20 May 1999


20 May 1999

Press Release


19990520 Louise Fréchette Takes Up Subject of UN Reform In Address to Association of Former International Civil Servants

Following is the text of an address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, delivered today in New York at a luncheon hosted by the Association of Former International Civil Servants:

It is a pleasure to join you today. I know how much these annual meetings and luncheons mean to you, as an opportunity to renew old ties and touch base with the current work of the United Nations. But these sessions are just as meaningful to us, your "descendants". You may be former international civil servants, but you are still active and valued participants in the United Nations community, and in our work for a better world. Let me take this opportunity to stress how much the present generation of Secretariat officials appreciates your experience, your wisdom and, not least, the sacrifices you made during your time of service. We know that we are building on your achievements.

It is a special pleasure for me to spend time with an audience that is so uniquely well-informed about the United Nations. I stress this point for two reasons.

First, because I have found that a considerable amount of my time with other audiences has to be spent dispelling myths about the Organization -- myths and misconceptions with which you are no doubt familiar and which can undermine public confidence in the Organization.

And second, because when it comes to one of the most damaging myths -- the myth that the United Nations is incapable of change, that we are impervious to the "real world", that we are a "talk shop" and "paper tiger" rolled into one -- you know that in fact the United Nations has been changing, evolving and adapting ever since the day it was founded.

* Reissued to reflect text as delivered.

- 2 - Press Release DSG/SM/52/Rev.1 20 May 1999

Indeed, I suspect that some of you might even consider the current generation guilty of perpetuating a new myth: that the reform process set in motion by the Secretary-General two years ago is unprecedented, historic and something entirely new. Many of you, I know, went through some rather extensive reforms in the mid-1980s. Mr. Saddler, you yourself said not long ago that the United Nations "has been undergoing some type of reform almost its entire existence". So you have every right to ask what is truly new about today's reforms.

I would like to address that question. This will lead us naturally to a number of other issues that I think may be interest to you.

I hesitate to start with myself, but my presence here is one of the most obvious new developments. The post of Deputy Secretary-General is not intended to insert a new layer of bureaucracy. The lines of accountability have not changed. No one reports to me or through me. But a number of issues do float naturally to me.

I see myself as a facilitator, as someone who steps in when I can be helpful. The division of labour is roughly this: the Deputy tends to be inward-oriented, while the Secretary-General is outward-looking. He continues to be immersed in peace and security issues, in political crises and peacekeeping operations. I spend most of my time on economic and social issues; on questions of internal management, reform, human resources management and budget questions; and in general on how to make the machine more efficient.

I also represent the United Nations at some functions, taking a bit of the burden off the Secretary-General's shoulders. I do a fair share of public speaking and receive visitors from outside. Overall, I help the Secretary- General exercise his leadership. We don't spend much time together, because, by definition, where he is, I am not, but are in constant touch and I usually know what is on his mind, as well as he knows what is on mine.

My presence here is also part of another major shift: I speak to you as one of a growing battalion of women in leadership positions at the United Nations. Some of you can probably remember when the senior ranks of the Secretariat were an exclusively male preserve. Today, several of the best known and most effective heads of United Nations programmes are women. I am thinking in particular of Carol Bellamy, Catherine Bertini, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Sadako Ogata, Mary Robinson, Nafis Sadik, Elizabeth Rehn, Ann Hercus, Rafiah Salim, Angela King and others. We have not yet reached the goal of 50-50 gender distribution throughout the Secretariat, but we are getting there. And perhaps most importantly, on a substantive level the advancement of women is viewed as being at the core of any viable plans for development and environmental protection.

- 3 - Press Release DSG/SM/52/Rev.1 20 May 1999

Of course, whether male or female, leaders must command and control their troops. That is why an entirely new management structure has been put in place. Until last year, there had been no systematic forum where the leaders of the various departments, funds and programmes were brought together to share information, develop policies and ensure strategic coherence. Now, the cabinet-style Senior Management Group meets every Wednesday, linked by teleconference to United Nations offices in Geneva, Rome, Vienna and Nairobi.

In addition, the work of the 30 or so United Nations entities has been grouped into four main thematic areas -- peace and security, economic and social affairs, development operations and humanitarian affairs. Each area has its own Executive Committee. Human rights, I should hasten to say, is a cross-cutting concern in all four areas. Already, we are seeing better coordination and less duplication of work, although of course there is much more to do in this regard, particularly in ensuring that the positive, cooperative spirit that now prevails at the senior levels can permeate the entire chain of command.

