TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (April06/05)

6 April 2006

Series on UN Reform --- Article 3

G77 warns against attempts to eliminate UN mandates

The UN is undergoing a reform process that may have serious consequences for its future as an organisation that has the capacity for  development policy and operations.

We are sending you a series of articles on the reform process.  This is the third article in the series.   It was first published in the South North

Development Monitor on 31 March 2006.

With best wishes
Martin Khor


United Nations: G77 warns against attempts to eliminate UN mandates

Geneva, 30 Mar (Martin Khor) -- The process of reform of the operational activities of the United Nations and possibly of the structures and mandates of its many organizations is proceeding at an increasingly fast pace, with the developed countries taking a leading role in pushing for the reforms.

However, developing countries have also been taking initial positions, and responding to some of the moves.

There are two seemingly inter-related streams of the reform of UN operations: a review of mandates of the UN agencies, and an attempt to have more system-wide coherence of UN activities and organizations in the areas of development, humanitarian affairs and the environment.

According to diplomatic sources, the US has been more active in the mandates review, while the European countries have taken the lead on system-wide coherence.

Several papers by European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom make clear the aim of closing down many existing UN organizations, with some of them merging. In most scenarios, there would be only three main UN agencies (dealing with development, humanitarian affairs and the environment), while a few specialized agencies may be allowed to remain. (See SUNS # 5995 dated 28 March 2006.)

The first meeting of the panel on UN system-wide coherence, set up by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Norway, Mozambique and Pakistan, is scheduled to be held next week in New York.

The developing countries, under the umbrella of the Group of 77 and China, have expressed support for a UN reform process in support of development, but have warned against inappropriate types of reform that eliminate or erode the mandates of UN agencies which in their view play important developmental roles.

The G77 and China have taken an initial position on the mandates review, in which they stress that the exercise should be driven not by the cutting of costs or by political ulterior motives, but by the need to strengthen the UN's programme of work. It also warned that the exercise should not arbitrarily or selectively abolish any mandates, as the lack of support by a few Member States is not a valid criterion for the abolishment of a mandate.

The G77 and China have yet to take a position specifically on system-wide coherence, but they voiced strong opinions on issues related to this in a recent declaration and an accompanying statement.

A meeting of the Chairpersons and Coordinators of the G77 held in Paris on 27-28 February and chaired by Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa (who is also the chairman of the G77 in New York) adopted a "Paris Consensus".

According to this Paris Consensus, "The work being done by the UN institutions in centres of the  Group of 77 Chapters such as UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNCTAD, FAO, IFAD, UNIDO and UN-HABITAT, is tremendous and commendable and we reaffirm the roles and mandates of these institutions and agencies.

"We reiterate the importance of UNCTAD as the principal organization within the UN system for an integrated treatment of trade and development, and we commit ourselves to ensure that the UN reform process shall not dilute its mandate, supplant or subsume it. We reaffirm that technical assistance should work in tandem with research and consensus building; it should not become the flagship project of UNCTAD."

The Paris Consensus also touched on WIPO, taking a position that it has to reform to be more development-oriented. It stated: "We express concern that the norms and the technical assistance programme of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) over-emphasize the promotion of intellectual property rights standards at the expense of development dimensions. We shall continue to push for a Development Agenda to make WIPO more development-oriented."

The Paris Consensus also called on UNESCO and FAO to cooperate closely to promote rural education and on FAO and other competent organizations to promote capacity building in developing countries in order to meet the challenges of the spread of Avian flu.

The G77 chairs and coordinators also affirmed that human rights should not be denuded of their economic and social content. "Trade agreements should not be allowed to impede the ability of people to obtain affordable textbooks and medicines or make basic services such as water and sanitation un-affordable for large segments of the population," said the Consensus. "In this context, the discussions of the Right to Development need to be further invigorated in the proposed Human Rights Council."

The Paris Consensus was accompanied by a "Statement by the Chairmen/Coordinators of the Chapters of the Group of 77 on UN Reform", dated 28 February.

The statement said that "We attach high priority to the reform of the UN as an ongoing process and not an end in itself in accordance with the parameters for the objective and scope of the review exercise set out by the world Summit Outcome Document.

"We see the objective of the reform as a means to strengthen the Organization, so that it can efficiently respond to the current and future challenges affecting the international community, in particular those concerns and interests of developing countries which constitute the vast majority of its membership.

"We reaffirm that this process should be aimed at strengthening multilateralism, providing the Organization with a substantive capacity to fully and effectively meet the purposes and principles enshrined in the UN Charter, and at consolidating its democratic character and its transparency in the discussion and implementation of decisions of Member States."

The statement said the G77 would strive in the UN to develop its full potential and address urgent and serious economic and social problems.

They reiterated the importance of the UN as the central forum for dialogue and negotiations on issues relating to international cooperation for development and attached great political importance to the strengthening of the UN's role of in promoting development.

They believe the UN should be allowed to develop its full potential in international economic cooperation, and to that end, the realization of the right to development should be given utmost priority by the UN.

