SECOND COMMITTEE WINDS UP DEBATE ON OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT WITH REITERATED STRESS ON NEED FOR COORDINATION, FINANCIAL AID

26 October 2001
GA/EF/2965

SECOND COMMITTEE WINDS UP DEBATE ON OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT WITH REITERATED STRESS ON NEED FOR COORDINATION, FINANCIAL AID

26/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/EF/2965

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Second Committee

16th Meeting (AM)

SECOND COMMITTEE WINDS UP DEBATE ON OPERATIONAL ACTIVITIES FOR DEVELOPMENT

WITH REITERATED STRESS ON NEED FOR COORDINATION, FINANCIAL AID

Meeting Opens with Panel Discussion on Capacity-Building, Poverty Eradication

“Capacity-building and Poverty Eradication –- Lessons from Evaluations” was the topic of a panel discussion held this morning in conjunction with the Second Committee’s (Economic and Financial) consideration of operational activities for development.  The panel was organized by the Division for Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Support and Coordination of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

The panel’s Moderator, Roger Maconick, Coordinator, Impact Evaluation of Operational Activities, DESA, said that, as was done in the 1998 Triennial Policy Review, impact evaluations had been carried out in six countries.  This year evaluations were done in Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, Philippines, United Republic of Tanzania and Viet Nam.

Among other conclusions, it was found that the right policy mix and institutional capacity could and did significantly reduce poverty, he said. However, it was not clear whether there was a consensus within the United Nations development system on how to eradicate poverty.  Some evaluators also questioned whether that system had the expertise in the field to address poverty effectively.  While there had never been such a consensus for poverty eradication, the gap between official rhetoric and concrete measures had seldom been so conspicuous.

It must be asked how best to address capacity building for poverty reduction, said Joyce Mapunjo, Assistant Commissioner, Ministry of Finance, United Republic of Tanzania.  There was a need for action by all stakeholders in that process –- including the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  There was also a need for building a conducive environment for poverty reduction, which meant setting clear priorities and having strong government leadership. 

Instead of relying on assistance from abroad, she continued, Tanzania was working to use domestic expertise and resources.  In that regard, there was a greater need for technical assistance -– an area where the United Nations development system could play a key role.

Having led the evaluation team to Tanzania last year, Kenneth King, former Minister for Economic Development of Guyana, said that despite United Nations

efforts, Tanzania remained a very poor country with insufficient capacity for development.  It seemed that the United Nations system had established “islands of action” in what was a “sea of depression and poverty”.  The effects of its work were not as widespread as had been thought.  

He said that where ownership was clearly perceived by the recipient, there were greater chances for success.  The United Nations system, through its covert conditionalities, did not impart to Tanzania the sense of ownership that was so crucial to its development. 

Meena Acharya, evaluator and author on gender and poverty issues, Nepal, said that among the problems in the United Nations-Nepal partnership was coordination within the United Nations system.  While that coordination was improving –- with the Common Country Assessment (CCA) and the United Nations Development Assistant Framework (UNDAF) -- competition among the system's agencies in programme and project funding still continued.

The former Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Expert Group on Aid Evaluation, Haven North, said there was a feeling that poverty eradication and capacity-building were good words for rhetoric.  However, when you got down to actually seeing what was being done in the field, you wondered who was really taking those concepts seriously. Among all of the advocacy and policy conferences, there was a need to move beyond lip service and make poverty eradication a real policy goal.

The representatives of Belgium, Sweden, United States and Nepal posed questions to the panellists.

Following the panel discussion, the Committee concluded its consideration of operational activities for development after hearing from the representatives of Yemen, Ethiopia, Republic of Korea, Suriname and the United Republic of Tanzania.  The representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also spoke.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 29 October, to begin its consideration of environment and sustainable development.

Background

The Second Committee met this morning to continue its consideration of operational activities for development.  For background, see Press Release GA/EF/2963 issued on 25 October.

Prior to the meeting, a panel discussion will be held on “Capacity-building and Poverty Eradication –- Lessons from Evaluations”, organized by the Division for Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Support and Coordination of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).  Roger Maconick, Coordinator, Impact Evaluation of Operational Activities, DESA, will serve as Moderator. 

Presentations will be made by Joyce Mapunjo, Assistant Commissioner, Ministry of Finance, United Republic of Tanzania; Meena Acharya, evaluator and author on gender and poverty issues, Nepal; Kenneth King, former Minister of Economic Development, Guyana; and Haven North, former Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Expert Group on Aid Evaluation.

Panel Discussion

Moderator ROGER MACONICK, Coordinator, Impact Evaluation of Operational Activities, DESA, said today’s panel was a substitute for a larger exercise, a seminar which was planned but cancelled in light of the events of 11 September.  As was done in the 1998 Triennial Policy Review, impact evaluations had been carried out in six countries.  This year, evaluations were done in Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, the Philippines, Tanzania and Viet Nam.

