As delivered E/F
STATEMENT BY MR. SHASHI THAROOR,
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND PUBLIC INFORMATION,
AT THE OPENING OF THE TWENTY-SIXTH SESSION
OF THE COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION
26 APRIL 2004
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour and a great pleasure for me to address the Committee on Information as it begins its twenty-sixth session. The honour, of course, is customary, but the pleasure is not routine. The past year has been marked by very positive cooperation between the Committee and the Department of Public Information. If the warm and kind words addressed to DPI, in general, and to me, in particular, by the Chairman, Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, are any indication, I am convinced that this tradition will not only continue but will be further strengthened. During the current phase of its renewal, DPI has greatly benefited from your guidance, Mr. Chairman, and from the collective wisdom of the Bureau, helping to steer it in the right direction. Your cogent and instructive statement today is one more example of this. You said you will do your part. You have done more than your part, Mr. Chairman, and I do thank you very much on behalf of my Department and my colleagues, and I wish to express through you our deepest gratitude and indebtedness to your team, to your Bureau, and your staff, for your continued support and cooperation.
The membership of the Committee has steadily grown over the years. With the admission of three new Member States - St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Switzerland - it is now 102 members strong, and we hear of further interest from other Member States. The Department of Public Information has always welcomed constructive interaction between itself and the members of the Committee. Your active participation in the general debate and year-round contacts with my staff in the Department bear clear witness not only to your interest in the work of the United Nations on questions relating to information, but also to your abiding commitment to making DPI the effective public voice of the Organization.
Last year when I addressed the Committee, the United Nations was already faced with the serious challenges posed by the events relating to Iraq. 2003 was a difficult year for the Organization, indeed a tragic one, in which many greatly valued colleagues lost their lives in Baghdad. The institution itself suffered collateral damage, with some openly talking about the United Nations becoming irrelevant.
Today, one year later, there are growing signs that the standing of the Organization - to use a word from a New York Times headline - is "rebounding". Slowly, but surely, the United Nations is being perceived as regaining its indispensable role in global affairs.
Admittedly, spirits at the UN have at times been low, yet its vital work continued around the world. This Committee understands that any attempt to reduce the United Nations' relevance to its conduct on any one issue is completely misconceived. We know the media prefers to focus on "hard threats" - such as acts of terrorism or dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction. The "soft threats", so called, such as extreme poverty and hunger, endemic or infectious disease, or environmental degradation that afflict millions of people, rarely make the headlines. Though the risk of being attacked by terrorists or with weapons of mass destruction, or even of falling prey to genocide, are real enough for all, the dangers of extreme poverty, hunger and disease are ever-present in the lives of millions of people in poor countries. These "problems without passports" - both "hard" and "soft" threats - are challenges that no one country, however powerful, can confront and overcome all alone. The only way to tackle them is together, through common endeavours in pursuit of common goals, ideally using the mechanisms of the United Nations.
For us at the Department of Public Information, the options are never simply "either/or". We have to address all issues, hard and soft, critical and controversial, today and every day. We have no choice but to respond to the insistent demands of the news stories of the day - normally in the world's "hot spots", which today means focusing on Iraq and its future, and the allegations of wrongdoing in the management of the oil-for-food programme in that country. But we cannot afford merely to echo the media's priorities. We have to constantly strive to keep the "big picture" on the media's agenda, reminding the world that there are other critical areas that need equal, if not more, attention. How this is done and what has been accomplished is recounted in the Secretary-General's report on the continuing reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communications (A/AC. 198/2004/2). But more on that later.
As part of our continuing efforts to highlight the United Nations' priorities - your priorities - the Department plans to focus at this year's observance of World Press Freedom Day on what is missing from the world's media headlines. As agreed with the Bureau, this year's observance of World Press Freedom Day will take place on the morning of 3 May, the actual day, and include the usual two parts: a formal institutional session and an informal panel discussion. The theme for the panel discussion, "Reporting and Under-Reporting: Who Decides?", is related to the list of ten stories of global importance the world should hear more about, that DPI will announce in connection with World Press Freedom Day. We have deliberately chosen this timing in order to highlight the importance of the work and responsibilities of your Committee.
