11 July 2005
Reforming UN Activities for more Effective Country-Level Presence, Focus of Day-Long Dialogue in Economic and Social Council
Begins Operational Activities Segment of 2005 Session
NEW YORK, 8 July (UN Headquarters) -- Reforming the operational activities of the United Nations system to ensure a more coordinated, coherent and effective “UN presence” at the country level, better equipped to assist States to pursue their respective development priorities was the focus of the Economic and Social Council today, as it began the operational activities segment of its 2005 substantive session.
The Council’s three-day operational activities segment provides an opportunity to discuss issues related to the reform measures being introduced in country-level development cooperation in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, as well as how to ensure adequate, predictable and stable funding of United Nations development cooperation.
Opening the day-long dialogue with representatives of Member States and United Nations funds and programmes, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs José Antonio Ocampo stated that the United Nations had a unique capacity to provide neutral and flexible support to countries, due to several factors. Among them was the Organization’s unparalleled power to engage with various stakeholders at the country level; its distinctive advocacy role; its analytical capacity on complex social and economic issues; and its role in conflict prevention and resolution, and in linking socio-economic development with post-conflict peacebuilding.
The United Nations system, he continued, had placed strengthening its coherence as an overriding objective. Today, the system was pushing for comprehensive reform to increase its effectiveness, enhance coordination and make better use of the Organization’s human, technical and financial resources.
United Nations reforms were only significant, stated Kenya’s Minister of Economic Planning and National Development, Anyang Nyongo’o, if they were felt at the national level. There, the United Nations acted through its agencies, of which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was most important for the achievement of the Millennium Goals. Since the Goals were cross-sectoral, however, all agencies had an important role at the national level, to the extent that governments were in communication with them.
The United Nations, he added, should be listened to and its major proposals and papers discussed in national parliaments, so that the national governments could gain knowledge of the Millennium Goals and the General Assembly could get feedback from those who deal with national problems on a day-to-day basis. In that way, policy would be shaped at the local level, where it mattered most.
Jean-Michel Severino, Chief Executive Officer, French Development Agency (AFD), noted that the flexibility and durability of the United Nations did not keep it from having to compete with a growing number of competitors for the funding it needed for activities. United Nations agencies and partners, such as the Breton Woods institutions, were facing increasing challenges with finding donors for either training or the capacity-building needed in post-conflict or emergency situations.
The United Nations, he felt, should identify its comparative advantages in that competitive environment. Why should the money be given to the United Nations and not others? Also, noting that United Nations was handicapped by efficiency concerns in the field because of a “dispersal” of its presence, he wondered whether the number of agencies should be reduced or whether some agencies should be merged.
Bruce Jenks, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Resources and Strategic Partnerships, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said it was necessary to have a more open discussion about where the big reform picture was really going. There was, in the Secretary-General’s report “In Larger Freedom”, a clear sense that “we are at a very important moment”, and that a repositioning of the United Nations system at the country level, as well as a vision of “where we all need to be going”, was needed. Governments played a key role in that regard. What was the vision of governments, of the international community, for the role of the United Nations in development 10 years from now?
Several speakers agreed on the unparalleled power of the United Nations to bring all stakeholders together at the country level; the need to ensure secure funding for operational activities; that strong government leadership was required to ensure the alignment of the priorities of the United Nations system with national development agendas; the need to improve on the efficiency of the United Nations at the country level without sacrificing effectiveness; and the crucial need to have a strong resident coordinator system able to accommodate the competencies of the various members of the “UN family”.
Chaired by Council Vice-President Jaime Moncayo (Ecuador), the panel also included Atle Leikvoll, Deputy Secretary-General for International Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway; Carmen Eugenia Oliva de Rodríguez, Director, International Cooperation, Secretariat for Planning and Programme of the Presidency, Guatemala; and Rolando Tungpalan, Assistant Director-General, National Economic and Development Authority, Philippines.
