TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Apr07/13)

30 April 2007

UN Secretary General Ban Gives Mixed Response to Coherence Panel Report

By Martin Khor (TWN) Geneva, 16 April 2007

(This article appeared in SUNS on 17 April 2007)

The United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon has issued his views on the report of the High-level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence, which is presently the main document relating to the process of UN reform.

Ban is scheduled to present his paper (A/61/836) to the General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York late on Monday afternoon. This will kick off an inter-governmental process of discussing the report and of adopting any decisions on the follow up.

From a reading of the paper, it would appear that the Secretary General is supportive of certain aspects of the panel report's recommendations, but he is non-committal on some parts, and does not even mention some of the suggestions, indicating a lack of enthusiasm for these aspects.

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 unable to issue his own response to the report, and it was left to his successor to put forward his own views and to help guide the follow-up process.

Last month, the G77 and China and the Non-Aligned Movement sent a letter to Ban laying out their preliminary views on the panel report. The groupings raised concerns such as the apprehension that the developed countries may want to reduce development funding, making use of the rationale of cutting duplication among UN agencies.

Other concerns are that the setting up of a Sustainable Development Board would duplicate or erode the work of ECOSOC. Developing country diplomats 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.

One other issue troubling several diplomats 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 Secretary General's paper starts by agreeing with the need for reform towards greater coherence in the UN system, so that "it can perform as one and be more than the sum of its parts". It should utilize its unique universality, neutrality and capacity to more successfully perform its roles of convener, standard-setter, advocate, expert, monitor, coordinator and manager of programmes.

Ban supports the "one UN" model at country level. He says that the UN "should respond to the diverse needs of countries and perform as one at the country level, and have the governance, management and funding practices in place to support those efforts."

Referring to the panel report, he states: "I am pleased to signal my broad support for the principle of a stronger, more coherent United Nations and for the recommendations contained in the report."

Ban stresses a vision on overcoming fragmentation and bringing together the system's many assets in order to "deliver as one" at all levels, but particularly at the country level, in line with the principle of country ownership.

Ban reveals that the UN Development Group has initiated eight pilots in which the "One United Nations" approach will be tested. The pilots are being undertaken on a voluntary basis under government leadership and will consist of a subset of about 20 joint offices that the UN has committed to initiate.

An analysis of the results and experiences will be presented to the relevant governing bodies at the end of the year. Ban says he has endorsed the present exercise.

Issues that will need to be considered include: the central concept of national ownership; the authority and accountability of the UN Resident Coordinator; and the role of the UNDP as manager of the resident coordinator system on the one hand and in its programmatic role on the other.

Ban added that there should be clear delineations of responsibilities in the form of an internal "firewall" in UNDP. At the same time, the UNDP's programmatic role should be supportive of the overall cohesion effort and be strategic and cross-cutting rather than sector or project focused.

There also needs to be more clarity with regard to what would constitute an effective unified budgetary framework at the country level.

On the environment, the Secretary General says that there is an existing reform process, i. e. the General Assembly informal consultative process on the institutional framework for the UN environmental activities. Consultations on the Panel's environment-related recommendations could thus be taken up by the Assembly's informal consultative process.

Ban indicated that he will take up the Panel's recommendation that he commission an independent assessment of the current UN system of international environmental governance.

He also said progress is already being made with regard to the Panel's recommendation that the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) undertake a review of its functioning to improve its performance and accountability for system-wide coherence.

He revealed that ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, and WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy will lead the CEB review. The first session of the CEB in April 2007 will consider a preliminary set of proposals to advance the overall coherence and impact of the UN system.

Ban says progress is also being made on the Panel's recommendations on humanitarian assistance section of the Panel's report. However, more needs to be done to strengthen the UN's role as a coordinator and its capacities to deal with the transition phase from relief to development; and in the area of risk reduction and early warning, and in initiatives to help mitigate or prevent natural disasters.

On Panel proposals on the UN's gender architecture, Ban says he fully agrees with the Panel's assessment of the need to consolidate and strengthen several current structures.

With regard to the proposal on gender equality and women's empowerment, including the establishment of an Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, who would lead a UN gender architecture, Ban says the UN system and many Member States are convinced the recommendations would contribute to meeting the goals of gender equality and empowerment of women.

However, he would await the outcome of the discussions by Member States on the proposal before acting.

Ban said he agreed with the Panel that human rights and other cross-cutting issues should be an integral part of UN activities. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should ensure the linkages between the normative work of the UN human rights mechanisms and operational activities.

On the key area of governance, Ban urges Member States to give "due consideration." He refers to the Panel's proposals on strengthening ECOSOC as "the authoritative forum to ensure more efficient implementation of our common development agenda"; the establishment of a Sustainable Development Board as a strategic overview and governance framework for the implementation of the One UN approach at the country level; and support to the Board by an inter-agency Development Policy and Operations Group, within the CEB framework.

"This Group could either replace the UN Development Group or be a subgroup of the UN Development Group explicitly given the task of supporting the new Board."

From the above, it is apparent that the Secretary-General is leaving it to the member states to debate the set of "governance" proposals, involving ECOSOC, the proposed Board and the proposed new Development Group.

By not even mentioning the Panel's proposal for a Leaders' Forum in ECOSOC, the Secretary-General seemed to signal a lack of enthusiasm for that idea.

Also, by not stating his own preference in relation to the Sustainable Development Board, and by providing only vague options for the proposed new Development Group (which the Panel envisaged would have enormous powers), Ban also seemed to leave it to member states to debate the merits or otherwise of these major proposals.

The Secretary-General however also indicated that he would take up the Panel's proposal that he establish an independent task force "to further eliminate duplication within the United Nations system, and consolidate United Nations entities, where necessary, building on the foundations of the Panel's work."

This refers to the controversial issue of whether the many UN agencies, departments and funds in the development, environment and humanitarian fields should be merged into bigger entities, and if so, how.

The issue, which had initially been actively pursued by several developed countries, was so controversial that it threatened to overcome the work of the Panel.

The Panel wisely deflected the issue by not making any recommendations on this, proposing instead that the Secretary-General set up another task force to consider it.