For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2662
Release Date:    13 September 2000
 Role of United Nations Development Programme Much Clearer Now,
Secretary-General Tells Ministerial Meeting

NEW YORK, 12 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a keynote address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan delivered on 11 September to the Ministerial Meeting on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which was opened by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Jan Kavan:]

First, let me thank you, Mr. Kavan, for your very kind words, and for the invaluable contribution your country makes to the UNDP in chairing its Executive Board.

And then let me thank you all for being here today.  This is a busy time of year for all of us.  Your presence shows not only that you care about development, but that you care about the role of the United Nations in development.

That is as it should be.  Development has been one of the main tasks of the United Nations from the very beginning.  Even if the Charter did not require us to work for development, I believe we should have no choice, because without development the rest of our mission would be impossible. 

Without development we can neither prevent conflict nor build peace.  Without development, people will not enjoy human rights in any meaningful sense -- which is why we have now come to understand development as being in itself one of those rights.  Without development, there will not be justice in the world -- and people without rights will be unlikely to “practise tolerance and live together in peace”.

All this is widely understood.  What is perhaps more contentious is the United Nations’ active engagement in the day-to-day work of development in individual countries -- which, of course, is what the UNDP is all about. 

Some people may think that the United Nations should confine itself to defining the norms of development -- or to encouraging and coordinating studies on the theory of development.  They may think we should leave the practical side to national governments, to the private sector, and to more specialized and -- dare I say it? -- better funded institutions, such as the World Bank.

Certainly we would make a grave mistake if we tried to compete with any of those bodies, or to substitute ourselves for them.  But that is not what the UNDP is trying to do.

Until recently, perhaps, we did focus too much on project finance and project management, and sometimes tried to do too much by ourselves.  But that has changed.  We now have a far clearer idea of our specific role.

Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme is going through a process of radical reform.  It is not yet complete.  Our performance is still uneven.  As I travel around the world I meet some resident representatives who are brilliant by any standards, others who are weaker.  Almost all of them, whatever their personal qualities, are hampered by lack of resources -- a sad state of affairs, which I hope you will not allow to continue.  The strong management which Mark Malloch Brown is now putting in place reflects your wishes.  It needs and deserves support from all of us.

From now on, the projects we do undertake ourselves will increasingly have a pilot or leverage character -- that is, they will be intended either to try out something new or, by showing what a given approach can achieve, to convince others that it is worth investing in. 

We will not tell any country that we can solve its problems, or that we ourselves can bring it the resources to lift its people out of poverty.  What we aim to do is help countries find their own way of solving their problems, and help them attract, or mobilize, the resources they need. 

Do countries want that kind of help and advice?  Perhaps it is not for me to answer that question, in front of so many ministers from developing countries.  You will speak for yourselves.

But I can tell you what I have heard in many national capitals --  and what we often hear also in regional and local centres, where the UNDP does much of its most important work.

What people tell us is “Yes, that kind of help and advice is precisely what we do want from the UNDP, and we want more of it”. 

In fact, in many middle-income countries they are prepared to pay for it.   In Brazil, for example, most of the money the UNDP is spending comes from the Brazilian taxpayer.  The Brazilian federal government, and an increasing number of state governments, use UNDP services because they are good value for money.

Perhaps some of you from the North are thinking, “well, that’s fine.  If UNDP is so efficient and competitive, why don’t we spin it off in those countries, and let it become a private consultant”.  But that is to miss the point.  You have to understand what it is that makes UNDP’s services so uniquely valuable.

Part of it is that the UNDP is a universal network, present in virtually every developing country.  That makes it uniquely well placed to tell people in one country what has worked and what has not worked in another -- what problems are likely to arise if you adopt a particular policy, and how you can get around them. 

It can help countries in Latin America hire experts and consultants from South-East Asia, and vice versa.

Countries need this kind of help and advice more than ever today, in the age of globalization, when events move very fast, and choices have to be made very quickly.  As a leading Asian journalist recently put it, globalization is like an express train.  It only stops at those stations where the platform is high enough for passengers to get on.