The goal of those evaluations, he said, was to provide Member States with an analysis of the performance of the United Nations system in those countries.  Among other conclusions, it was found that, with the right policy mix and institutional capacity, poverty could be and had been significantly and rapidly reduced.  It was also found that there was a shortage of resources, both national and external, available for poverty reduction.  There was also a close relationship between capacity-building and national ownership, and appropriate involvement of national organizations, local beneficiaries and governments was therefore desirable.

He said that this year’s evaluations also showed, however, that it was not clear whether there was a consensus within the United Nations development system on how to eradicate poverty in the countries examined.  Nor was it clear that all the relevant disciplines were being brought to bear.  Some evaluators also questioned whether the United Nations system had the appropriate competencies, expertise and skills available in the field to address the broad range of issues involved.  There had never been such a consensus in the international community regarding the eradication of poverty.  But the gap between official rhetoric and concrete measures had seldom been so conspicuous.

MEENA ACHARYA, evaluator and author on gender and poverty issues, Nepal, said that in terms of human poverty, Nepal had made great progress.  Life expectancy had almost doubled, the infant mortality rate was almost halved and access to better quality drinking water had increased for about 70 per cent of the population.  However, Nepal had not been able to reduce income poverty.  In remote rural areas, the unemployment situation and pressure on the land had worsened. 

The question, she said, was whether Nepal was better prepared to deal with poverty now than it had been in 1995.  The answer was both yes and no.  Positive developments included increased physical infrastructure in terms of rural roads, schools and primary health care facilities, as well as higher literacy and educational levels.  There was also awareness at the level of the State and the donors about the importance of social capital in the development process and a conscious effort to mobilize that.  At the same time, the capacity of the Government to fulfil rising expectations and demand was deteriorating, primarily because of political instability and lack of concrete efforts to eliminate socio-economic inequities in spite of intense social pressure.

Although the United Nations system contributed only about 10 - 12 per cent of total development aid to Nepal, it had been instrumental in focusing on human aspects of poverty, health, education and food security, she continued.  Nepal’s success in vaccination and disease control could largely be attributed to joint efforts with the United Nations.  Among the problems in the United Nations - Nepal partnership was coordination within the United Nations system, which was improving with the Common Country Assessment (CCA) and the Unite Nations Development Assistant Framework (UNDAF).  However, competition within the system in programme and project funding still continued among the agencies. 

The United Nations and donors, she said, could help improve the quality of governance by, among other ways, helping to develop appropriate institutional structures and emphasizing the need to address issues such as poverty, the environment, gender, and equitable access in all sectoral policies and programmes.  The evaluations carried out could be useful if they helped to incorporate adequate flexibility in agenda-setting, to take into account the specificity of each country's situation.

JOYCE MAPUNJO, Assistant Commissioner, Ministry of Finance, United Republic of Tanzania, said it must be asked how best to address capacity building for poverty reduction.  There was a need for action by all stakeholders in that process –- including the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). There was also a need for building a conducive environment for poverty reduction, which meant setting clear priorities and having strong government leadership. Without that leadership, there would be no progress.  Poverty reduction also needed to be addressed, especially at the grassroots level.

She said equally important, especially for Tanzania, was the change in attitudes by multilateral donors.  The mid-1990s was an era of confidence building where clear priorities were being set.  Tanzania worked with major donors to set those priorities and to figure out how to move forward.  There was now a clear picture of the projects needed, and those projects were ready to be implemented. Priorities included the building of roads and clean-water projects.  Other areas of need included employment, addressing HIV/AIDS and good governance.  The contribution of the United Nations system in those areas was very important.

Instead of relying on assistance from abroad, however, there was a need to use domestic expertise and resources, she added.  In that regard, there was a greater need for technical assistance.  The critical issue now was how to commit to supporting United Nations reform and increase the impact of the United Nations on poverty reduction.  All the objectives and strategies for United Nations efforts in Tanzania were now focused on poverty reduction and capacity building.

KENNETH KING, former Minister of Economic Development, Guyana, said he had led the evaluation team to Tanzania last year and had been impressed with the results of the work done by the United Nations system there over the last two decades.  In terms of the development of human capacity, there was no doubt that the United Nations system had made a great and lasting contribution to that country’s development.  He also examined the institutions set up by the system, which were making important contributions to the country’s work on poverty alleviation.

Despite all of that, he said that Tanzania remained a very poor country with insufficient capacity for development.  It seemed that what the United Nations system had done was establish “islands of actions” in what was a “sea of depression and poverty”.  The effects of their work were not as widespread as they would have liked.  However, it was not the fault of the United Nations that Tanzania remained in poverty.