Also on the panel were Frans Roselaers, Director, Department of Partnerships and Development Cooperation, International Labour Organization (ILO); Sigrid Kaag, Deputy Director, Programmes Division, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Peter Mertens, Coordinator of United Nations Relations and Intergovernmental Organizations Affairs, Department of Governance, World Health Organization (WHO); Eckhard Hein, Chief, Resources and Strategic Partnerships Unit, Technical Department, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and Manuela Tortora, Chief, Technical Cooperation Services, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 11 July, to hold a panel on alternative options and modalities for financing United Nations operational activities for development.
The Economic and Social Council met today to begin the operational activities segment of its 2005 substantive session. It will hold an interactive dialogue on “Introducing operational reforms in the United Nations development system in the pursuit of the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the Millennium Declaration” with representatives of Member States and United Nations agencies, funds and programmes. (For background on the Council’s current session, see Press Release ECOSOC/6154 issued on 23 June.)
JAIME MONCAYO (Ecuador), Vice-President of the Council, emphasized the importance of United Nations operational activities for international development cooperation. At present, those activities were devoted to assisting developing countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits, which aimed to improve the lives of the people of the world. It was a complex task, which faced limited resources. It included support for programmes and strategies of developing countries. Operational activities faced major challenges in terms of greater interrelationship among several themes, including coordination, efficiency and impact.
Today’s meeting, he said, should start with dissatisfaction, on the one hand, with the fact that poverty had increased, while expecting, on the other hand, the September Summit to take significant steps towards achieving development goals. The aim should be to strengthen those operational activities that comply with the desired goals, and to define the reforms for the United Nations system to make it and the ECOSOC more relevant.
JOSÉ ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the discussion should begin with the question, “What is the UN system’s role in country-level development operations?” He noted that the country-level contributions of the United Nations did not include the major injection of resources. Other development partners were better equipped to play that role. The United Nations had a unique capacity to provide neutral and flexible support to countries, due to several factors.
He said the first was its unparalleled power to engage with various stakeholders at the country level. The second was the Organization’s distinctive advocacy role. The third was its analytical capacity on complex social and economic issues. The fourth was the particular role of the United Nations in conflict prevention and resolution, and in linking socio-economic development with post-conflict peacebuilding. The fifth was its unique technical capacity to help developing countries with capacity-building.
At the beginning of the 1990s, he recalled, funding of development activities had faced a decline. The United Nations system had placed strengthening its coherence as an overriding objective. Today, the system was pushing for comprehensive reform to increase its effectiveness, enhance coordination and make better use of the Organization’s human, technical and financial resources. Pursuing the internationally agreed development goals, especially the Millennium Goals, required the mobilization of all efforts. The announcements for an increase in official development assistance (ODA) had given cause for new optimism. Nonetheless, increased effectiveness at the country level required overcoming several challenges.
Among those challenges, he mentioned that national ownership and leadership of United Nations country-level processes was crucial. Mechanisms to enhance coherence of United Nations development cooperation, such as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), must have a national -- not a United Nations -- focus. Also, the United Nations system needed to mobilize all of its parts that could assist country efforts. Likewise, non-United Nations system actors, including the private sector and civil society, should be more systematically engaged in United Nations development activities. In addition, the issue of how to prepare for development after conflict should be addressed. In that connection, operational activities for development should be a central focus of the proposed peacebuilding commission.
AYANG NYONG’O, Minister of Economic Planning and National Development of Kenya, said that United Nations reforms were only significant if they were felt at the national level. There, the United Nations acts through its agencies, of which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was most important for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Since the Goals were cross-sectoral, however, all agencies had an important role at the national level, to the extent that governments were in communication with them.
Kenya was going through civil service reform, he said, and he hoped that its reform would help interaction with United Nations agencies. Agencies had, up to now, been scattered throughout various Government ministries and that arrangement did not allow synergy to build up. Timetables for reporting progress in a user-friendly way, along with resource needs, were very much needed.
The United Nations should be listened to, he said, and its major proposals and papers discussed in national parliaments, so that the national governments could gain knowledge of the Millennium Development Goals, and the General Assembly could get feedback from those who deal with national problems on a day-to-day basis. In that way, policy would be shaped at the local level, where it mattered most.
