Economic and Social Council Adjourns Operational Activities for Development Segment as Speakers Urge Better ‘Fit for Purpose’ United Nations

26 February 2014

Economic and Social Council Adjourns Operational Activities for Development Segment as Speakers Urge Better ‘Fit for Purpose’ United Nations

26 February 2014
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

2014 Substantive Session

7th Meeting (AM)

Economic and Social Council Adjourns Operational Activities for Development

Segment as Speakers Urge Better ‘Fit for Purpose’ United Nations

A post-2015 agenda focused on sustainable development and poverty eradication required the United Nations to refine the ways it supported countries’ priority development needs, delegates said today as the Economic and Social Council wrapped up the main part of its “operational activities for development” segment of its 2014 session.

The three-day segment sought to start a “forward-looking” dialogue on adapting the United Nations system to important changes taking place in the broader development landscape.  For the first time, it was held during the January-February period, following the first regular sessions of the executive boards of United Nations funds and programmes, rather than in July — a new format adopted under General Assembly resolution 61/1.

“This has been a highly successful segment by every measure,” said Council Vice-President Carlos Enrique García González ( El Salvador), noting that there had been “much common ground”.  Changes in the development arena required the United Nations, donors, recipients and governance bodies alike to become “better fit for purpose” — work that involved rethinking business models to better align vertical and horizontal accountability.

He said it also required completing the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, addressing unemployment, reversing declines in official development assistance (ODA) and strengthening the capacity of developing countries for domestic resource mobilization.

Further, the new standard operating procedures for the “Delivering as one” initiative could lead to cost savings when coupled with strong Government ownership.  With that in mind, he said relief and development should be pursued simultaneously in countries in transition, adding that policy coherence within Governments and across United Nations agencies was critical for the system to deliver as one.  “This is a very good beginning for a dialogue to be pursued in the months ahead,” he concluded.

In today’s general discussion, delegates weighed in on how the entire United Nations development system could improve results on the ground.  Many encouraged specialized agencies to more effectively exploit their comparative advantage in norm- and standard-setting, while others looked at how “issue-based” alliances within the United Nations could serve as future business models.

Several took issue with the “alarming” imbalance between use of core and non-core resources for operational activities, as the former were not restricted and the latter were earmarked for specific purposes.  The growing shift to non-core funding could reduce the effectiveness of operational activities, as it was unpredictable and increased transaction costs.  At the country level, it caused competition among organizations by allowing them to digress from their mandates.

The representative of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of least developed countries, pointed out that the percentage of funds allocated to development assistance for those nations had dropped in recent years, while their needs had skyrocketed.  The ratio of core resources had plummeted to 28 per cent in 2012 and there was an urgent need to balance the gap.

Along similar lines, the representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said predictable funding was essential for the United Nations to achieve the best results.  Exploring ways to enhance core funding was critical, as was identifying new funding sources to revitalize declining ODA.

In that context, Norway’s representative said it was imperative to discuss how non-core resources could become more predictable and the donor base broader.  That required an overview of the different types of earmarked funding, beyond what had been presented in the Secretary-General’s report.

The representative of Switzerland requested information on how various mandates, notably related to business practices and results-based management, had been weighed against transaction costs.

Still, other delegates discussed the unique challenges of middle-income countries, where 75 per cent of the poor resided, with Colombia’s representative stressing that per capita income alone was not adequate for categorizing those countries.  Use of variables beyond per capita income was necessary, he told the meeting.

Also speaking in today’s general discussion were representatives of Bolivia (on behalf of the Group of 77 and China), Greece (on behalf of the European Union), Australia (also on behalf of Canada), Mexico, Indonesia, Belarus, Ireland, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Germany, Albania, Brazil, Nepal, China, India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Serbia, Russian Federation, Botswana, Sudan and the United States.


The Economic and Social Council met today to conclude the operational activities segment of its 2014 session.

