JOINT MEETING OF THE PROGRAMME COMMITTEE AND THE FINANCE COMMITTEE
Rome, May 1999
IMPLICATIONS OF SCHEDULING SEPARATE MEETINGS FOR MINISTERS DURING CONFERENCE
Three Simultaneous Ministerial Meetings without Parallel Conference Sittings
Three Simultaneous Ministerial Meetings with Parallel Conference Sittings
1. In September 1998 the Joint Meeting examined the Working Procedures of Conference Sessions and considered options for the modification of the general debate by Heads of Delegation in order to allow for greater interaction among Ministers. While the Joint Meeting did not specify the number of topics and meetings that would be selected for each Conference Session, this paper assumes that there could be three subjects (one operational, one socio-economic, one technical) each to be dealt with in a separate meeting.
2. The options examined were the following:
3. The Joint Meeting considered the matter in the context of its efforts to identify further savings and efficiencies in governance and to propose to the Council a valid alternative to the series of country statements that currently constitute the "general debate". These are usually delivered to meeting rooms with scarce audience and have little or no impact on Conference proceedings. The Joint Meeting was provided with a summary of experience in other UN Organizations (JM 98/6) which had also addressed this problem without as yet finding a valid solution.
4. In November 1998 the 115th Council Session, while generally agreeing that it would be desirable to achieve greater interaction among Ministers, did not adopt any of the options proposed. The Council requested that a paper on the financial and scheduling implications of arranging for separate but simultaneous meetings at which Ministers could address selected topics (option c) above) be submitted to the Joint Meeting in Spring 1999.
5. In response to the Council request, this paper examines two alternative possibilities: The first would be to hold Three Simultaneous Ministerial Meetings without parallel Conference sittings, while the second would consist of holding Three Simultaneous Ministerial Meetings with parallel Conference sittings. Under both scenarios it is assumed that country statements would continue to be delivered in Plenary and thus the additional meetings, while providing for greater interaction, would not in fact replace the general debate.
6. For both alternatives the cost of providing three background papers (one for each Ministerial meeting) would be around $46,000.
7. Taking the 1999 Conference as the most immediate example, this alternative would provide for three Ministerial meetings on Monday 15 November (six sittings in total, morning and afternoon) with no meetings of Plenary or the Commissions taking place on that day.
8. The practical implications of this alternative would mean delaying the start of substantive work on the Conference agenda to Tuesday 16 November. Subsequently the Commissions would only be able to conclude their work and adopt their reports on Friday. Accordingly the Plenary would have to delay until Monday 22 November the votes on Council membership and the budget level which it would normally have taken on Friday 19 November. It will be recalled in this connection that the Council in 1994 had recommended that all voting should take place in the first week of the Conference.
9. There would be additional costs of around $20,000 for servicing two additional meetings on Friday 19 November to permit the Commissions and Plenary to conclude their examination of the agenda. Accordingly, the overall increase in direct costs for this alternative would be around $66,000.
10. Member governments might also as a consequence incur additional expenses for keeping delegates in Rome over the second weekend because of the postponement.
11. This alternative would provide for three Ministerial meetings on Monday 15 November (morning and afternoon) with Plenary and Commission meetings taking place at the same time.
12. There would be need for recruiting additional interpreters and temporary staff for this day to service six simultaneous meetings at an estimated cost of around $30,000. Accordingly, the overall increase in direct costs for this alternative would be about $76,000.
13. Apart from timetable problems and cost increases, in the light of experience with scheduling speaking time for Ministers and Heads of Delegation the feasibility of organizing these meetings also appears doubtful given the tight scheduling of Ministers' travel to Rome and the need to make sure that Ministers are available to participate in the decision making process for the key issues which are dealt with by the Conference in the very first days of its sessions. The objective of the exercise would be defeated if participants at these meetings were lower-ranking members of the delegation in some cases after a very brief appearance by the Minister or Head of Delegation.
14. Given the practical difficulties outlined and the additional costs involved in implementing either of the alternatives, the Joint Meeting may wish to recommend to the Council that the present format of the General Debate be maintained for the 1999 Conference while consultations on the matter continue among members. As agreed by the Council in November 1998, Heads of Delegation would be invited to focus their statements on the State of Food and Agriculture in the context of one or more thematic issues which could be identified by the Council. If necessary, the Secretariat would prepare short issues papers on these topics to guide delegations in the preparation of the statements.
15. In addition, without altering the normal pattern of the Conference, dialogue between Ministers might also be encouraged outside of the formal agenda. Present arrangements for the next Conference session include a series of short presentations by staff members on technical subjects. Each presentation might also provide an opportunity for exchange of views among participants and generate the interaction desired.
16. The subjects of the presentations planned are as follows:
1 CL 115/19 para 39