ATLE LEIKVOLL, Deputy Secretary-General for International Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, said attention should be focused on results on the ground, when it came to reform. Within the United Nations system there was some progress, but still a long way to go. He fully supported the resident coordinator system, but there was a dilemma in strengthening coordination while retaining flexibility. He asked participants to consider that problem. Sharing of premises in United Nations houses had many advantages in efficiency and presence, but again, he wanted meeting participants to address the results on the ground.
United Nations reform could not be seen in a vacuum, he said, as there were many other actors working in development. In that context, he asked if
United Nations planning instruments were well adapted to the planning activities of non-United Nations actors. In the multiactor landscape, it might also be important to more sharply define the United Nations role overall.
There was a huge potential in the reform process now under way. For the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved, however, reform must continue in a way that improved the prospects for reaching those goals. That was what the reform debate should be about, he concluded.
CARMEN EUGENIA OLIVA DE RODRÍGUEZ, Director of International Cooperation in the Secretariat for Planning and Programme of the Presidency (SEGEPLAN) of Guatemala, said she would address the issue of operational activities for cooperation on development from the perspective of how recent reforms in the United Nations had impacted on her country. Once the United Nations had helped her country attain sustainable peace, Guatemala had been designated a pilot country with the United Nations Development Assistance Framework. As a result of UNDAF activities, the people had a much better understanding than before of what the United Nations did and how development partners viewed the development process.
In addition, she said the Government had learned a number of lessons relevant to the work of the United Nations in the field. First, to ensure the sustainability of development activities, the United Nations must provide technical, as well as political assistance. In addition, implementation of development activities had not always been as “agile” as they could have been. That was because not enough recognition had been given to the fact that attitudes were hard to change. Capacity-building, such as training of existing and emerging development players, must be made a priority to take the sustainable development beyond the assistance stage. For middle-income countries such as her own, a great deal of flexibility and creativity must be exercised in allocating resources for development activities.
She said her country’s Government was committed to improving the investment climate and promoting development. It was actively implementing policies on sustainable use of the environment and poverty reduction through food distribution schemes.
JEAN-MICHEL SEVERINO, Chief Executive Officer, French Development Agency (AFD), said he’d address the question of United Nations operational activities for development from the perspective of a bilateral agency involved with the United Nations in delivering development assistance. He said it was important to recognize the progress that had been made in the coordination of activities, particularly in comparison with agencies such as UNDP or the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which had seen a decrease in income and an increase in expenditures. That said, the flexibility and durability of the United Nations did not keep it from having to compete with a growing number of competitors for the funding it needed for activities.
He said the United Nations agencies and partners, such as the Breton Woods institutions, were facing increasing challenges with finding donors for either training or the capacity-building needed in post-conflict or emergency situations. For one, the regional development bank concept had not been internalized by developing countries and the growing sectoral approach toward getting needed financing was troubling. The United Nations should identify its competitive edge in that competitive environment. Why should the money be given to the United Nations and not others? What unique element about the United Nations could be optimally emphasized to improve the chance of funding?
In addition, he said the United Nations was handicapped by efficiency concerns in the field because of a “dispersal” of its presence. The many parts of the United Nations made the system too complex. Should the number of agencies be reduced or should some agencies be merged? Also, how could reforms and improvements in the system be sped up? Further, how should the question of strengthening the resident coordinator’s role be approached from the procedural angles of budget and effectiveness? A public debate should be held on the country strategy approach to development, because political considerations were involved, particularly with agencies facing internal problems. Again, in light of that, how could the implementation of improvements be accelerated?
ROLANDO TUNGPALAN, Assistant Director-General, National Economic and Development Authority of the Philippines, said that, during the Philippine Development Forum, the Government had manifested strong leadership in coordinating aid for development activities. His agency served as the main coordinating body for the formulation and implementation of the Philippine Development Plan, and for the coordination of official development assistance. Among other things, it sought to ensure that development cooperation programmes were supportive of national development plans. As a champion of country leadership, his Government had been pushing ODA partners to translate international commitments into country-level actions.