As requested in paragraphs 12 and 88 of resolution A/58/101 B, I would now like to report to you on the activities of the Department and on the implementation of your recommendations. Through consultations with the Bureau of the Committee, it was decided that the information requested in resolution 58/101 B, as well as in resolutions 58/126 of 19 December 2003 and 58/270 of 23 December 2003, would be grouped into six reports, the most comprehensive of which would be the one dealing with the continuing reorientation of DPI. The remaining reports would address requests for information on more specific areas, including an in-depth review on library activities, the rationalization of the network of United Nations information centres, the activities of the United Nations Communications Group in 2003 and, for the first time, a report on better publicizing the work and decisions of the General Assembly.
As a result of my obligation to touch on all of these, however briefly, I regret that my statement this morning will do little to enhance my reputation for brevity. But I hope, Mr. Chairman, that it would not dilute my claim to relevance. Even then I cannot cover everything. Let me remind you that the Department, as agreed with the Bureau, will host an informal interactive dialogue with the members of the Committee on what DPI does and how it does it. This dialogue, which replaces the traditional informal briefing by DPI to the Committee members, will take place today in this room, Conference Room 2, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. and will provide you with an informal setting to interact with DPI staff and DPI management on the entire gamut of the activities of the Department. This dialogue should be particularly useful to those delegates who are taking part in the work of the Committee for the first time and are not fully familiar with the activities of DPI. So, please join us later in the afternoon. And please make an effort to be on time because we intend to begin with a seven-minute audio-visual presentation on the work of DPI to set the tone for the discussion, with all the bells and whistles, which you will miss if you arrive after 3:07!
With the implementation of the September 2002 reform proposals of the Secretary-General, a comprehensive and broad-based restructuring of the Department of Public Information has now been implemented. This process, initiated by the General Assembly through its resolution 56/253 calling for a comprehensive review of DPI's management and operations, was essentially steered by this Committee. The General Assembly, agreeing with your recommendations made at the twenty-fourth as well as the twenty-fifth sessions in resolutions 57/130 B and 58/101 B, welcomed the Secretary-General's proposals and DPI's efforts to improve its public information activities. Today, as a result of this reform process, DPI has undergone a transformation, complete with a new mission statement, a new operating model and a new organizational structure. It has developed a new strategic approach at the core of which lie a new client-oriented service, greater system-wide coordination and a new culture of evaluation embedded into the work of the Department.
I do not intend to review each of these elements at length, as we have already done so in detail in the Secretary-General's reports submitted for your consideration. Instead, with your permission, I will concentrate on a few highlights and examine together with you what has so far worked and what has not.
In its ongoing process of reform and reorientation, DPI has acquired the tools needed to deliver on the challenges set by the Secretary-General in his report, "Strengthening the United Nations: an agenda for change". Initially we faced a few teething problems, a few hiccups, but after twelve months of client meetings, communications strategies and system-wide coordination in planning and implementation, we can say with confidence that the measures taken were right and necessary.
A new element in our work is the systematic evaluation of our products and activities based on well-defined and measurable indicators of achievement.
As we informed the Committee members last year, DPI has begun to work with the Office of Internal Oversight Services on a three-year project to institute an internal mechanism for performance management, which of course is in line with the Secretary-General's reform programme. For DPI, this first year has witnessed the introduction of an "annual programme impact review," which with the UN taste for acronyms, has now been reduced to the APIR. For OIOS, DPI serves as a pilot project on institutionalising self-evaluation with a view to offering it to other Secretariat departments for possible replication. What this has entailed for the Department is that, on the basis of our new mission statement and the setting of departmental and divisional goals, the APIR has allowed programme managers to identify performance indicators and collect baseline data to evaluate the effectiveness of DPI products and activities over time. As distinguished delegates may have had the opportunity to observe, incorporated throughout the reorientation report is the initial set of data collected as the empirical foundation of this new mindset of strategic planning and the creation of a culture of evaluation.
We know we have a long road ahead before we can claim that we are able to systematically appraise the effect and impact of all our products and activities. However, the APIR has already encouraged programme managers to focus on results and on the evaluation of programme effectiveness in selected areas. In order to illustrate what I mean, allow me to share with you some concrete examples of the outcome of these efforts so far.
