ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
ACTIVITIES OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE OF PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVES AND OTHER REPRESENTATIVES DESIGNATED BY MEMBERS OF THE COMMISSION
(Item 10 of the provisional agenda)
1. During the period under review (May-December 1998), the Advisory Committee of Permanent Representatives and Other Representatives Designated by Members of the Commission (ACPR) held six regular sessions.
2. The Advisory Committee discussed various topics during its sessions, including the following:
3. In its review of the fifty-fourth session of the Commission, ACPR supported the reduction in duration of the session to six days. It was of the opinion that the informal panel discussion had afforded a good occasion to promote interaction between the delegations. Consideration of the draft resolutions had been satisfactory. The outcomes of the fifth session of the Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries were also reported and the recommendations that had emanated from the discussions were considered concrete and action oriented.
4. The plan of implementation of the resolutions and major decisions of the Commission at its fifty-fourth session was well received by the representatives of ACPR, who indicated their interest in being involved in specific activities. Intraregional communication systems, the use of the Internet for international trade, the involvement of the public and private sectors in information sources and management, and focus on disadvantaged groups, such as disabled persons, were identified by the Advisory Committee as priorities for the ESCAP programme of work. The Advisory Committee noted the continued efforts by the secretariat with regard to the Central Asian republics and the least developed countries and with regard to inter-subregional cooperation. The level of resources available for the forthcoming Second Ministerial Conference on Space Applications for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, scheduled to be held in India in 1999, was of considerable concern. Inter-divisional cooperation within the secretariat was strongly encouraged by members of ACPR in order to implement effectively the requests of the Commission. The Advisory Committee also noted the series of meetings, jointly organized with the World Bank, examining the causes, impacts and management of the financial crisis in the region.
5. In reviewing the implementation of the programme of work in the first quarter of the biennium, the Advisory Committee had expressed interest in the work of the secretariat and requested more information through regular detailed briefings and more transparency with regard to the distribution of resources. The representatives critically examined the information and comparative analysis provided. In particular, a review of the number and quality of publications and the resource allocation for them was requested with a view to reducing those outputs. Emphasis was placed on the need to give priority to least developed and disadvantaged countries, economies in transition and the programmes concerned with poverty alleviation. ACPR expressed concerns on the declining regular budget and extrabudgetary funding. The Committee requested more efforts for strengthening cooperation with major funding bodies, particularly UNDP and the Asian Development Bank. Areas of particular interest were identified in each of the 10 subprogrammes.
6. The Advisory Committee considered the input provided by ESCAP, subsequent to the discussions at the fifty-fourth session of the Commission, with regard to the review by the Economic and Social Council of regional commissions. The identification of areas for reduction in non-programme costs within the secretariat, as required by Headquarters, was discussed. It was noted that it was difficult to make a comparison between the regional commissions with regard to costs, services and facilities. The secretariat stressed the costs incurred in maintaining the United Nations Conference Centre and the large membership and geographical region covered by the Commission. Factors, such as coordinated planning, avoidance of duplication of activities with global programmes, efficient use of funds and the relationship with non-United Nations intergovernmental bodies within the region, were discussed in detail. The Regional Inter-agency Committee for Asia and the Pacific (RICAP) was already functioning and provided a framework for cooperation and exchange of information, which required further development.
7. Proposals for the proposed programme of work for the biennium 2000-2001 and the results-based budgeting process being introduced in the United Nations system were presented for information to ACPR at its two hundred and thirty-first session. The attention of representatives had been drawn to the fact that target savings for the Development Account had been realized from programme support, and in response to requests by member States, there had been a net increase in the allocation of regular budget resources for priority areas identified by member Governments and efforts were being made to reduce the number of technical publications and to increase technical assistance activities, such as group training and advisory services. The Advisory Committee reiterated that only activities with tangible results and measurable impact on the targeted countries should be continued. In order to make more effective use of the diminishing resources available in the current period of crisis in the region, the secretariat was encouraged to concentrate on its comparative advantage and expertise.
8. The proposed calendar of meetings, January 1999-March 2000 was examined by the Advisory Committee and minor adjustments were made. The need for interpretation at meetings was emphasized. The measures recommended by the ESCAP Publications Committee were presented to ACPR. The areas on which the Committee had focused were quality control, the review and update of the guidelines for publications and the response to the specific issues raised by representatives of ACPR in 1997. A number of areas, such as joint printing arrangements, readership surveys, the potential for desktop publishing and optimization of ESCAP resources for publications were among the 11 issues raised and discussed. The use of modern technology, such as CD-ROMs and the Internet, for dissemination of information material was supported. Governments were encouraged to assist the secretariat with timely and comprehensive responses to readership surveys, in order to assess the usefulness of particular publications.
9. Preparations for the fifty-fifth session of the Commission, in particular, the theme topic preparations and preparations for the panel discussion were considered to have been conducted in good time. The theme topic documentation was incorporated in the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific. It was agreed that the convening of and subject for the panel discussion should be decided by consensus and should relate to the issues of the theme topic. The Advisory Committee also requested that simultaneous interpretation be provided, and a summary prepared and distributed after the session. The theme topic was well supported in view of the importance of the recent financial crisis and globalization to member States of the region. The representatives again called for succinct documentation, using explanatory charts and illustrations, wherever possible, to make the documents "reader-friendly".
10. The present report covers the activities of ACPR for the period from May to December 1998. A report on activities during the first three months of 1999 will be issued as an addendum.