South-North Development Monitor (SUNS)
#6139 Monday 13 November 2006
COHERENCE PANEL PROPOSES MAJOR CHANGES IN UN SYSTEM
By Martin Khor, Sao Paulo, 10 November 2006
Major changes in the way the United Nations system works in development, environment and humanitarian affairs have been proposed by the high-level panel on UN coherence in a report launched on 9 November at the UN secretariat in New York.
The panel proposes sweeping reforms at the UN’s activities at country level, as the UN system is envisaged to move towards “one UN” (in terms of office, chief representative,
funding and programme).
The panel also suggests the establishment of new institutions and mechanisms at UN headquarter level.
The report was welcomed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who had set up the High-Level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in Development, Humanitarian Assistance and the Environment. The panel is co-chaired by the prime ministers of Norway (Jens Stoltenberg), Mozambique (Luísa Dias Diogo) and Pakistan (Shaukat Aziz). Other members include Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom, former Presidents, and heads of several donor agencies.
Receiving the report in New York from the co-chairs at an informal meeting of the UN General Assembly, Kofi Annan said “we all have a solemn obligation to take the panel’s recommendations forward.” He said the changes proposed will enable the UN to respond better to new challenges, and to support countries better to achieve development goals and called on member states to join in to carry out the recommendations.
The report was mandated by the 2005 World Summit. In the coming weeks, Annan will formally present the report to the General Assembly and will transmit it to his successor, Ban Ki-moon to carry forward the process of discussion and possible implementation.
How many of the proposals will survive the General Assembly process, or that will be changed before being accepted, remains to be seen.
The report proposes that there be a single UN office at the country level, presumably involving the merger of the many UN agencies that operate on the ground. After the proposed reforms, there would be a single UN resident coordinator, a single overall programme of activities, and a single budget.
This “One UN” approach at country level had been originally proposed by the
Development Ministries of many OECD countries. The report’s recommendations for this approach thus responds to the promptings originating from the “donor countries.”
How the transition will take place from the present situation -- in which several UN agencies (such as UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, FAO) operate separately in countries – is not
set out in detail in the report. The plan is that the merger into “one UN” on the ground be carried out in stages, aiming at 5 countries initially by next year, and then implementing it in all countries by 2012.
At the UN headquarters level, the report has side-stepped the most controversial proposals put to it by some developed countries, i.e. the merger of many UN agencies, funds and departments (and implicitly the closure of some of them) so that there would be only be a handful of giant UN agencies dealing with development, humanitarian affairs and the environment.
These proposals had met with strong resistance from the Group of 77 and China, and from UN organizations such as UNCTAD and UNIDO.
How the panel would deal with this issue has been the most keenly anticipated part of the report. In the end, the panel did not spell out any closures or mergers of specific agencies, but flagged the need to consider this issue at greater depth. It proposed that a special task force be set up to follow up on this issue, involving a review of the mandates and future operations of the UN agencies, funds and departments.
By not addressing the specifics of this most controversial issue which would have required drastic structural changes at headquarter level, the panel may have hoped that its report would be more acceptable to the developing-country member states of the UN. This issue could re-emerge in a follow-up process.
The panel also proposed new institutions at the UN headquarters, most notably:
* A Global Leaders Forum comprising heads of governments and states of 27 members (half the membership of ECOSOC). It would provide leadership and guidance to the international community on development and global public goods related issues; develop a long-term strategic policy framework to secure consistency in the policy goals of the major international organizations; and promote consensus-building among governments on integrated solutions for global economic, social and environmental issues.
* A Sustainable Development Board comprising senior officials of member states (from Ministries of Foreign Affairs and ministries dealing with economic matters) as well as top officials of UN departments and agencies. The Board would give directions to the UN offices at country level (including allocation of their funding).
* A UN Development Policy and Operations Group comprising top officials of the UN’s
development agencies. The Group will be chaired by the head of the UNDP. He is to be
assisted by the head of DESA (the UN department for economic and social affairs) as the UN’s “chief economist”, and by the head of one of the other important agencies on a
rotating basis. The Group should be the central coordinating mechanism for the UN’s work on development at the country level.
* The creation of a new entity to handle and coordinate the UN system’s gender-related
policies and activities.
* Greater coordination among UN organisations and agreements related to the environment, with a stronger mandate and role to UNEP. A task force to propose re-organising the UN system’s work on the environment is suggested.
An initial reading of the report indicates that the aim of strengthening the profile and activities of gender issues and activities in the UN is the aspect that has gained the most ground.
Among the UN departments and organizations, the UNDP is the big winner. The report proposed that it fill the post of UN Resident Coordinator at the country offices. Its Administrator will also chair the Development Group and be known as the UN Development Coordinator.
At present the UNDP’s country representatives already broadly front the UN’s presence
on the ground. However the various UN agencies have relative independence in running their own programmes. The proposed “one UN” at the ground would mean that the UNDP representative would now coordinate all UN activities and financial resources at the country level.