By identifying expected accomplishments and defining measurable indicators, such as user satisfaction, we were able to find out what worked and what did not. For example, a Dag Hammarskj÷ld Library user survey, in which I hope some of you participated, found that users want improved or enhanced services in a number of areas. It revealed that users were mostly satisfied with DHL, but were not aware of specific Library services that we offer. Managers immediately reacted by expanding their efforts to raise awareness about the Library's programmes.
- Systematic feedback solicited from visitors who take our guided tours indicates that, in 9 of 10 cases, the visitor leaves the tour with a better understanding of the work of the Organization and more support for it than when they started;
- Ninety-nine per cent of respondents in a survey among the NGOs participating in the annual DPI conference indicate that they are committed to promoting the UN in their own public information activities;
- For nearly 90 per cent of readers of the Africa Recovery magazine the information published there is not readily available elsewhere;
- Having set a target that at least 65 per cent of all press releases - which as you know are more often used by delegations than by the press - would be issued within two hours of the end of a meeting covered, DPI's press service was able to achieve a higher success rate, between 68 and 70 per cent.
The Department, in its efforts to redefine its focus and sharpen its operational tools, has also been greatly helped by the establishment of formal client relationships with Secretariat departments and the strengthened efforts to bring the members of the UN system within a common communications framework. DPI now works with 24 client departments and is developing a communications strategy for each priority established in cooperation with them. The entire UN system has now been integrated within the United Nations Communications Group which, through its weekly meetings and working groups, is able to speak with one voice on UN priority issues. Let me give you some recent examples.
The World Summit on the Information Society, the first phase of which took place in Geneva in December 2003, posed special challenges for public information staffers. The Department worked closely with the International Telecommunications Union and played a vital strategic role in shaping the communications agenda and, with it, the political agenda of the Summit. In our messages we stressed the principle of press freedom and in our outreach aimed to generate coverage by more mainstream media rather than just technology publications and outlets. We drew on long-standing political and media contacts to broaden the outreach of our partner agencies and, by setting up high-impact interviews and placing op-eds by senior officials in the lead-up to the Summit, helped to raise its profile. As a result, media coverage was extensive and considering some of the problems faced by the first phase of the Summit, largely positive. We now look forward to contributing to the second phase to be held next year in Tunis.
For the 2003 World AIDS Day, DPI coordinated a system-wide two-week "media blitz" - a new model for short-term, concentrated campaigns by which staff placed op-eds and organized interviews for a number of senior UN officials, using them as spokespersons to expand outreach in target regions. The "blitz" made use of United Nations information centres' capacity for local outreach and managed to generate more and better-targeted media coverage than previously garnered for any World AIDS Day.
Another good example of collaboration with a client department is our work with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. DPI has been discussing with DPKO ways in which public attention can be drawn to the dramatic new surge in peacekeeping demands. Generating support among Member States for these new and expanding operations, particularly in finding sufficient and skilled military and civilian police personnel, is a major challenge. The two Departments have collaborated on the production of an up-to-date brochure on multi-dimensional complex peacekeeping operations, which has been cast to highlight and explain the issue. This has been posted on the DPKO website. In addition, DPI has helped place op-eds prepared by DPKO that highlight this challenge. Both Departments will continue to seek further methods of achieving this goal, including through the outreach capacities of United Nations information centres and services.
Planning for the rapid and effective deployment of new missions is another key area of cooperation. During the past year, DPI participated in DPKO-led assessment missions to Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia and Haiti. It conducted a media needs assessment mission to Iraq. And in Liberia, DPI seconded staff to help with mission start-up. The Department has also contributed to planning for expected missions in Burundi and Sudan and has worked with senior officials in the Secretariat and UNAMI to develop an information component for that mission in anticipation of the United Nations' return to Iraq.
DPI remains in close contact with information components of ongoing missions, supporting them as they face evolving challenges. In December 2003, the Department organized and funded a two-day workshop in Dakar on public information for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes. Senior public information officers from UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, as well as other experts, participated in the seminar, which produced a template strategy for use in future missions. Currently, DPI, in cooperation with DPKO, is preparing a week-long training course scheduled for June 2004 at the UN logistics base in Brindisi. The course, which is jointly funded by the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom, DPKO and DPI, will train teams of public information officers to ensure that they achieve peak readiness for rapid deployment. They will emerge thoroughly familiar with strategic communications procedures, standard operating procedures and best practices, and will be prepared to hit the ground able to start up crucial information work as soon as or even before the mission is deployed.