General Discussion

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), speaking for the Group of 77 developing countries and China, attached high importance to the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review resolution and its timely implementation by all United Nations entities.  He urged a strengthened role for operational activities and their capacity to help developing countries achieve development goals.  The activities also must remain universal, voluntary and neutral, he said, as well as respond to country needs in a flexible manner.  The resolution deserved “utmost diligence” in implementation and he regretted that several General Assembly mandates outlined in the text remained unfulfilled by United Nations funds and programmes.

He reaffirmed that the quality and quantity of funding should be improved, expressing concern that the core ratio for operational activities had declined, deepening the imbalance between core and non-core resources.  He deeply regretted the decline in official development assistance (ODA) in 2012 for the second consecutive year and urgently called for a reversal of that trend.  Operational activities must take into account the need to promote national capacity-building in developing countries, while programming instruments at the country level should be further streamlined.  Poverty eradication should continue to receive the highest priority by the United Nations development system, while the “Delivering as one” initiative should ensure flexibility in its approach.  Urging efforts to mainstream support for South-South and triangular cooperation, he said the composition of the funds and programmes must assume a more democratic governing structure.

NAFSIKA NANCY EVA VRAILA (Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said she wished to highlight, at the outset, that discussions were still ongoing in the regional bloc for participation in the Economic and Social Council.  The Union urged United Nations special agencies and relevant stakeholders to support the agreed cost-sharing mechanism.  She welcomed the standard operating procedures prepared by the United Nations Development Group for countries wishing to adopt the “Delivering as one” approach, urging relevant actors to fully implement them.

She said the Union attached importance to achieving system-wide synergies and thus monitoring the implementation of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review by using common indicators.  She urged simplification and harmonization of the business practices of United Nations entities.  She stressed the importance of core resources as the bedrock of those agencies, calling for adequate and timely funding approval by their governing bodies.  To that end, structured dialogue for financing should be held in 2014, as called for in the policy review resolution.  All funding, core and non-core, should be delivered to promote coherence and maximum impact.

ABULKALAM ABDUL MOMEN ( Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, clarified that that group was the only recognized entity established by the United Nations in 1971.  The report by the Secretary-General introduced terminologies, such as “low-income countries” and “lower middle-income countries”, which were not recognized United Nations categories.  The report suggested that the large-scale poverty in countries other than the least developed, would impact the United Nations development system’s role in the post-2015 development agenda.  But, the least developed countries needed the most attention in fighting poverty.

He said that over the past five or six years, the percentage of allocation of funds for development assistance for the least developed countries had been declining, while need was skyrocketing.  The ratio of core resources in United Nations development activities had dropped to 28 per cent in 2012.  There was an urgent need to balance the gap between core and non-core resources.  Poverty eradication was the overarching goal of post-2015 development agenda, and the United Nations must focus its attention on the poorest countries.

ANTHONY LIVERPOOL (Antigua and Barbuda), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that, while universality and neutrality were key parts of the United Nations’ operational activities, the ability to function objectively and be flexible to recipient needs must guide such efforts.  United Nations support should be coordinated in a coherent manner, and the “alarming” imbalance between core and non-core resources for operational activities must be urgently addressed, as the shift to non-core funding could weaken effectiveness.  Noting that the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review created system-wide policy direction for development assistance and country frameworks, he said it was all the more essential that operational activities be directly linked with national plans and priorities, and adequate, predictable funding was essential to achieve the best results.

In particular, he said, new funding sources were needed to “revitalize” the decrease in ODA, and he pressed the United Nations to be more innovative in attracting financing.  Allocation of a higher share of funds to targeted interventions would benefit funds and programmes.  While the United Nations Development Group had taken positive steps, further streamlining was critical to avoid duplication.  Collaboration with recipient countries was also critical to ensuring that the United Nations Development Assistance Framework was in line with national priorities.  Urging the Resident Coordinator system to take a more harmonized and simplified approach to capacity-development, he said it should always coordinate with national authorities in a transparent manner.  He also called on funds, programmes and specialized agencies to mainstream support for South-South cooperation into strategic plans for operational activities.

