12/07/2005
Press Release
ECOSOC/6164


Economic and Social Council

2005 Substantive Session

24th Meeting (AM)


ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL ENDS DEBATE ON OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT


AFTER DISCUSSION ON TRIENNIAL REVIEW PROCESS, SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION


The Economic and Social Council this morning concluded its consideration of United Nations operational activities for development, by discussing the triennial review process and South-South cooperation as it continued its 2005 substantive session.


In summarizing the discussion on the operational activities segment, Patrizio Civili, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said that the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review (TCPR) of operational activities for development had given a coherent direction to the review of operational activities.  The TCPR approach had shown that the United Nations system was responding to development needs in a concerted way.  It was more than an exercise in efficiency; implementing the TCPR process had set specific targets, benchmarks and time frames.


In that management process, he continued, initiatives had been taken to enhance the Organization’s relevance and to improve the stability and reliability of funding.  A number of lessons had been learned:  modalities did matter; there were no quick solutions in the development process but there was urgent need for action; and political will was paramount for progress.  Furthermore, it was clear that the voluntary contributions system as it was presently constituted was untenable if the Organization was to fulfil its role.


Yiping Zhou, Director of the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introduced the topic of South-South cooperation, which, he said, had progressed dramatically in the past two years.  Despite a number of challenges, profound technological, economic and political changes in the global South provided greater opportunities for increasing cooperation further to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Capital flow between countries of the South was increasing as well.


In addition, he said, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United States and almost all Nordic countries had played an important role in supporting innovative South-South cooperation, in an arrangement known as triangular cooperation.  Almost all United Nations organizations and agencies had made deliberate efforts to mainstream such cooperation into their regular work.  The fruits of such cooperation included plans for continent-spanning highway and railway networks that were essential to the development of least-developed and land-locked developing countries.


In the discussion that followed those two presentations, most speakers welcomed the introduction of benchmarks for harmonization and simplification within the United Nations system at the country level.  Many speakers also called for strengthening the role of the resident coordinator to achieve that goal, as long as specialized agencies were allowed some flexibility to manage matters under their expertise.


Most speakers also agreed that the system of voluntary contributions for development activities was untenable, and urged that such activities be funded in a more predictable way so that long-term planning could be viable.  Some, however, were concerned that automatic funding would be counter-productive to the reform process.  The representative of the United States said that development funding should remain voluntary and be based on achievement of results on the ground.  Resources were increasing under the current system, she maintained.  Now it must be assured that those resources were used effectively.


On South-South cooperation, China’s representative said that the United Nations system should explore new ideas and strategies to increase the flow of expertise, technology and capital between countries, as well as cooperative projects.  He called for donor countries to provide the funding needed for triangular cooperation, as the lack of resources presented the greatest obstacle to progress.


Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Jamaica (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Canada, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland, India, Congo, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, Azerbaijan, Norway, Ecuador and Pakistan.


A representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) also made a statement.


The Economic and Social Council will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 13 July, to discuss the transition from relief to development.


Background


The Economic and Social Council met today to continue the operational activities segment of its 2005 substantive session by focusing on follow-up to policy recommendations of the General Assembly and the Council, and on South-South cooperation for development.  (For background on the Council’s current session, see Press Release ECOSOC/6154 issued on 23 June.)


Statements


PATRIZIO CIVILI, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, summarized the discussion on the operational activities segment and introduced the relevant reports before the Council.  These were:  the Secretary-General’s report on management of the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review (TCPR) of operational activities for development (document E/2005/58), and his report on comprehensive statistical data on operational activities for development (document A/60/74-E/2005/57).  Another report contained a list of issues related to the coordination of operational activities (document E/2005/CRP.1), prepared by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


He said it was unnecessary to summarize the reports since they had been widely discussed in informal sessions.  The policy environment around the reports was notable, however.  It showed that the outcome of last year’s TCPR had given comprehensive direction to the review of operational activities.  Parochial concerns had not marred the larger process.  The TCPR approach had shown that the United Nations system was responding to development needs in a concerted way.  The process also demonstrated that it was more than an exercise in efficiency; implementing the TCPR process had set specific targets, benchmarks and time frames.


The consultations that had gone into cooperation at the country level had involved regional actors of the United Nations system, including agencies, funds and programmes, he continued.  Progress had been made in integrating United Nations activities with national plans.  Partnerships had been strengthened for national capacity-building and for mobilizing all United Nations system capacities to find a way for countries to maximize opportunities to utilize development assistance.  Commitments had been made to respond to the United Nations goals in the spirit of the “One United Nations” theme.


