TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr07/12)

30 April 2007

G77 and NAM set out preliminary views on UN Coherence Report

Debate in the UN General Assembly has started on the report of the UN high-level Panel on UN system wide coherence.

The G77 and Non Aligned Movement have sent a joint letter to the UN Secretary General on this issue.

Below is an article on this joint letter as well as the concerns of several developing countries.

It was published in SUNS of 28 March.

With best wishes
Martin Khor


By Martin Khor (TWN), New York, 25 March 2007

A joint letter by the Group of 77 and China and the Non-Aligned Movement has been sent to the United Nations Secretary-General, stating the two organisations' preliminary views on the report of the panel on UN system-wide coherence.

The letter was sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram, current Chair of the G77 and China in New York, and Cuba's Ambassador Roderigo Diaz, Chair of the NAM's coordinating bureau.

The G77 and NAM have a joint coordinating committee (JCC), and the letter (dated 19 March) was issued by this committee, as well as the two organisations of the developing countries.

The joint letter addresses several concerns of the G77 and NAM countries on the coherence panel report and the follow-up process.

The panel, which was established by previous Secretary-General Kofi Annan and co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Norway and Mozambique, was set up to prepare proposals to strengthen and better coordinate the UN's work in development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.

Its report, presented at the UN on 9 November, called for a unified UN at the country level, with a single UN office, resident coordinator, programme and budget. The new "one UN" model is proposed to be phased in with five "pilot" countries to implement it in 2007, 20 other countries by 2009, 40 by 2010 and all the rest by 2012.

Other proposals include establishing a "global leaders' forum" comprising 27 heads-of-government (or L27 in the report's term) chosen from ECOSOC members to meet annually; a new Sustainable Development Board of selected governments to supervise the activities and funding of the UN country offices; and a UN Development Policy and Operations Group (comprising the UN agencies and departments) which would coordinate the work of the agencies and service the Board.

The report proposed an overall leadership role for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which would be in charge of the UN's country resident coordinators, and with its Administrator assuming the post of UN Development Coordinator (who would chair the Group and report to the Board).

On funding, the report proposed that each UN country office have a unified budget, and the system be supported by a new multi-year MDG Funding Mechanism to ensure predictable funding. Non-core funds now obtained by the different UN agencies will in future be placed in the MDG Fund to be supervised by the Board and the Development Group.

The report also proposed setting up a UN entity on gender issues (combining three existing gender entities under a new UN Under-Secretary-General) and an upgraded role for the UN Environment Programme (to have real authority as the environmental policy pillar of the UN).

The panel postponed a decision on the most controversial issue - whether and how the various UN funds, programmes, specialized agencies and regional entities should be constituted in future, with some to close, others to merge and with newly delineated mandates.

Kofi Annan was expected to issue his response to the report, but was unable to do so before his departure. It is not known whether the new Secretary-General will issue his own paper on the panel's report. Indeed, it is not known what Mr. Ban's views are on the panel report nor how he intends to take the process forward.

It is expected that the General Assembly will in the next few months start a process to discuss the panel report.

Interviews with several developing-country diplomats in New York revealed that they have certain concerns about some of the report's proposals. There is apprehension that the developed countries may want to reduce development funding, making use of the rationale of cutting duplication among UN agencies.

Another concern is that the setting up of a Sustainable Development Board would duplicate or erode the work of ECOSOC, which contradicts the recent agreed measures to strengthen ECOSOC. The diplomats say that they favour ECOSOC playing the role envisaged for the proposed Sustainable Development Board.

Another issue is how the "one-country, one-programme" principle will work at the national level. The diplomats stress the need for national governments to determine the UN's role in the country, which should be in line with national development plans. Some diplomats are concerned that reform of the UN at country-level has not yet been discussed let alone approved at the General Assembly, but that there are already eight "pilot countries" in which the reform is taking place.

Another concern is whether the removal of non-core funds of UN agencies and their being re-channelled to a single fund under the Development Group would lead to reduced flexibility and operations of the agencies, an over-concentration of power in a single Development Group and a possible reduction of overall funds under the rationale of cost-saving.

The joint G77-NAM letter addresses several of these concerns. The letter starts by conveying the Groups' willingness to engage constructively in a General Assembly consideration of the report, which has a number of useful recommendations.

The groups say that their letter contains in a "very preliminary way" some important elements for the Secretary-General's consideration. They note that the panel has acknowledged national ownership as the bedrock and has advocated a demand-driven approach. They reaffirm that development should remain the centerpiece of deliberations at the UN, and that the achievement of the Internationally Agreed Development Goals, including the MDGs, should continue to be the over-arching framework of UN activities.

They emphasize the need for a strengthened global partnership for development, and believe that any related process should be driven by a vision of a stronger UN role on development issues, and by the need to fully implement all commitments from all the major UN Summits and Conferences in the economic and social fields.

In a section on Preliminary Elements, the G77 and NAM say that the fundamental characteristics of the UN operational activities for development must remain, inter alia, the universal, voluntary and grant nature, the neutrality and multilateralism, as well as their ability to respond to the development needs of program countries in a flexible manner.

While the report has some useful recommendations, it has also touched upon some issues, such as human rights, gender and sustainable development, as cross-cutting issues in the context of UN operational activities for development, says the letter. "While those issues are not confined only to developing countries, the Group has concern that those issues as well as humanitarian assistance might be misused to introduce new conditionalities on international development assistance which is not acceptable to developing countries."