Ultimately, however, the United Nations is not about departments and structures but about people. We must have the right people with the right skills in the right job at the right time. So we are also carrying out a major reform of the way we manage our human resources. Experts from other inter-governmental institutions and private sector businesses have been involved in this process, offering advice and examples of "best practice". But this will be very much an in-house reform designed to meet the needs of the Organization and offer fulfilling careers to members of the Secretariat. One of our goals is to decentralize decision-making as much as possible and to simplify procedures and rules, while ensuring accountability and high standards of performance.

Managerial reforms are also linked inextricably to the question of financial resources. I am sure you can all remember the feeling of being micromanaged by intergovernmental bodies, or of wishing you had greater agility in the deployment of people and funds, or of wanting more flexibility to set priorities in complying with long lists of mandates. To paraphrase a by-now well-known political maxim, "we feel your pain". That is why we have proposed time limits on new mandates, and also that the United Nations shift to results-based budgeting, which emphasizes "outcomes" rather than "inputs" such as staff and equipment. We believe these would be very useful innovations, but they are of such a fundamental nature that they may take a while to see fully enacted.

These are some of the reforms which I believe experts such as yourselves can recognize as more than just tinkering around the edges. And as you know, the reforms are being carried out across the spectrum of the Organization's agenda. While the Secretary-General has put in place most of what is under

- 4 - Press Release DSG/SM/52/Rev.1 20 May 1999

his direct authority, much remains to be done in areas that are the exclusive province of the Member States -- not least reform of the Security Council.

All of this, it must be remembered, is being done under very difficult conditions caused by a chronic financial crisis. There are actually two financial crises. The first is global, in that Member States owe the Organization more than $2.6 billion for the regular and peacekeeping budgets. The United States is the leading debtor, but dozens of other nations have also failed to pay their contributions in full.

At the same time, since 1994, under the rule of "zero nominal growth" the regular budget has actually been shrinking, in real terms, from year to year. That may have had some salutary effects. We have had to concentrate our minds on eliminating waste and on giving Member States better value for their money. But as the Secretary-General has said, "without money, there can be no value". Those who want more out of the United Nations must be prepared to put more in. We have reached the point where further cuts would seriously compromise our ability to deliver the services that the Member States expect of us.

This is an area where the Association of Former International Civil Servants members, especially those many of you here today who are United States nationals, can be especially helpful. I know how active you are as public advocates for the United Nations: writing letters and articles for newspapers, calling in to radio talk shows, speaking to school and youth groups and joining non-governmental organizations and coalitions. In many respects, you are our foot soldiers and shock troops, on the front-lines of debate. Your influence is greater than you might recognize. Every single word of support adds up to a loud message about the importance of the United Nations. So keep making your voices heard.

In doing so, most of you would also find yourselves being true to the spirit of another United Nations effort: the International Year of Older Persons, which we celebrate this year and which places great emphasis on active ageing and participation by all, for the benefit of all.

This has been called an age of ageing, and an age of longevity. Over the last 50 years, 20 years have been added to the average life-span. This is good news, despite the doom and gloom myths that have dominated public thought about ageing. The "graying of society" is being felt at the United Nations as well. Over the next five years, more than 1200 civil servants will reach retirement age. This is both an opportunity and a loss -- an opportunity to bring new people into the Organization, but a loss of institutional memory and continuity. That loss can be mitigated somewhat by the work of the Association of Former International Civil Servants. Indeed, it is quite likely that your membership will swell, meaning that your advocacy can become even stronger.

- 5 - Press Release DSG/SM/52/Rev.1 20 May 1999

I have mentioned a fair number of myths today. Let me leave you with reality: the reality of a world that continues to need your commitment, your energies, your ideas. You remain a vital part of the international community. And that community, for all its experience and genuine achievements, has yet to eliminate hunger, has yet to defeat bigotry and has yet to find ways of preventing terrible conflicts such as that which has driven the people of Kosovo from their homes, or those in Africa which are going under-reported in the world press, but where the agony is profound indeed.

As we enter a new century, we continue to have our work cut out for us and we are keen to have your support. Please let us know your thoughts and concerns on issues both big and small. Thank you again for inviting me to share this time with you.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.