Recognising that this is likely to attract resentment from other UN agencies and to anticipate their concern that the UNDP would have an unfair advantage in being able to position its own agenda (at the expense of other agencies), the panel proposes that the UNDP create a “firewall” between its coordinating role and its own programmes at country level, in order to avoid a conflict-of-interest situation.
How this integration of the programmes of the many UN agencies is to be carried out, and how the process will define the new roles of the UNDP, will be one of the hottest issues when the panel’s report is discussed among governments and among the secretariats of the UN agencies.
The envisaged greatly enlarged role of the UNDP is also evident in its proposed chairmanship of the Development Group. The UNDP already chairs the present UN Development Group, but its role now is mainly one of loose coordination and exchange of views among agencies.
In the new proposed structures, the new Development Group will have vastly enlarged powers as the servicing arm of the Sustainable Development Board. These include coordinating the funding aspects of the UN country offices (which presumably include
the funds presently channeled by each UN agency to its country offices and programmes) and the non-core funding of the UN agencies (which in many cases are a significant portion of their overall financial resources).
Indeed, a major change in the way the UN system and its agencies are to be funded is one of the most significant implications of the report. The panel calls for predictable multi-year funding from donors, to be deposited into a single Millennium Development Fund, and re-channeled to the various UN agencies and programmes and to the UN country offices.
The authority of allocation and approval of the funding is envisaged to be under the Sustainable Development Board, with the preparations to be undertaken by the Development Group.
A senior official of one UN agency remarked that this centralization of funding is being justified on the grounds of efficiency and greater predictability, but that there could be many serious downsides.
At present there is a diversity of approaches, priorities and styles of different UN agencies, which acts as a kind of system of checks and balances so that some unique and effective methods and activities by some agencies are enabled.
“These effective approaches are in danger of being marginalized as the decisions on what activities and what agencies to support will now be centralized,” said the official.
Another concern is that the centralization of decision-making in the Development Group and the Board will create new administrative levels and layers that would delay the process of planning and implementing programmes and activities, and the funding required. As a result, it would be more difficult for some of the UN agencies to act quickly and effectively in response to needs emerging from the ground, or to new and innovative initiatives.
Further, donors that now earmark certain funds for certain agencies or for some of their specific activities may find it more complex and difficult to ensure that the funds that would like to be channeled towards these agencies and activities would really be channeled in the end towards these purposes, as there would now be more administrative and institutional layers in the UN system to clear, both at the headquarters and the country levels. This could become a disincentive for donors.
Giving the rationale of the panel’s work, the Norwegian prime minister Stoltenberg told
the General Assembly that “No one facing today’s challenges would design the UN system as it currently stands. To leave it the way it is would mean giving in to short-term national and institutional interests.”
The report stated that currently the UN’s work in development is fragmented, weak and not properly structured to meet country needs, with more than one third of UN Country
Teams having ten or more agencies on the ground, and several with more than 20,
resulting in “incoherent” programme interventions and “excessive” administrative costs.
“We have proposed a bold but realistic agenda for action,” Pakistani Prime Minister
Shaukat Aziz said. “It should ensure that the UN is well funded, and can respond more
effectively to the needs of countries and communities everywhere.”
In their letter to Kofi Annan, the co-chairs said they had proposed recommendations to
overcome the fragmentation of UN so that the system can deliver the internationally
agreed development goals (including MDGs) “as one.”
“Our proposals encompass a framework for a unified and coherent UN structure at the
country level. These are matched by more coherent governance, funding and
management arrangements at the centre. We have sought to consolidate existing entities
wherever necessary, and to eliminate unnecessary duplication and competition.
“We have formulated mechanisms to enable policy consistency and strategies to
modernize business practices for better performance and accountability. We have
renewed our commitment to put into practice the principles of good multilateral
donorship, and to ensure adequate, sustained and secure funding for organizations that
upgrade their efficiency and deliver results.”
In the executive summary, the report says that its vision is for the UN to deliver as one in
the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. The UN’s
normative and analytic expertise, its operational and coordination capabilities, and its
advocacy role would be more effectively brought together at the country level, at the
regional level and at the global level.
“We recommend the establishment of One UN at country level, with one leader, one
programme, one budget and, where appropriate, one office.” The One UN should be based on a consolidation of all of the UN’s programme activities at the country level.
To manage the One Country Programme there will be one leader – an empowered
Resident Coordinator open to candidates outside UNDP and the UN system. The role of
UNDP must change. It should focus and strengthen its operational work on policy
coherence and positioning of the UN country team, and withdrawing from sector-focused
policy and capacity work being done by other UN entities.
The report proposes 5 “One UN country pilots” by 2007, 20 One UN Country
Programmes by 2009, 40 by 2010 and all other appropriate programmes by 2012.
At headquarters level, the panel proposes the establishment of a UN Sustainable
Development Board to oversee the One UN Country Programmes. The Board will
provide oversight for the One UN Country Programme, to provide system-wide
coherence, ensure coordination, and to monitor performance of global
It proposed that the existing joint meetings of the Boards of
UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WFP be merged into this strategic oversight body – the UN
Sustainable Development Board – reporting to ECOSOC.