In the management process, initiatives had been taken to enhance the Organization’s relevance and to improve the stability and reliability of funding, he said.  A number of lessons had been learned:  modalities did matter; there were no quick solutions in the development process but there was urgent need for action; and political will was paramount for progress.  Most importantly, the system did not need to be a passive actor in development.  It could take steps to overcome incoherence in its activities and in its modalities of funding in line with its unique position for mobilizing resources and actors.


One thing was clear, he added.  The voluntary contributions system as it was presently constituted was untenable if the Organization was to fulfil its role.  The coming World Summit should address that problem and a solution should be an outcome.


YIPING ZHOU, Director of the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), introduced the reports of the fourteenth session of the High-level Committee on South-South Cooperation that took place from 31 May to 3 June 2005.  He focused on observations and conclusions made by that Committee (documents SSC/14/1 and 2).


South-South cooperation had progressed dramatically in the past two years in all aspects, he said.  Despite a number of challenges, profound technological, economic and political changes in the global South provided greater opportunities for increasing cooperation further to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  There existed stronger political will for applying South-South solutions to such challenges as access to affordable medicines and low-cost technologies, backed by broader partnerships among non-traditional actors.  There had also been increased intra-South trade and investment flows.


In addition, he said, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United States and almost all Nordic countries had played an important role in supporting innovative South-South cooperation, in an arrangement known as triangular cooperation.  Almost all United Nations organizations and agencies had made deliberate efforts to mainstream such cooperation into their regular work.  The UNDP, in particular, last year had made it one of its six “drivers” of development.


The fruits of such cooperation included plans for continent-spanning highway and railway networks that were essential to the development of least-developed and land-locked developing countries.  South-South cooperation had vast potential in efforts to lift developing countries out of poverty and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  The High-level Committee expressed the desire to see South-South approaches applied widely in all operational activities for development, and he hoped the Council supported that view.


DIERDRE MILLS (Jamaica), on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said it was critical to reaffirm that the fundamental characteristics of the operational activities of the United Nations system were its universal, voluntary and granted nature, as well as its principles of neutrality, objectivity and multilateralism.  It was essential that special attention be paid to promoting an integrated approach to development cooperation, ensuring that policy directives were appropriately implemented on a system-wide basis.


Strengthening United Nations capacity to assist countries in achieving their development goals required a significant increase in resources, she said, as well as increased efficiency in using those resources.  Simplification and harmonization should increase resources at the country level, including through the elimination of bureaucratic costs.  In addition, it was imperative that long-term development strategies include capacity-building in developing countries.  In that context, more concrete targets were needed, particularly in regard to the role of the United Nations system in national execution of programmes through the transfer of expertise and technology to developing countries.


Equally important, she said, was access of developing countries to the entire United Nations system’s “accumulated experience in all pertinent economic, social and other domains”, and the use of existing national expertise and technologies in its country activities.  That dual approach would no doubt enhance capacity-building and South-South cooperation.


EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union was strongly committed to implementing the TCPR resolution in its entirety.  That resolution could serve as the core text to guide the United Nations and all MemberStates in ensuring that the operational activities of the United Nations development system at the country level responded to national development plans.


The European Union believed that the Secretary-General’s report on the management process for the implementation of the TCPR resolution was a helpful first step to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and coherence of the Untied Nations development system.  The report was a useful matrix for structuring the work.


The European Union, he said, wanted to see responsibilities for action clearly allocated, and benchmarks and time frames better defined.  The Union encouraged the Chief Executive Board (CEB), the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), including the UNDG Executive Committee, and the agencies, funds and programmes to be clear about each other’s respective roles.


The Council report on funding options and modalities contained a number of ideas on funding which deserved more in-depth consideration, he said, and the European Union remained committed to finding more adequate, stable and predictable ways of financing the system, including raising the levels of core funding.


“We stand ready to engage in a dynamic consultation process that can ensure the UN has the right structure, programming tools and financing arrangements to maximize the contribution it will make to the goal we all share of achieving the Millennium Development Goal targets by 2015”, he said.


GILBERT LAURIN (Canada) said his country strongly supported the ongoing reform efforts of the United Nations funds and programmes and he was pleased to participate in this discussion on the implementation of the TCPR resolution.  The Council should now focus on implementation and accountability, and the Secretary-General’s report on the management process for implementing the TCPR was a strong start.  However, Canada believed that more details were needed on targets, benchmarks and time frames, as well as information on how progress against these targets was measured.


