18 September 2018
UN Secretary-General Briefs Governments on Resident Coordinator Reforms
Photo by IISD/ENB | Ángeles Estrada Vigil
story highlights

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefed Member States on plans for the inception of the reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system.

The draft plan document outlines short- and medium-term actions, with a time horizon of 18 to 24 months.

The newly established ‘Special Purpose Trust Fund’ received funding commitments or soft pledges from 15 countries, amounting to US$75 million for 2019, of the US$290 million needed.

11 September 2018: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has briefed Member States on plans for the inception of the reinvigorated Resident Coordinator (RC) system. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) had requested him to present the implementation plan – including to operationalize funding arrangements for the reinvigorated RC system – in resolution 72/279 on the repositioning of the UN development system to align it with the 2030 Agenda.

A final draft of the implementation plan was issued on 31 August 2018. The document outlines funding milestones for the RC system, with the first being to reach US$145 million in firm funding commitments by the end of September 2018. The remaining budget will be secured progressively between October 2018 and March 2019. The “essential elements” of the system should be operational on 1 January 2019, the plan notes.

The RC financing package is proposed to include three pillars:

  • A 1% coordination levy on tightly earmarked third party non-core contributions to UN development-related activities, to be paid at source;
  • Doubling the current UNDG cost-sharing arrangement among UN development system entities; and
  • Voluntary, predictable, multi-year contributions to a dedicated Trust Fund to support the inception period.

On 11 September 2018, UN Member States were briefed on the plans. Addressing delegates at UN Headquarters in New York, US, Guterres said they will receive a final copy of the inception plan by 14 September. He said his transition team is focused on coordinating overall implementation of the repositioning resolution, setting targets, and tracking progress towards the requested deliverables, while ensuring minimal disruption to UN’s work on the ground. He added that the team is staffed primarily through secondments from the UN system, which ensures strong buy-in and leverages the expertise of a various UN entities.

Guterres reported that the implementation plan specifies short- and medium-term actions for the next 18 to 24 months. It identifies immediate actions needed, including the establishment of a funding platform to receive, consolidate, manage and account for all contributions and financial transactions of the reinvigorated RC system, which will be called the ‘Special Purpose Trust Fund.’ This Fund has received funding commitments or “soft pledges” from 15 countries, amounting to US$75 million for 2019, out of the needed US$290 million, he reported.

The Plan also outlines a number of services that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will continue to provide to the new RC system, on a fee-for-service basis. It provides an initial “recalibration” of functions and relationships at the country, regional and headquarters levels.

Responding to Guterres’ presentation, New Zealand, also for Canada and Australia (CANZ), said Member States should not micromanage the process, but rather count on the Secretary-General’s leadership. She called on all Member States to “now seriously consider support for predictable and sustainable funding for the system.” She stressed that the review of multi-country offices (MCOs) must not lag behind the broader changes to the RC system. She inquired how the changes in UN management and the peace and security pillar will support the changing role of the RC, and about the link between changes to the RC system and the mandate on “sustaining peace.”

Egypt, for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), supported by Maldives for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and China, stressed the need for national ownership and national leadership over the developmental process. He also called for strong accountability of the RCs to national governments. With regard to enhancing coordination between the UN development system, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding efforts at the national level, he said this should only be done in countries facing humanitarian emergencies and in conflict and post-conflict situations.

References to geographical “balance” rather than “diversity” were welcomed by G-77/China and China. They added that gender and geographic balance should also be considered for staffing the UN Development Operations Coordination Office (DOCO). G-77/China underlined the importance of hiring qualified nationals in the RC offices.

The G-77/China continued to express concern, as it had done throughout the repositioning consultation process, that RC funding appears to be largely dependent on voluntary contributions until 2020, and he urged “traditional donors” to come forward with the required funds. He also addressed the proposal for a 1% coordination levy on tightly earmarked, third party non-core contributions to the UN’s development-related activities that would not be charged on local government cost-sharing and cooperation among programme countries, and suggested including civil society and the private sector in the levy to provide additional revenue streams. He emphasized the importance of official development assistance (ODA) as a critical source of funding for the UN development system. Finally, he stressed the importance of open communication between missions in New York and DOCO regarding the progress on the RC system and UN Country Teams (UNCTs).

