Capital Upgrade Project of Regional Commission Office in Bangkok on Track for Completion by 2023 with Minor Cost Revisions, Budget Committee Hears

Speakers Stress Need to Prioritize Health, Safety Requirements, Employ Local Know-how

A project approved last year to make the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) headquarters more resistant to earthquake damage and address periodic maintenance requirements was on track to be completed by 2023, with minor revisions to the overall cost plan, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) heard today.

The project — with a maximum estimated cost of $40.02 million — aimed to address the risks associated with ESCAP’s Bangkok office being situated in a seismically active zone; a hazard further compounded by specific soil characteristics, said Patrick Carey, Officer‑in‑Charge, of the Department of Management’s Office of Central Support Services.  In addition to seismic mitigation retrofitting to ensure the safety of staff, delegates and visitors, the project would replace building systems that were close to reaching the end of their useful lives.

Introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on the project (document A/72/338 and Corr.1), Mr. Carey said its key objectives included ensuring compliance with relevant life safety regulations and building codes, the removal of hazardous materials, accessibility for persons with disabilities, optimization of the available space and the maintenance of business continuity.  The project team had completed or nearly completed all planning activities set out as “next steps”, including  finalizing the project governance structure, establishing the stakeholders committee, recruiting the dedicated project management team, and hiring the lead consulting architect and others.

It was recommended that the General Assembly approve the establishment of two temporary positions and appropriate $4.1 million for the project for 2018, he said.  The funds would pay mainly for the construction of swing space, design services and project management, and were in line with the projected amount indicated in the previous report.

In March and April, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) had carried out its first project audit which showed that earnest efforts were being made to move the project forward in the right direction, while adequately addressing potential risks, he said.  Focus had been on developing change management initiatives, which were progressing well, he noted, adding that the project team was developing the project design with respect to accessibility for persons with disabilities, as well as sustainability initiatives.

Elements of local knowledge and lessons learned continued to be utilized on several fronts, and the host country was playing an active role in providing support, including significant collaboration with the local council of engineers, he underlined.

As the host country, Thailand believed that close coordination with the Organization was the key to success, said Maratee Nalita Andamo (Thailand), noting that the Government would continue to collaborate with ESCAP throughout the planning and implementation of the project.  She called for due regard to the incorporation and use of local knowledge, material and in‑house capacity as well as lessons learned from the recent seismic retrofit project at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) building in Bangkok.

Health and safety issues must be prioritized, while efforts must be taken to ensure efficient building performance, energy conservation and maximum space utilization, she said.  Thailand had provided assistance and support for the project through in‑kind contributions and was pleased with how the project was progressing.  Her Government hoped that a study of on- and off‑site swing space requirements, as well as the design and construction methodology by the lead consultant firm, would be completed in due course. 

Project governance, oversight, cost‑effectiveness, transparency and accountability were key drivers to ensure proper management and the successful implementation of the project, consistent with the Secretary‑General’s reform efforts, which Thailand supported, she underscored.

Accessibility in all United Nations capital projects, including that of ESCAP, was not subject to compromise, said Lourdes Pereira Sotomayor (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  Staff welfare and productivity should be taken into account when considering flexible working strategies, she said, emphasizing that the Group expected a positive outcome from ongoing discussions for a provisional office to be used an off‑site swing space to temporarily accommodate United Nations staff.

The Group encouraged the Secretary‑General to continue to engage Member States to seek voluntary contributions for the project and supported the use of local materials and construction techniques, as well as energy efficiency and greening elements.  Further, the Group requested that the Secretary‑General explore possible synergies between the ESCAP upgrade and the Economic Commission of Africa’s Africa Hall project to enable optimal use of resources.

Regarding the project schedule, she said the Group expected that expedited action would be taken on final contract negotiations with both recommended bidders for the lead consultant firm and the independent risk management firm.  Going forward, all efforts must be made to ensure accurate budget planning and management, she said, requesting that the Secretary‑General refine the estimation of project contingencies by using the identification of risks associated with the distinct phases of the project as a basis.

She went on to emphasize the role of project governance and oversight, saying that guidance, interaction and close coordination between the Secretariat in New York and ESCAP in Bangkok, with clear reporting lines, were essential for the smooth implementation of the project.

Introducing the corresponding report (document A/72/7/Add.6), Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, said that the report emphasized the importance of adhering to the project schedule, and recommended against approval of a proposal to change, in the project team, the position of Logistics and Coordination Officer (National Officer) to Architect and Space Planner (P-3), given the capacity within the project team and the Office of Central Support Services at Headquarters to cover those functions. 

With respect to 2017 expenditures, he said it should have been known that the contract for the lead consultant services would cover third‑party peer review consultancy and optimized office space design services.  The Advisory Committee therefore recommended that the unused balance from those two items should be reflected as savings through an $82,500 reduction in the overall project cost plan.

The Fifth Committee will meet again on Thursday, 2 November at 10:00 a.m. to take action on a draft resolution on financial reports and reports of the Board of Auditors, and to consider appointments to fill vacancies in the Advisory Committee, the Committee on Contributions, the International Civil Service Commission, the Independent Audit Advisory Committee, the Investment Committee and the Board of Auditors.   It would also consider a request for a subvention to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.