Canada also valued the contribution of the comprehensive statistical data report document to the debate on United Nations funding, and believed that the report on funding options and modalities presented some interesting ideas which would be discussed in the General Assembly.  He said his country supported the idea of a single United Nations “development product” at the global level, reflected in paragraph 68 of the report.  That idea was consistent with the need, identified in the TCPR, to strengthen the United Nations at the field level under the resident coordinator and enhance the Common Country Assessment (CCA) and the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) process.


VASSILY NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said he supported measures to build national capacities and to improve the capability of the United Nations system to promote development under the leadership of recipient governments.  The resident coordinator system should be strengthened through a balanced and pragmatic approach, with adequate financing and an improved selection and training process.  The system should function in a participatory, collegial and accountable manner.  The resident coordinator accountability framework would be welcome, as would the provision of indicators and targets on agency support to the system.


He said the proposal to establish United Nations Joint Offices in at least 20 countries by 2007 was too hasty and should be aimed only at countries with minimal physical and programmatic United Nations presence since joint country programmes were also being implemented.  The cost recovery principles of operational agencies should be aligned, but setting specific recovery rates was unreasonable.  The cooperation of the United Nations development system should be strengthened at the regional and subregional levels.


The donor base of funds and programmes should be broadened, but the voluntary nature of operational activities should not be changed.  It was a critical element in the main comparative advantage of those bodies in being neutral and non-politicized and, therefore, trusted by governments.


HENRI RAUBENHEIMER (South Africa) said the United Nations development system should continue to align its activities to support national development priorities in a comprehensive and integrated manner, with a focus on long-term sustainable development and enhancement of national capacity to eradicate poverty and achieve sustained economic growth.  The effectiveness of the United Nations development system was directly dependent on funding.  Funding options and modalities should continue to be discussed.  However, it was of concern that the United Nations development system had not benefited commensurately from recent increases in ODA despite added tasks entrusted to it.  Consideration should be given to channelling funds through the United Nations development system to increase the funding base.


Partnerships were critical if the Millennium Development Goals were to be achieved, he said.  That partnership with the United Nations system should include support for national capacity-building along with respect for the role that national ownership, execution and expertise played in the sustainability of the partnership.  The partnership should also extend to other States, regional organizations, civil society, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.  That would necessitate better coordination by the United Nations system in line with national leadership.


Greater and more systematic consideration should be given to the regional and subregional dimension of development cooperation, he stated.  Inter-agency collaboration at those levels should be intensified.  Intraregional and interregional cooperation should be promoted.  The United Nations system should mainstream modalities to support South-South cooperation to develop national capacities.


OLIVIER CHAVE (Switzerland) said that the full range of competencies of all specialized organizations should be incorporated at the field level in an integrated United Nations country team.  However, the system was highly fragmented both in terms of governance and of operational approaches such as decentralization, funding structures and modalities, due to the vested interests of line ministries of both donor and recipient governments.


As most United Nations-managed official development (ODA) assistance was channelled through the United Nations Development Group, the UNDG should lead the way in reform, he said.  It was, in fact, created as a tool for reform and coordination.  In the same way, the CEB had the responsibility to advance the coherence of the overall United Nations operational system.


At the country level, the resident coordinator must be given full authority over the United Nations country team, he said.  In addition, the lack of consensus amongst donors on the paramount importance of core funding remained very problematic, leading to more fragmentation and inconsistency.  He, too, supported a focus on capacity-building that was beyond mere technical cooperation.  Options should be urgently defined to make technical assistance contribute more efficiently to the strengthening of the institutions of recipient countries.


A. GOPINATHAN (India) agreed that constant efforts by all organizations of the United Nations system were required to ensure that country-level operations were carried out for the benefit of recipient countries, at their request and in accordance with their own development policies and priorities.  The effectiveness of the system could only be assessed on the basis of the results achieved in that light.


He said that the United Nations coordinator system should be strengthened in a way that improved coordination and the overall visibility of the United Nations at the country level, but still allowed flexibility for the individual agencies.  The lack of sufficient core resources for both administration and programme development, however, represented the single most important constraint on the performance of development bodies.  The competition created by dependence on supplementary funding could restrict the space for a strategic approach while introducing the risk of distortion of priorities.


