UN Secretary-General Presents 2020 Programme Budget, Reform Updates
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For 2020, Guterres said the implementation of existing mandates by the Secretariat requires USD 2.87 billion, which represents no growth in real terms compared to 2019, despite additional initiatives and newly mandated activities.

The proposal calls for a net decrease of 96 posts and, in response to requests to maximize UN’s support for the SDG achievement, he proposes to increase funding by 10% (USD 3.3 million) for technical cooperation projects with Member States.

8 October 2019: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduced the proposed programme budget for 2020 to the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), and briefed delegates on the current state of the UN reform process. Guterres noted that the 2020 budget is the first programme budget prepared in accordance with the reform agenda.

The meeting took place on 8 October 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, as the work of the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) main committees get underway.

On reforms to the UN’s peace and security architecture, the Secretary-General said implementation of the reform proposals is providing unified leadership that integrates peacebuilding more closely into all UN’s activities. As a consequence, he noted improvements in UN’s country and regional strategies, as well as in the UN’s planning for transitions.

On the reform of the UN development system, Guterres described it as “well advanced.” He said the Secretariat has:

  • established an independent and “empowered” development coordination system, centered on the UN Resident Coordinators (RCs);
  • revamped the UN Sustainable Development Group to reinforce strategic direction and oversight on system-wide activities in support of the 2030 Agenda;
  • developed tools, structures and mechanisms to support the functioning of a new generation of UN country teams (UNCTs); and
  • enhanced the accountability of the UN development system to Member States in the UNGA and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as well as locally to the host governments.

The Secretary-General reported that he has also put forward further proposals to reposition the UN’s regional architecture and to strengthen the capacities of UNCTs to support Member States, especially in the case of small island developing States (SIDS).

On management reforms, Guterres informed delegates that the Secretariat is setting up internal accountability frameworks, and working to improve, standardize and speed up processes. He noted that the new framework on delegation of authority has been implemented, and various steps are underway to support managers in the exercise of their new decision-making authority. Among new management tools, he identified: new management dashboards aimed at improving transparency in the use of resources and programme delivery; and a first Secretariat-wide evaluation policy to ensure the annual and systematical assessment of UN programmes’ performances.

To measure the UN’s progress across these three reform streams, Guterres said the UN is using an internal benefits management tracking register, which will enable the Secretariat to “make course corrections” and focus on delivery and results, rather than structures and processes.

The Secretary-General also highlighted several “reform enablers,” including

  • a newly adopted UN “data cube” to standardize financial reporting;
  • the UN’s climate action plan, which will focus on reducing carbon emissions and moving towards carbon neutrality at UN headquarters and in the field; and
  • a new toolkit for innovation, supported by a dashboard to monitor its use, to be soon launched across the UN system.

For 2020, Guterres said the implementation of existing mandates by the Secretariat requires USD 2.87 billion, which represents no growth in real terms compared to 2019, despite additional initiatives and newly mandated activities. In keeping with the budgetary methodology, he explained that the 2020 programme budget proposal includes USD 71.6 million for preliminary recosting, resulting in total requirements of USD 2.94 billion. He added that the proposal calls for a net decrease of 96 posts and, in response to requests to maximize UN’s support for the SDG achievement, he proposes to increase funding by 10% (USD 3.3 million) for technical cooperation projects. He said he would like to expand technical cooperation with Member States’ projects as a priority for the UN Secretariat, complementing the reformed RC system.

The Secretary-General expressed his intention to expand staff training and development by USD 2.4 million to support the culture change and capacity development needed for the reforms, to improve the capacity of UN staff to deliver and achieve the required cultural shift towards results. He explained that given today’s technological changes, any organization that does not invest “massively” in their staff and training will not be prepared to face new challenges.

Guterres mentioned that the 2020 programme budget has already been discussed by the Committee on Programme and Coordination and in the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ). He noted that the proposal includes information on all three reform pillars and how they are expected to contribute to concrete results, as well as more than 1,000 examples that illustrate the changes enabled by the UN, which is double the number of previous achievement indicators. The programme budget includes also information on measures taken by all UN offices towards making the UN environmentally sustainable.

The Secretary-General mentioned that the UN is currently facing “a severe financial crisis,” which is in essence a “severe liquidity crisis.” In October 2019, he said, the UN will reach “the deepest deficit of the decade,” risking exhausting the closed peacekeeping cash reserves and entering November without enough cash to cover payrolls. In order to cope with the liquidity crisis, he said he “was forced” to introduce extraordinary measures: vacant posts cannot be filled; travel will be limited to essential travel only; meetings may have to be cancelled or deferred; webcasting of non-mandated events will not be available; and support to meetings will have to be adjusted. Furthermore, the Secretariat will no longer be able to support any non-mandated events after 6 pm.

Guterres explained that, in the current biennium, budget implementation is no longer driven by programme planning but by the availability of cash at hand. Therefore, he said, in 2019, managers have been instructed to adjust their hiring and non-post expenditures owing to liquidity constraints. He emphasized that this undermines mandate delivery and goes against UN’s efforts to focus less on inputs and more on results. At the same time, he noted, this means that the expenditure patterns are not an accurate indication of UN’s real needs over the year but an indication of money that could not be spent when it was required, because it was not received on time.

Consequently, he urged governments not to reduce the requirements for 2020 based on past expenditure patterns, as “this would only worsen an already alarming situation.” Stressing that the UN’s work and reforms are at risk, Guterres urged Member States to recommit to paying their financial obligations on time and in full. [UN Secretary-General’s remarks to Fifth Committee]

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