|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
Round-Table Discussion (AM)
country ownership of development process improves chances of meeting national
priorities, say speakers in Second Committee round table
Panel Commends Advantages of ‘One UN’ Pilot Programme; Chair Calls Event Timely
Developing countries had a better chance of meeting their national development priorities and attaining the Millennium Development Goals when donors allowed them to design and manage the national development process, several speakers said this morning during a round table discussion conducted by the Second Committee (Economic and Financial).
The stakeholders themselves should be “in the driver’s seat”, setting national priorities in a comprehensive development blueprint to be respected and followed by all, speakers stressed as they discussed the triennial comprehensive policy review of United Nations operational activities under the theme “How can the United Nations development system optimally respond to different countries’ needs and priorities in their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?”
Existing and future donors should channel their support according to the countries’ stated platform, speakers said, adding that the “One UN” programme, which oversaw the Organization’s activities in any given country to avoid overlapping mandates, was an effective model. “Our experience was one of taking ownership and showing leadership, but you can only lead if others are willing to follow. The United Nations country team was very responsive to that,” said Henri Raubenheimer, Director of Economic Development in the Department of Foreign Affairs of South Africa. “Once you have a common country assessment, you don’t have to redraft it when you engage with other bilateral partners. You just have to update it.”
He said it had been agreed with United Nations officials this year that South Africa would carry out the initial draft of its common country assessment. Its “Vision 2014”, based on the country’s second decade of democracy, dictated the Organization’s presence and placed a different United Nations agency in charge of activities in each of five clusters: international relations, social areas, economics, justice and law and order, and governance.
Warning that strong directives from United Nations Executive Boards at Headquarters should not impose a “one-size-fits-all” model on developing countries, he expressed regret over the experience of the “Group of 77” and China with the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) 2008-2011 Strategic Plan, saying it could harm the Organization’s relationship with its clients. The increase in non-core earmarked funding was eroding mandates and effectively turning agencies into contractors. Agencies were being ruled by “pay meisters” rather than directed by national priorities.
Moderating the discussion, Committee Chairperson Kirsti Lintonen ( Finland) asked participants to consider: the extent to which the United Nations development system had responded to specific development needs and priorities of different recipient countries; how recipient countries could access the system’s full range of mandates and resources; and how the system could contribute optimally to nationally owned capacity development programmes. She noted that the round table was taking place at a crucial time -– following the Committee’s general debate on the triennial comprehensive policy review and before it began negotiating a new resolution on that subject.
Albana Vokshi, Director of the Department for the Coordination of Foreign Strategies and Assistance at the Council of Ministers of Albania, agreed with the need for a central body to oversee the development process and donors, adding: “I wish other donors would follow the ‘One UN’ programmes so we can have only one coordination system.” Prior to 2005, donor coordination in Albania had been a mess. The national socio-economic development strategy had covered only four or five economic sectors, not including the country’s European Union integration agenda, and most of the funding for that had not been sued to address the stated priorities. In fact, the United Nations had been one of the few donors that had been responsive to Albania’s stated and verbally conveyed needs. The Organization had sponsored regional development, information technology advancement, capacity building and national planning.
She said the main objective of the 2007-2013 national strategy for development and integration, to be approved by year’s end, was European Union integration based on 31 sectors. For the first time, just one document would set all development goals and it would be helpful to everyone interested in investing in Albania, multilateral and bilateral organizations as well as individuals. The Department was preparing a document to guide foreign assistance in the next three to four years which aimed to have donors fill in gaps in development.
Noting that Albania was one of the eight “One UN” pilot countries, she said its Council of Ministers expected to approve this week the draft “One UN” programme and sign it on 24 October, United Nations Day. The programme was designed to capitalize on the Organization’s strengths and comparative advantages in such areas as training, public administration and capacity-building to benefit the country as a whole. This year would be transitional and real implementation would occur in 2008 and 2009.
Rwanda, another “One UN” pilot country, also saw the programme as a recipe for success. “We are confident that this new system would make it possible for Rwanda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” said Prosper Musafiri, Director General of Economic Planning in the country’s Ministry of Finance and Planning. With the expectation that all United Nations agencies would take part in the “One UN” system reform, all agency documents would be submitted for the Government’s approval, which would also carry out a regular assessment of all actions. A single fund would contain financing outside the core resources, and budget streamlining would cut transaction costs, among other things.
The United Nations had played an important role in helping Rwanda recover from the 1994 genocide, he said. From 1998 to 2002, the Government had made the transition from the emergency phase to economic and social development and reconstruction, signing agreements with the Bretton Woods institutions to restore macroeconomic stability. Since 2002, the Government had adopted a poverty reduction programme, and a poverty-reduction strategy paper for 2008-2011 aimed to make Rwanda a middle-income country with a per capita income of $900 by the end of 2020.
Through the pilot programme, the United Nations system in Rwanda had agreed to operate with a single coordination authority in one building and with one budget, he said. The draft United Nations planning system was based on the Government’s own planning document and would guide all the Organization’s activities over the next five years in the areas of governance, health, education, environment, sustainable growth and social protection. A joint action programme and an annual action plan for each agency had also been created.
