Speakers Voice Support for 2019 $8.93 Million Appropriation, as Fifth Committee Considers Reports on Africa Hall Renovations

Speakers at the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today voiced their support for the Secretary General's request for an $8.93 million appropriation in 2019 to support the ongoing upgrade of facilities at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, including the renovation of the iconic Africa Hall.

Uganda's delegate, speaking for the African Group, urged the Secretary General to avoid delays in the renovation of Africa Hall. To maintain the project's quality, cost and timeline, she encouraged the recruitment of an artwork restoration expert as well as audiovisual and conference engineering services professionals. In addition, she praised the efforts to preserve the original design and appearance of Africa Hall during its renovation.

As well, the representative of Ethiopia, host country of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, said the $56.9 million restoration of Africa Hall was much more than the makeover of a mere conference facility. The newly developed centre visitors' centre will attract domestic and foreign visitors, giving them an opportunity � through artworks, exhibitions and a lecture gallery � to learn about the continent, as well as the African Union's history.

Egypt's delegate, speaking for the Group of 77 developing countries and China, expressed his satisfaction with the completion last year of the new office facilities � the Zambezi building in the Commission compound � at the approved cost of $15.33 million. Noting that he was looking forward to closing the project after the completion of the Zambezi building, he also called for an update and additional information, including lessons learned, during informal deliberations

Christian Saunders, Assistant Secretary General, Office of Central Support Services, Department of Management, introduced the Secretary General's report on the topic (document A/73/355), acknowledging the progress made on the Africa Hall's renovation and the construction of the Zambezi building. The Hall's renovation aims to turn out a top level conference facility while restoring the historical and cultural value embedded in the building's architecture.

Babou Sene, Vice Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee's eponymous report (document A/73/616), which backed the actions proposed by the Secretary General, including the net amount appropriation of $8.9 million for project activities in 2019.

The Fifth Committee will reconvene at a date to be announced.

Construction and Property Management: Economic Commission for Africa

CHRISTIAN SAUNDERS, Assistant Secretary General, Office of Central Support Services, Department of Management, introduced the report of the Secretary General (document A/73/355) on the progress being made in the renovation of Africa Hall and the construction of new office facilities at the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa. During the third quarter of 2018, the final completion milestone had been reached regarding the construction of the new office facilities, known as the Zambezi building, and its ancillary works. Regarding the renovation of the Africa Hall, the project's primary objective is to address inadequacies related to building functionality and achieve the highest standards for conference facilities while preserving and restoring the historical and cultural value embedded in the building's architecture.

The early works package started in January 2018 and is scheduled for completion in March 2019, an unforeseen delay resulting from issues incurred by the contractor during the mobilization period, he said. Tendering for the main renovation works is ongoing and a contract award is expected in early 2019. Considerable progress has been made in negotiations with the host country. An agreement that framed the project implementation was signed and negotiations are ongoing for additional land needed for visitors' parking, which is foreseen to be located outside the Commission compound.

The main renovation work has an estimated completed date of early 2021, slightly later than the date initially planned, he continued. Yet, the Monte Carlo risk simulation performed this year anticipated confidence for delivering the project within the maximum approved budget of $56.9 million at 75 per cent, currently the highest budget confidence level for all ongoing global capital construction projects. The next steps for the upcoming reporting period are: completing pre construction activities; completing the implementation of the early decanting works; starting implementation of the main renovation works; and signing the lease agreement with the host country to define the use and development of the additional land for the visitors' parking lot; and defining the permanent exhibition themes and completing the related design. The General Assembly is asked to note the project's progress and the revised cost plan and appropriate $8.93 million for planned project activities in 2019.

BABOU SENE, Vice Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee's report (document A/73/616) on the progress of the Africa Hall's renovation and the construction of new office facilities. He noted that ACABQ recommends approval of actions proposed by the Secretary General, including appropriation of a net amount of $8.9 million for project activities in 2019. The Advisory Committee trusts that measures will be taken to ensure delivery of the project, recommending that an update on management of main risks be included in the next progress report. Regarding calculation of the contingency rate, the Secretary General should provide an explanation to the General Assembly on how this is calculated and why percentages vary from one report to another, deviating from the 20 per cent level used throughout the project. Africa Hall's doors should be open to everyone interested in visiting the historic landmark, he said, adding that the Committee is requesting that the expected number of visitors and options for entrance admissions be provided after the project's completion.

KARIM SAMIR ISMAIL ALSAYED (Egypt), speaking for the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said he was satisfied with the completion of the construction of the new office facilities � the Zambezi building � in the Commission compound during the third quarter of 2017 at the approved cost of $15.33 million. This project includes improved access, safety and the construction of a generator house. Noting that he was looking forward to closing the project after the completion of the Zambezi building, he also called for an update and additional information, including lessons learned, during informal deliberations.

Turning to the Africa Hall project, he highlighted the historical significance of the Hall and the importance of conserving the heritage of this landmark site. Project accountability is very important, he said, noting the third annual audit carried out by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) earlier this year. Regarding the visitors' centre, admission options should ensure accessibility for students, academics, residents and tourists, regardless of their ability to pay.

He went on to thank Member States who provided voluntary contributions to the project and welcomed the establishment of the trust fund to account for voluntary and in kind contributions. He also expressed his appreciation for the Commission's efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy and action plan to mobilize resources form the private sector. The African Group, he added, supports the appropriation of funds proposed by the Secretary General for project activities in 2019.

CAROLINE NALWANGA MAGAMBO (Uganda), speaking for the African Group, expressed her appreciation for efforts made to preserve the original design and appearance of Africa Hall during its renovation. Obsolete features in the old building, such as the sound system, audiovisual facilities and fire safety provisions, should be updated, she said, also welcoming the use of renewable energy sources. Emphasizing the importance of maintaining the project's overall objective, including cost, schedule and quality, she encouraged recruitment of an artwork restoration expert as well as audiovisual and conference engineering services professional.

Regarding timelines, she expressed concern that the start of stage 4 of the renovation schedule is delayed, as the early decanting work only began in May 2018, instead of October 2017. The Secretary General must ensure that appropriate measures are taken to avoid slippages. It is also imperative to build on progress achieved, she emphasized, supporting the Secretary General's request for the apportionment for 2019 in the amount of $8,931,100, which is a balance from the total resource requirements projected for expenditure until the end of the year.

TAYE ATSKE-SELASSIE (Ethiopia), associating himself with the African Group and Group of 77, highlighted the significance of the $56.9 million renovation project of the historic Africa Hall, stressing that the Hall was much more than a mere conference facility. His country remained committed to the project within the reach of its capacity and, working closely with the project team and ECA, will consolidate the coordination role of the Stakeholders Committee and the Advisory Board for a successful implementation of the schedule. He expressed support for the recommendation to appropriate a net amount of $8,931,100 for project activities in 2019, adding that he hoped the allocated budget will match expected intensive works during the year.

Regarding resource mobilization, Ethiopia will work with ECA to finalize handing over the plot of land needed to construct the visitors' parking lot. He also underlined the importance of Africa Hall attracting domestic and foreign visitors, in conjunction with the ambitious revenue collection, while noting that is not the primary objective of the United Nations. Strong promotions targeting audiences such as tour agencies, academic institutions and conference centres must be adequately planned and implemented consistently.

Source: United Nations

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