"We stress the importance of main-streaming development dimension in the ongoing process of reform of the UN, bearing in mind the aim of enabling the full participation of peoples from the South in the international decision and rule-making economic processes and ensuring their access to and enjoyment of the benefits of international economy.

"We reaffirm the role of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a principal body for the promotion of development cooperation, coordination, policy making, review and dialogue on international economic issues and for making recommendations on issues of economic and social development.

"We emphasize that the objective of the UN reform is to strengthen and update the work of the Organization so that it responds to the contemporary requirements of Member States. The work of the Organization is geared towards implementing the legislative decisions and mandates adopted by the inter-governmental bodies of the UN.

"It is imperative to stress that the final result of the exercise should be to ensure that the organization is able to implement the entire range of its mandates more effectively and efficiently.

"We do not accept that the exercise is intended to change the inter-governmental nature of our decision-making, oversight and monitoring processes. Neither is it to reduce the budget levels of the Organization or to fund more activities from within the existing pool of resources, nor is it meant to redefine the roles and responsibilities assigned to the various Organs of the United Nations by the Charter.

"We reiterate our support for the reform of the United Nations. Reform of the United Nations is a collective agenda and serves our common interests. We believe that the voice of every Member State must be heard and respected during this reform process irrespective of the contributions made to the budget of the organization.

"We believe that reform should be meaningful, strengthen the ability of the Organization to implement its mandates effectively and enable it to serve the interests of the collective membership.

"We reaffirm the roles and mandates of UN institutions and agencies (UNCTAD, FAO, UNIDO, UNESCO, IFAD, UN-HABITAT and UNEP) and we particularly reiterate the importance of UNCTAD as the principal organization within the UN system for an integrated treatment of trade and development, and we commit ourselves to ensure that the UN reform process shall not dilute its mandate, supplant or subsume it.

"We attach importance for consultations aimed at developing a more coherent institutional framework for environment and human settlement activities in the UN
system and express our determination that this process should result in strengthening or existing institutions and enhance the interest of developing countries."

On the issue of review of mandates of the UN organizations, the G77 and China (represented by South Africa) made a statement at a meeting on management reform at the UN on 25 January.

They said that firstly, the objective of the review should be clear and well understood by the Secretariat and Member States alike. The World Summit Outcome Document stated the review is intended to "strengthen and update" the programme of work of the Organisation. "This is not a cost-cutting exercise and we should be ready to increase resources if needed".

Secondly, the exercise is not intended to arbitrarily or selectively abolish any mandates. "Mandates are established by a collective decision taken by Member States and can only be amended or abolished collectively. The lack of political support by a few Member States is not a valid criterion for the abolishment of a mandate," said the G77 and China.

They added that the programmes on the Question of Palestine, for example, were selectively being referred to previously by some delegations for termination. "These pronouncements have been counter-productive to our reform efforts, and we urge our partners to follow a more constructive approach."

Further, the scope of the review has been set out in the World Summit Outcome Document and should be respected. The document has limited it to mandates that
are older than five years.

Thirdly, the Group expects the Secretariat to provide will provide neutral, unbiased and transparent information to be presented in the form of "raw data". The Secretariat should therefore not be requested to pass value judgments on mandates by suggesting any for termination.

The G77 and China also expect that Member States will be able to interact with the programme managers that are overseeing the implementation of the mandates. They requested the Co-Chairs to schedule several sessions for this purpose once the information has been circulated to Member States. "We should be careful not to set artificial time-lines that will lead to a rushed and incomplete exercise."

Fourthly, said the G77 and China, "we have been assured that the exercise is not cost-cutting in nature.  At this stage of the review exercise Member States have to focus on the programmatic validity of a mandate without being influenced by the costs associated with it.

"We should first resolve the programmatic aspects before we review the resources and it is therefore undesirable at this stage to receive an indication of the amount of resources allocated to any given mandates. In addition, the format of the budget makes it impossible to provide an accurate indication of the amount of resources that have been allocated to any given mandate, in particular at the sub-programme level."

The G77 called on the Secretariat to develop an acceptable methodology (to be approved by member states) to accurately determine the amount of resources that have been set aside for a mandate. An indication of the source of financing for each mandate should be reflected in the methodology.

On the issue brought up by other delegations on the issue of duplication of Mandates, the G77 and China said there should be a common understanding of what is meant by the term "duplication".

"Some mandates require a concerted effort by more than one entity on more than one front. This is not duplication. The UN has many important mandates and activities that are older than five years and we should be careful before we arbitrarily accord priorities to mandates, with a view to releasing funds for new activities."

The G77 and China also assured that it is approaching this exercise from a positive stand point. "The exercise provides a good opportunity for Member States to reflect on the work of the Organisation and ways to enhance the effective implementation of mandates and strengthen the United Nations. It is therefore important that we embark on it without any preconceived political agendas or notions that we may realize savings by abolishing mandates that are still relevant."