The United Nations development system could make a valuable contribution to countries’ efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  It was important to strengthen the operational arm of the United Nations by providing it with a stable, reliable, untied and adequate flow of resources.  Donor countries must join the developing countries’ efforts in a spirit of global partnership and solidarity, and fulfil the 0.7 per cent target for ODA.


ZHANG YISHAN (China) said he was concerned that the share of resources of the United Nations development system for total development assistance has steadily declined, as had the portion of core resources in the overall contributions of all agencies from two thirds to less than one third.  This decline in funding came just as developing countries’ need for assistance was increasing.  China agreed that the non-core resources could not substitute for core resources.  Adequate, long-term and predictable core resources were the basis for operational activities for development.


He supported paragraph 60 in the report on funding options and modalities that an effective multi-year funding framework would contribute to a predictable and steady growth in core resources for operational activities for development.  He believed that no matter what type of funding modality was selected, the financial burden on recipient countries should not be increased.


China believed that the United Nations development system should explore new ideas and ways for South-South cooperation, to boost activities between countries and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  The major obstacle to South-South cooperation is the lack of resources and he hoped that donor countries would provide the funding needed for triangular cooperation as the United Nations development system sought to boost South-South cooperation resources.


RENÉ NSEMI (Congo) said he supported the guidelines and directions outlined in the Secretary-General’s report on the management process at a time when the international community was evaluating the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  He viewed United Nations efforts to focus on national priorities, improve the coordination of the United Nations system and simplify the funding process as measures to provide improved services to developing countries.


He noted that without an increase in contributions, the developing countries and agencies would find it difficult to move towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  He looked forward to the World Summit in September as a vehicle for building momentum towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.


ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY (Indonesia) said the positive trend in the levels of ODA and the total value of contributions by the United Nations system for development cooperation did not alleviate the troubling element of donors tending to channel contributions to non-core resources rather than to core ones.  While the need to provide resources for humanitarian assistance and for improving security at the country level was pressing, those concerns should not lead to a reduction of resources for long-term development assistance.


She said her country and South Africa had contributed to the process of capacity-building and technical cooperation by holding an Asia-Africa Summit in April.  Leaders had agreed to establish the “New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) as a framework to building a bridge between Asia and Africa through three areas of partnership:  political solidarity, economic cooperation and social-cultural relations.  Cooperation between the two continents would cover activities in such areas as trade, investment, human resources development and technical cooperation.


N.U.O. WADIBIA-ANYANWU (Nigeria) said she was pleased at the recent decision by the Group of Eight (G-8) to cancel the multilateral debts of 18 heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC) and of the decision by the Paris Club to cancel 60 per cent of Nigeria’s debt.  Commendable as those measures were, a deeper and more durable solution should be devised for the intractable external debt crisis.  The United Nations, in general, and this Council, in particular, should play a more proactive role in providing global policy guidance on important economic and social issues.  They should also lead in the search for durable solutions to the external debt crisis at the international level.


The need to simplify and harmonize the United Nations system could not be overstated, she stressed.  Agencies must be held accountable for their actions.  The complex rules and procedures must be streamlined so as to reduce transaction costs, improve financial and programme results, and increase the impact and sustainability of development interventions.  Guiding principles should be:  government participation, a flexible approach, focus on national processes and system, and the adoption of good practices.


ANN M. LOW (United States) welcomed the Secretary-General’s recommendations towards defining benchmarks for harmonization and simplification within the United Nations system.  System-level guidance should be the focus.  However, a detailed prescription for all activities was not possible.


Proposals regarding country-wide coordinators must be further considered, she said.  With regard to funding mechanisms, the emergence of new modalities outside the United Nations was welcome.  The United Nations should also place a greater emphasis on capacity-building to attract more donor support.  Funding mechanisms should be analysed according to their impact on the ground, especially towards ending aid dependency through such capacity-building.


She agreed that the United Nations was an important actor in development, but did not support automatic funding for development activities.  She also rejected the funding models that incorporated automatic replenishment mechanisms.  Funding should be based on achievement of results, she stated.  The current system was working to increase resources.  Now it must be assured that those resources were used effectively.


GEORGE OWUOR (Kenya), aligning his statement with that made by Jamaica on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the principles of universality, multilateralism, neutrality and flexibility, as well as the grant nature of development support, could be preserved by increasing the quantity and quality of core resources available to the system.  The need to review the funding modalities for operational activities could not be overemphasized.  Along with core resources, multi-year funding was essential for long-term development planning.


