UN Secretary-General Presents Management Reform Plans
UN Photo/Cia Pak
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduced his plans for the UN management reform during a town-hall meeting.

The Secretary-General outlined proposed changes, including reshuffling resources, realigning positions and organizing training and preparations to inform and prepare staff.

26 July 2017: During a town-hall meeting with the UN Staff Union, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduced his plans for UN management reform. He said his goals include enabling more freedom of movement, more decentralization, more effectiveness, and increased transparency and accountability.

The town-hall meeting took place on 26 July 2017, in New York, US. The Secretary-General noted that resources will be reshuffled, many positions will be realigned, and training and preparations will be organized in order to see these changes as an opportunity and not as a penalty.

Guterres explained that he developed these plans with the International Review Team on Management Reform, an internal review team that he established. The team is co-led by Atul Khare, Under-Secretary General for Field Support, and Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with guidance from Maria Luiza Viotti, Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet. Guterres has also held consultations with UN Staff Unions and with staff through town-hall meetings.

The Secretary-General emphasized the management reform focuses on a reorganization aimed at better delivering on UN mandates.

The Secretary-General emphasized the management reform focuses on a reorganization aimed at better delivering on UN mandates, rather than a cost reduction or post cuts. He explained that, although the UN is a field-based organization, with two-thirds of the staff working in the field, UN management remains centralized.

Guterres identified six areas for change to the UN’s processes, policies and structures:

  • slow unresponsive service delivery;
  • fragmentation in management structures;
  • weak performance management culture;
  • trust deficit with Member States and staff;
  • inadequate resourcing and ineffective implementation of mandates; and
  • lack of transparency and accountability.

The Secretary-General explained that the reform will imply two contracts. The first contract would be between the Secretary-General, department managers and structures in the field. It would imply delegation of authority to the field to ensure effective decentralization of the Secretary-General’s responsibilities and to enable more rapid resource management decisions. Guterres stressed that the transfer of authority will require preliminary testing and capacity building.

The second contract would be with Members States, who have developed a system of micromanagement through the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). Noting that this micromanagement system prevents him from moving a post between duty stations or between services without going through the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) and the Fifth Committee, Guterres said he will be asking Member States for more freedom with on some rules: no transfer of resources between pillars; concerns of regional diversity; and transparency and accountability mechanisms.

To achieve these aims, the Secretary-General said he will propose to Member States a structure with two departments. The first department would be charged with policy, compliance, governance and oversight. It will define the rules, globally manage the budget and ensure oversight. The second department will be charged with operational support services for all areas and will ensure efficient implementation, without having to refer back to UN Headquarters.

Guterres announced that he will submit an initial strategic document to be approved by the UNGA in 2017, which will be followed by a detailed cost breakdown covering each aspect of the reform package. He noted that the delegation in authority can be done in parallel, as it does not require UNGA’s approval.

The Secretary-General said consultations will take place throughout 2017 and 2018 and expressed hope to have the new system in place by 1 January 2019. He elaborated that the consultation roadmap will include:

  • improvements to the staff selection system (it currently takes 239 days to recruit someone);
  • reversing the progressive reduction of incentives for hardship locations;
  • career prospects for locally recruited staff (barriers that block national Gs from moving to P or I staff);
  • mobility (there was a huge mobilization of resources with a small number of staff actually moving);
  • streamlining emergency deployments; and
  • performance management,

The management reform is one of the three main pillars of the Secretary-General’s reform. The other two aspects focus on the reform of the UN development system and the reform of the peace and security architecture. [Summary of the Town-hall Meeting][SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the UN development system reform]

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