He said that the common country assessment (CCA) and the UNDAF were major steps towards harmonization, and a departure from the days when the various United Nations agencies undertook their own assessments of a country’s needs. The strong leadership of government ensured the alignment of the UNDAF with the national development agenda. The lessons learned in the CCA/UNDAF process had been documented. The next generation of the CCA could be expanded to draw in the larger donor community to work with the government in assessing development challenges. The external deadlines set by Headquarters drove the process, sometimes hampering in-country consultations. While alignment was important, harmonization with government processes and time lines was also important in achieving coherence between the CCA/UNDAF and government plans.
On resource mobilization, he noted that the Paris Declaration had called for greater predictability and untying of aid. The record of agencies, such as the UNDP, in the Philippines in mobilizing resources had been good. But most of the resources were non-core and earmarked for specific activities, which could undermine flexibility. Capacity-building had always been recognized as essential to achieving development goals. For United Nations agencies to effectively carry out their mandates, they needed the appropriate skills, systems and resources. Sustaining development outcomes would also require capacity on the part of governments. Also, mainstreaming and simplifying monitoring and evaluation systems remained to be addressed.
There was scope to improve on the efficiency of the United Nations at the country level without sacrificing effectiveness, he added. There was a need for constant communication between the United Nations system and governments. The Philippines was on track with the targets contained in the Millennium Goals, particularly on poverty. That was a result of active collaboration with a number of partners, including various members of the United Nations family.
BRUCE JENKS, Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Resources and Strategic Partnerships, UNDP, said it was necessary to have a more open discussion about where the big reform picture was really going. In the Secretary-General’s report, “In Larger Freedom”, there was a clear sense that “we are at a very important moment”, that a repositioning of the United Nations system at the country level was needed, as well as a vision of “where we all need to be going”.
He stressed that country ownership had to mean choice -- it could not mean the country had the technical capacity to implement what someone else was telling it to do. Turning to the issue of resources, he said it was critical for the United Nations to have a critical mass of core funding to enable a credible presence at the country level. A balance was necessary between growth of core and non-core funding. He noted two major evolutions. One was for simplification, budget support and an easier way to transfer large sums of money. The other was the multiplication of multiple funding sources and increased attention of donors to such sources. The role of the United Nations needed to accommodate the reality of both those funding legs.
He also said that partnerships were important, since the United Nations had power at the country level to bring in partners and get things going. The fundamental issue was that it was time for a much longer-term review and vision of where the United Nations system was in development. That issue reverted back to governments, as the United Nations system “was the servant of your will”. What was the vision of governments, the international community, for the role of the United Nations in development 10 years from now?
FRANS ROSELAERS, Director of Partnerships and Development, Cooperation Department, International Labour Organization (ILO), concurred with many of the points made by Mr. Jenks and said that ILO brought to the table a unique networking and outreach experience, in that it worked with employers and workers organizations. ILO’s experience had proved useful in promoting national ownership of programmes and in building capacity at various national levels and sectors. In addition, the organization was experienced in navigating the interrelationship between standard-setting and socio-economic development.
SIGRID KAAG, Deputy-Director of the Programmes Division, UNICEF, said her organization felt very strongly about a rights-based agenda and that the
United Nations still had a very strong role in working with all stakeholders at the national level. Critical elements in reform needed to be accelerated. UNICEF need to make sure that such issues as vulnerability and rights were kept on the table, but also had to move more toward working in partnerships with all stakeholders.
UNICEF, she said, was looking at how it could increase resources for capacity-building and other interaction with national bodies, and had marked out areas where the Breton Woods institutions fit in with its activities. In light of recent changes, there was now an emphasis on leveraging resources and influencing debate, and localizing the Millennium Development Goals along with empowering local communities. In response to the ongoing discussion, she said it was valuable to have a strong resident coordinator system that was able to accommodate the competencies of the various agencies.
PETER MERTENS, Coordinator of United Nations Relations and Intergovernmental Organizations Affairs, Department of Governance, World Health Organization (WHO), said the themes and modalities that defined the United Nations approach toward its work were often too complex. There was a tendency in the system to lose awareness of how the chosen subjects for study would impact and apply to the countries in question.
