Briefing Member States on the eve of the Economic and Social Council’s coordination and management meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today presented a raft of proposals aimed at retooling the United Nations development system into one more capable of delivering tangible results in the lives of the people we serve.
Central to those, he said, were a recommendation to establish a Funding Compact between Member States, strengthen the role of resident coordinators and shift the chairmanship of the development system to the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General.
The 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] is our boldest agenda for humanity and requires equally bold changes in the United Nations development system, stressed Mr. Guterres. The true test, he added, would not be measured in words in New York or Geneva but through results on the ground. Recalling the Council’s decision to task him with putting forward proposals that matched that ambition, he said his report � which laid out 38 concrete actions and ideas � was the first step of that response.
Describing the development system’s proud history over recent decades � which had changed the world for millions of its poorest and most vulnerable people � he nevertheless stressed that it was not functioning at its fullest potential. Far too much of what we do is rooted in the past rather than linked to the future we want, he said, emphasizing that we have no time to lose in making changes to secure the promise of sustainable development, human rights and peace. The 2030 Agenda points the way and has to be given life as the defining agenda of our time, he said.
Among other things, he said, the report called for reforming the peace and security architecture � including giving adequate priority to prevention and sustaining peace � as well as management reform and strategies to achieve gender parity, end sexual exploitation and abuse and strengthen counter-terrorism structures. Outlining its eight guiding ideas, he said the United Nations development system must first accelerate its transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the 2030 Agenda. There were currently major gaps in the latter’s skillsets and mechanisms, he said, stressing that the Organization must be able to provide advice, pool expertise and help Governments implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, while helping convene partners to those ends.
Calling for a stronger focus would be needed on financing for development, he stressed that the 2030 Agenda required United Nations country teams that were more cohesive, flexible, leaner, more efficient and more focused in their scope. Addressing the humanitarian-development nexus and its links with building and sustaining peace must be done in a way that did not lead to a diversion of funds or a shift in focus from development objectives, he said, adding that the old way of working had been based on weak collective accountability.
For too long, reform efforts in the field had been hindered by the lack of similar efforts at Headquarters, he continued. Calling for the creation of an impartial, neutral accountability mechanism to those ends � without creating new bureaucracies or superstructures � he asked the Deputy Secretary-General to oversee the process, which would also include providing strategic guidance to the United Nations Development Group and leading a steering committee to foster coherence between humanitarian action and development work.
Underlining the need for a more cohesive United Nations policy voice at the regional level, he announced the launch of a review aimed at clarifying the division of labour within the system and exploring ways to reinforce the United Nations country-regional-global policy backbone. Also citing a critical need to address the unintended consequences of funding, which had hampered the Organization’s ability to deliver as one, he cautioned that a fragmented funding base is delivering a fragmented system. In that respect, he voiced his intention to explore the possibility of a Funding Compact through which the system would commit to greater efficiency, value-for-money and reporting on results, against the prospect of more robust funding support to individual agencies and improved joint funding practices.
When the floor was opened for comments and questions from delegations, many speakers hailed the report’s specific and concrete proposals as well as the transparent and inclusive discussions that had led to its drafting. While several delegates voiced regret that the report had been circulated prior to a holiday weekend, saying they had not had sufficient time to respond to its proposals, they nevertheless laid out their preliminary reactions and spotlighted the issues most critical to them.
[The Secretary-General’s report] is a document full of common sense and pragmatism, said Mexico’s representative. While Mexico supported each of the priority issues outlined in the report, he said an additional focus was needed on the reform of the incentives system on which the United Nations currently operated, which was leading to silos, competition and weak cooperation. He also drew attention to a second elephant in the room � namely, the fears and inertia of Member States themselves, which had created obstacles to reform � and urged his fellow delegations to be guided by common sense going forward.
Japan’s representative joined other speakers in welcoming that the Secretary-General’s report went beyond a simple mapping exercise to detail ambitious and concrete ideas. Among other things, he expressed support for its call for action on the critical humanitarian-development nexus and welcomed its focus on improved governance and oversight by Member States.
