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UN reform plan will provide new impetus to development

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UN reform plan will provide new impetus to development

Secretary-General launches a "quiet revolution"
From Africa Renewal: 
Secretary-General Kofi Annan answers journalists' questions on his proposals to reform the UN, presented to the General Assembly on 16 July.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan answers journalists' questions on his proposals to reform the UN, presented to the General Assembly on 16 July.

The "most extensive and far-reaching" reforms in the United Nations' 52-year history, unveiled by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 16 July, will have a significant impact on Africa's economic and social development. The package of reforms, characterized by the Secretary-General as a "quiet revolution" in the way the UN does business, will shift resources out of administration to development, mobilize new sources of development financing, and strengthen UN operations in the field. They will also improve the organization's ability to address the challenges Africa faces arising out of conflict and its aftermath -- from humanitarian aid to peace-building and human rights.

"The reforms that I propose today will enable the United Nations to do even more, even better," Secretary-General Annan stated before the General Assembly. The aim of the process, he said, is to bring to the UN "greater unity of purpose, greater coherence of efforts and greater agility in responding to an increasingly dynamic and complex world."

The restructuring meets Africa's priorities and concerns in two significant ways -- strengthening and streamlining the development activities of the UN, and enhancing its capacity to build peace, respond to humanitarian needs, and support human rights. Speaking on behalf of the African Group, Ambassador Jack Wilmot of Ghana said for those in developing countries, particularly in Africa, "the yardstick" for evaluating the reform proposals will be the extent to which their aspirations for a more secure, prosperous and just world are satisfied.

The Secretary-General's recommendations -- the result of a six-month study -- are contained in the report, "Renewing the United Nations: A Programme of Reform." They are the second phase of a reform effort begun shortly after Mr. Annan took office in January. Some proposals require General Assembly approval, while others can be implemented immediately under the Secretary-General's own authority.

To accurately reflect the "changing global agenda" which involves "new and unprecedented threats and challenges" -- many transcending national borders -- Mr. Annan announced that the work of the organization has been restructured around five core areas to which resources will be reoriented: peace and security, economic and social affairs, development cooperation, humanitarian affairs and human rights.

Enhancing development support

An immediate consequence of the reforms will be the availability of new resources for development. Savings accrued from trimming UN administrative costs will be placed in a development account for economic and social activities. The Secretary-General has projected this "Development Dividend" will reach a level of at least $200 mn by the year 2002, and has recommended that a "downpayment" be made in January 1998 from savings achieved from the current biennium's budget.

If the UN's operations in the field are better structured, said the Secretary-General, the UN should be able to raise additional funds for development.

Africa will also benefit from strengthening the UN's development operations at headquarters and in the field. The UN has long weathered criticisms of overlapping activities and inefficient use of resources, given the multiplicity of its programmes and funds which deal with various aspects of development. To address some of these concerns, the Secretary-General has proposed the formation of a United Nations Development Group, comprised of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and led by a new Executive Committee chaired by the Administrator of UNDP. This new framework for cooperation will allow programmes and funds "to pool their efforts to have greater impact...[and] also save some money," the Secretary-General said.

At the field level, to enhance coordination, UN programmes of assistance will be formulated and presented as part of a single UN Development Assistance Framework with a common objective and time-frame. In addition, all UN entities in the field will function under "one flag" in common premises, to be named "UN House," under the authority of the Resident Coordinator -- usually the UNDP Resident Representative. The UN office in South Africa was the first to be designated as such.

The Secretary-General told a press conference following his speech that multilateral agencies and governments had expressed an interest in channeling their funds through the UN if its country-level operations were better structured. Once this is achieved, he stated, "we should be able to raise additional money from multilateral and bilateral sources for economic and social development."

Acknowledging that in an era of diminishing official development assistance (ODA) and limited mobility of private capital, the question of mobilizing financial resources for development is key, Mr. Annan announced the establishment of an Office of Development Financing, which will explore innovative mechanisms for raising development resources. These might include creating non-profit entities to permit the UN Development Group to receive tax-deductible contributions from individuals and corporations and utilizing private capital markets. The Secretary-General's report recommends that a new system of core resources for development be established as well, consisting of voluntary contributions and negotiated pledges in multi-year rather than single-year tranches.

