UNGA Adopts Resolution on UN Development System Reform
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
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The UNGA held a plenary meeting on 31 May 2018 to adopt the final draft text on the repositioning of the UN development system.

The Secretary-General emphasized that his preference would have been to fund the Resident Coordinator system through the regular UN budget, in order to ensure predictability, sustainability and ownership from all Member States, but noted that the hybrid funding solution put forward by the co-facilitators “is the best possible alternative".

G-77/China cautioned that the Group’s Member States will bear the brunt of the costs if the resolution is poorly implemented, and the EU said the agencies of the UN development system will be “in the driver’s seat.”

31 May 2018: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has adopted a resolution on the repositioning of the UN development system, in order to align it with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By this decision, the functions of the Resident Coordinators (RCs) of the UN system in each country are separated from those of the resident representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). UNGA President Miroslav Lajcak said that, while the resolution is not seen by everyone as “the perfect document,” it represents a legitimate outcome of a multilateral process.

The consultation process on the resolution was co-facilitated by Sabri Boukadoum, Permanent Representative of Algeria, and Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark, and agreed on 7 May 2018 via silence procedure. The UNGA held a plenary meeting on 31 May 2018 to adopt the final draft text titled, ‘Repositioning of the United Nations development system in the context of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system’ (A/72/L.52).

The agreed text, inter alia: requests the UN Secretary-General, in consultation with the UN development system entities, to present an implementation plan for the inception of the reinvigorated Resident Coordinator (RC) system, including on the operationalization of its funding arrangements, to the UNGA before the end of the 72nd session; and endorses the transformation of the Development Operations Coordination Office (DOCO) to assume managerial and oversight functions of the RC system under the leadership of an Assistant Secretary-General and under the ownership of the members of the ‘UN Sustainable Development Group,’ as a stand-alone coordination office within the Secretariat, reporting to the Chair of the Group (the Deputy-Secretary-General).

The funding arrangements for the new RC system are set out in a “hybrid solution” negotiated through the intergovernmental consultation process. UN Member States would provide the RC system with up to US$255 million annually, beginning in January 2019, through three sources: a 1% coordination levy on strictly earmarked, third-party, non-core contributions to UN development-related activities, to be paid at source; doubling the current UN Development Group (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.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the Assembly following the adoption of the text. He announced that he will move immediately to put in place a transition team, under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary-General, to implement Member States’ decisions. He noted that the reforms will enable the UN’s teams on the ground to better tailor their presence, skill sets and overall response to Member States’ priorities. In particular, the UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) will better reflect country priorities and country needs, and the RCs will be impartial and empowered, with “development as their DNA.”

The Secretary-General emphasized that his preference would have been to fund the RC system through the regular UN budget, in order to ensure predictability, sustainability and ownership from all Member States. However, he noted, the hybrid funding solution put forward by the co-facilitators “is the best possible alternative.” He appealed to Member States for their immediate support so that the reforms starts to be implemented on 1 January 2019. Guterres added that the resolution represents the foundations to place sustainable development at the heart of the UN, and to advance the SDGs with poverty as the first goal.

A representative of the UN Secretariat explained that, in order to implement the provisions of the resolution, requirements amounting to approximately US$255 million would be needed on an annual basis, with the major portion of the requirements necessitating extrabudgetary resources. She expressed hope that front-loaded voluntary contributions will be received in 2018 to expedite the inception of the reinvigorated RC system as of 1 January 2019. She further added that the UN Secretariat’s share of the UN Development Group (UNDG) cost-sharing arrangement pertaining to 2019 will be US$13-US$16 million.

In the ensuing discussion, India said the modalities for funding the proposals in the adopted text are “significantly different” than those contained in the Secretary-General’s initial funding proposals, ignoring the views and consensus of a large part of the UN membership on the need for predictable and sufficient resources for the proposed reforms. He added that the availability of resources remains unclear, and the proposed cost sharing for the RC system increases uncertainty. The US expressed the expectation that the reforms will reduce bureaucracy, improve performance, and increase flexibility for agencies to quickly respond to challenges.

The Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), supported by Ethiopia for the African Group, stressed that the resolution “explicitly states” that the UNDAF should be prepared and finalized in full consultation and agreement with national governments, through an open and inclusive dialogue between the host government and the UN development system, and in accordance with national development policies, tailored to priorities and the country needs. He cautioned that if the resolution is poorly implemented, the Group’s member states will bear the brunt of the costs, and this poses particular risks for the smallest and most vulnerable countries.

Bangladesh for the least developed countries (LDCs) said the LDCs prefer no reductions in the country presence of the UN development system. The proposal of 50% common premises by 2021 should not incur any additional financial burden for LDCs, he added. He requested the UN Secretariat to ensure that the annual report on system-wide support to the UN development system provides disaggregated data and information on LDCs in every chapter, and has a separate section on LDCs highlighting the progress and challenges in these countries.

The EU noted that the agencies of the UN development system will be “in the driver’s seat.” Canada, also for Australia and New Zealand (CANZ), said the RC function is moving from being dependent on the infrastructure of a US$5 billion organization to that of an office that currently has a staff of 30. In this context, careful handling and maintenance of relationships is paramount, particularly during the transition period. CANZ added that the upcoming funding dialogue should be seized as an opportunity to explore how different types of partnerships can support the work of the UN development system and ensure an expanded funding base that moves beyond a small group of traditional donors.

Maldives for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) called for the reform to address multi-country offices (MCOs), and highlighted the need for dependable funding for small island states to implement it. CANZ welcomed the MCOs review.

Lajcak said the actions to be undertaken in the reforms to the UN development system cannot be considered in a vacuum, but the momentum needs to be brought forward into: the ECOSOC review and alignment process; the discussions on UN management reform and the UN’s peace and security pillar; as well as in Member States’ daily work.

The “repositioning” process began with an ECOSOC dialogue series in 2014-2015 on positioning the UN development system for a post-2015 era, followed by the UNGA’s adoption, in December 2016, of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) 2017-2020. The UN Secretary-General then delivered two mandated reports outlining proposals for reforms to the UN development system, in June and December 2017. These proposals were discussed informally by Member States in a series of briefings led by Marc Pecsteen (Belgium), ECOSOC Vice-President, in January and February 2018. The ECOSOC Secretariat also published eight “explanatory notes” addressing questions raised by Member States during the briefings.

The first official discussion on the reform proposals took place during ECOSOC’s Operational Activities for Development Segment (OAS), in February and March 2018. Petersen and Boukadoum then guided Member States in a six-week consultation process to agree on the resolution. [Resolution A/72/L.52] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on draft resolution] [UNGA President’s remarks] [Secretary-General’s remarks] [UN News] [SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of UN development system reform] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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