The United Kingdom’s representative, stressing that more people needed the United Nations today than at any other time in history, declared: We’re failing too many of them. Noting that millions of people currently relied on a system designed more than half a century ago, he said the Organization must evolve to keep up with increasing demands, and called for urgent efforts to refocus, reorganize and renew.
Chad’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, expressed support for enhanced efforts to assist developing countries � especially on his continent � to implement the 2030 Agenda. Among other critical functions, the United Nations should consolidate best practices, lessons learned and technology to those ends. Improvements were also needed in the mobilization of funding and the identification of new funding sources.
Sweden’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, called for a greater focus on prevention and sustaining peace, a stronger emphasis on cross-pillar work, and enhanced efforts to ensure coherent delivery and accountable leadership. As development efforts must always maintain a clear focus on the beneficiaries in the field, all responses must be country-specific. Voicing particular support to the proposal to merge the executive boards of the various United Nations agencies, he pointed out that the Nordic countries were among the United Nations development system’s top donors � with both Sweden and Denmark committed to contributing 1 per cent of their gross national income to development aid � and expressed support for efforts to design a Funding Compact in that regard.
Several other speakers echoed that emphasis on financing, with Bangladesh’s representative � speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries � stressing that the strength of the United Nations lies in its resource base. In that context, he voiced support for proposals to establish a benchmark for the Organization’s funding to the least developed countries as well as efforts to leverage available funding in a more predictable way.
Brazil’s representative, noting that his delegation would carefully consider the report’s proposals within the context of its membership in the Group of 77 developing countries and China, called for an emphasis on policy integration, knowledge and technology as well as a multidimensional approach to poverty and special attention to developing countries and those with special vulnerabilities. Country-level delivery must be the litmus test for success, he said.
The United States’ representative, agreeing that the report was an important first step in the review of the United Nations � a process in which her delegation had led the way � welcomed the document’s call for reforms in the Organization’s humanitarian-development-peace nexus as well as its increased focus on outcomes and impact.
However, several speakers voiced strong opposition to the recommendations outlined in the report. In that regard, the Russian Federation’s representative noted that the document was cause for serious concern regarding the future of the United Nations development system, saying its proposals went far beyond the framework agreed by Member States in the 2016 quadrennial comprehensive policy review resolution. Describing the report as an attempt to significantly weaken Member States’ control over the development system, he said efforts to combine development and humanitarian work were inappropriate, as was the addition of tasks related to conflict resolution.
The essence of the review had been to create transparent and clear working methods, rather than to further bureaucratize the system, he went on, warning against the unjustified expansion of the Secretariat’s authority and the centralization of governance over the United Nations development system as a whole. That system must remain a neutral, objective partner and never be led by a narrow set of interests, he warned, adding that the report did not take into account the real needs of countries on the ground.
China’s representative, while welcoming efforts to reposition the development system in line with the 2030 Agenda, nevertheless emphasized that such reforms must be aimed at supporting developing countries to independently choose their own development paths in line with their national priorities.
Mr. Guterres, responding to some of those comments, welcomed the interest and engagement of Member States and pledged to continue to work with them as the reform process progressed. Responding in particular to the Russian Federation’s statement, he rejected the assertion that the report’s proposals were aimed at politicizing the United Nations development system and centralizing its leadership. The proposal to task the Deputy Secretary-General with its chairmanship was, in fact, aimed at strengthening the connection between that system and the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the wider United Nations membership. The same applied to the strengthening of the role of resident coordinators, he said, as well as to the proposal to merge the agencies’ executive boards, which would result in a clear line of accountability to Member States.
Also speaking were the representatives of Maldives (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States), Switzerland, Australia, Cameroon, Pakistan, Belarus, Germany, Canada, Colombia, Singapore, Jordan, Thailand, Ecuador, Hungary and the European Union.
The Economic and Social Council will reconvene Thursday, 6 July, at 10 a.m. to hold the next session of it coordination and management meeting.
Source: United Nations