Developing countries have a great interest in a fair, rules-based international system, and the enhanced UN system-wide coherence should strengthen the UN's standard-setting role to reinforce its normative capacities.

In a section on the "One UN Approach", the G77/NAM letter says that the "Pilots" for the one-country approach in several developing countries should be, as recognised in the panel's report, entirely voluntary, decided and led by the national governments taking into account national particularities and conditions.

"These should neither create any systemic changes in the methods of formulating, approving and financing country programmes, nor lead to any systematic expansion of the number of pilots, without further open and inclusive intergovernmental consideration," says the letter.

The groups add that there is no "one size fits all", as also recognized by the panel. There should be no restrictions on the ability and sovereignty of national governments to determine their own development priorities or select their development partners, as well

as the type of relation with the UN development entities they wish to establish at the country level. The UN development system should continue to support development efforts of developing countries principally by assisting in the implementation of nationally determined development plans, strategies and priorities.

In a section on Funding, the G77 and NAM say that the central issue of the quantity, quality and predictability of development assistance from the UN system based on the demand-driven approach needs to be addressed more concretely. It is essential to ensure that there is an expanding and adequate base of development assistance from the UN system and other sources, responsive to the national development plans of program countries.

The letter says: "The continuing imbalance between 'core' and 'non-core' resources, highlighted in the report as a problem, remains a major reason for the incoherence of UN development programs, including at the country level, resulting in the distortion in the support provided by the UN development system for implementing national priorities of program countries.

"The guiding principle of the coherence process should be to provide more efficiency in delivery. It should not be a cost-cutting exercise. Hence, any savings acquired as a result of the streamlining process should be re-channelled into the development expenditures of the UN and not to be directed into other activities. Further, to the largest extent, savings generated from efficiencies at the country level must be ploughed back into the programme and activities in that country."

The letter also says that funding modalities proposed by the report, especially the concept of "results-based funding", raise serious questions. "They may imply new conditionalities in development cooperation. Moreover, these recommendations on financing do not address the central issue of the quantity and quality of development assistance from the UN system."

In a section on "Engagement with the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs)", the G77 and NAM say that coherence at the national and international level also involves the BWIs where they exist. They should be a part of any integrated approach to development cooperation. Bilateral development partners should also be part and parcel of this approach.

The letter suggests that the UN Secretary-General, the World Bank President and the IMF Executive Director set up a process to review and update their respective roles and relations at the global as well as at the country levels, where those institutions operate. After consultation with member states, they should have formal agreements to promote coordinated and coherent contributions to the implementation of national development plans and strategies.

In a section on Governance, the NAM and G77 say that the various development-related organizations, agencies, funds and programmes of the UN system, with their diverse and complementary fields of activities, bring a unique wealth of expertise and resources in assisting in the achievement of the MDGs and the other internationally agreed development goals.

"However, the concept of 'comparative advantage', as contained in the report, may undermine the contribution which individual funds and agencies can make to development cooperation," they warn.

The groups also caution that the proposed creation of the Sustainable Development Board needs careful consideration.

"The establishment of a Sustainable Development Board may duplicate the work of ECOSOC in view of the adoption by the General Assembly of the resolution on the strengthening of the ECOSOC (A/61/16). There is an urgent need to restore balance to the UN's intergovernmental processes in particular to reflect the agreed principles of national ownership of the development strategies.

"In this context, it is essential to review the membership, rules and procedures, budgets and the decision-making processes of the Executive Boards of individual UN funds and programmes to ensure greater transparency, representation and participation."

The letter also states that exhortations at the Secretariat level for closer coordination and cooperation within the CEB (Chief Executives' Board) or the UNDG (UN Development Group) need to be explored more to produce desired results in themselves unless there is some mechanism for intergovernmental oversight and monitoring of such cooperation and coordination. Moreover, a central question is whether the Bretton Woods Institutions are willing to participate in the envisaged cooperation and coordination.

In a section on the UN's "Business Practices", the letter says that any process aiming at achieving coherence of the UN system should be inclusive and take into account previous recommendations made by the internal and external oversight bodies, such as the JIU, BOA, OIOS and other relevant internal entities, and already endorsed by the General Assembly.

Confidence-building among the UN's membership regarding reform should be a top priority. "Hence, proposals already rejected by the General Assembly on management reform and the institutionalization of business practices (A/60/260) should not be resubmitted," says the letter. "Proposals which continue to be under consideration of the GA on these issues also should not be brought for consideration in this process."

The G77 and NAM add that harmonization of various practices and procedures, e. g., procurement among the various UN Funds and Programmes and the Specialized Agencies should continue to be undertaken by the Secretariat through the CEB, in accordance with high-level intergovernmental decisions.

In a section on Regional Dimension, the letter says that the importance of the regional dimension of development is manifested in the mandates given to the regional commissions in the outcomes of the major UN Conferences and Summits. Improved coherence at the regional level will require strengthening existing UN regional mechanisms for horizontal coordination, and ensuring a vertical link-up and alignment in the UN development and coordination architecture at the global, regional, and country levels.

In a section on South-South Cooperation, the G77 and NAM state that in seeking coherence in the UN's development activities, efforts should be made to enhance South/South and triangular cooperation within the system. Concrete measures should be taken to further strengthen the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation as a separate entity and a focal point for South-South Cooperation within the UN System.

In conclusion, the two groups said that implementation of recommendations contained in the report should follow intergovernmental consideration and agreement by the General Assembly. They would also appreciate receiving the Secretary-General's views on the report and his proposals with regard to its future consideration, and these should take the two groups' views and concerns into account.