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UN Needs a 21st Century Development System

Secretary-General António Guterres on his Vision for the Future

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2017 (IPS) - Allow me first of all to express my deep gratitude to all the colleagues that have worked hard – in the Secretariat, in the Agencies, Funds and Programmes – to allow for this report to be ready on time. And to the leader of the team – the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed – who has been not only the inspiration, but also the centre of management and strength to make things happen, and to make things happen with the required ambition and with the required detail.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

I also want to thank Member States for the very important possibility of interaction that were given to us allowing, even in this first report, to take as much as possible into account – the concerns, the aspirations, the desires of Member States, because this basically is a reform to serve Member States in the implementation of an agenda in which the leaders are the Member States themselves.

The 2030 Agenda is our boldest agenda for humanity, and requires equally bold changes
in the UN development system.

You tasked me with putting forward proposals that match the ambition needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

This report is the first step of that response.

It is my offering for debate and discussion on what I am convinced is the most ambitious yet realistic roadmap for change.

It includes 38 concrete ideas and actions to usher in a new era of strengthened implementation founded on leadership, cohesion, accountability and results.

This effort is not about what individual entities do alone – it is about what we can and must do together to better support your efforts in implementing such a transformative agenda.

The UN development system has a proud history of delivering results. Across the decades, it has generated ideas and solutions that have changed the world for millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.

In many countries, we have supported flagship national policies and the reinforcement of institutions, which have made a profound difference in people’s lives.

The system made significant contributions to supporting countries in their pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, the most successful global anti-poverty effort in history.

All of you were critical to producing the 2030 Agenda, the most ambitious anti-poverty, pro-planet agenda ever adopted by the UN. Yet we all know that the system is not functioning at its full potential.

We are held back by insufficient coordination and accountability on system-wide activities.
Yes, there may often be good reasons why things are the way the way they are.

But far too much of what we do is rooted in the past rather than linked to the future we want.

We need to change in order to secure the promise of sustainable development, human rights and peace for our grandchildren. And we have no time to lose.

The 2030 Agenda points the way and has to be given life as the defining agenda of our time, because it is the integrated platform to respond to the needs of people and governments.

The UN development system, therefore, must itself be far more integrated in our response … more aligned … and more able to work seamlessly across sectors and specializations – and to do so more effectively.

Our shared goal is a 21st century UN development system that is focussed more on people and less on process, more on results for the most poor and excluded and less on bureaucracy, more on integrated support to the 2030 Agenda and less on “business as usual”.

This means asking some deep and difficult questions about our structures, skillsets and the architecture for action.

This is our collective responsibility.

After all, sustainable development is pivotal to the lives of every person, everywhere.

It is a means to improve the lives of people, communities and societies without harming our planet; and a route to advancing the realization of economic, cultural, social and political rights for all as well as for enabling global peace and security.

It is our most powerful tool for prevention.

For all these reasons, I made a very conscious decision to be as explicit as possible in this first report in the interests of full transparency – to put ideas on the table in black and white for discussion and debate.

This report is also an integral component of a broader reform agenda to strengthen the United Nations to better meet today’s complex and interlinked challenges.

These actions include reforming the peace and security architecture – giving adequate priority to prevention and sustaining peace.

It includes management reform – to simplify procedures and decentralize decisions, with transparency, efficiency and accountability.

It includes clear strategies and actions to achieve gender parity, end sexual exploitation and abuse; and strengthen counter-terrorism structures.

But reform is not an end in itself. And, of course – we all know – reform is not easy.

We undertake reforms keenly aware of our obligation to live up to the values of the United Nations Charter in the 21st century.

Ultimately this is about ensuring we are positioned to better deliver for people.

Those who suffer most from poverty or exclusion, those who have been left behind and who have no access to development, to peace or to respect for their rights and dignity and who look to us with hope to help better their lives.

To meet the mandates of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review, we held extensive and inclusive consultations with Member States and the UN system.

We created an internal mechanism with DESA and the UN Development Group to work together, with transparency and accountability.

We initiated technical work and drew on previous studies on accountability, transparency, coordination and oversight of the UN development system.

We worked with external experts in the largest-such effort to gather and analyze data on system-wide functions and capacities across the UN.

The proposals reflect the leadership needed at the country level to help Member States achieve their goals, and the leadership needed at headquarters to meet the ambition of the 2030 Agenda on the ground.

Some require further consultations. Others can be set in motion immediately.

I will continue to engage with you in the coming months before I put forward a more detailed report in December as required.

Allow me to outline the eight guiding ideas:

First, the UN development system must accelerate its transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the 2030 Agenda. There are major gaps in the system’s current skillsets and mechanisms.

The system is still set up to perform on a narrower set of goals focused on certain sectors, rather than across the entire sustainable development agenda.

Of course, we must be humble. The UN cannot do everything, everywhere.

But we must be able to provide advice, pool expertise and help Governments implement the Sustainable Development Goals in their entirety. And we must help convene the partners they require to take actions to scale.

Better coordination, planning and accountability will provide the platform for UN Country Teams to transform overlaps into synergies and to help government identify partners to bridge gaps.

Second principle, we need a much stronger focus on financing for development.

Governments and people expect the UN to help deliver on Official Development Assistance and unlock doors to financing, expertise, know-how and technologies. And we must do so working with the international financial institutions, the private sector and all other partners.

The report envisions a role for Resident Coordinator offices as a country-level hub to support governments in broadening their own resource bases and for leveraging financing for development and mobilizing agency-specific expertise.

A strengthened DESA will work in collaboration with Regional Commissions and the UN development system to provide policy guidance and backing that Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams need to help Governments leverage financing.

Third principle, we need a new generation of Country Teams that are tailored to the specific needs of each country.

Our country offices around the world have an average of 18 agencies.

