Governments, Agencies and Stakeholders Discuss Development System Reform Proposals
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
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Opening the Operational Activities for Development segment, the UNGA Vice President observed that the present meeting builds on several years of discussion.

Some Member States stressed the principle of burden sharing between Member States, while others said that strengthening the funding architecture of the UN development system must not put any additional burden on developing countries.

1 March 2018: The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) convened its annual segment on Operational Activities for Development (OAS), providing a platform for discussion of the proposals on repositioning the UN development system to respond to the requirements of the 2030 Agenda. The proposals were outlined in a report of the UN Secretary-General in December 2017.

The OAS took place from 27 February-1 March 2018, in New York, US. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, giving the keynote speech, explained that his reform proposals are founded on creating a new generation of UN country teams (UNCTs) to support countries, reinforcing national leadership and advancing national ownership for sustainable development. He noted that the UN aims to become demand-driven and accountable, and to measure its work through results for the people the UN serves. He also noted the launch of work streams to harness power of partnerships and the proposal for a funding compact to increase flexibility.

Dian Triansyah Djani, UNGA Vice President and Permanent Representative of Indonesia, observed that the present meeting builds on several years of discussion. He recalled the ECOSOC dialogue series in 2014-2015 on positioning the UN development system for a post-2015 era, followed by the UNGA’s adoption of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) 2017-2020, which “drove this process further.” Djani noted that the repositioning process has interlinkages with the review of UNGA resolution 61/16 on the reform of ECOSOC, as well as with the process to align the agendas of UN bodies with the 2030 Agenda.

Liu Zhenmin, Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the full shift needed to move from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs is still in progress, partly as it awaits decisions by UN Member States. He added that the SDGs where the UN development system has made the most contributions over the past two years are primarily those related to the unfinished business of the MDGs, including on: poverty eradication (SDG 1); food security, nutrition and eradicating hunger (SDG 2); health (SDG 3); education (SDG 4); and gender equality (SDG 5).

During a discussion on partnerships, Gavin Power, UN Global Compact (UNGC), noted that 80% of UNGC companies said the SDGs provide a compelling business framework, and 75% are taking or will take soon action on the SDGs, especially around partnerships. He underlined strong unmet needs for partnerships at the local level, saying the UNGC Local Networks need to liaise with national governments and UN Country Teams (UNCTs). Andrew Wilson, International Chamber of Commerce, said the UN Office for Partnerships can add value by: acting as primary “account manager” for the private sector; directing companies towards the right UN agencies or funds; identifying strategic areas for partnerships; reaching out to the private sector to engage in those areas; and identifying good practices to be replicated and scaled up by business.

Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum, said the idea of the Resident Coordinator (RC) to serve as “one-stop shop” for partnerships might be difficult because even though awareness of the SDGs is spread, knowledge of UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) is not. She added that partnerships should exclude companies that have engaged in tax avoidance or evasion. She also cautioned that the language in the Secretary-General’s report reflects a preference for the private sector in partnerships, when in fact CSOs are “natural allies” of the UN, due to their nature and values.

During a dialogue with UN Executive Heads, some UN entities noted that progress has already been achieved on inter-agency cooperation and on working as one. In this regard, UN officials said that the common chapter included in the strategic plans of UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is a first step on coherence and collaboration to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, noted that the chapter is accompanied by indicators and targets to ensure accountability, and the agencies are translating the chapter into operational guidelines. Yannick Glemarec, UN Women, said UN Women has incorporated the guidance provided by the QCPR in its strategic plan. Guy Ryder, Director General, International Labor Organization (ILO), noted that the ILO has: aligned its strategic planning periodicity with the UN’s planning framework to contribute better to system wide mandate; benchmarked its programme budget against the SDGs; and is working actively to align its programming activities with UNDAFs. Some agencies noted the importance of the steering committee of principals established by the UN Secretary-General to foster synergy between development and humanitarian activities.