In recognition of the fact that there is an expansion in both the priorities and number of organizations involved in development assistance, closer cooperation is to be sought with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and regional development banks. The aim is to foster a more constructive partnership among organizations with sometimes overlapping mandates, and to better focus the UN's role in development.

The reforms also aim to consolidate economic and social affairs within the Secretariat with a view to improving its policy functions. The new Department of Economic and Social Affairs, created out of three Secretariat departments, will participate with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs. This will permit the UN to address in a coherent way two key dimensions of development -- the environment and the trade/investment/technology nexus. Particular attention also will be given to reinforcing work related to South-South cooperation and support to Africa and the least developed countries and small island developing countries. An Economic and Social Council secretariat will also be established in the new department.

Developing countries also will benefit from a reorientation of the UN's public information activities, announced on 17 March in the first phase of reforms. A proportion of information resources will be reallocated to UN offices in the developing world, and emphasis will be placed on the delivery of communications and outreach services to member states, the media and non-governmental organizations.

An implementation plan is under way for the recommendations of the Secretary-General's Task Force on Public Information, which urge that the communications functions of the UN be placed at the heart of the strategic management of the organization so as to improve its ability to communicate its message effectively.

The social agenda

Another group of reforms will be of direct benefit to Africa in the social arena as it strives to overcome the debilitating impact of armed conflict. While peacekeeping will remain an "indispensable instrument" of the UN and efforts are ongoing to strengthen its effectiveness, the UN will put more emphasis in the future on both preventive diplomacy and post-conflict peace-building. Efforts will be made to improve a global watch to detect potential threats to international peace and security. Consultations are also under way with member states to explore ways of funding the nucleus of a rapidly deployable mission headquarters to prevent intensifications of armed conflict.

The reforms will be of direct benefit to Africa as it strives to overcome the debilitating impact of armed conflict.

Post-conflict peace-building will also be enhanced. This can involve a range of activities such as creation of national institutions; election monitoring; the promotion of human rights; provision of reintegration and rehabilitation programmes; and the creation of conditions for resumed development. The Department of Political Affairs has been designated as the focal point to ensure that UN efforts in countries emerging from crises are fully integrated and reflect the mission objectives set by the Security Council.

In Central Africa, the unchecked flows of conventional weapons have posed a serious threat to peace. To develop strategies and policies to prevent the spread of such weapons, the UN Centre for Disarmament Affairs will be reconstituted as the Department for Disarmament and Arms Regulation under the leadership of an under-secretary-general. And recognizing that in the midst of civil strife, there are frequently humanitarian emergencies and that humanitarian actions extend beyond the provision of relief, the Secretary-General's report calls for a major restructuring of the Secretariat machinery responsible for coordinating humanitarian assistance. The Department of Humanitarian Affairs is to be replaced by an office of the Emergency Relief Coordinator and a steering committee will strengthen inter-agency and field-level coordination and resource mobilization.

Human rights are "integral to the promotion of peace and security, economic prosperity and social equity," says the Secretary-General's report. The UN's human rights programme is to be enhanced and fully integrated into the organization's activities. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Centre for Human Rights will be consolidated into a single Office of the High Commissioner, which will lead the UN's human rights work.

Resolving the financial crisis

Acknowledging that the UN is "not working as it should," and has been "slow to reflect changes in geopolitical realities," Mr. Annan stressed that "an effective and efficient" organization which is "focused, coherent, responsive and cost-effective" is more needed than ever.

While some agency heads have expressed fears of a loss of autonomy by the consolidation or reorganization of some programmes and activities, Mr. Annan emphasized that each UN agency and fund will retain its individuality while working as a team, but not a rowing team, "where you all have to do the same thing." He told journalists, "I'm talking of a team like soccer," where there is "room for individual brilliance, individual expression and for entities to do what they do best."

He also stressed that instead of being evaluated by "the cuts we propose or by the structures we change," the UN rather should be judged "by the relief and refuge that we provide to the poor, the hungry, the sick and threatened -- the peoples of the world whom the United Nations exists to serve."