PETER LLOYD VERSEGI (Australia), also speaking for Canada, expected a transparent process to identify priorities in the post-2015 era, saying that questions to consider centred on funding, partnerships, governance and efficient programme-delivery models.  The United Nations must also advance reforms currently under way.  More work also was needed to improve the quality of funding the United Nations received and to diversify funding sources.  Ways must also be found to improve complementarities between core and non-core funding, and to harness the potential for new funding sources.  Additionally, reform was needed in transition and post-crisis settings, where United Nations agencies must harmonize and simplify the instruments and business practices used to support national efforts.  Gender equality also should remain a focus, he said, stressing the importance of disaggregated data for United Nations agencies, in line with the 2013 swap baseline assessment.  The Resident Coordinator system should also be strengthened.

TINE MØRCH SMITH ( Norway) expressed concern that the way the United Nations system was funded might constrain commonly agreed reform efforts and countries’ ability to enhance results.  She cited a continued imbalance between core and non-core resources, while noting that the prevailing high level of strictly earmarked funding, such as single donor project-specific support, provided disincentives to system-wide focus and coherence.  That could potentially distort common priorities and increase fragmentation and unhealthy competition, as well as transaction costs.  Non-core resources must become more predictable and flexible and the donor base must become broader.  Structured dialogue for that purpose was imperative.  That required a comprehensive overview of the importance of different types of earmarked funding, beyond what was presented in the Secretary-General’s report.

GABRIELA COLIN ( Mexico) said the Council’s new structure would bolster its monitoring of agreements on how the United Nations worked.  Voicing support for “Delivering as one”, she favoured keeping the system flexible and adding a coordination mechanism to assess operational activities, important for statistical analysis and data collection.  Mexico was both a supplier and recipient of cooperation, working to increase the quality and quantity it provided, and maximize the results of that which it received.  The challenge of devising strategies for the United Nations and States alike was in attracting financial and human resources. The United Nations was a key player in mobilizing global capital, and the speaker urged more progress to reduce administrative and financial hurdles.  It was important to use internationally agreed normative principles and evidence-based decision-making.  New criteria for classifying middle-income countries also were needed, as was enhanced support.  Mexico favoured cooperation on the basis of shared but differentiated responsibilities.

YUSRA KHAN ( Indonesia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, underscored that South-South cooperation was increasingly prominent within the international development cooperation architecture.  However, it was not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, North-South cooperation.  With the support of the international community, as well as funds, programmes, specialized agencies and other entities of the United Nations, South-South cooperation could make a real difference, he said, urging the United Nations development system to mainstream South-South and triangular cooperation and policies in the regular country-level programming of operational activities for development.

VITALY MACKAY ( Belarus) expressed concerns about declines in financial contributions by traditional donors and of ODA.  These reductions constrained global development efforts.  The proposal to create an intergovernmental body for financing under the Economic and Social Council was worth considering.  He highlighted the importance of a recently adopted General Assembly resolution on development cooperation for middle-income countries.  The Council should take the necessary steps to provide them with assistance, he said, suggesting that that could be a separate agenda item.  He called on the United Nations development system to promote the rights of women and on the Council to include the topic of “family and development” in its agenda.  A resolution dedicated to that topic could be considered.

CHANTAL NICOD (Switzerland), recalling that this was “a year of transition” for the reformed Council, hoped future reports on the funding of operational activities would be more substantive with a deeper analysis of the relevant issues.  The Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review offered “robust” guidance on making the development system fit for purpose in a post-2015 era.  Yet, there were still many mandates to be addressed, notably in the context of harmonizing business practices and consideration of funding issues.  Switzerland was committed to contributing a significant part of its funding through core contributions and with multi-year contributions, when possible.  Joint programmes could help address both resource challenges and “Delivering as one” aspects.  She requested information on how various mandates, notably related to business practices and results-based management, had been weighed against the transaction costs.

