

“The Committee is responsible for all of the administrative and budgetary matters of the UN, every year it considers and approves the Organization’s budget,” she said.

Given the enormity of the issues it has to consider – from reports of the Board of Auditors and overseeing the UN’s expenses and human resource management, to financing UN peacekeeping operations – delegates and staff often find themselves in UN Headquarters at weekends and burning the midnight oil on week nights.

Ambassador Bird, who earlier in her diplomatic career served as a delegate to the Fifth Committee, said that her priority as the chair is to try to move away from this stressful 24/7 work schedule.

“I think we all work better if we are not working around the clock and on weekends.”

During its current, 73rd session, the Fifth Committee successfully concluded the main part of its work on 22 December, having started on 9 October.

Late last month, the General Assembly plenary acted on the recommendations of the Fifth, adopting 16 resolutions, including two resolutions on the scale of assessments, one for the regular budget and another for peacekeeping. Details can be found here.

The Assembly also approved $651.24 million for the UN’s special political missions, a recommendation that came straight from the Fifth Committee.

Working by consensus to find common ground

Another unique characteristic of the work of the Fifth Committee, is that it strives to make all its decisions by consensus. This working style is not a firm rule, but more of a tradition and a practice at the Fifth, and at times the discussions move into so-called “informal informals”.

Chairperson Bird explains: “Delegations discuss in a really informal setting, for example the nearest available sofa, to try to find common ground.”

Read the full article on the UN News website.

You can read our other in-depth explainers on the crucial work of the General Assembly Committees below: