19 December 2017
Fifth Committee Discusses Secretary-General’s Management Reform Proposals
UN Photo/Cia Pak
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UN Secretary-General Antonió Guterres presented his proposal for a "sweeping management reform" to the UNGA's Fifth Committee.

The ACABQ presented its corresponding report, and government delegations exchanged views on the proposed changes.

The Secretary-General said a Change Management team will present a comprehensive, costed proposal on the new structure to the Fifth Committee in May 2018.

4 December 2017: UN Secretary-General Antonió Guterres has presented his proposal for a “sweeping management reform” to the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). Member States stressed that the reforms must be based on lessons learned from past efforts, and improve risk management.

The meeting took place on 4 December 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. Over the past seven months, Guterres reported, he and his team conducted “extensive” consultations and outreach with Member States, and shared their findings at a retreat with Member States in July 2017. Following the issuing of his report on the proposed reforms in September 2017, Guterres briefed Member States in November 2017. The proposals were then reviewed by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Guterres’ proposals address the UN’s programme planning and budgeting process, and increasing transparency and accountability. They aim to simplify procedures, decentralize decisions, and support the other two strands of reform: the restructuring of UN’s peace and security pillar, and reforms to the UN development system (UNDS).

Emphasizing that 90% of the UN’s personnel are serving in the field, the Secretary-General noted that the UN must: bring decision-making closer to the people it serves; empower managers to deliver on mandates; reform cumbersome and costly budgetary procedures; and eliminate duplicative structures. Guterres proposed moving the UN from a biennial to annual budget, and shortening the planning and budgetary cycle from five to three years. He added that, with his proposed reforms, programme planning and performance information would be presented alongside financial information, and the frequency of reporting to Member States will be increased, in order to improve transparency and support strategic decision‑making.

The Secretary-General asked Member States to broaden his authority to redeploy resources up to 20% of a section within budget parts, preserving the principle that resources allocated for development should be used for development, and likewise the other UN pillars. He further called for broadening the scope of the commitment authority for “unforeseen and extraordinary expenses” to respond rapidly to unforeseen events in the areas of development and human rights, beyond peace and security.

Other measures proposed by the Secretary-General include: giving managers the authority to exercise decisions closer to the point of delivery; a reorganization of management structures at UN Headquarters to provide better support to managers; achieving gender parity; increasing geographical diversity; and creating a Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and a Department of Operational Support. The Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance would have a policy, strategy and compliance role, while the Department of Operational Support would be focused on operations, services, transactions and surge support to entities in weak environments. Guterres also proposed streamlining and simplifying human resources rules, processes and procedures, in order to ensure timely recruitment, deployment and staff development.

Acknowledging that “these are ambitious reforms,” Guterres announced that a Change Management team is working on a comprehensive, costed proposal on the new structure to be presented to the Fifth Committee in May 2018. Concrete proposals on the various elements of the management reform will be presented in May and October 2018, he added.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, ACABQ Chair, presented ACABQ’s corresponding report. He said the Committee backs the proposal to shorten the budget cycle and replace the biennial budget with an annual budget. On proposals to increase and expand the existing mechanism for unforeseen and extraordinary expenses, he said ACABQ supports the proposal for the Secretary‑General to enter into commitments of up to US$20 million for matters related to maintaining international peace and security and for up to US$1 million for addressing the immediate impact of natural or man‑made disasters on UN operations. However, he said, the Committee does not support the proposed expansion of the mechanism to cover development and human rights, as the existing experimental mechanism can be used more effectively. On the creation of a Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and a Department of Operational Support, Ruiz Massieu said the ACABQ is “unconvinced” by the technical justifications provided.

In the ensuing discussion, many Member States called for “ample time” to review the Secretary-General’s proposals, given their wide-ranging scope, and requested further details and clarifications. The Secretary-General’s proposal to move from a biennial to an annual budget was supported by several delegations, including the EU, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Mexico, South Africa, Norway, Côte d’Ivoire and Colombia. Morocco said this shift would lead to a more precise and credible budget, and help Member States shoulder their financial obligations. Russia opposed the change.

Ecuador for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) called for more resources to be redirected towards development institutions (such as the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the Regional Economic Commissions), as well as towards developing countries. Ghana for the African Group said special political missions should be financed by implementing the same criteria, methodologies and mechanisms used to fund peacekeeping operations.

Singapore for the Association of South‑East Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for a roadmap for implementation to guide each stage with clear objectives, safeguards, benchmarks and indicators of achievement. Switzerland, also for Liechtenstein, expressed full support for the Secretary-General’s proposals, adding that Member States must undergo a cultural change with regard to their engagement with the UN, by trusting the organization and reducing micromanagement.

Responding to Member States, Guterres explained that, without the ability to redeploy resources, the UN might not be able to respond to requests from the UNGA or respond within 24 hours to natural disasters. He added that the proposed Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance and Department of Operational Support would eliminate duplication and hold programme managers accountable for mandate delivery. [UN Meeting Coverage] [UN Secretary-General Remarks] [ACABQ Report ‘Shifting the management paradigm in the United Nations: ensuring a better future for all’] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on September Briefing] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on November Briefing]

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