DPI has also expanded the scope and quality of information on peacekeeping available on the UN website and maintains a range of pages for all 57 current and past peacekeeping operations. To improve the timeliness of this information, many of these pages are dynamically updated with the latest headlines from the UN News Centre web site. It has cooperated with peacekeeping missions to help them develop their own web pages.
Another DPI priority is its work in support of the UN's counter-terrorism activities, including efforts to raise awareness among Member States of the importance of ratifying and implementing existing counter-terrorism conventions. UN information centres around the world have reached out to various communities and constituencies to promote the 12 United Nations counter-terrorism instruments. In addition, DPI will continue to promote the crucial work of the Organization to reverse poverty and intolerance and other conditions that may facilitate the spread of terrorism.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Department over the past year has been to improve the UN's ability to communicate effectively with people in the Middle East, where the Organization's standing has in recent years fallen lower than ever before. Over the past year, the Department has taken a series of steps that we hope will improve the Organization's image in the region. Beginning in June 2003, we have worked with colleagues in other departments and UN agencies to develop a strategic communications framework for the Middle East and Arab region. The strategy was adopted in September 2003. We believe it will provide the basis for sustained efforts to improve the image and understanding of the Organization in the Arab region. In May, we will meet with our UN system colleagues, this time in Beirut, to review what has been done over the past few months and to devise an operational programme of activities that we will all implement.
A particular focus of the Department's work has been its contribution to ongoing discussions with the Office of the Special Adviser for Africa on a "global communications and advocacy strategy for NEPAD" or the New partnership for Africa's Development. The Special Adviser has been invited to present a draft of the plan to the UN Communications Group, in June, in Nairobi. This is not the first time he will address the Group. Meanwhile, the Africa Section is working on two projects that are basic to any strategy. One will make available a highly-readable, print version of the actual NEPAD programme, in languages used by large numbers of Africans so that people who need to be involved can learn of the programme first hand. The second is a short publication which will explain the details of the programme in lay-person's terms, giving examples of projects under way to bring NEPAD to fruition.
Eight years and ten months ago, the United Nations stepped into the Internet age with the launch of the United Nations web site. It was uncharted territory, the Organization had very little expertise, no resources, no dedicated staff, and no precedent to follow. Yet, in this short period of time, our presence on the web has grown to a point where the UN web site is one of the world's premier information sites. Visitors to www.un.org are now viewing more than one million pages every day. You may recall that I had told you that we had two billion hits last year. This year, we expect to reach three billion, not only in the six official languages of the Organization, but also, thanks in large part to our offices in the field, in 27 other languages.
Our venture into the world of the web has opened new vistas of integration within the Department, as well as between DPI and other Departments. Here are a few examples of how we have integrated the Internet in the way we work:
And in keeping with the expressed wishes of Member States, the Department of Public Information, as manager of the UN web site, has continued its efforts to enhance parity among the official languages on the site. The Department has been implementing innovative approaches towards achieving the goal of multilingualism within the context of existing resources. One such approach, as detailed in our report on reorientation, has been the decision to expand the UN News Centre site into all the official languages. The new database platform for the News Centre, developed entirely in-house I might add, enables the latest news items on any specific theme or topic to be automatically available, not only on any part of the UN web site, but on any other interested web site as well. I know that web sites of some of your Permanent Missions already have direct links to the UN News Centre, but I would like to alert you that a "breaking news" service is now also available that can bring the latest UN headlines right to your page. We shall also be extending this technology, with its greatly enhanced search facility, to other areas of the site, such as press releases.
- Most of our printed outputs, like the UN Chronicle and Africa Recovery, all UN Radio programmes, and most UN photographs taken by our photographers are now available through the UN web site within minutes of production;
- Two regular UN Television outputs - UN in Action and the World Chronicle - can be viewed at any time of your choice;
- All plenary meetings of the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Spokesman's daily briefings and press conferences, are available as live web cast videos and archived for on-demand viewing anytime;
- More than 10,000 video clips are being viewed daily by visitors to the UN web site from all over the world. Webcast technology has also allowed us to improve internal communications. The regular Town Hall meetings that I conduct with all staff of the Department are now webcast to our offices away from Headquarters, so that staff there can view these meetings and participate by e-mailing or telephoning in their questions. This is possible at no additional cost.