He said technical support should always be aligned with national systems. The United Nations, donors and the end user should share responsibility for implementation. His organization’s approach was to consider it the government’s role to set out the priorities for his organization’s work. Operational reforms should be managed to directly address national needs, rather than beginning with the step of developing new paradigms to be applied. Need and absorption capacity at the receiving end should define and guide the approach in delivering development assistance.
ECKHARD HEIN, Chief of the Resources and Strategic Partnerships Unit, Technical Department, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), said he supported United Nations reform because his organization was also a member-based organization reliant on funding for activities. Like the United Nations, his organization had undertaken reforms once its eyes had opened to the real challenges on the ground. Events around the current G-8 summit in Scotland forced a re-examination of accepted concepts, such as the official development assistance.
He said the agencies were an important component of carrying out operational activities at the country level. Many agencies had a thirty-year relationship with governments and had no trouble in letting the government make the decisions on what it wanted the agency to do. Strengthening the role of the resident coordinator meant, in essence, a strengthening of the entire system behind the concept. Collaboration was inevitable for agencies, including for the purpose of supporting governments, because the capacities that agencies helped to develop could, unfortunately, be destroyed.
MANUELA TORTORA, Chief, Technical Cooperation Services, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that UNCTAD’s experience was different than those that had been mentioned already. The participation of UNCTAD at the country level revolved around the need to mainstream trade in the national development process, taking into account all the Millennium Goals, but especially Goal 8. Trade fit squarely into Goal Eight’s coherence challenge, as it had an impact on several development components of any national strategy. Among the main policy challenges she mentioned was to incorporate trade in the CCA/UNDAF. The economic and trade components of development tended to be minimized by
United Nations country teams and national authorities when designing the scope of the CCA/UNDAF.
She noted that UNCTAD was a non-resident agency, which posed a practical obstacle. However, it might not be a major obstacle in so far as governments and country teams were aware and took into account the role of trade in designing the CCA/UNDAF. In recent months, the dialogue with various country teams had been successful, including in Kenya and China. It was clear that cooperation and dialogue with the United Nations resident coordinator was vital, as UNCTAD was not country-based. What was a bigger obstacle was UNCTAD’s financial structure. That was the case not only because resources were unpredictable, but mainly because all voluntary, non-core resources were project-by-project financed.
The representative of the United Kingdom, on behalf of the European Union, said it would be interesting to hear more discussion of the time frame of reform, as well as of the United Nations System Chief’s Executive Board (CEB) process. It was important to harmonize the CEB coordination function with that of the United Nations Development Group to make sure they were not duplicating each other’s functions.
In response to various matters brought up this morning, Mr. NYONG’O (Kenya) said that the key to assisting governments was coordination within the United Nations system. Governments spend a large portion of their time on frequent meetings, as well as meeting diverse requirements for United Nations organizations, particularly those of the International Monetary Fund and the other Breton Woods institutions. Government reforms should also be synchronized with assistance from the outside.
Mr. MERTENS, WHO, said that countries were very different from each other in many ways. The composition of country teams, then, should be determined by the needs expressed by the owners -- that is, the country itself. On other subjects, he said that members of the CEB had been discussing how they could interact with other coordination platforms such as the United Nations Development Group (UNDG). In regard to time frames, deadlines could not be set, because much reform work was process-oriented. New ways of doing things have to be simply tried, otherwise discussion would never end.
Mr. HEIN, FAO, agreed that sometimes that it was necessary to “just do it,” when it came to reform. In regard to merging the various coordination mechanisms, he said that ways had to be found to truly represent the system-wide nature of reform and make sure that effective linkages were found.
There was consensus on the need for reform and what reform should entail, but there was still much to discuss on the process and time, Ms. KAAG, UNICEF, said. As far as synchronizing reform was concerned, it was most important that assistance was aligned with national reform. She asked delegates their expectations in those areas, as well as, in general, what kind of United Nations would they like to see at the end of the reform process.