DAVID DONOGHUE ( Ireland) said it would be a “serious” misunderstanding of development objectives if the United Nations awaited the conclusion of negotiations before addressing pressing issues.  States had agreed to make “unrelenting” efforts to speed progress across all Millennium Development Goals, stressing the need to scale up proven interventions to tackle those most off-track.  The United Nations had an essential role to play in such efforts.  The aim of “Delivering as one” to make the Organization more relevant and coherent was even more important amid work to formulate a new development agenda.  Whatever emerged must be delivered through a partnership between States, and “important” actors must be able to make a positive impact.  The foundation for improving the field response to programme countries was outlined in the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review resolution, which must be implemented fully before 2016.

PAIK JI-AH (Republic of Korea) commended endeavours, such as the establishment of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review monitoring and reporting framework and the conclusion of the cost-sharing arrangement among United Nations development agencies; the adoption of the “Delivering as one” Standard Operating Procedures and of the draft policy for the independent system-wide evaluation of United Nations operational activities for development.  Those efforts would be valuable to improving coordination and enhancing accountability.  However, some important requirements had not yet been fully met.  To date, only 14 out of 22 United Nations entities — less than 60 per cent — had aligned their strategic plans with the Quadrennial Review.  She called on the United Nations system to redouble its efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, which were not only core development goals, but also fundamental enablers for achieving inclusive growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said the United Nations development system had changed radically since the Millennium Declaration, which required “serious thinking” to ensure it remained relevant, inclusive and energetic in its work to bring justice, dignity and well-being to all.  The Council’s substantive session had contributed to such efforts through reflection about the United Nations’ functioning, and New Zealand looked forward to the discussion over the next two years.  The “Delivering as one” approach, the system-wide action plan for gender equality, and initiatives to harmonize business practices had led to huge reductions in transaction costs.  Indeed, the United Nations was better coordinated than it was five years ago.  The hardest reforms were ahead, however, and she looked forward to achieving a vision of young girls enjoying childhood, as well as more children surviving birth and more women giving life without losing their own.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV ( Kazakhstan) said that the clear positive advantages of “Delivering as one”, as a dynamic model, had been already demonstrated, but implementation was possible only by fully harnessing the strengths of individual entities.  Effective implementation of the Standard Operating Procedures and an enhanced definition of the role of the Resident Coordinator would streamline existing mechanisms.  With relevant adaptations, the “Delivering as one” initiative could be expanded to cover a larger number of countries and regions with a view to empowering them.  He proposed the establishment of a United Nations regional hub for development and humanitarian assistance for Central Asia in Almaty, with a view to enhancing, consolidating and making more effective United Nations outreach and delivery of programmes and services for the region and Afghanistan.

MLUNGISI MBALATI ( South Africa) expressed concern that the core contributions to United Nations operational activities for development had stagnated since 2009.  Use of non-core resources, which made up a larger segment and were highly restricted, had led to fragmentation, competition and overlap among United Nations agencies.  Developing countries, including his own, had always maintained that a fair balance between the core and non-core resources was essential for Member States to claim ownership of a strengthened Economic and Social Council that would guide justifiable operational activities of the Organization’s development system.  Core resources were directly linked to the United Nations agencies’ multilateral mandates and strategic plans and, therefore, required effective partnership with programme countries in the delivery of operational activities for development.

PETER SILBERBERG ( Germany) took note of the Secretary-General’s report, stressing that it should be submitted in due time to the Council, to enable review of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review during the operational activities segment.  Regarding the standard operating procedures, he was pleased that the Headquarters plan of action had been agreed by the United Nations Development Group.  It was now time for Headquarters to bring its procedures in line with the operating procedures to allow country teams to achieve efficiency gains.  Also, guidance must soon be put in place to revise the numerous United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks.  The cost-sharing mechanism for the Resident Coordinator system, while a huge step forward, had room for improvement.  Yet, only 0.8 per cent of the budget had been allocated for that purpose.  He called on the Secretary-General and the Development Group to ensure that system and country teams were strengthened through the cost-sharing agreement, which should not reduce resources.

