The Fifth Committee is the Main Committee of the General Assembly responsible for issues related to the management, financing, and oversight of the United Nations Secretariat. As one of the six Main Committees, all UN Member States (193, as of this writing), are represented in the Committee, though as a matter of practice most Member States are represented through blocs such as the Group of 77 and China (G77), which consists of over 130 developing countries.
As indicated in section VI of General Assembly resolution 45/248B,
1. Reaffirms that the Fifth Committee is the appropriate Main Committee of the General Assembly entrusted with responsibilities for administrative and budgetary matters;
2. Reaffirms also the role of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions;
3. Expresses its concern at the tendency of its substantive Committees and other intergovernmental bodies to involve themselves in administrative and budgetary matters;
Rule 153 of the General Assembly Rules of Procedure states:
No resolution involving expenditure shall be recommended by a committee for approval by the General Assembly unless it is accompanied by an estimate of expenditures prepared by the Secretary-General. No resolution in respect of which expenditures are anticipated by the Secretary-General shall be voted by the General Assembly until the Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee) has had an opportunity of stating the effect of the proposal upon the budget estimates of the United Nations.
Group of 77 and China
Developing countries coordinate in the G77 format in intergovernmental bodies responsible for economic and financial issues (such as the Fifth Committee) and in the NAM format on bodies responsible for peace and security issues. The primary difference in membership is that many large Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, are members of the G77 but not the NAM.
The G77 adopts a common position on nearly all Fifth Committee issues, with two notable exceptions: peacekeeping mission budgets and issues pertaining to the permanent members of the Security Council. On peacekeeping mission budgets, the African Group negotiates as a bloc, while other G77 members negotiate in their national capacity.
Leadership of the G77 rotates on an annual basis, and the Chair is responsible for coordinating G77 positions as well as delivering common statements of position on behalf of the Group.
Major Financial Contributors
Major financial contributors refer to themselves as the "like-minded group" and are referred to as "the partners" by the G77 and China.
The Member States of the European Union generally adopt a common position on Fifth Committee matters. Since the adoption of resolution 65/276 on the participation of the European Union in the work of the United Nations in May 2011, the positions of EU Member States are jointly coordinated by (and its negotiation “burden-sharing” teams are jointly led by) the EU Delegation and the delegation holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Canada, Australia, and New Zealand generally adopt a common position and negotiate in a bloc referred to as CANZ.
The informal JUSCANZ alignment of Japan, the United States, CANZ, and Israel is sometimes used in the Fifth Committee for coordination purposes.
Other delegations active in the Fifth Committee
Below is an explanation of the Fifth Committee negotiation process.
The Fifth Committee website is available at www.un.org/en/ga/fifth and includes invaluable information, including contact information for the Bureau and Secretariat, the program of work (i.e. schedule of meetings), the text of statements delivered in Committee, and resolutions.
The Bureau of the Fifth Committee consists of the Chair, three Vice-Chairs, and one Rapporteur elected by the Committee; each of the five regional groups has one representative on the Bureau. The Bureau is responsible for setting the program of work for the Committee and deciding on issues of process. By convention, the five permanent members of the Security Council never seek election to the office of PGA or to the Chair or Vice-Chair of any of the six Main Committees of the General Assembly.
The Secretariat of the Fifth Committee, technically part of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, consists of UN staff members responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the Committee. They are led by the Secretary of the Committee (who also serves as the Secretary of the Committee on Program and Coordination), who supports the Chair of the Committee and who attends Bureau meetings, and include a Deputy Secretary and a number of officers who provide administrative support for negotiations on each of the individual agenda items assigned to the Committee, including activities such as managing the list of speakers, compiling language submissions for draft resolutions and serving as an impartial resource on the rules of procedure and working methods of the Committee.
Coordinators are Fifth Committee delegates who are responsible for facilitating the negotiations on individual agenda items. In selecting coordinators, the Bureau generally tries to ensure that coordinators for the key issues in each session are balanced between the G77 and like-minded delegations.
It is extremely rare, but not unprecedented, for permanent members of the Security Council to serve as coordinators.
