Trends by Martin Khor
3 April 2006
UN agencies face closure threat
the guise of effecting greater efficiency, the developed countries propose
to close down most United Nations agencies and re-group them into three
giant organizations. Threatened are many development arms of the UN
which serve the needs of developing countries.
are perilous times for agencies of the United Nations that are undergoing
scrutiny as to whether they should continue to exist.
week, a panel co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Norway
and Mozambique are meeting in New York to look at promoting “system-wide
coherence” of the UN’s operational activities.
this innocuous sounding term, many developed countries plan to close
down most UN organizations involved in development work, or else have
them merge into a single “UN Development Agency.”
the organizations targeted for closure, or for being taken over, are
UNCTAD (the agency dealing with trade), UNIDO (which deals with industrial
development), UNIFEM (which promotes women’s rights), UNRISD (which
conducts development research), and UN Volunteers.
change being proposed by the developed countries is that the various
UN agencies operating at the country level will be merged into a single
unit. They will have one leadership, one programme and one budget.
this scenario, the country offices of the World Health Organization,
the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UNDP and others will merge
observers of the UN scene believe the panel on coherence was set up
in February by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to provide a vehicle
for the views of the donor countries to be aired and perhaps adopted.
Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Agnes van Ardenne, has said
the donors will use the “power of the purse” to put their plan into
said it makes no sense for the UN to have 38 organizations, and the
solution is to select worthwhile ones and reorganize them into only
three agencies, dealing with development, humanitarian affairs and the
(the UN Conference on Trade and Development) was set up by the UN General
Assembly in 1964 after a big push by developing countries, which created
the Group of 77 at the same time.
is the UN’s premier organization dealing with development issues in
an integrated way (combining trade, finance, technology and macro-economic
issues). It has had an impressive history, having hosted commodity
agreements in the past that helped raise and stabilize prices.
the Asian financial crisis, it was the only international agency that
pinpointed speculative capital flows as the root cause, and it assisted
the Asean secretariat in tracking the crisis.
developing countries consider it their think-tank and supporter, the
developed countries have been unhappy with how it helps the South negotiate
at the World Trade Organisation and have been looking for a chance to
shut it down.
(the UN Development Fund for Women) is a small UN unit promoting the
rights of women. It has been punching above its weight and making waves,
having taken the gender issue into new areas, including helping women
fight for peace and reconstruction in war-torn regions such as Afghanistan,
Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
many supporters believe that if it were to merge into a much larger
organization, such as UNDP, it would lose its individual identity and
be lost in a bureaucratic maze.
is led by former Thai deputy premier Dr P. Supachai and UNIFEM by Noeleen
Heyzer, a Singaporean.
the “donor countries” who fund many of the UN agencies are well prepared
in putting their views to the panel, the developing countries are also
now waking up to the threat.
a letter to the panel Co-Chairs, the Group of 77 stated that the coherence
process should not lead to the elimination or erosion of the mandate
of UN agencies, such as UNCTAD and UNIFEM.
says that the reform process should lead instead to strengthening the
role of the UN so that it becomes the premier international organization
dealing with economic, social and development issues.
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