Aviation, strategic to UN procurement

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Soomi Ro, chief of logistics and transportation services (LTS), United Nations Procurement Division, is responsible to provide responsive, effective, and quality expert procurement services and business advice to UN headquarters, peacekeeping missions, and other UN organizations. Her mandate is to oversee a global operation involving multiple vendors and contractors to provide best value for money in the timely delivery of goods, service and capacity to enable customers to execute their missions and achieve their objectives within a fair and transparent commercial partnership. The overall procurement volume of UN organizations during 2013 increased to US$16.1 billion from US$15.4 billion in 2012. Ro talks to Reji John on the complexities and the logistics of leading such a global operation.

What are the specific roles that you do for the UN as head of logistics and transport in its procurement division? Whenever there is a Security Council mandate for peacekeeping activity, the primary mandate of the UN Secretariat, where I belong to, the two main departments that get involved are departments of of field support and departmetn of management under which the procurement division come in. The department of field support is the technical division which brings up these requirements of good and services from filed missions. Then the procurement division within the department of management acquire the required goods and services in compliance with the financial rules and regulations of the public procurement entity. So my particular role within the procurement division is to be the in charge of procurement and do it in compliance with the internal controls and regulations while meeting the operational demands by entering into contracts to engage the business partners and operators who will actually deliver goods and services to fulfill the mandate.

What is the size of this operation? About $3 billion is the annual budget for the UN Procurement Division. That includes all kinds of goods and services. One of the most attractive sections, at the same time a challenging one, is aviation, which is high in value and volume. It is about 24 to 25 percent of the total procurement volume and it's value is in the range of $700 million per year (based on the past few years). That is the kind of budget that we operate on.

You mentioned about high value and high volume commodities What are some of these commodities? The peace keeping requirement parameters includes a diverse range of goods and services; anything under the sun. Primary support is to let the peace keeping troops to operate as well as support all the UN civilian officers. Among all that, some of the commodity group may not be high in value, but certainly high in volume. But the aviation sector is something both high volume and high value and because of its industry nature we also categorise it as strategic within the UN setting. It also get importance because governments get involved in clearance of security, customs and over flight.

The UN having different organizations and agencies with varying goals; how do you work together as and when situations demand to ensure you deliver as one? That is where intra agency collaboration and coordination comes in. Each organisation has a different mandate. There are obviously areas where we overlap, that is where we do joint efforts. The recent classic example is the Ebola mission. Across organisations, within the UN, we have this theme called “delivering as one”. So under that motto, if you have a common mission to achieve a certain target and have the optimum efficiency of resources and budget, then we try to see where we can combine our efforts. Obviously, there are some areas where our individual expertise, experience and knowhow will make us do better than the others and vice versa. However, there are obviously areas where we can join synergies to achieve the goal together.

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