Keynote Address by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Introduction to the Reports of the Secretary-General to the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment
Geneva, 15 July 2009

Madam Vice-President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to join the Vice-President in welcoming you to the Operational Activities Segment, which will cover the operational realities, experiences, and challenges facing the United Nations system in supporting more than 130 programme countries in achieving their national development agendas.

As we prepare to engage in these discussions, the world faces multiple difficult challenges. These are challenges of global proportions affecting both rich and poor countries. The poor everywhere feel the deepest impact.

Given the current global circumstances, the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, are at a high risk of not being met. We must seize the opportunity, during this time of crisis, to revisit what has been overlooked or neglected; to undertake systemic changes that reflect more equitable arrangements; to develop creative solutions to pursue our goals in more cost-effective ways; to mobilize greater resolve to attend to the needs of poor and vulnerable; and to identify specific time-bound actions for addressing top priorities, with clear accountabilities for getting things done.

The discussions during this segment should provide direction for further efforts and improvements across a range of areas – from financing to capacity development, coherence and coordination through the resident coordinator system, country-level capacities of the United Nations development system, and simplification and harmonization of UN system procedures.

As the panel discussions will elaborate, important progress has been made in the UN system efforts to work more coherently and to harmonize country-level operations, while reducing transactions costs for partners, including through the “Delivering as One” initiative.

To support the work of the Council during this operational activities segment, the Secretariat has prepared six reports mandated by the General Assembly resolutions on the triennial comprehensive policy reviews of operational activities for development. The reports reflect the Council’s guidance at its 2008 substantive session. Allow me to provide an overview of these reports.

The first report highlights achievements and issues in the implementation of the TCPR resolution over the last two years. It shows numerous advances, with the UN system organizations moving in tandem to implement many of the TCPR recommendations. For example, considerable progress has been made in opening up the governance of UN system operational activities to more actors – notably, non-resident agencies – and in country-level programming. Progress has also been made in deepening mutual accountability in the management of the resident coordinator system. And national ownership and leadership have increased, along with the alignment of the United Nations Development Frameworks (UNDAFs) with national processes.

The report also points to a range of areas where further progress is needed. The UN system continues to struggle with the imbalance between its core and non-core resources. There is a need to strengthen the support provided to UN country teams in areas such as capacity development and South-South cooperation, and in situations of transition from relief to development. Consistency in the quality of the UNDAFs needs to be further assured. This particular issue requires urgent attention, as programme countries will embark on the development of 90 new UNDAFs in the next three years.

The second report focuses on the functioning of the resident coordinator system, including its costs and benefits. In line with the Council’s guidance last year, the report reviews participation and support to the functioning of the resident coordinator system by UN organizations, including in transition situations. This year’s report elaborates on the multiple functions of the Resident Coordinator (RC) – including as Humanitarian Coordinator, and/or Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) – in addition to the RC role as Designated Official for Security (DO). The report also provides an update on funding of the RC system and indicative benefits of coordination. It recommends ensuring that UN system organizations provide stronger, better coordinated and more transparent support to the resident coordinator system. It also underlines the need to develop ways to assess what are the actual benefits and costs of coordination.

The third report identifies challenges associated with dealing with multiple human resources policies and procedures across the UN development system at the country level. It underscores that a core challenge is how best to meet the demands of the various programme countries – and points to the need for an integrated approach to mobilize human resources to respond to countries’ demands. It suggests periodic reviews to determine whether the capacities of UN country teams allow them to respond to the priorities of programme countries. The report also outlines a range of challenges related to the recruitment and career management of UN system staff. It pays particular attention to the situation of national professional officers, as well as to recruitment and training of resident coordinators, as requested by the 2007 TCPR. An overarching message is the need for the organizations of the UN development system to take a strategic look at their human resource policies, in order to improve their response to the needs of programme countries. Attracting and retaining a strong pool of candidates for the posts of resident coordinator is also a key challenge, which needs to be urgently addressed.

The fourth report provides a comprehensive statistical analysis of financing of the UN system’s operational activities for development. The Secretariat has made continuous efforts to expand the coverage and improve the quality of reporting on this issue. This year’s report reflects the latest available statistics from UN organizations on contributions received and expenditures on operational activities. It shows a total value of contributions received by the UN system for operational activities in 2007 amounting to $19.1 billion, which is a 2.4 per cent increase in constant US dollars over 2006. It also shows the persistence of two key funding challenges: the imbalance between core and non-core resources, with non-core resources accounting for more than 71 per cent of overall contributions to the UN system; and the heavy reliance on a limited number of donors.

The fifth report responds to a mandate of the 2004 TCPR, requesting the Council to undertake a comprehensive triennial review of trends and perspectives in funding for development cooperation. The first review was conducted in 2006. This year’s report gives a snapshot of the rapidly changing landscape of financing for development. South-South cooperation is taking on growing importance, as are regional development banks. Global funds are also becoming major players in health and environment funding. There is great dynamism in private philanthropy and in innovative sources of financing for development, which are now diversifying from health into other development areas. But the current environment is awash in uncertainties. The economic crisis puts pressure on overall aid budgets, while at the same time bringing to the forefront the critical importance of solidarity with developing countries, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Last month’s conference on the financial and economic crisis and its impact on development showed that Member States are keenly aware of these challenges and of the need to stay firmly focused on achieving the MDGs and other long-term development objectives.

Last but not the least, the sixth report covers actions taken by the executive boards and governing bodies of the funds, programmes and specialized agencies toward simplification and harmonization. It focuses on three themes highlighted by the 2007 TCPR: namely, harmonization of cost-recovery policies; rationalization of UN country presence; and simplification and harmonization of rules, procedures and business practices. There has been significant progress on these three fronts. The CEB has done a good job in producing a plan of action that provides a road map for progress, while innovative steps are being implemented at the country level – notably, through the “Delivering as One” initiative. Still, UN system procedures remain complex and varied, and there is need for further harmonization.

Excellencies, these reports before you, as well as the panels organized for this segment, provide us with very rich material to stimulate the forthcoming discussions and debate of the Council.

Let me close with this reflection: cohesion tends to be stronger where there is shared understanding for a unified United Nations response to compelling national issues. The issues we face today should be more than compelling enough for the United Nations to work harder – and better – together. We must challenge ourselves. We also look to the intergovernmental processes – including the governing bodies – to provide enabling mandates for our UN organizations to work together more collaboratively and coherently.

I extend to you all my best wishes for a successful segment. Thank you.