General Key Issues

ECOSOC – Operational Activities for International Development

Note: A complete summary will be available following the conclusion of today’s meetings.

Panel Discussion

The Economic and Social Council held a panel discussion on the theme “Strengthening global‑level accountability, transparency and oversight of the United Nations development system”.  Moderated by Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, it featured presentations by Jagdish Koonjul (Mauritius), President of the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS); Tore Hattrem (Norway), President of the Executive Board of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

It also heard statements by David Kanja, Assistant Secretary‑General for the Office of Internal Oversight Services; Jeremiah Kramer, Chair of the Joint Inspection Unit; and Indran Naidoo, Vice‑Chair of the United Nations Evaluation Group.

Mr. KOONJUL, responding to the moderator’s question about the Secretary‑General’s proposal for a single executive board for United Nations agencies based in New York, underscored the advantages of a single board for UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS, including a single secretariat and spending efficiencies.  The Secretary‑General’s proposal was aimed at improving coherence and oversight, but most important was delivery at the country level.  However, it risked preventing “a large number of brains” from working together, he said, emphasizing the brainstorming value of joint meetings of different boards.  Right now, boards met jointly only once a year and that was not enough.  Concluding, he said better coordination and more joint board meetings had more value than a merger, with priority given to delivering at the country level.

Mr. HATTREM said there was scope for improving the Council’s operational activities segment and striving for more evidence‑based discussions.  As a permanent forum, the segment would be well‑placed to discuss cross‑agency coordination.  The Secretary‑General’s suggestion of increasing the number of such segments to two per year was one possibility, but that should be looked at in line with the mandate of the Council review, ensuring that the number of Council meetings did not swell.  On merging the boards of the New York‑based agencies, he said that was an interesting idea, but it would not be easy to address such challenging issues as the composition of the new board.

Mr. ABDULLA, speaking via videoconference from Rome, discussed WFP’s financial and accountability system, explaining that 68 of the Programme’s 80 country offices were operating under a framework that provided “a clear line of sight”, from resources to results, based on the Sustainable Development Goals.  The WFP supported the Secretary‑General’s reform proposals and appreciated any improved governance and oversight by Member States, which in the long run would help Member States get the desired results.  Evaluations at WFP were sent to its board for consideration, but informal roundtables made it possible to conduct a more open dialogue about their findings.  He went on to say increased use of joint evaluations would be worthwhile, emphasizing however that further reporting must focus on meaningful results.

Mr. KANJA recalled that, through resolution 71/243, the General Assembly had underscored the importance of a system‑wide evaluation mechanism.  The Secretary‑General’s proposal in that regard was therefore well advised.  In the evolving United Nations evaluation architecture, the Office of Internal Oversight Services would coordinate its work with other bodies.  Strong system‑wide governance and oversight would be needed for an evaluation system to be effective, he said, emphasizing that if governance and oversight arrangements were clear, then evaluations would work well, especially if they were independent and spoke truth to power.  If, on the other hand, the uses of evaluation were not clear, that might not represent an efficient use of time and resources.

Mr. KRAMER, recalling that the General Assembly had established the Joint Investigative Unit as the only independent body with system‑wide oversight functions, said it made sense to draw on the significant effort already made on reviewing the institutional framework for independent system‑wide evaluation, including two pilot evaluations.  Experience suggested it was best to resist starting with a focus on structures and related resources.  Instead, it was essential to be clear on what the function actually was, whom it was meant to serve and how products would be acted upon.  He recommended that the Council consider the two pilot evaluations in order to determine what guidance could be offered by whom, and what could be learned from the policy that had been developed.

Mr. NAIDOO, speaking on behalf of the United Nations Evaluation Group Chair and following consultations with the Heads of evaluation of 47 United Nations entities, said the need for credible independent system-wide evaluation had often been discussed over the last 15 years.  Delaying a decision on such a mechanism would affect the Organization’s capacity to support progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and raise the risk of targets not being met.  Creating a small independent unit to carry out independent system‑wide evaluations was an opportunity to bring evaluative evidence to Council debates, built upon evaluations produced by respective United Nations entities.  Such a unit could coordinate, collaborate and lead evaluations on system‑wide issues of strategic interest, and could also synthesize key findings on the Organization’s performance.  That in turn would allow Member States to hold the United Nations as a whole to account for its joint actions and the support it provided to them.