Organization of Work
The Fifth Committee meets three times a year. The main part of its session runs from October through December, the first part of its resumed session runs for four weeks in March, and the second part of its resumed session runs for four weeks in May (though the Committee generally does not complete its work until June). Issues pertaining to the biennial programme budget (i.e. the “regular budget”), which runs from 1 January of the first year through 31 December of the second, and general management policy issues are generally handled during the main session. Non time-bound management policy issues (and overflow from the main session) are generally tackled during the first resumed session. Issues related to the financing of peacekeeping operations are handled during the second resumed session, as the peacekeeping financial period runs from 1 July to 30 June.
The first meeting of any session begins with a formal meeting on the Organization of Work to approve the agenda and provisional program of work. Groups and delegations generally also use this meeting to deliver statements complaining about the late issuance of documents or to identify their priorities for the session.
Negotiations on each draft resolution is based on one or more reports submitted by the Secretary-General and/or a body such as the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, the Board of Auditors, the Committee on Contributions, the International Civil Service Commission, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Independent Audit Advisory Committee or the Committee on Programme and Coordination. The specific practices of the Fifth Committee when taking action on these reports is outlined in a separate article.
Because the Fifth Committee takes decisions by consensus, draft resolutions are generally not sponsored by individual delegations but are submitted on behalf of the Committee by the Chair. The process of negotiating resolutions is outlined below.
- Formal introduction of an agenda item
- Discussion of an agenda item in the Fifth Committee begins with a formal meeting chaired by a member of the Bureau in which a senior UN official—usually from the Department of Management—presents the report of the Secretary-General by providing a brief summary of the report. This is then followed by a presentation of the related report of the ACABQ by either the Chair or Vice-Chair of the ACABQ. Groups and delegations then have an opportunity to make statements for the record on the agenda item.
- Member States speaking on behalf of groups (e.g. the G77, its constituent regional groups, or CANZ) always speak first, followed by the EU Delegation on behalf of the EU Member States, and then individual delegations in the order they appear on the list of speakers.
- Formal meetings of all Main Committees are open and webcast on WebTV.
- Following formal introduction of an agenda item, the Committee then meets in informal consultations chaired by the coordinator of the agenda item. The first stage of informal consultations are the Q&A, in which members of the Committee have the opportunity to ask questions of representatives of the Secretariat about the issue at hand. Responses can be requested in writing.
- Skeleton and language submission
- Once Q&A has been exhausted, the coordinator will circulate what is generally referred to as the “skeleton” or “rev. 0” of the draft resolution, which contains the standard paragraphs required to take a decision on the basis of the ACABQ recommendation (the default course of action). The coordinator will also set a language submission deadline. Delegations have until the deadline to submit additional paragraphs for the draft resolution, after which all of submissions are compiled into the “rev. 1” text. During the first informal consultation following the language submission deadline, each delegation is given an opportunity to present their language submission; this can be as detailed or cursory as the presenting delegate wishes.
- First reading
- Once all language proposals have been submitted and introduced, the Committee undertakes a first reading of the rev. 1 text, going paragraph by paragraph. This is an opportunity for delegations to ask factual or grammatical questions about the language proposals either to the proponent of the language or to the Secretariat.
- Second reading
- Once the first reading is completed, the Committee then starts again from the top with the second reading. For each paragraph, the coordinator will ask whether the paragraph can be adopted ad referendum. Although it is technically true that all agreements are provisional and that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, it is generally considered a sign of bad faith to re-open a paragraph after it has been adopted ad ref. Any delegations with objections to a paragraph can request that it be “bracketed”, and any delegation can withdraw or amend any paragraph they proposed. At the end of the second reading, delegates generally try to work offline in order to craft amendments or compromise proposals in order to overcome objections. The process then iterates through a third reading (and more, if necessary) until all remaining paragraphs have been agreed.
- Chair’s text
- If the Committee is stuck, the coordinator and/or Chair may submit a compromise proposal as an attempt to bridge the gap.
- Once a draft resolution as a whole has been agreed to in informal consultations (i.e. adopted informally), the Chair then formally submits it to the Secretariat on behalf of the Committee. The Secretariat then issues it as an L-document for action by the Committee during a formal session. After the Committee approves the draft resolution, the text is included verbatim in a Report of the Fifth Committee to the General Assembly for adoption by a plenary session of the General Assembly, after which it is assigned a resolution number.
- No consensus
- If the Committee is unable to reach consensus on an issue, it often defers consideration to a subsequent session. In exceptional circumstances, delegations have tabled draft resolutions as L-documents (or threatened to do so) to force a decision on a deadlocked issue.