Several UN officials stressed the need to partner and build coalitions with the private sector and CSOs. Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said UNICEF has developed about 30 partnerships with companies to deliver online education and reduce the cost of toilets, among other objectives. She noted the need to move towards joint monitoring and joint reporting, and called for UNCTs to deliver comprehensive approaches in delivering and monitoring programmes for youth.

On the system-wide strategic document (SWSD) included in the UN Secretary-General’s report, Steiner remarked that it shows the need for the UN development system to move towards common purposes and outcomes. Egypt for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) said the SWSD as a living document could lead to a “parallel track” to the QCPR, while Cuba said the document should not reinterpret the mandate of the QCPR.

Regarding the regional level, Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and coordinator of the UN Regional Economic Commissions (RECs), called for better recognition of the Commissions. Several countries from the Latin America and the Caribbean region and Iraq expressed support for the role of the RECs.

During a discussion on funding, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said core funding currently represents only 20% of the funding for the UN development system, a 40% decrease since 2002. This means, she explained, that 80 cents for every dollar are subject to strict earmarking, decreasing the dollar’s ability to serve many of the areas of development most in need.

Ghulam Asmal, Department of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa, suggested that the dialogue on the new Funding Compact should be open to non-state actors. Nojibur Rahman, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Bangladesh, identified several incentives for governmental donors: providing clear evidence that their resources are used effectively and with good results; establishing well-kept databases for monitoring their money; and providing reports on expenditures and results.

Efraim Gomez, Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called for cost recovery to increase core funding. He said Sweden is a strong supporter of funding the RC through assessed contributions and discretionary funds.

During the ensuing three days of discussion, Member States raised questions on: safeguards for ensuring partnerships are aligned with national needs and priorities (Egypt for G-77/China); how the discussion can be moved from core-noncore funding to different types of noncore funding (UK); how to better capture contributions from non-traditional actors such as the private sector (UK, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand); how the UN Development Group (UNDG) can ensure the alignment of its expenditure with the UNDAFs; and how pooled funds will be managed and distributed in the case of multi-country offices (MCOs) that represent countries with different needs and priorities (Guyana for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Switzerland noted that the way assessed contributions are currently decided does not provide the funding predictability needed for the RC. She proposed two options: a fixed fraction of cost recovery to be applied on all non-core contributions (1%), collected by the implementing agencies, and reversed to the RC system; or programme countries to provide a flat annual contribution when they are in a position to do so.

While some Member States, including Switzerland and Norway, stressed the importance of burden sharing between Member States, many developing countries, including G-77/China, emphasized that strengthening the funding architecture must not create any additional burden for developing countries.

Delivering closing remarks, Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, ECOSOC Vice-President and Permanent Representative of Belgium, identified several key messages of the deliberations. He noted that views converged around the centrality of a deepened UNDAF as a single results-based plan for all UN entities’ work, drafted in consultation with governments and tailored to national priorities. He added that UNDAFs should involve strengthened collaboration between UNCTs and non-resident agencies, including regional structures. He mentioned that participants stressed the need for addressing the SDGs gaps and overlaps identified in the Dalberg report of June 2017, as well as for agreeing on a system-wide approach to partnerships that articulates the basic criteria for partner readiness (e.g. conformity with UN values, and ability to help attain SDGs).

Among areas that need further clarification, Buytswerve noted: the new role of UNDP and its SDGs platform in reformed UNCTs; the RCs’ role as a central focal point for discussion and interaction with host country governments; and the RCs’ role as “one-stop shop” for partnerships at country level. He added that dividing OAS into two annual sessions may need to be discussed outside of the QCPR follow up context, in follow up of ECOSOC review on 68/1. [Statement of UN Secretary-General] [UNGA President’s Statement] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources] [Draft Programme of 2018 OAS] [SDG Knowledge Hub Policy Brief on Repositioning Proposals] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on System-Wide Strategic Document] [SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of UN reform processes]

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