FERIT HOXHA ( Albania) said developing countries were increasingly “driving their own development” and assuming more responsibility for implementation.  Many had graduated to middle-income status, yet counted on the United Nations as an intermediary for other forms of cooperation.  All had asked the United Nations to deliver results through a participatory process that was aligned with country priorities.  One year on, he praised the Development Group, agency governance structures and country teams for their responses to different mandates.  The Council was obliged to improve monitoring and reporting on the implementation of system-wide mandates, he said, welcoming the framework to track the contribution of “Delivering as one” in terms of increased efficiency.  The standard operating procedures would test the system’s ability to evolve, while the Resident Coordinator system was on a path of “groundbreaking” reforms.  He urged support for the One Fund, which had proven that pooled funding mechanisms ensured transparency and lowered transaction costs.

MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ BLANCO ( Colombia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said that the strategy for achieving Millennium Development Goals had significant successes because it represented a global commitment to reduce poverty.  The post-2015 strategy required a more systematic approach to lay the sustainable path to follow.  The post-2015 development agenda must be a single universal inclusive agenda, he said, underscoring the critical importance of mobilizing predictable and sufficient financing by tapping national resources, fulfilling ODA commitments and using innovative mechanisms.  He expressed concern that core resources had accounted for only 28 per cent of the total funding in 2012.  Per capita income alone was not adequate for categorizing middle-income countries, in which 75 per cent of the world’s poor lived.  Use of variables beyond per capita income was necessary.  Regarding the “Delivering as one” initiative, he stressed its voluntary nature, adding that Colombia was working on South-South cooperation with Uruguay and would become a self-starter country.

SÉRGIO RODRIGUES DOS SANTOS ( Brazil) said it was important that United Nations funds, programmes and agencies carried out their work in the future implementation of the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 development agenda in a manner that conformed fully with the national priorities of developing countries.  In that context, South-South and trilateral cooperation could be of great importance.  The debate on development cooperation should not be conditioned by standards and concepts designed outside the United Nations, in third forums that did not have broad representation of global stakeholders, particularly from developing countries.  The role played by the private sector or trilateral arrangements through South-South Cooperation with a developed country as a third party, although welcome, could not be counted as fulfilment of international ODA commitments, he added.

DURGA P. BHATTARAI ( Nepal) said the recent reform had strengthened the Council as the central mechanism for coordinating the activities of the United Nations development system.  “We have to relate the results of development activities to the poor,” for whom a more robust approach was needed, he said.  A strong mechanism for accountability between programme countries and development partners was also needed.  The United Nations had a special role to play in helping developing countries eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities by building financial, technological, human and institutional capacities.  Given their entrenched structural constraints and unique vulnerabilities, least developed countries must be adequately resourced, with developed countries providing 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of their gross national income to ODA.  The decline in core contributions and the widening imbalance between core and non-core funding must be reversed, he said, stressing that operational activities should improve their results on the ground.

WANG MIN ( China) said his delegation was of the view that poverty eradication constituted the biggest global challenge and the core requisite for the sustainable development of developing countries.  Adequate resource volume and rational structure were essential to achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.  Parties concerned in development assistance should take the “two-way approach” to improve financing for development by the United Nations, namely, by increasing the quantity of core resources and improving the quality of non-core resources.  The designation and implementation of development assistance frameworks should be based on the principle of “national ownership and leadership” to ensure that assistance programmes were in line with the national development strategies and priorities of the recipient countries.

PRAKASH GUPTA ( India) urged a focus on ensuring that the development system delivered on the mandate given to it under the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review.  Poverty eradication was the greatest global challenge and had been accorded the highest priority.  The Review had identified capacity-building, employment generation, education, rural development and resource mobilization as tools for the United Nations to tackle that problem.  Yet, such efforts were missing from the Secretary-General’s report.  Financing for development was under acute pressure, making enhanced ODA all the more critical for developing countries, which faced curtailed capital flows and increased programming needs.  Operational activities should feed national development plans, and perhaps, steer clear of conditionality.  The United Nations must provide more resources for South-South cooperation, as the only office mandated to look out for that issue was under severe resource constraints.