The Board should comprise a representative sub-set of member states on the basis of equitable geographic representation. It would be responsible for endorsing the One UN Country Programme, allocating funding, and evaluating its performance against the objectives agreed with the programme country.
The Board should also maintain a strategic overview of the system to drive coordination and joint planning between all Funds, Programmes and Agencies, and to monitor overlaps and gaps.
The panel recommended that the Secretary-General appoint a UN Development Coordinator with responsibility for the performance and accountability of UN development activities. The UNDP Administrator should serve as the Development Coordinator. The Development Coordinator should report to the Board and be supported by a high-level coordination group comprising the Heads of principal development agencies and an expert Secretariat drawn from across the UN system.
The Secretary-General is also asked to establish an independent task force to further eliminate duplication within the UN system, and consolidate UN entities.
“We do not advocate a single UN entity because many individual agencies can best
achieve their vital role in the provision of global public goods, advocacy, research, promoting best practice and global norms and standards by operating individually in their specific sectors.
“However, it is clear there are a large number of overlapping functions, failures of
coordination and policy inconsistency within the UN system. The task force should clearly delineate the roles performed by UN Funds, Programmes, Specialized Agencies and regional entities, including the UN Secretariat.
“It should make concrete recommendations for mergers or consolidation of duplicative functions and ensure complementarity of mandates.” The task force should report by end 2007 to the Secretary-General with clear recommendations for early implementation.
The report also recommends the establishment of a MDG Funding Mechanism to provide multi-year funding for the One UN Country Programmes. Significant changes are proposed to the way donor funding is managed.
Current UN funding patterns are highly fragmented, unpredictable and constrained by too much earmarking, which has encouraged duplication and inefficiency.
“A new MDG Funding Mechanism for voluntary donor funding (public, private and UN organizations) would provide multi-year funding for the One UN Country Programmes as well as for well performing agencies. The Board would govern this mechanism. Donor contributions would be voluntary and could be specified.
“There should also be additional funding available at the discretion of the Board to
reward well performing headquarters of Funds, Programmes and Specialized Agencies and to fund programmatic gaps and priorities in the system….We urge donors to contribute multi year funding and substantially reduce earmarking. We recommend that UN organizations committed to and demonstrating reform should receive full, multi-year core funding. Donors should support consolidated multi-year funding for the One UN Country Programme and core budgets of UN entities committed to reform.”
The assessed budgets of the Specialized Agencies should be reviewed to ensure they have sufficient core resources to deliver against strategic mandates. “Funding must follow performance and reward results both for the One Country Programmes and for Headquarters funding. The purpose of linking funding to performance is to improve outcomes not to reduce funding.
The Board, assisted by a special Development Finance and Performance Unit in its secretariat, should publish internal evaluations of UN system spending and performance, as well as evaluations of individual Funds, Programmes and Agencies’ plans to which the Board would have access. Performance of UN organizations should be measured against internationally agreed development goals. These assessments would inform funding decisions both by donors making direct contributions as well as through the discretionary MDG Funding Mechanism.
On humanitarian assistance and emergencies, the report recommends stronger coordination between the UN, national governments and NGOs; fully funding the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to facilitate quicker flows of funds in response to disasters; clarifying UN mandates with regard to responsibility for internally displaced persons; more investment in risk reduction, early-warning and innovative disaster assistance strategies and mechanisms; stronger leadership, quicker funding and better cooperation in post conflict and post-disaster transition.
On the environment, the report says urgent UN action is needed. It proposed that international environmental governance should be strengthened and made more coherent. “As a basis for reforms toward improving system-wide coherence, an independent
assessment of international environmental governance within the UN system and related reform, should be commissioned by the Secretary-General.
“We recommend that UNEP should be upgraded and have real authority as the environmental policy pillar of the UN system. We further recommend that UN entities should cooperate more effectively on a thematic basis and through partnerships, with a dedicated agency at the centre. The Global Environment Facility should be strengthened as the major financial mechanism for the global environment.”
The report also made recommendations on how the UN should help countries mainstream environment in their strategies and actions, to elevate the status of sustainable development in the UN institutional architecture and in country activities, and to achieve balance among the three pillars (economic, social and environmental) of sustainable development.
On gender, the panel recommended the establishment of “one dynamic UN entity focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment.” It proposed consolidating the three existing UN entities into an enhanced and independent gender entity, headed by an Executive Director with the rank of Under Secretary-General; the gender entity would have a strengthened normative and advocacy role combined with a targeted programming role; it must be fully and ambitiously funded; and .gender equality would be a component of all UN One Country Programmes.
On coordination with other multilateral agencies, the report says the UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions must work more closely to remove duplication, and build on their respective strengths. It recommended that the Secretary-General, the President of the World Bank and the Executive Director of the IMF set up a process to review, update and conclude formal agreements on their respective roles and relations at the global and country level. These reviews must be periodically updated as well as assessed.