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FAO: Modernisation or Irrelevance

In this column, Denis Aitken, assistant director-general a.i. of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), writes about the United Nations agency’s current efforts to modernise and become more efficient.

ROME, Oct 4 2013 (IPS) - The current international situation is characterised by financial and economic challenges that in one way or another affect most countries around the world. In this context there is an increasing call to modernise state institutions, private sector companies, and civil organizations, whatever their remit may be.

International organisations have not escaped this debate, including those of the United Nations system, among them the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which is responsible for matters related to food and agriculture. Modernisation and efficiency are the key concepts that currently dominate this ongoing debate.

FAO is taking very seriously the task of adapting the organisation to the challenges of the 21st century. Since January 2012, when José Graziano da Silva assumed the post of director-general of FAO, we have been working to fulfill two key objectives requested by the member states.

The first was to establish a new Strategic Framework that focuses on eradicating hunger in the world within the shortest possible timeframe. The new strategic objectives were approved by the FAO Conference in June 2013, which also required some changes to be made to the organisational structure of FAO.

The second objective is to transform FAO into a modern organisation that gives the utmost priority to efficiency and the optimal use of available financial resources. From the beginning of the director-reneral’s mandate, our focus has been to identify efficiency savings that do not hamper the organisation’s technical capacity nor the direct assistance that it provides to countries around the world.

During the 2012-2013 biennium a results-oriented approach was adopted to ensure that the impact of FAO’s work was evident in the field. In terms of improving efficiency, between January 2012 and June 2013 the organisation identified 67 million dollars in savings, primarily through the reduction of administrative overhead costs at FAO headquarters in Rome. This included, among other things, an austerity policy on travel and rationalisation of procurement and other services.

At the last meeting of the FAO Conference in June, member states gave their unanimous support to the transformational changes being carried forward by the director-general and expressed appreciation for the efforts made to date. However, the members requested that FAO identify additional efficiency savings of 37 million dollars, particularly staff-related costs, without negatively affecting the organisation’s ability to deliver on its programme of work.

This means that we have had to identify more than a hundred posts to be abolished, some of them vacant. Some staff accepted voluntary separation packages, which has left the cuts still affecting over 50 staff, mainly from areas such as technological infrastructure, administrative support functions, and the FAO Library.

The director-general has sought to fulfil the task entrusted to him by the member states, while keeping the negative impact on FAO employees to a bare minimum. A series of mitigating measures have been put in place, such as the redeployment of staff to vacant posts. In addition the separation package FAO is offering is robust, and has been attractive to some staff with many years of service to the organisation.

Naturally, the tough measures, although affecting a relatively small number of staff, are still meeting resistance from those directly involved, along with expressions of concern from colleagues across the organisation. We have done our best to minimise the number of affected staff, and to clearly explain the rationale behind the difficult decisions that are being taken.

We know this is a very difficult time for colleagues, and we are doing all that we can to help them. I am happy to see that the redeployment effort has begun and that the number of cases to be resolved is decreasing. Progress continues to be made with the full participation of the representatives of the staff.

We know that a collaborative work environment and enthusiastic staff are necessary in order for FAO to fulfill the critical mission in its mandate. For this reason it is important to provide assistance to affected staff as needed and this is in hand.

We in the United Nations system must modernise or we will become irrelevant, over- bureaucratic and ill-equipped for the times in which we are living. Yes, modernisation often comes at a cost in terms of colleagues who are affected by these processes, but in the end it will enable us to fulfill far better our responsibilities to those whom we serve.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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