MASOOD KHAN ( Pakistan) said the United Nations — the largest multilateral partner to developing countries, providing 17 per cent of total ODA — had a special role in helping them achieve development.  That required a more efficient system to deliver results together and at a reduced cost. Operational activities should support nationally identified priorities and leverage national capacities.  As ODA was a main pillar of the global development partnership, commitments must be fulfilled, he said, pressing donors to address the imbalance between core and non-core funding, and the development system to partner with diverse actors willing to invest in development.  The development system must simplify its rules and procedures, harmonize business practices and devise efficient support services, and its entities must work according to their comparative advantages.

DER RODGA (Burkina Faso), associating himself with Group of 77, called on the United Nations entities to reduce duplication of activities in programme countries and tailor their efforts to fit national strategies and priorities.  He highlighted four key points as essential, including the need to improve coordination and coherence, results-based management, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  The United Nations development system should also enhance evaluation of its activities and redouble efforts to help strengthen national capacity for monitoring implementation.  The quantity and quality of funding also must be improved.  South-South cooperation, he added, complemented North-South cooperation.

The representative of Serbia, associating himself with the European Union, called for the correction of structural imbalance in funding.  The deepening inequality that had affected both developing and developed countries also should be addressed.  During the economic crisis, ODA had continued to decrease.  Serbia hosted 18 United Nations entities, and the United Nations country team was engaging in dialogue with the Foreign Affairs Ministry to draft the next United Nations Development Assistance Framework.  With Serbia having opened its accession process with the European Union, the United Nations, with its comparative advantages, could help his Government with the complex screening process for its integration.

Ms. KIRPICHENKO (Russian Federation), noting that the delay in the report’s submission and translation was linked to the date of the operational activities segment, said the Council’s discussion of the impacts on the development system of the implementation of resolution 68/1 was important in the context of reducing reporting costs.  She asked how the Secretary-General’s reports would be updated to include information on programmes and funds.  Middle-income countries required targeted assistance aimed at supporting socioeconomic transformation and combating poverty.  She welcomed the possible use of non-core resources to meet country needs, saying it would be “unwise” to discuss the calculation of cost-recovery rates before 2016.  She supported a focus on combating poverty and unemployment, strengthening economic capacity, developing health care and education, humanitarian assistance and the revitalization of infrastructure.  The Organization must implement measures to facilitate cooperation with new and emerging donors.

MPHO MOGOBE ( Botswana) said the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review should address such development challenges as accelerated implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.  It also should ensure that United Nations entities mainstreamed sustainable development into their operations.  Despite their economic growth, most middle-income countries lagged behind in achieving the Goals, due in part to “grave” resource constraints and challenges related to poverty, access to health and high unemployment.  Those countries accounted for two thirds of the people living on less than $1.25 a day — more than 75 per cent of the world’s poor.  As such, it was imperative to improve the system’s ability to respond to middle-income country needs, taking into account their individual characteristics and considering their need for technology transfer and development assistance.  An inter-agency action plan that delivered through a well-coordinated, cohesive structure was the best way to address those issues.

HASSAN ALI HASSAN ALI (Sudan), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Group of Least Developed Countries, underscored the important role of the Quadrennial Review guidelines in keeping the United Nations relevant, enabling it to be more efficient, effective and coherent, and capable of producing tangible results.  Expressing concern over a decline of ODA in the past consecutive years, he urged the developed nations to fulfil their commitment, especially towards least developed countries.  His Government placed priority on poverty eradication at all levels.  In that regard, he urged the lifting of unilateral sanctions that undermined development in his country, while stressing the need to strengthen the United Nations office for South-South cooperation.

TERRI ROBL ( United States) commended endeavours of the United Nations funds, programmes and agencies, including the establishment of the “Delivering as one” Standard Operating Procedures and simplification and harmonization of business practices.  Those were a few examples of achievements that would make the Quadrennial Review resolution a reality.  With 2014 marking a halfway point for the next review cycle, her delegation was cautious about adding new mandates elsewhere.  She, meanwhile, welcomed the active engagement of representatives from the “Delivering as one” pilot programme countries.  Member States had asked the United Nations development system to respond, and it was doing so.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.