First of all, the impact of the United Nations system had been lessened by a continuous shortage of resources.  Excellent work done in various sectors could not be replicated in other parts of the country, due to lack of money.  Secondly, the United Nations system hardly ever worked collectively.  For example, work done by one agency was often overlooked by another.  Thirdly, the policies of the Government and donors were often not the most effective ones for the country.  Fourthly, many of the policies of the United Nations system and of the Bretton Woods institutions had changed over the period examined, and with those policy shifts Tanzania was forced to shift its own policies.

He found that Tanzania’s dependency last year on external assistance was greater than it had been in the previous 23 years.  It was stated that every time the country was confronted with a problem, it sought external aid rather than trying to solve the problem on its own.  When Government officials were asked about that, they said that because of their perception that they did not own the programmes that were executed, they did not feel that they had the country’s governance in their hands.

With regard to ownership, he went on to say that many evaluations of donor assistance worldwide had indicated that where ownership was perceived by the recipient, there were great chances for success.  If the success of aid was associated with ownership, it was necessary to “get the ownership thing right”.  Among other things, ownership lay in the conceptualization of one’s own development and not merely in the management of development.  The United Nations system, through its covert conditionalities, did not impart to Tanzania the sense of ownership that was so crucial to its development. 

What needed to be done, he said, was for the United Nations system to try to give greater financial resources to its agencies and urge them to work together.  Secondly, the field structure of the United Nations presence should be drastically revamped.  Despite the symbols of coherence, the agencies had not been able to work collectively.  Thirdly, the reliance on the Bretton Woods institutions for intellectual stimulus and development should be matched by an equal intellectual input from the United Nations system.  Developing countries were often not given choices for their own development.

HAVEN NORTH, former Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Expert Group on Aid Evaluation, said the six evaluations had yielded some important conclusions.  They also showed how difficult it was to get good base-line information on a country, especially with a limited amount of funds.  But given those limitations, the evaluations showed a considerable and remarkable amount of information.

What was especially important was that each of the reports showed that the United Nations system was highly respected in those countries, he added.  There was a tremendous amount of respect for United Nations development work.  In areas such as poverty and HIV/AIDS, that work was crucial to the countries involved.

The evaluations also brought out a number of weaknesses, he said.  There were uncertainties about the actual impact of projects.  Throughout the reports, it was difficult to find out the actual impact of the efforts on the ground.  There were successful projects in terms of empowerment of women and ethnic minorities.  But what was also missing was the context in which those projects were carried out.

Question and Answer Period

In response to a question on improving development mechanisms, Mr. King said he had proposed creating one United Nations office in a programme country that would house all the various United Nations agencies and programmes.  Instead of the often-competing offices, everyone would be concentrated in one place to address development concerns.  That would likely be a less expensive option and it would make programmes more coordinated and efficient.

Mr. King said he had also proposed greater equality and coordination between national development efforts and the work of the Bretton Woods institutions.  Those should also be more accessible to the input of programme countries.  People in developing countries were in crisis, but they were not allowed even to propose alternative methods of development to those institutions.

In response to a question on coordination, Ms. Acharya said there was a need to examine how feedback from the field was used in the decision-making process at United Nations Headquarters.  There should also be attempts to convince those in the field that their ideas needed to be institutionalized.

In closing remarks, Mr. North said there were a lot of lessons in the evaluations, but they were a beginning, not an end.  Would the United Nations system wrestle with the recommendations in the reports and put them to use?  There was a need for more in-depth examination of the issues raised in those reports.  Also, would the countries themselves use the reports to address problems or just put them on the shelf?

Mr. North added that capacity building and poverty eradication were not new concepts.  Those in the development field had been working for those goals for more than 40 years.  There was a feeling, however, that those concepts were good words for rhetoric.  However, when you got down to actually seeing what was being done, you wondered who was really taking those concepts seriously.  Among all of the advocacy and policy conferences, there was a need to move beyond lip service and make poverty eradication a real policy goal.

With the panel discussion at an end, the Committee then returned to consideration of its agenda items.

Statements -- Operational Activities for Development

SETHURAMIAH L. N. RAO, Director, Strategic Planning and Coordination Division, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that the Fund unequivocally supported the CCA/UNDAF as the analytical and planning instrument of the United Nations system at the country level.  It was also committed to rooting that framework firmly in the objectives of national strategies and policy planning, including poverty reduction policies and strategies.  The CCA/UNDAF process was moving well ahead of its pilot phase. 

He said that a United Nations Development Group (UNDG) working group, under the Fund’s leadership, had been set up with the objective of developing a common programme approval process.  As mandated, the UNFPA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had a first round of discussions at the recently concluded Annual Session of the Executive Board in June.  The working group embarked on its mandate on the explicit understanding that any programme development process would be country-led and country-driven.  The governments of programme countries were expected to be firmly in control of the process and the outcome, and would be supported by the representatives of the UNDG organizations.