He supported the many initiatives to improve coordination of the United Nations system.  In order to address duplication and waste, a strengthening of the resident coordinator system and the use of joint premises and services should be pursued vigorously.  It was regrettable that most United Nations agencies did not have country offices.  Human resources within the system should be reallocated, and local expertise strengthened and used as much as possible.


Strategic processes should continue to be aligned with each other, the Millennium Development Goals and national needs and priorities, he said.  Modalities should be developed to ensure that the inputs of funds, programmes and non-field agencies were incorporated into the work of the United Nations system at the country level.  He added that Kenya had recently completed an assessment to determine its needs for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.


ASHRAF SHIKHALIYEV (Azerbaijan) said that United Nations reform should enhance the system’s efficiency and coherence and make the Organization more results-oriented at the field level.  Moreover, United Nations operational activities should zero in on implementing national development strategies that could achieve sustainable economic growth and reduce poverty.


He supported a stronger resident coordinator system as a way to strengthen inter-agency coordination, and viewed the increased efficiency of United Nations country teams as vital to the process.  Greater efficiency of country teams could best be achieved if their operational activities and contribution to national priorities were evaluated by governments, instead of the self-assessment practices used in many countries.


Azerbaijan, he said, was committed to the Millennium Development Goals and was working closely with the country team to move towards the Goals.  For example, the country had prepared a State Programme on Poverty Reduction and Economic Development (SPPRED) for 2003-2005 that meshed the goals of SPPRED with the time frame for meeting the Millennium Development Goals.


KJERSTI RØDSMOEN (Norway) welcomed the inclusion of targets, benchmarks and time limits towards a more coherent and better-coordinated United Nations country presence.  To that end, she welcomed the progress already made and urged the funds, programmes and specialized agencies to take further decisive steps.  It was a responsibility of Member States to make sure that interventions were coherent.


A more coherent United Nations at the country level was particularly important for effective capacity-building, she said.  Many developing countries lacked the capacity to handle new funding modalities.  Capacity-building efforts, as well as new funding schemes, must address that problem.  In addition, an aggregate funding system could create greater harmonization and predictability.  For planning purposes, Norway wished to move in the direction of multi-year funding.


In regard to statistical data, she said she would welcome comparisons of development aid versus humanitarian aid, to give a full picture for donor countries such as Norway.  Bilateral donors had an important role to play in harmonizing country-level development work.  In addition, United Nations agencies must include in their incentive structures a commitment to reform and cooperation so that reform efforts were not seen as an additional burden, but instead as an opportunity to position agencies in a new aid environment.


MARISOL NIETO (Ecuador) said the paramount consideration for the United Nations with regard to funding of development activities was reliability.  Countries needed to be able to rely on assistance being delivered if it was offered in line with national development plans.  More than any other factor, reliability came down to a matter of efficiency in planning, coordination and implementation between all development actors.


Achieving the Millennium Development Goals was directly linked to the amount of funding that could be made available for activities.  Since donors expected to see simplicity in the schemes they chose to fund, the multi-year funding framework mentioned the previous day should be simplified and actively put into action.  The reform of the United Nations development system should include a mechanism to mobilize resources.  Her region was representative of others in that resource investment was minimal for mid-level countries like her own.  For that reason, capacity-building should be approached on the regional level, with a strengthened role for the resident coordinator system.


ASAD MAJEED KHAN (Pakistan) said the top challenge facing the United Nations operational activities for development was providing adequate resources.  Core resources did not grow significantly between 1996 and 2003 and are much lower than required –- leading to cuts and reductions in important operational activities.  And the trend among donors to fund specific activities had forced development agencies to alter their portfolios by adding new priorities that were identified and separately funded by the donors.  He believed that donors or the governing bodies of United Nations funds and programmes should not determine the areas of cooperation and assistance for recipient countries without prior consultation.


The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, he said, was a central part of his country’s development policy.  Pakistan was implementing the agenda on health and human development and, last year, the immunization of children had jumped from 53 per cent to 77 per cent.


PETER MERTINS, of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that his organization had adopted resolutions that focused on reform.  There should be no doubt that WHO was fully invested in such reform.  As a specialized agency, its first responsibility was to work together with countries to achieve their priorities.  The WHO also had to coordinate with other agencies, non-United Nations organizations and local populations.  For that reason, he was highly supportive of system inclusiveness and a united approach to reform, and he favoured using the CEB and UNDG platforms for coordination.


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