Introductory remarks at the ECOSOC Panel with the Chairpersons of the Functional Commissions by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs New York, 7 July 2005

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to join this discussion on the coordination of the work of ECOSOC and its intergovernmental machinery to support the achievement of internationally agreed development goals. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs services seven of the 11 ECOSOC functional commissions, in addition to the Council itself. So I am quite familiar with the work of your respective bodies. And I know how much effort you personally put, as chairpersons and vice-chairpersons, into making them deliver consensual—and useful—products.

The past several years have seen both the growing contribution of the functional commissions to the Council’s work and increased coordination within the wider ECOSOC family. These welcome developments accord with intergovernmental requests and with oft repeated recommendations made by the Secretary-General. No doubt, we should all do our part to encourage them further. But why?

Today I want to step back for a moment and put our persistent concern with coordination in a contemporary context. Coordination within the ECOSOC machinery is not an end in itself. It serves to improve the machinery’s delivery of services to Member States and their peoples. Today, for ECOSOC, service delivery has come to acquire one principal meaning, of far-reaching importance: implementing the United Nations Development Agenda.

Produced by major UN conferences and summits since the 1990s, including the Millennium Summit, the UN Development Agenda provides an integrated and holistic framework for pursuing all aspects of development. Yet we have not been able to use this Agenda in a fully efficient and enduringly effective way. The Agenda can change the reality on the ground, forcefully and for the better. But this is provided that we use it in a coordinated, concerted, and coherent fashion.

To use the Agenda to optimal effect, we must overcome two key challenges. The first, to which I will devote most of my remarks, involves the intergovernmental review process. The second involves the connection between the intergovernmental process and UN operational activities.

The existing system for assessing progress in implementing the UN development agenda is fragmented—too compartmentalized. The individual functional Commissions carry out substantive reviews of conferences. ECOSOC promotes an integrated and coordinated approach to conference follow-up and reviews commitments, such as on financing for development and Least Developed Countries. This leads to a somewhat disjointed review of the Agenda, often marked also by avoidable duplication. For instance, the social and sustainable development commissions end up addressing some issues that are similar.

So the coherence in the work of the Council and the commissions still falls far short of the desired level. It may continue to do so, until we find a way to connect the commissions’ work more directly to ECOSOC’s, through closely linked multi-year work programmes. Individually and collectively, these work programmes would strengthen coherence by giving increased importance to the broad themes of the UN Development Agenda.

These themes structure the report submitted by the Secretary-General to the high-level and coordination segments of ECOSOC this year (document E/2005/56). We all know the MDG related themes: eradicating poverty and hunger; advancing education; promoting health services, including for HIV/AIDS; achieving gender equality; ensuring environmental sustainability; and building a global partnership for development. But we must remember the other themes also part of the UN Development Agenda:

  • the promotion of employment, an essential yet sometimes neglected component of development strategies, which should gain in political momentum and practical action;
  • achieving social integration and addressing the vulnerabilities of social groups, including people with disability and the elderly;
  • addressing the challenges of countries with special needs: Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Land-locked Developing Countries;
  • promoting democracy, good governance and human rights; and
  • promoting science and technology as a means to achieve development objectives.

All of these themes together constitute an agenda for the whole ECOSOC machinery. The Council and its functional and regional commissions should focus on them more systematically. I trust that your respective bodies can contribute to this effort. The functional commissions themselves need to promote “clustering.” And those that deal with closely related parts of the Agenda should strive to build stronger synergies, such as the Commissions on Sustainable and Social Development.

On our part, in the Secretariat, we need to help your bodies to make informed decisions on your work programmes. We have made efforts in this direction. Our reports are increasingly focused on linkages and synergies. We have also set up a Task Force of the secretariats of the functional commissions, in order to ensure that they collectively promote a coherent approach to the various elements of the UN Development Agenda.

Putting the UN Development Agenda powerfully to effect also requires tackling a second challenge: how to translate the UN’s normative and analytical work into operational priorities. At present, the work of the functional commissions does not influence the priorities of UN Funds and Programmes. We need to reflect together on how ECOSOC can help to convey the commissions’ valuable guidance to the UN development system. Commissions can ease this process by clearly articulating specific points for action by the Funds and Programmes.

Helping to achieve a comprehensive review process for the UN Development Agenda, and helping to link the UN system’s conceptual and operational work—these are two major ways for ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. And the sum is more than its parts. Efforts on both fronts would facilitate the roles that ECOSOC is likely to be given by the 2005 World Summit this year in September.

Next year the Economic and Social Council will devote its coordination segment to the theme “Sustained economic growth for social development, including the eradication of poverty and hunger.” The functional commissions could contribute to this theme, and enrich the debates of the Council, with their own perspective on coordinated efforts towards this central development objective.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing your views.