22 June 2016
Member States Suggest UNDS Governance, Organizational Arrangements
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UN Member States convened for an informal discussion to identify key aspects related to the governance and organizational arrangements of the UN Development System (UNDS), on which the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the UNDS should focus in its final stage.

The eighth and final workshop in the Dialogue process will take place from 22-23 June, to discuss findings and conclusions of the ECOSOC Dialogue and the way forward.

ECOSOC10 June 2016: UN Member States convened for an informal discussion to identify key aspects related to the governance and organizational arrangements of the UN Development System (UNDS), on which the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the UNDS should focus in its final stage. The eighth and final workshop in the Dialogue process will take place from 22-23 June, to discuss findings and conclusions of the ECOSOC Dialogue and the way forward.

The interactive discussion took place on 10 June 2016, in New York, US, as a follow-up to the other Dialogue workshops held to date.

During the informal meeting, delegates discussed: the role of ECOSOC with regards to the UNDS; the role of the ECOSOC Dialogue; the role of the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR); whether to change the UNDS or only “tweak” its working methods; how to reflect the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; whether to prioritize change at the country level or global level; the role of UN’s governing boards; the role of the UN Resident Coordinators (RC); and the role of the regional level.

On the role of ECOSOC with regards to the UNDS, delegates called for strengthening it. They suggested that ECOSOC should: be involved in day-to-day business and oversight of UN funds and programmes; discuss hands-on approaches to improving UNDS; and provide system-wide governance and coherence. One UN fund suggested moving the ECOSOC operational segment in June or July to align it with the wider-system reporting cycles. Some delegates opposed the idea of a full-time ECOSOC president.

On the role of the ECOSOC Dialogue, Member States said it should: identify key problems and propose solutions; clarify what delegates want in the next QCPR; identify, expose and work on the impediments to change; map UNDS’s structure and identify gaps and overlaps; and lay the foundation for a longer term approach.

On the role of the QCPR, delegates suggested it should: ensure that UNDS delivers better at the country level; identify a few actions that the next Secretary-General should undertake at the beginning of his or her term; provide an overarching picture of the individual plans of UN funds and programmes; invite governing boards to take into account the QCPR guidelines and report back; provide system-wide guidance; and spur action. Some stressed the need for the QCPR to be more strategic, shorter, and written in a simplified language.

On whether to change the UNDS or only “tweak” its working methods, some Member States said it will be costly, risky, and complicated to revamp the system. They proposed instead to: maximize what already exists; identify aspects that prevent the system from delivering on the 2030 Agenda; and possibly give mandates to countries’ embassies in the field to make decisions about country programmes, which would not imply any additional funding.

On how to reflect the 2030 Agenda, Member States discussed whether centralization or decentralization will better serve the Agenda’s implementation. The representative of a UN programme cautioned that centralization risks detachment from country realities. Some Member States said: all UN agencies should place the 2030 Agenda at the center of their strategic plans; the different agencies should preserve their distinct mandates; no agency should take responsibility for a single Goal, to avoid silos-approaches; the system should move towards a more variegated footprint, decided through discussions with a wide range of countries, as some agencies are relevant in some countries but not in others; and decisions need to be made on whether or not existing UN country offices are still necessary in some countries. Delegates noted that further reflection will be necessary on: how to provide oversight of the interlinkages that the 2030 Agenda entails while preserving the mandate differentiation of UN entities; and how to reflect the universality of the 2030 Agenda within a variegated footprint, perhaps through rethinking policy coherence.

On whether Member States should prioritize change at the country level or global level, many proposed to first identify needs at the country level and improve delivery and coordination, and then move “up.” They stressed that Headquarters should not micro-manage the UN’s presence in countries but only promote best practices, support innovation, and set objectives. The Secretariat said countries have reported the following barriers to change: existing rules and procedures; structural challenges at the Headquarters level; the mandates of different agencies; and operational aspects of inter-agency cooperation. For those reasons, the Secretariat underlined, the UN’s “central nervous system” needs to be “fixed and attuned” to the needs of the 2030 Agenda. Only fixing “the limbs,” or operations at country level, will not work, they stressed.

On the role of the regional level, some delegates called for recognizing its role and strengthening regional synergies, saying the regional level can contribute to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through: supporting the Agenda’s integration in national plans; implementing its trans-boundary aspects; building data capacity; strengthening research capacity; and mobilizing partnerships. Several called for strengthening the UN Regional Commissions (RCs) through better staffing and funding, saying RCs play an important role since many countries’ challenges are regionally interlinked.

On the role of UN governing boards, some opposed creating a joint sustainable development board. They proposed instead: better alignment of existing boards; and encouraging boards to take into account the guidelines provided by QCPR to ensure system-wide coherence. Several Member States noted that the boards lack a clarity of mandates and responsibilities, and spend too much time reviewing country documents for which they do not have expertise, or on approving funding for country projects. They stressed the importance of decentralization, and noted that country programmes should be discussed by country teams and those governments, further proposing creating UNDS boards in countries to ensure coherence and a better response at the country level. To make the boards’ work more effective, delegates suggested: increasing the duration of their mandates to more than one year; changing the system for submitting country plans to boards, to free up time to focus on strategic issues; decreasing board meetings’ frequency to twice a year; enhancing the technical capabilities of Member States to respond better in meetings of the boards; and establishing guidelines about how the system should proceed when boards do not reach consensus.

On the role of the RCs, countries highlighted strengthening the RC system as “a very important, low-hanging fruit.” Many identified current limitations of the RC system, including: some RCs lack an overview of the financing, programming, or staffing of the UN entities at country level; they lack veto power on actions taken by UN entities on the ground; and there is a “functional firewall” between the duties of the RC and the day-to-day management responsibilities of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which affects the RC’s neutrality. To address these, delegates suggested: granting the RC the power to approve or reject plans of UN agencies, in order to ensure a coherent response on behalf of UNDS; empowering the RC to look at staff, programme, budget issues of UN agencies in the country; providing her/him with the needed funding to make decisions and changes, which would require detaching the RC from UNDP and possibly creating an integrative function at Headquarters level, such as a Deputy Secretary-General on sustainable development, to reflect the RC; and ensuring that the RC has a strong link with UN’s operational activities. A representative of UNDP cautioned that it is not cost-neutral to remove the RC system from UNDP.

Member States also raised issues pertaining to: which part of the Secretariat or which UN agency would be most effective to link the RC to, as UN agencies are not funded by the UN system, but from outside the system; and to whom should the RC report, both within and outside the UN system – to the respective Member State. The ECOSOC Vice-President asked delegates to consider whether the person in charge of system-wide coherence should be also lead on operational activities, and where accountability should be placed, whether at the country, regional, or global levels.

Delegates further highlighted the need for: improving the accountability of UN funds and programmes; clear reporting around collective results; better standardization; focusing on front-line delivery; shared harmonized platforms for IT, accounting, and human resources; focusing on results and evidence-based proposals; ensuring “Delivering as One” as a baseline (on which some cautioned that not all countries support the initiative); integrating UNDS at Headquarters level, to reflect the RC; paying particular attention to fragile and conflict-affected states; and establishing standard operating procedures for cooperation between the humanitarian coordinator and the RC, looking at their underpinning management and accountability systems. Many expressed support for the rationalization and integration of back offices to release resources for activities in the front-line. [Website of ECOSOC Dialogue] [IISD RS Story on Workshop 7- UN Interlinkages, Proposed Reforms] [IISD RS Sources]

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