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POLITICS: “One U.N.” to Streamline Development Efforts

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2007 (IPS) - The United Nations has had a longstanding notoriety for turf wars between competing agencies armed with overlapping mandates on development-oriented missions in the field.

A U.N. study released last year said that in some sectors – such as water and energy – there are over 20 U.N. agencies competing for limited resources “without a clear collaborative framework.”

More than 30 U.N. agencies, funds and programmes are actively involved just in environmental management alone.

The U.N. Development Group, chaired by Kemal Dervis, is trying to break from the past under a proposed new programme called “One U.N.” – the brainchild of a “blue-ribbon panel” of current and former heads of government and senior U.N. and government officials.

Titled the “High-Level Panel on U.N. System-Wide Coherence,” the group of 15 members released a study last November called “Delivering as One” focusing on three areas: development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.

As part of the “One U.N.” programme, eight countries have volunteered to be guinea pigs in an experimental exercise meant to reduce duplication and to use resources more effectively.

The programme, which is expected to be launched later this year, will be evaluated over the next 12 months for possible inclusion of additional countries willing to join it.

The eight pilot countries – Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Vietnam – will provide case studies as to how the U.N. family can deliver in a more coordinated manner by pooling funds at the country level.

“We look forward to assessing the success of these pilots to learn valuable practical lessons which can inform the broader debate on strengthening the U.N.’s development activities,” says Dervis.

The objective of the programme, he says, is to ensure faster and more effective development cooperation and accelerate progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including a reduction in global poverty and hunger by 2015.

According to Dervis, the aim is to establish a consolidated U.N. presence, with one programme, one budgetary framework and an enhanced role of the U.N. Resident Coordinator “while building on the strengths and comparative advantages of the different members of the U.N. family.”

These members include the U.N. Development Programme, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the U.N. Population Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the U.N. Environment Programme, among many others, who are actively involved in various country programmes in developing countries.

Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway and one of the co-chairs of the blue-ribbon panel, told reporters last November that the United Nations could save up to 20 percent of its current costs system-wide by eliminating duplication and consolidating certain funds and programmes.

“The whole idea is not to save money for donor countries, but to save money so we can use more money for development, more money for protecting the environment and more money for humanitarian assistance,” he added.

The panel also proposed the merger of three existing organisations focused on women’s issues – the U.N. Development Fund for Women, the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues, and the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women – into one U.N. agency to be headed by an under-secretary-general.

The primary objective is to give women’s issues a stronger voice in the U.N. system.

Stoltenberg said savings could be best accomplished by combining organisations and better coordinating financial mechanisms, as would be the case with the plan to merge the three institutions dealing with gender.

He said existing entities could be maintained, but should be asked to coordinate their programmes under a single budget at the country level.

“In the long run, such initiatives would result in the mobilisation of more financial support for the United Nations,” he added, “since it would be easier to make the case for additional funding from donor countries if they felt the money was being spent efficiently.”

Writing in the London Financial Times last week, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General Margaret J. Anstee expressed reservations about the implementation of the panel’s recommendations.

She said that most of the recommendations were not new because they were originally part of a 1968 “Report on the Capacity of the U.N. Development System” authored by Sir Robert Jackson.

“Why were those recommendations not implemented 40 years ago?” she asked.

“The reason lies in the entrenched vested interests of governments and of U.N. organisations and agencies which saw their national, bureaucratic and personal fiefdoms threatened by the proposed changes.”

Anstee warned that those same forces will militate against the implementation of these latest proposals, and of any major reforms, unless there is a concerted effort by key governments of both developed and developing nations to generate the collective political will and commitment to see them through, including a radical change in the section of the top management of the U.N. system.

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