Mr. ROSELAERS, of the ILO, said agencies, including his own, had undergone their own reforms in the period from 1990 to 1993, after their eyes were opened to needed changes. Perhaps the time had come to move into higher gear on those reforms and speed up implementation.
Mr. NYONG’O of Kenya said the United Nations should be the prime mover of change in the twenty-first century. Agencies such as the Breton Woods institutions couldn’t claim the same democracy they espoused for the global community. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were banks, not democratic structures. That issue had to be tackled before any other could be taken up. It was the key to envisioning where the United Nations would be in 10 years time with regard to being a global leader of change.
Mr. LEIKVOLL of Norway said the charge was made against the banks that they were too preoccupied with the disbursement of money and not with the overall development goals to be achieved. The purpose of the banks was to disburse money. That was their incentive. What incentives did the agencies offer at headquarters and out in the field? What elements in those incentive structures promoted a unified United Nations image system and which didn’t?
Ms. TORTORA, of UNCTAD, said development was a holistic process whose elements could not be pulled apart and targeted separately. All dimensions of development must be seen as a whole, in order to carry out the objective of promoting development. As it had been pointed out earlier, there was an artificial separation between agency concept and agency institutions on the ground. How should agencies change to develop an integrated, realistic, down to earth policy?
The representative of the United States said the incentive structure just mentioned touched upon the national experience discussed yesterday with regard to Tanzania. His country had the experience of having agencies fighting over who would do what with the chunk of money that had been made available. How could the country level reality of agencies protecting their turf be more closely aligned with the desire for reform being expressed at Headquarters?
Mr. JENKS, of the UNDP, agreed that more reform had to be done more quickly. There was truth to the charge that people at the national level did not know what agencies had to offer. To change that and support development, the global architecture needed to strengthen the sturdiness of its own four supporting “legs”. One of those was the bilateral channel; another was the channel of the international financial institutions; the European Union and Commission could arguably be considered another. And finally, the fourth leg was the United Nations. The question was, what should that leg look like? How should it function in combination with the others? The joint country approach was a good way forward. The incentives mentioned previously were demonstrated in the inter-agency process of nominating and reviewing the country coordinator candidates, where the entire history of those being considered went into the decision on the person to be chosen. However, it was necessary to review incentive systems constantly.
Mr. MERTENS, of WHO, said one problem with reviewing incentives was that the reforms being made had to come from the agency’s regular budget. That impacted on those in the field, who had their budgetary obligations to meet and then had to absorb the costs of reform in their own budgets. Further, the speed of reform could not occur any faster than the agency’s ability to absorb it. The agencies carried a lot of undocumented burdens, such as the fact that field workers often had to fill the role of resident coordinator. And since there was no “budget for UN reform at any agency”, capacity-building activities had to include undertaking training to implement reforms.
Mr. HEIN, of the FAO, said the resident coordinator’s role was similar to that of the Secretary-General heading the United Nations system. The resident coordinator was the team leader with an emphasis on the leadership, rather than authority. The question was how to make the system more streamlined and more effective, a consideration that also applied to regional directors. Both questions required consideration by the agencies’ governing bodies and, again, reforms had to be covered by the regular budget. One incentive for agencies was flexibility and mobility in the field. The best coordinators were those who had amassed experience with more than one agency.
SARBULAND KHAN, Director, Office of ECOSOC Support and Coordination, DESA, said that the two key elements emerging from the discussion were the question of the pace towards progress in reform, and the issue of incentives. What was missing was the Breton Woods institutions, particularly the World Bank. Among the questions to be addressed was how to relate the business plan of the United Nations, the UNDAF, to the individual country strategies of the agencies.
Mr. JENKS, UNDP, noted that the “In Larger Freedom” report of the Secretary-General contained the challenge for the United Nations system at the country level, which was how to reposition itself to be of maximum support to countries in their poverty reduction strategy process in a way that was “Millennium Development Goals-friendly”. It was necessary to look at how to move forward in that process. Based on the work being done for second-generation poverty reduction strategies, the United Nations, at the country level, would continue to have a tremendous job to do regarding the “MDG-ization” of the poverty reduction strategies.
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