The Fund and other UNDG partners, he added, were also working hard to simplify and harmonize other aspects of their work, including rules and regulations, as well as financial and administrative rules and procedures.  

AHMED AL-HADDAD (Yemen) said operational activities played a vital role in international development.  The triennial policy review of those activities was an important time to examine the challenges faced and the needs of the global community in meeting the goals of the Millennium Declaration.  Member States needed to support the work of the United Nations system in addressing socio-economic problems and enabling developing countries to join the world economy.  There was a need in that regard to strengthen coordination in the United Nations system for development.  That system needed also to emphasize national efforts aimed at achieving the necessary infrastructure for poverty eradication and development.

Also in need of review were the resources of the UNDP, particularly its technical capacity to meet the needs of developing countries.  Such technical assistance was crucial because developing countries would be unable to break the cycle of dependence without it.  South-to-South cooperation was also essential for development, and those efforts deserved the support of the international community as well as the United Nations system.  And political cooperation must be enhanced to mobilize all necessary resources to meet the needs of developing countries.

AZANAW T. ABREHA (Ethiopia) said that the strategic frameworks of the CCA and the UNDAF should be carefully designed so as not to compromise ownership by programme countries of their development priorities.  Those instruments were meant to bring about greater coherence and synergy in the programming process of the United Nations system at the country level.  However, he was concerned about the uneven involvement of governments in the UNDAF.  At the same time, he noted that the Framework was still young and lessons drawn from the pilot projects could refine it in the future. 

He added that, from the discussions at the 2001 substantive session of the ECOSOC, it was made abundantly clear that further simplification and rationalization of the rules and procedures of the operational activities of the United Nations would enhance the effectiveness of the UNDAF process.  While he took note of the specific mandate of each organization for operational activities, and the efforts made thus far in the area of simplifying rules and procedures, there was still room for further improvement with respect to some of the organizations.

He also drew attention to the fact that some countries, including his own, had developed an elaborate national execution modality.  Any recommendation designed to simplify the rules and procedures of the organizations should take that development into account.

OH HYUN-JOO (Republic of Korea) said that as a pillar of the overall United Nations reforms, wide-ranging reform measures in the United Nations development system had produced good results.  She was pleased to see general progress in the Resident Coordinator System, as well as the continuous development of the CCA and UNDAF.  She was also pleased by the recent, close collaboration between United Nations development agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions through the CCA, the UNDAF and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

However, she noted that further efforts were required in some areas.  Simplification and harmonization of programme procedures should be pursued more vigorously.  That was an area where the most tangible achievements could be made in United Nations reform, by reducing transaction costs and thus enhancing the efficiency of development activities.  She took note, with satisfaction, of the programme cycle harmonization undertaken by the UNDP and the UNFPA, and expected that it would be extended to other agencies.

IRMA LOEMBAN TOBING-KLEIN (Suriname) said she was concerned about the decline in core resources alongside the rise of non-core resources for operational activities.  That trend did not allow the United Nations system to plan in a consistent manner the assistance it provided to those countries that were greatest in need.  Consistency was important in development planning and, if it was not clear what funds would be available, people in developing countries would be the ones to suffer.

Although she was happy with the reported improved coherence and synergy of the United Nations system, she said it was not clear that the process did not take away from the attention paid to programme countries.  She also hoped that the sparse funds for development were not spent on coordination of the United Nations system.  The UNDAF formulation process must be country-driven, meaning that only national priorities needed to be taken into account.

She added that given the current decrease in official development assistance (ODA), and reduced opportunities in trade for developing countries as a result of globalization, it was necessary for developing countries to focus more on cooperation with each other.  In that regard, the Special Unit for technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC) should continue to assist developing countries in South-South cooperation.  To accomplish that, expansion of the TCDC Unit was necessary.

RICHARD DOGANI (United Republic of Tanzania) said there were many useful proposals aimed at strengthening operational activities.  However, those proposals must ensure that the fundamental characteristics of operational activities --

namely their universal, voluntary and grant nature, as well as their ability to respond to the needs of developing countries in a flexible and timely manner -- was maintained.  Furthermore, operational activities must be carried out for the benefit of developing countries, upon their request and in accordance with their own national policies and priorities.

National plans and priorities constituted the only viable frame of reference for national programming of operational activities, he said.  Recipient governments had the primary responsibility for coordinating all types of external assistance and integrating them effectively into their development process.  Development efforts must be used to intensify capacity-building initiatives to enable developing countries to coordinate utilization of external assistance effectively and at less cost.

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For information media. Not an official record.