- The procurement and installation of a new Multimedia Electronic News Production System, now in its pilot phase for photos and radio, will allow our news producers and photo editors to work from their work stations. We no longer have a traditional photo lab, and we will soon stop recording on tape;
- And we are using an e-mail alert system for the news, webcasts and photos, to place our products directly into the hands of editors, NGOs, academics and government officials, who will use them to reach out to people in their respective communities. We have also extended the reach of the web to Radio, using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to make high-quality digital audio files of our radio programmes available to radio stations. Our Sales and Marketing Section is now finalizing the e-commerce site, through which we will make our sales materials available for online purchase.
Another innovative step of which we are proud has been our arrangements with universities for pro bono translation of content for the web site. You know of our poverty, our budget cuts and that our budget circumstances have long been a disadvantage. In addition to the arrangement with the University of Salamanca, in Spain, which I have reported earlier, agreements are now in place with Shaoxin University in China and Minsk State Linguistic University in Belarus for translation of material which is then revised and processed for posting on the web site.
DPI has been encouraging and assisting other departments in the Secretariat in making their information materials available on the UN web site in all official languages. Today, the official language sites are growing at a much faster pace than the English site, though I must admit that progress has not been as speedy as we would have wished, for many reasons, resources being only one of them, perhaps the most important still. The opening up of the Official Documents System later this year will of course greatly enhance the availability of material in all official languages on the web site.
Another area where the Department has introduced changes in response to growing needs is what is now referred to as knowledge management. The in-depth review of library activities submitted for your consideration (A/AC.198/2004/4) discusses the leadership role of the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Library in this area. With the establishment of the Steering Committee for the Modernization and Integrated Management of United Nations Libraries, a mechanism has been created through which all the major libraries of the Organization are working together to share resources, minimize duplication of effort and develop common products, common services and common policies. The Steering Committee has so far held four meetings, mainly by videoconference, bringing together all member libraries.
As part of this ongoing collaboration, the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Library provided consultancy expertise to the United Nations Office in Nairobi. The objective was to evaluate the feasibility and the mechanisms for the establishment of a common library at this UN Office. Since then, the UNEP Library has undertaken to operate as a de facto United Nations library in Nairobi, with the material support of UN-Habitat and UNDP there. The next logical step towards giving it a secure administrative footing, would be for the General Assembly to recognize it as a United Nations Library and to approve its funding accordingly.
As the "public voice" of the Organization, connecting with the public at large and building partnerships with civil society, NGOs, educators, students and the private sector in an increasingly integrated fashion, is a challenge that remains vital for the Department. The successes of our outreach efforts over the past year -many of which are detailed in the Secretary-General's reorientation report - have not simply been successes in getting our word, or fact, or "message" out to a larger world, but of intimately involving those who constitute that larger world in an informed, passionate debate about the United Nations, its achievements and its failures, as well as its past, its present, its promise.
Our outreach to civil society partners, particularly non-governmental organizations, provides many opportunities for partnerships and information -sharing with the 1,400 NGOs associated with DPI, as well as those in consultative status with the United Nations through ECOSOC. We continue to reach out to the educational community at all levels, expanding and strengthening relationships with what I would like-at the risk of causing some discomfort to our interpreters!-to call the "educable" world. Through the UN Teaching and Learning Project, with its online component the UN Cyberschoolbus, we seek to provide exceptional educational resources online and in print to students around the world. And through the UN Works project, DPI has created a multi-media platform that puts a human face on critical global issues and shows how the United Nations can change peoples' lives.
Mr. Chairman, in an interview published in the latest issue of the UN Chronicle, you had observed that "to know what to ask is to know half the answer in some ways." Although your remarks were in a different context, I can think of no more appropriate phrase to sum up, if I may so call it, the philosophy of our outreach. It reflects the realization that ideas that can compel solutions to the "problems without passports" that distinguish our times, must emerge from the enormous reservoir of global thought and creative talent which this Organization must access. And if, through our diverse means of popular as well as targeted outreach, we can spur the imagination to ask the right questions, can the successful inward journey to the right answers be far behind?
Later this afternoon, during our interactive dialogue, we shall be able to devote more time to this question and its possible answers, or partial answers. In any case, we know that you will not only ask us questions, you will question our answers. We look forward to this.
