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Fight over UN centre in Entebbe takes new twist

Kampala. Disagreements among G77 countries coupled with Uganda’s protests over “lack of transparency” has thwarted adoption of United Nation’s Global Service Delivery Model (GSDM) reforms, granting a lease of life to the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (RSCE).
Under a proposal that Mr Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, tabled on January 8, key functions at the Entebbe centre were to be moved to Nairobi, Kenya, starting next year.

The UN planned to create similar centres under GSDM in Montreal, Canada, China’s Shenzhen and Budapest in Hungary.
The GDSM reforms proposed six years ago, aim to consolidate backend UN administrative functions in select dispersed locations to reduce costs and increase field staffs’ round-the-clock responsiveness.


Whereas the original proposal was endorsed by the UN’s Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), which comprises experts, it failed at the world body’s influential Fifth Committee, which comprises representatives of all member countries, due to lack of consensus.
As a result, subsequent discussion on the matter was deferred to, at the earliest in September, when the 74th UN General Assembly session gets underway.

The development means that the Shs21b Entebbe centre, which employs 427 staff, two-thirds of them Ugandans, will in the interim remain operational at full capacity unless and until the UN members decide otherwise.
Highly-placed sources told this newspaper that during the Friday meeting, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Amb Adonia Ayebare, moved a motion to defer any discussion on GSDM by five years.
Members, however, agreed to postpone re-consideration of the polarising reforms at the next UNGA session. 
China, which is a beneficiary in the new arrangement, tried to push through adoption of the report but failed.

Beijing presently is the second biggest UN funder after the United States, each picking 12 per cent and 22 per cent of the bills, respectively.
Ambassador Ayebare said yesterday by telephone from New York that “negotiations on the GSDM have been deferred to the next 74th session, and we hope that our arguments to retain the RSCE remain valid”.
The Fifth Committee’s Friday meeting, chaired by Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Gillian Bird, was a culmination of two months of intense lobbying and diplomatic manoeuvring by countries either individually or as alliances. This divided G77, to Uganda’s benefit.


The group earlier supported establishment of UN centres in Nairobi, Shenzhen, Mexico City (Mexico) instead of Montreal, Dakar in Senegal to cater for francophone countries and keep Entebbe.
“The resolution was in a way to try to balance interests, but the problem with it was that the RSCE was not recommended in both the 2017 and this year’s (UN secretary-general’s) reports,” one diplomat familiar with the matter said. 
Uganda feared the previous G77 resolution could result in Entebbe centre being knocked out during give-and-take diplomatic bargain, especially that five locations were proposed to host the UN centres instead of the original four.

Kenya’s campaign to host the UN centre is being compounded by its push for a seat as a non-permanent member of the powerful UN Security Council. It will require the support of UN member states during the upcoming vote against Djibouti and wrestling down Uganda on the Entebbe centre is turning counter-productive for Nairobi. 
Uganda protested the selection process of locations in the January 8 report “as not fair” and challenged the secretary-general to table all information on each of the countries that submitted bids to host the UN centres and their scorecards.


Ugandan diplomats in March challenged Mr Guterres’ report on the costs and benefits of maintaining the RSCE. 
Uganda argued that the proposed 2019/20 budget for the RSCE, which has already been approved, to serve eight peace-keeping missions and six special political missions in Africa is Shs129b, lower than the expenses required to establish a new centre in Nairobi.
“The benefit of maintaining the RSCE would include the fact that it has existing infrastructure and staff that are trained in administrative transaction processes associated with peacekeeping operations,” Uganda argued.

The Entebbe centre provides transactional administrative services, comprising benefits and payroll, staff travel and claims, client services, financial services and compliance monitoring. 
India informed the meeting that Entebbe was selected as a service centre for peacekeeping and special political missions primarily because it was already hosting support bases like the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).

It argued that establishing one new shared service centre to work with the existing RSCE “would continue to result in inconsistent service delivery between peacekeeping and non-peacekeeping operations and represents a less than optimal solution for the organisation.” Mr Guterres in the January 8 report proposed keeping the RSCE operational outside scope of the Global GDSM reforms.