In the ensuing discussion, representatives stressed that the revitalization process of the Council’s operational activities segment should be done in a coherent manner and should go hand in hand with the promotion of coordination, coherence and accountability practices at the national level.  Delegates also posed general questions regarding the proposal for a system‑wide inspection unit and expressed concern that the structural changes being proposed could affect overall efficiency.

Mr. KOONJUL noted that the Secretary‑General’s proposal would be implemented in a progressive fashion.  He believed that more meetings of the Joint Board would allow for more progress, and in that context, he supported the idea of the Board having more legislative power.  National coherence was a shared responsibility between the Government and the Resident Coordinator and was extremely crucial, since that was where the delivery would take place.

Mr. HATTREM expressed support for a unified board and believed that having more than one common board meeting each year would be useful.

Mr. ABDULLA said that when the President of the WFP Board attended the New York meetings, it resulted in the first‑ever meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); which meant that there was now a Rome‑based Joint Board meeting.  System‑wide evaluation should focus on showing how the system was working and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. KRAMER said there were strong arguments for system‑wide evaluation, not as a means of control, but rather to learn and improve results.

Participating in the discussion were the representatives of Egypt (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Bangladesh, El Salvador, Switzerland, United Kingdom and France.

General Debate

NOJIBUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that he accorded high priority to United Nations country teams.  As the priority of the Group was to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations development system expenditures should be accorded a balanced treatment across all three dimensions of sustainable development.  The Regional Coordinator system should primarily focus on development in the host country and support it in the implementation of United Nations Development Assistance Framework.  In carrying out their mandates, the Regional Coordinators must adhere to the principles of national leadership, national ownership and non‑politicization.

ODO TEVI (Vanuatu), speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said that the Pacific region was once again experiencing the impact of a devastating cyclone season.  As a result, he emphasized the importance of getting both the Resident Coordinator package and the multi‑office part of the reforms correct so that they could coherently respond to the needs of the region.  As an example of the complexity of the environment, he highlighted that the Resident Coordinator in Fiji was accredited to 10 countries with unique levels of national development dynamics, and was the United Nations top representative in implementing the Samoa Pathway.

Reforms needed to be built on reality, and he welcomed outcomes which empowered the Resident Coordinator as the leader of a new generation of country teams.  He also hoped that all members of the United Nations Development Group would support the new package to guarantee that the Resident Coordinator had the financial and capacity backing of the United Nations system.  He noted that it had often been said that each office in the Pacific was very small, but between them they were implementing hundreds of millions of dollars in projects.  The presence in the Pacific was significant, but could be better organized.  He wanted to see reforms that used scarce resources better so that projects could be more effective.

ALI NASEER MOHAMED (Maldives), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States and aligning himself with the Group of 77, said that he must continue to emphasize, even at the cost of sounding like a broken record, that vulnerable groups of countries such as small island developing States had very unique challenges and issues, which must be addressed in a coherent and holistic manner if there was to be any progress.  There was no one‑size‑fits‑all approach.  With regard to United Nations country teams, he looked forward to participating in their review.  The teams must be relevant in the context of the priorities set forth by the programme country and not based on regional priorities, and they must be of a rank such that they could provide the needed guidance and support.  Each country under a multi‑country office setting must be given equal opportunity to develop its own individual priorities and be assigned its own Development Assistance Framework.  Regarding a reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system, those Coordinators should be well‑versed in the issues of small island developing States, with a deep background in development and expertise in disaster risk management.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) said her delegation supported a flexible and inclusive approach to country team programmes and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development based on the principle that there was no one‑size‑fits‑all approach.  The Resident Coordinator model must be strengthened, although Cuba rejected any approach that failed to adhere to principles such as full respect for participant countries and non‑interference in internal affairs.  The proposal to merge the Executive Boards called for further discussion considering the potential negative impact on developing countries.  Regarding the Regional Commissions, the specific realities of each region must be taken into account, and in that context, she commended the work of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