Let me now turn to the question of regionalization of the network of UN information centres.
During the past year, DPI has continued to implement the Secretary-General's proposals for rationalizing information centres by consolidating its network around "regional hubs". His proposals were based on two points. First, that now, perhaps more than ever before, it is essential to create a better understanding of the Organization and to build public support for its work in all parts of the world. At the same time, we no longer have sufficient resources to accomplish this, using the existing scattered arrangements in the field. While each UNIC is normally expected to provide services to several countries, the fact is that resource constraints often restrict the centres to providing services only within the capital city of their host country. Moreover, as a result of retrenchment exercises mandated by the General Assembly in the 1990s, where a significant number of posts were abolished - and I might add, where resources were simply not increased, and inflation had eroded the operational budgets of each of these centres, before the cuts of last year - too many centres are today unable to perform even essential programme functions and are instead reduced to little more than administering themselves.
In other words, in the current budgetary climate, in order to have a substantive and efficient field presence, there is simply no option for the Organization but to rationalize the network of information centres around regional hubs. I should emphasize that the goal is certainly not to reduce the information capacity in the countries currently served by UNICs, but rather to reduce the administrative costs required to operate the network, both in terms of staff costs of administrative personnel and the basic operating costs inevitably attached to maintaining a centre, such as rental and maintenance of premises, utilities and security costs. By pooling the scarce resources available to us in a smaller number of strategically located regional centres, we aim to make more efficient use of these resources, while increasing the effectiveness of our information work. At the same time, our aim is to maintain information capacity in each country, ensuring that even where United Nations information centres as such are closed, national information officers are attached to the United Nations country teams.
The Department has, in other words, turned to a more strategic approach to its communications in the field. And I do not believe that in our current budgetary environment, we can effectively do otherwise.
Last year, the General Assembly laid out, in resolution 58/101 B, a clear sequence of steps to be taken and the Department has followed them. In the resolution, Member States identify the creation of a Western European hub as the first step in this process. I am pleased to inform the Committee that the new Regional United Nations Information Centre in Brussels began operations on 1 January 2004, immediately after the region's nine information centres were closed - not without a great deal of difficulty and pain - on 31 December 2003. This modern and fully-resourced centre, when fully functional - and I stress it is still in temporary premises without a full complement of staff - this RUNIC will enable the Organization to implement a more robust, coherent and coordinated public information outreach programme in the region. We intend to evaluate this operation and share the findings with you, after a reasonable period of time has passed.
The second step identified in the resolution is to take a similar cost-cutting approach in other high-cost developed countries - namely Sydney, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. You will no doubt be heartened to learn that the Department has negotiated an agreement with the Government of Australia - and I do want to thank the Government of Australia for its generosity - as a result of which the Sydney Centre is expected to move to rent-free premises in Canberra in the Fall of this year. This will release funds to allow the Centre to better fulfil its role as a regional hub also covering the countries of the South Pacific. In other words, the idea is not to save the money we are paying in rent in Sydney, but to use the rental money from Sydney for operational purposes in Canberra. That is the logic we want to apply in the regionalization initiative in the developing countries.
I am also pleased to tell you that the Government of Japan, in addition to its generous annual voluntary contribution in support of the programme activities of UNIC Tokyo, has also agreed to cover the Centre's substantial annual maintenance costs and service charges, in 2005, through extra-budgetary funding. UNIC Tokyo is located in rent-free premises in the UN University building. In Washington, D.C., where the Centre is responsible for important liaison work with various institutions of the host country, we are exploring other means of economizing, including the possibility of occupying smaller and less costly premises in 2005, when the current lease comes up for renewal.
The third step set out in resolution 58/101 B is the submission of a progress report on the implementation of regionalization with the objective of applying this initiative in other parts of the world. In this regard, I should like to refer you to the Secretary-General's report on the rationalization of the network of United Nations information centres (A/AC.198/2004/3) which sets out the proposed strategy and modalities for implementing the initiative in other regions.