Ensuring the UN's financial viability is "a condition for the very success" of his plan, but the Secretary-General emphasized that reform must also enhance the UN's ability to promote development and to address "the root causes of poverty and conflict." This point was underlined in a statement made by the Group of 77 developing nations, which said the motivation for reform should not be "downsizing" the UN to achieve savings, but rather strengthening and revitalizing the UN's role in development.

The first phase of the reform effort involved a set of administrative and budgetary reductions and consolidations. Among them were the integration of three departments in the economic and social area into a new Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as the combining into one of three Secretariat entities serving intergovernmental forums. To cut costs, 1,000 Secretariat posts were eliminated -- a 25 per cent decrease from a decade ago. As part of an effort to reduce administrative and other overhead expenses, non-programme costs were reduced from 38 per cent of the regular UN budget to 25 per cent. These economies brought about a proposed budget for 1998-99 with a negative rate of growth.

Secretary-General Annan acknowledged in his July speech that it was important to end the UN's "persistent state of near-bankruptcy" which has been going on "for far too long." This situation is due, he said, to the failure of some member states to pay their assessed contributions "in full, on time and without preconditions."

As of 16 July, only 75 of the 185 member states had paid their dues in full. As the largest debtor, the US owes more than $1 bn and some members of Congress have demanded that the Secretary-General meet certain reform "benchmarks" in return for a partial payment on the debt. Answering his critics in Washington, Secretary-General Annan told a news conference that "unilateral" demands "do not impress, they do not intimidate; in fact they offend."

Noting that the UN had survived financially in recent years by borrowing from the peacekeeping account, the Secretary-General said this is no longer a viable option. Pending a "lasting solution" to the UN's financial crisis, he proposed as an interim measure that a revolving credit fund be established, initially capitalized at up to $1 bn, through voluntary contributions or other means. While this suggestion has met with some criticism -- perceived as a means of letting those with arrears off the hook -- Mr. Annan has challenged member states to "come up with better ideas" on how best to resolve the organization's serious cash-flow problem.

Improving leadership and management

The foundation underpinning the entire reform effort is a strengthened leadership and management structure for the UN. "We have never had a cabinet approach in this organization," the Secretary-General told CNN, the television news network, and "we are [now] establishing a cabinet." A senior management group will be formed to lead the process of change and institute sound management throughout the organization. Its membership will be drawn from senior managers selected by the Secretary-General and the convenors of the executive committees, formed in January, for each of the areas that comprise the UN's core missions. A strategic management group to analyze emerging global issues and trends will also be assembled within the Secretary-General's office.

Mr. Annan has proposed to the General Assembly that the post of Deputy Secretary-General be established to represent the Secretary-General during his absences from headquarters, to lead the effort to raise financing for development, and to ensure the coherence of cross-sectoral activities.

There are also a range of measures in his package that address enhancing the work of the General Assembly by: better focusing legislative debates and selecting major issues to be the subject of special high-level segments; streamlining the Assembly's agenda; and incorporating "sunset provisions," or conditions for termination, in new initiatives involving organizational structures and/or major commitments of funds. The Secretary-General has also proposed shifting to results-based accounting in the UN programme budget.

Preparing for the future, a Millenium Assembly will allow governments to articulate their visions and agree on a fundamental review of the UN's role.

With an eye to the future, Mr. Annan is requesting member states to consider forming a special commission at ministerial level to study the need for "fundamental change" in the entire UN system, including the specialized agencies which are "essential members of the UN family," towards improving the capacity of the UN system in the 21st century.

The General Assembly in the year 2000 could be convened as a "Millennium Assembly" to allow heads of government to come together, articulate their visions of the future and agree on a fundamental review of the UN's role. A "People's Millennium Assembly" of representatives of civil society -- whose rising prominence in the global community is highlighted in the Secretary-General's report -- could be held as well.

"The United Nations remains the one, true and universal vessel of [the] dreams" of all the world's peoples, Secretary-General Annan stated in the conclusion of his speech to the General Assembly. "Reinvigorated, reformed and re-committed, [the UN] can carry those dreams into the next millennium, and make them reality."

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