John Sawers, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, said that following a visit to the United Republic of Tanzania, another “One UN” pilot country, he had come away impressed with the potential of the United Nations system but convinced that the system was not developed to its full capacity. The robust systems of Rwanda and Albania were examples of how a single development strategy and a positive cycle of leadership and accountability could be created. Thus the international system would become the servant of the developing country, rather than the other way around, as was most often the case.
Substantial changes were required to define and enhance the role of Resident Coordinator to permit, among other things, the allocation of funds aligning with the national framework for development, he said. Gaps between the capacity of donors and international agencies on the one hand and recipient Governments on the other should be narrowed, with more developing countries benefiting more often from the international community.
He stressed that the culture of developing-country Governments also must change, noting that too often there was a “sweetheart relationship” between an individual agency and an individual ministry. Rather, there should be a relationship between the national Government and the United Nations as a whole. Donor countries must themselves have coherence if they wished to assist developing countries. Having tripled its donations, the United Kingdom would only give extra funds to those agencies committed to system-wide coherence, and not those that were “half-hearted”.
Setting forth Haiti’s situation, Jean-Max Bellerive, Minister of Planning, said that according to the 2004 triennial review, the country was in a state of social and political upheaval, and the United Nations presence on the ground was abandoning its development efforts to restore peace and security. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework’s (UNDAF) efforts had been weakened and questions of “ownership” and duplication had additionally hobbled progress. However, efforts were now under way to get back on track.
He said the national strategy for growth and poverty reduction had been completed in record time, with support from the United Nations. It was important that the Organization try to improve relations between the Government and civil society. Rivalry must end so that Haiti could enter an era of collaboration. The United Nations could provide the fundamental pillars that the country needed to achieve the Millennium Goals, and it was to be hoped that the Organization would redouble its efforts to better coordinate its actions.
Bruce Jenks, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Partnerships Bureau at UNDP, stressed the importance for the United Nations of respecting the national-development choices of Governments. Capacity development was the central thrust of the United Nations Development Group’s (UNDG) role at the country level. Programming should support national capacity and assessments, and must be part of that single process, while stakeholders negotiated their own solutions. UNDG’s Millennium Goals agenda at the country level fully utilized local knowledge networks and focused mainly on the capacity of Governments to seek their own choices. Its policy network also supported knowledge exchange and networks in eight countries. For example, the “Solution Exchange” in India, an information exchange network, had more than 14,000 subscribers.
During the ensuing interactive dialogue, Ms. Vokshi responded to a query about what pilot countries thought of increasing national ownership in the “One UN” programme by stating that having one budget, monitoring and operating system was easier and worked much more effectively than the previous system. The new programme allowed United Nations agencies to analyze their work before approaching the Government. Regarding core and non-core funding, she said financing did not undermine Government ownership, but without it, “One UN” would not be possible.
Responding to the same question, Mr. Raubenheimer noted that a recent response to South Africa’s urgent need for medical equipment had produced a conditional offer to have it supplied by a specific manufacturer. The problem was that the equipment on offer was not compatible with the country’s needs, as no service was available to maintain it. The donor had not been amenable to those needs but relented after two years.
In response to a question about evaluation, he said there should not be “one-size-fits-all” solutions, but South Africa had an UNDAF whose relevance was assessed regularly, leaving room for updates or adjustments.
Mr. Jenks replied to a question about inclusiveness by saying that challenges on the ground were difficult and reconciliation would come about through leadership. The “One UN” programme had led to some countries feeling left out, so it was very important to figure out how to capture broader experiences, which must be shared.
Responding to a question concerning UNDP’s opinion of core and non-core funding issues, he said the programme’s long-standing position was that there were two pillars for a healthy multilateral system: core funding and a programmatic focus on what the country wanted to do. On developing a methodology for capacity development, it must be country-specific.
Mr. Bellerive responded to a question about the presence and role of non-governmental organizations by saying Haiti recognized them, especially in light of the Government’s weakened capacity. While there was a certain rivalry over salaries and United Nations-system jobs, which had absorbed the few competent people left in the country, the presence of non-governmental organizations was not the question, but rather their actions, which were important and must be coordinated.
Citing an example, he said that since 30 September the United Nations system had tried to regroup around the new framework and he had tried to meet with all non-governmental organizations for a framework assessment, since 75 per cent of funds had been channelled through those groups. The United Nations system should face up to the way in which they were used because sometimes they were asked to follow up with infrastructure projects, such as roads. The United Nations system should improve communication and harmony between non-governmental organizations and the Government, enhance good governance and be open to constructive dialogue on the use of resources.
Regarding a delegate’s statement on the importance of country ownership, Ms. Vokshi and Mr. Raubenheimer reiterated that recognition of national strategies and priorities was essential for achieving results.
In response to a question about United Nations or country-level dealings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Mr. Sawers said system-wide coherence was not only about the United Nations. It also concerned the whole international community and all donors must make commitments to support well-designed, well-managed programmes in developing countries. There was a big opportunity for international financial institutions to collaborate closely.
Participating in the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Portugal, Switzerland, Australia, Burundi, Thailand, Central African Republic, Sudan and the United States.
* *** *For information media • not an official record