The 2030 Agenda compels us to move to Country Teams that are more cohesive, flexible, leaner, and more efficient and focussed in their scope. We need teams that can respond to evolving national priorities in an integrated and holistic way.

This includes the imperative of addressing the humanitarian-development nexus and its links with building and sustaining peace in a way that does not lead to a diversion of funds or shift in focus from development to other objectives, while also preserving the autonomy of the humanitarian space. We have discussed this for years; it is now time for action.

The old way of working has been based on weak collective accountability. This approach has not, and will not lead, to transformative change to improve people’s lives.

We must make the most of the strengths of individual agencies with their strong mandates while trying to achieve greater coherence, unity and accountability – including at the top.
By December, we will put forward for your consideration specific criteria that could help determine the optimal UN configuration on a country-by-country basis.

Fourth principle, we must resolve the ambiguity in the role of Resident Coordinators.

Today, Resident Coordinators are expected to steer UN Country Team support at the national level, but with limited tools and no formal authority over other UN agencies and offices.

To lead this new generation of Country Teams, Resident Coordinators must be well-staffed and supported with sufficient resources, and have direct supervisory lines over all UN Country Teams on system-wide responsibilities.

The members will naturally preserve the reporting lines to their headquarters in the exercise of their respective mandates.

With greater authority must also come greater accountability. These are two sides of the same coin.

Our consultations and analysis point to the value of delinking the functions of Resident Coordinators from UNDP Resident Representatives while ensuring continued access to the substantive policy support, operational tools and joint financing they need.

The current “firewall” between these two functions cannot guarantee the level of impartiality needed for Resident Coordinators to generate confidence and lead effectively.

The reporting lines from the Resident Coordinators to the Secretary-General will need to be clarified and strengthened, alongside increased accountability to Member States for UN development system-wide results.

Let me be crystal clear: Sustainable development must be the DNA of Resident Coordinators.

Resident Coordinators should be able to steer and oversee the system’s substantive contribution to the 2030 Agenda, in line with national priorities and needs.

But Resident Coordinators must also be able to take a broader view and lead integrated analysis and planning processes which have significant implications for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

They must also support Governments in crisis prevention focused on building resilience and anticipating shocks that could undermine progress, whether they come from climate change, natural hazards or the risk of conflict.

The success of the 2030 Agenda requires that the Resident Coordinator function remains anchored in the operational system for development, firmly connected to the country level, and with UNDP as a key driver for development.

I will work with you to present more detailed proposals to improve the Resident Coordinator system by December 2017.

Fifth principle, for too long, reform efforts in the field have been hindered by the lack of similar efforts at headquarters.

To enable change on the ground, we need an accountability mechanism here at headquarters that is seen as impartial and neutral. And we need to do so without creating new bureaucracies or superstructures.

To address this long standing issue, I intend to assume my full responsibilities as Chief Executive of the United Nations, and reassert a leadership role in UN sustainable development efforts, in support of Member States and our staff on the ground.

I am asking the Deputy Secretary-General to oversee and provide strategic guidance to the UN Development Group, as well as leading a Steering Committee to foster coherence between humanitarian action and development work.

Decentralization is a key goal of all my reform efforts. Effective decentralization will require strengthening accountability in headquarters, but always with a focus on delivery on the ground.

Sixth principle, we need to foster a more cohesive UN policy voice at the regional level. We will launch a review of our regional representation and activities, to clarify the division of labour within the system and explore ways to reinforce the UN country-regional-global policy backbone.

Seventh principle, the accountability of the UN development system is a matter of priority.

Accountability is indeed an end in itself, because it fosters transparency, improves results and holds our institutions to agreed standards and commitments. It is also a critical incentive for collaboration and better reporting on system-wide impact.

My report outlines three specific areas for continued engagement with Member States: first, improving guidance and oversight over system-wide results, with the ECOSOC at the centre; second, more transparency around collective results, including through system-wide annual reporting and the establishment of a system-wide independent evaluation function; and third, more robust internal accountability to ensure that internal mechanisms such as the Chief Executives Board and the UN Development Group deliver on Member States mandates and internal agreements.

Eighth principle, and last, there is a critical need to address the unintended consequences of funding that have hampered our ability to deliver as one. Around 85% of funds are currently earmarked, around 90% of which to single-donor-single agency programmes.

A fragmented funding base is delivering a fragmented system undermining results in people’s lives.

I would like to explore with you the possibility of a “Funding Compact”, through which the system would commit to greater efficiency, value-for-money and reporting on system-wide results, against the prospect of more robust core funding support to individual agencies and improved joint funding practices.

The true test of reform will not be measured in words in New York or Geneva.

It will be measured through tangible results in the lives of the people we serve.

This report outlines areas where I believe ambitious but realistic changes can be implemented without creating unnecessary disruption on the ground.

It also reflects my previous experience as head of a major UN operational agency. My decade leading UNHCR gave me first-hand experience on the strengths of the system and challenges of interagency cooperation.

I saw the need to preserve an adequate level of autonomy to ensure flexible and efficient delivery, in line with the specific mandates that need to be implemented.

Yet in many field visits, I heard time and time again from colleagues and partners that we must do far better in working together as a system that delivers results for people.

We have entered a critical period for your concrete perspectives and ideas.

Many questions raised in this report will require answers and further consideration. We intend to seek these answers jointly with you. Repositioning the UN development system is indeed our shared responsibility.

Just as our founders looked well into the future when they shaped and adopted the UN Charter, we too have a collective responsibility to invest in the United Nations of tomorrow and the world if we want an agenda 2030 to be the success it deserves to be.

I am convinced that, together, we can take the bold steps that the new agenda requires and that humanity also deserves.

I now look forward to hearing your questions and suggestions, and I hope more suggestions and proposals than questions.

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