UN Member States responded to recommendations on the longer-term positioning of the UN Development System in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, issued by the Independent Team of Advisers (ITA) to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Bureau.
The ITA's recommendations include re-designating the UN Deputy Secretary-General as the Deputy Secretary-General for Sustainable Development (DSG-SD), creating an overarching Sustainable Development Board (SDB) and making Resident Coordinators (RCs) independent from all UN agencies.
23 June 2016: UN Member States responded to recommendations on the longer-term positioning of the UN Development System in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, issued by the Independent Team of Advisers (ITA) to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Bureau. The ITA’s recommendations include re-designating the UN Deputy Secretary-General as the Deputy Secretary-General for Sustainable Development (DSG-SD), creating an overarching Sustainable Development Board (SDB) and making Resident Coordinators (RCs) independent from all UN agencies.
The eighth workshop of the ECOSOC Dialogue took place on 22-23 June 2016, in New York, US, on the theme ‘Findings and Conclusions.’
The ITA was established in February 2016, with 14 members from all regions and various NGOs, to offer specific recommendations on the Dialogue process. The ITA is co-chaired by Klaus Töpfer (Germany) and Juan Somavia (Chile) and has produced seven background papers to inform the Dialogue workshops.
Addressing delegates in the workshop, the experts said that while some of their proposals would be difficult to implement, they are feasible with political will and leadership, and they suggested reforms should be implemented with transparency and inclusiveness. They also encouraged Member States to: develop and integrated view of UNDS; avoid easier but “likely ineffective piecemeal solutions;” and consider the proposed changes and their related costs as necessary investments in the 2030 Agenda.
ITA members called for the UNDS to play a leadership role as convener, norm- and standard-setter, information broker, partnership broker and center of science and knowledge development. The UNDS should also, they said: clarify the mandates of its agencies, funds and programs to bridge existing gaps and avoid costly overlaps; increase transparency, accountability, and flexibility; carefully consider if its physical presence is needed in all countries and to what extent; streamline “back office” operations; establish standardized rules, procedures and good practices for partnerships; and forge stronger linkages among normative, analytical and operational activities. On financing, ITA recommendations included: making the funding architecture more predictable, flexible and integrated to the 2030 Agenda; enhance transparency, oversight and development effectiveness of UNDS funding in order to reduce earmarking; and creating a robust, inclusive and transparent platform to ensure that all stakeholders – funding partners, UNDS entities and beneficiary countries – can negotiate funding priorities and requirements.
Delegates generally agreed with the UN’s role as envisioned by ITA, and with the need for increasing transparency, accountability, coherence, keeping a UNDS field presence only where necessary, integrating back office operations, and establishing standardized guidelines for partnerships.
On the structure of the UNDS, at ITA member said, “In order to improve the system, one needs first to have a system.” Among other recommendations, ITA suggests strengthening ECOSOC through a full-time elected President and adequate full-time support staff, drawn from within the UNDS. On redesignating the DSG as a DSG-SD, they said this role should: provide objective, effective and impartial leadership to the UNDS; manage the RC system, providing leadership and strategic guidance; manage a pooled fund of un-earmarked resources, on behalf of the SDB, to fund the RC-system and other priorities identified by the SDB; facilitate negotiated pledges for funding the consolidated budget; draft a consolidated, transparent system-wide budget on the basis of individual entities budgets and non-core contributions to be approved by the SDB; and be the focal point in the Secretariat for the relationship with the UN Regional Commissions. The experts proposed the creation of SDB to enhance system-wide governance harmonization and simplification of the UNDS. They explained that the creation of the SDB would involve gradual merger of the governing boards of UN funds and programs and, over time, the SDB could be mandated to govern the operational activities of all the 19 UN funds, programs and other entities reporting to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and ECOSOC and for which the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) is formally applicable.
Member States generally did not express support for the recommendations for DSG-SD, SDB, or a full-time ECOSOC president, calling for clear value-added propositions for these recommendations. Many cautioned that centralization at the headquarters level would lead to excessive bureaucracy and would not necessarily impact positively the delivery at the country level, expressing further concern with regards to the costs involved. A few showed openness to the idea of a SDB if it would include representation form all UN Member States. A few countries stressed the need to maintain country ownership of national strategies for SDG implementation, saying the UN must remain only catalytic.
The ITA also proposed reforming the RC system, to be managed by the proposed Office of the DSG-SD, to which the RC would report. The RC, they recommended, would: be funded with predictable, un-earmarked pool resources, raised through assessed contributions or through negotiated pledges; have a UNDS country-funding envelope; continue to lead the preparation of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) and the Common Budgetary Framework at the country level; and be responsible for mobilizing and allocating system-wide funding for activities at the country level through mechanisms such as Delivering as One (DaO) funds. The experts further underscored the need for: the recruitment criteria to include capacity to perform as a humanitarian coordinator where necessary; abolishing the high application fees for RCs examination, which present a barrier to entry for individual candidates; and appropriate institutional safeguards to ensure the independence, neutrality and effectiveness of the RC system.
Many developed countries supported the idea of strengthening the RC system and providing RCs with more independence and authority over funding and programming at the country level. Many developing countries opposed detaching the RC system from the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
On humanitarian assistance and crises, the ITA recommended that UN humanitarian responses should be linked with the development pillar, to build resilience and sustainable peace. Many developed countries welcomed the ITA perspective, highlighting links between the development, humanitarian and peace agendas and explaining that they are not separate but a continuum. However, many developing countries stressed that poverty eradication should be the central focus of UNDS, and said there are other parts of the UN system mandated to address humanitarian, peace and security issues.
During the two-day workshop, Member States said they would have liked to receive more proposals on: ways to expand the donor base; using modern corporate accountability tools for checks and balances; negotiated pledges; different sources of funding for different UNDS functions; and UNDS’ support for vulnerable countries in conflict situations.
Wrapping up the workshop, ECOSOC Vice-President Alejandro Palma Cerna observed that all delegates agreed with the ITA’s diagnosis of UNDS, the challenge being to agree on the “how.” He advocated operationalizing some ideas, while carefully assessing and addressing the related risks.
He announced an informal meeting with UN agencies on 1 July, and another meeting with UN Member States on 7 July. The summary of the ECOSOC Dialogue will be ready at the end of July, he said. [ECOSOC Dialogue] [ITA Paper on ‘Findings and Conclusions’] [IISD RS Story on Informal Meeting on ITA Recommendations] [IISD RS Coverage of ECOSOC Dialogue]