That platform consists of education, of technology -- especially, today, information technology; of infrastructure; and of governance, which is the necessary condition of all those things. 

I know, you are fed up with hearing that word.  I don’t especially like it myself.  But what it stands for is vitally important.  Good governance comprises the rule of law, effective State institutions, transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs, respect for human rights, and the participation of all citizens in the decisions that affect their lives.

People who have that platform to stand on will have a chance to board the train of globalization, and ride it to a better future.  Those who do not, will be left behind -- or may even be crushed by the train as it hurtles forward. 

Building the platform is an awesome responsibility for governments.  Many of them feel they are given no choice.  In reality there are very important choices to be made, but they need to be informed choices, based on clear analysis.  And often they can only be implemented with outside help. 

And that is where the UNDP comes in, with its expertise and its formidable network of contacts.  For instance, it can help countries bridge the “digital divide”, and gain access to the new global economy, by putting them in touch with a range of global partners, both public and private.

It is especially well placed to help because it is the heart of the United Nations system.  As you know, the UNDP resident representative in each country is also charged with coordinating the work of the local representatives of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Increasingly, the country offices of all these bodies are housed in the same building -- “UN House” -- just as here in New York they are all represented in the United Nations Development Group, which Mark chairs.  This effort to bring greater coherence to the work of the United Nations throughout the world is at the heart of my reform programme.  I look to the UNDP to provide leadership and bring all the different agencies together.

But not all agencies, funds and programmes are represented in every country.  And that makes UNDP’s presence there even more important. 

In many countries, the UNDP office is the indispensable point of contact for the whole United Nations system.  That is very important for the United Nations -- and, I may say, for me personally.  It means I have a representative in almost every country, which is enormously useful.

More important, it is greatly valued by the countries themselves.  Recently I visited two of the most successful transition countries in central Europe.  These countries no longer really qualify for development assistance, but both of them begged me not to let Mark close down the UNDP office in their capitals. 

I told them I would not dream of interfering in his decisions on such a matter -- especially when I know that funds are very tight.  But I must say I rather hope that the UNDP can remain present, even in those countries -- not so much for what it offers them as for what they can offer it.  Their experience of navigating the transition from central planning to the market is rich in lessons from which other countries can benefit; and the UNDP is an ideal conduit for passing on such knowledge.

The evidence, ladies and gentlemen, is clear.  People in developing countries trust the UNDP.  Whether it is Mozambicans struggling to resume the path of development after the disastrous setback of the floods earlier this year, or Lebanese seeking to kick-start reconstruction in the south of their country after 22 years of Israeli occupation, they turn to the UNDP to help mobilize world support. 

In this connection, I was pleased to note that the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, which reported last month, referred to the UNDP's "untapped potential" in the area of post-conflict peace-building.  It said that the UNDP is best placed to take the lead in this area, in cooperation with other United Nations agencies and the World Bank. 

Indeed, in post-conflict situations there is often a gap of six to 18 months when something more than emergency relief is needed, but the large-scale rehabilitation programmes funded by the World Bank or the European Union are not yet up and running.  Yet often events during that period make the difference between lasting peace and renewed war.  So it is vital that we fill that gap.  And the UNDP is uniquely well equipped to do that.

So there are many reasons why countries turn to the UNDP.  But underlying them all is the knowledge that the UNDP is not there to further the interests of particular donors, or indeed of donors in general.  Its only bias is a bias in favour of development -- a desire to ensure that poor people in poor countries have a chance to escape their poverty, and to develop their full potential as human beings.

I hope I have said enough to make it clear why the UNDP is so central to the whole mission of the United Nations, and so important to me personally.  Through the UNDP, the United Nations is present all over the world, and is seen to be dealing with the actual problems faced by the great majority of the world’s people. 

Never has UNDP’s work been more important.  Never, I believe, has it been better organized to do that work than it will be when the current reform has taken full effect.  Never has it so much needed your support, or deserved your sympathetic guidance.

I applaud Mark’s initiative in bringing you together.  I thank you again for being here.  And I hope your work today bears a rich harvest of creative ideas and renewed commitment.

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