In considering the proposals to regionalize UNICs in developing countries, it is important to keep in mind that the objective is not to reduce the resources that are made available for this purpose, but to strengthen the flow, and exchange of information. In fact, as a result of the establishment of the regional centre in Brussels, there will be a modest increase in the staff resources available for centres in developing countries, including three D-1 posts and a number of General Service posts. Regrettably, this good news is more than offset by a serious reduction in operational resources following the decision of the General Assembly in paragraph 30 of its resolution 58/271, to reduce the budgetary allocation to UNICs by $2 million.
DPI has consistently taken the view that regionalization is not a cost-cutting exercise, but an exercise in improving the efficiency of our information efforts in the field. We cannot have effective regional hubs if they are not provided with the necessary operational funds, particularly for travel and communications. I therefore request this Committee to urge the General Assembly to support DPI's reform efforts by providing our field offices, especially the regional hubs, with adequate operational resources, rather than reducing them. I do believe that regionalization is the way forward for the reasons that I have explained. But I also believe that if regionalization does not show Member States that we can effectively redirect administrative resources for information purposes, but instead we simply save the administrative resources and show no improvement in our information work, then we will not be able to generate the understanding and the political support so necessary in this Committee, and beyond, for the effective reform changes we are advocating.
Our objective, as proposed in the Secretary-General's report, aims to strengthen and improve access to information on the United Nations by people around the world, including of course, in particular those in developing countries. We recognize the existing lack of access to information and communications technologies in many parts of the developing world, and so the model we are proposing retains, wherever possible, a physical presence in the countries serviced by the hubs through the posting of information staff in the offices of Resident Coordinators. I have already initiated discussions with Mr. Mark Malloch Brown, the Chairman of the UN Development Group and the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, on elaborating the details of the new DPI field presence so that we can take full advantage of the Resident Coordinator system and contribute further to the coherence of the United Nations presence in the field.
Unlike the model employed in Western Europe, the developing country model would consist not of one large hub, but rather several smaller hubs. To show how the new model will work, we have indicated in a very preliminary way where regional information centres could be located. The final choice of the locations will be influenced by the views put forward by the Committee on Information and will require extensive consultations with Member States. In doing so, we would emphasize the need for flexibility in adapting the model to the realities of the developing world and the characteristics of each individual region and country. I would encourage the members of the Committee to bear in mind the guidelines and criteria for regionalization contained in Annex II of the report, when considering the proposed location of the regional hubs.
I look forward to hearing the Committee's views as we enter the crucial phase of the process, which envisages the extension of the regional hub initiative to developing countries. We will rely on your guidance as we continue to implement the initiative with the aim of meeting the time-frame envisaged by the Secretary-General for completion of the regionalization process, over the three-year period that began in 2003.
The Department is committed to delivering effective and targeted information programmes. With this end in mind, it has developed - and submitted for your consideration - the proposed strategic framework for the biennium 2006-2007 (A/AC.198/2004/7), which provides an overall orientation for the Department. Delineated by the four sub-programmes, it identifies the expected accomplishments as well as indicators of achievement. Consistent with the culture of evaluation and performance management now instituted throughout the Department, the strategic framework presents a vision as well as a roadmap, whose sole purpose is to help make the relevance of the work of the United Nations resonate in the lives and daily concerns of people everywhere.
In this connection, allow me to draw your attention to rule 104.6 of the Regulations and Rules Governing Programme Planning, the Programme Aspects of the Budget, the Monitoring of Implementation and the Methods of Evaluation, and invite you to review the proposed biennial programme plan and to provide your comments to the Secretary-General. As you know, the proposed plan, modified as appropriate, will be first submitted to the Committee for Programme and Coordination at its forty-fourth session, whose recommendations will be transmitted to the General Assembly at its fifty-ninth session when it will consider the proposed strategic framework for the biennium 2006-2007.
According to an old African proverb, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today. While reform is not, strictly speaking, a tree planting exercise, the care and attention it requires are no less demanding. The "tree" that we have planted is now two years old; its growth and longevity will depend not only on the care we provide but also on the support you give us.
I know you will have to take a close and hard look at some of the issues on your agenda. Your recommendations will be critical for the Secretary-General's reform process to continue and to ultimately reach its goals. I am looking forward to having a fruitful exchange with delegations on all aspects of the question relating to public information. I firmly believe that you will draw the right conclusions, however difficult or politically challenging they might be. After all, as the great Roman philosopher-writer Seneca once said, it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.
Thank you very much.***