Mexico expressed support for the Secretary-General’s proposal that contributions from civil society and foundations as well as the private sector will initially be exempt from the 1% levy, with Member States shouldering that amount. Expressing full support for the Secretary-General’s proposed plan, the EU supported by Colombia said the UN membership needs “to act in boards but also in the Fifth Committee” (Administrative and Budgetary) to support funding for the RC system. The EU added that its member states will contribute their part.

On the proposed 1% levy, the EU noted that exclusions must follow those “set out explicitly” in the resolution, namely only local government cost-sharing and cooperation among programme countries. He mentioned that the management of all three pillars of the RC financing package will sit with the voluntary fund, thus the oversight transparency costing of this fund is imperative. He added that more work is needed on both structure of the fund and to broaden its donor base. Finally, he called on UN development system entities to “properly analyze” cost implications for their respective agencies, and encouraged the Secretary-General to better incorporate specialized agencies in the reform process.

The EU observed that the implementation plan places a lot of emphasis on cooperation with regional commissions, and less on the role of the UN Sustainable Development Group’s (UNSDG) regional hubs. While acknowledging that the issue will be discussed in depth in 2019, he nevertheless encouraged more focus on the functioning of regional hubs and improved cooperation with RCs.

AOSIS expressed regret that its members were not consulted on the timeframe of the review of MCOs, and lamented that the majority of financial resources are already accounted for, while the regional and sub-regional levels of the RC system remain undefined. She stressed that all UN development system entities, not only those based in New York, should be involved in the reform process. Mexico stressed that the regional commissions should play a coordinating role in the regional level of the reform processes.

Norway said that without financing, the RC system is “in danger,” and announced that Norway will contribute $US4.1 million in 2018 and additional support in 2019. She expressed support for pooling the three major funding streams for the RC system into a common “special purpose fund” in the UN Secretariat.

Colombia addressed RC appointments, noting that while the Secretary-General has achieved geographic parity in the RC appointments made to date, incoming candidacies are only 40% from the global South, and called on all Member States to increase parity among candidacies. She further invited focus also on the relationship between RCs and UNDP Resident Representatives moving forward.

The US emphasized that the RC reform should aim to shift away from the paradigm of “the development of developing countries,” in order to foster “truly sustainable development.”

As part of the UNGA resolution, UN Member States agreed to separate the functions of the RCs from those of the UNDP Resident Representatives. In the briefing exchange, Russia cautioned that any further “extensions” of the RCs’ authority must be mandated by Member States, and any additional UNDP expenditures related to the transition of the RCs should be considered and approved by the UNDP Executive Board. He added that without clear proof of savings enabled by the reform and of strengthened effectiveness, “it will be problematic” to justify additional investments in changing the UN development system, including the large expansion of DOCO and the RC offices. Russia also said the newly independent RC system should not be “exploited” to “artificially blend” the three UN pillars (development, peacebuilding and human rights) under the “sustainable development banner.”

Noting that the joint executive board of UNDP, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) recently approved a new cost-sharing arrangement, agreeing to double their organizations’ respective contribution, Switzerland invited the other UN funds, programs and specialized agencies to follow their example and double their contributions.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed responded to several of the issues that had been raised by Member States. On better incorporating specialized agencies into the reform of the UN development system, Mohammed said that Robert Piper, head of the transition team, is currently meeting with specialized agencies. She also noted that the transition team includes seconded staff from UNDP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the regional commissions.

Mohammed said the UNSDG transition team is working with a transition team at UNDP to ensure alignment and avoid any disruption in the field, as the separation between the RCs and UNDP Resident Representatives is implemented. Addressing concerns raised about the MCOs, she said her team will hold consultations with Member States that are impacted by MCOs, and will report back to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2019.

On the levy, Mohammed said this will be discussed during the dialogue on the Funding Compact for the overall reform of the UN development system, which will begin in October 2018. She said no decisions on the exclusion of the private sector and civil society have been made yet.

She reported that there has been “a surge” of traditional donors contributing to the RC fund since her office circulated the draft implementation plan. She also noted contributions from non-traditional donors, and said the first deposit in the RC fund had been from a non-traditional donor. She said Member States will be able to see what is going on with the funding “in real time” on the website of the RC fund. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources] [Remarks of UN Secretary-General] [Webcast of briefing: Secretary-General’s remarks, Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks, entire meeting] [UNGA resolution 72/279] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on previous briefing on RC reform plans] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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