FREDERICO SALOMÃO DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) stressed that although core resources remained the bedrock of the system, his delegation supported flexible non‑core funding modalities, such as pooled funds, as an alternative to strict earmarking.  Pooled funds contributed to reducing fragmentation, transaction costs and the reporting burden of development cooperation initiatives.  Strengthening national capacities for developing countries to tap the full potential of such funds was key.  Brazil supported partnerships as a means of mobilizing and engaging stakeholders in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and believed that innovative partnerships could build synergies, improve development results and provide additional funding.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan) said that the Sustainable Development Goals which concerned the environment had been underfunded.  The United Nations development system needed to fill that gap by strengthening existing mechanisms and providing more support to countries.  Decisions on the presence of United Nations entities in each country must be taken in consultation with host Governments, which would also have the final say on strategic objectives.  Increased partnership between the United Nations, the World Bank and other international financial institutions would be a big step forward in helping developing countries achieve the Goals.

IRINA VELICHKO (Belarus) said her country stood ready to support the Secretary‑General in revitalizing the United Nations development system vis‑à‑vis the 2030 Agenda.  However, any changes must be well thought out and avoid squandering those elements of the system that were working well.  Repositioning the development system must also not lead to a greater financial burden on Member States.  Reform must not be for the sake of reform alone, she said, adding that the forthcoming General Assembly meeting on middle‑income countries should lay the foundation for promoting their concerns within the Organization.

JAVAD MOMENI (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that the eradication of poverty in all its forms was the most urgent matter to be addressed by the United Nations development system.  The repositioning of that system should fully respect national ownership and leadership as well as address the diverse needs and challenges of all developing countries.  In that process, and in conformity with the 2016 quadrennial comprehensive policy review, development should be at the centre of the reform process.  The essential role of the regional commissions and their interaction with national Governments needed to be preserved and strengthened, as their role served as a crucial platform for intergovernmental cooperation and regional integration.

VICTOR MORARU (Republic of Moldova) recalled that keeping reforms within existing resources had been underscored numerous times during briefings on the United Nations development system repositioning.  To facilitate the formal process of decision‑making by Member States, further information was needed on efficiencies, reductions of duplication and overlap, and cost savings associated with the reform recommendations.  The proposal to merge the Executive Boards was interesting as a modality to strengthen system‑wide governance and oversight of the development system.  His delegation stressed that funding remained a major stumbling block in the efficient and effective delivery of the operational activities for development.

GÜVEN BEGEÇ (Turkey) said that he supported the United Nations development system reform proposals of the Secretary‑General, particularly as they endeavoured to enhance efficiency, cost‑effectiveness and people‑centred approaches within the United Nations system, at a time when numerous global crises were straining the Organization’s abilities and testing its limits.  National ownership was essential for the repositioning of the development system.  “Leaving no one behind” was also about maintaining the Organization’s commitment to support the most vulnerable countries, especially the least developed countries.  The reform efforts should maintain the delicate balance between peace and development, and the new Resident Coordinator system should play a stronger role in coordinating humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding efforts.

WU HAITAO (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, stressed that reform should be centred on development, with a specific focus on poverty eradication, as its primary task.  The reform should be led by Member States to ensure that it would effectively address concerns by developing countries and should be aligned with the 2030 Agenda.  The reform process should follow the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and respect the development model and path of specific countries, while also adhering to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.  He emphasized that when formulating a system‑wide strategic document, the main theme should focus on development.  The establishment of new country teams should align with country‑specific priorities and their core task should be the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

BESIANA KADARE (Albania) said middle‑income countries had great potential to contribute to progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  They must not be abandoned.  Rather, they should benefit from innovative assistance, she said, emphasizing that revamped country teams would help in that regard.  She underscored the power of regional initiatives, noting her country’s aspirations for European Union membership, adding that the United Nations should seek partnerships and build synergies with such entities.

IRMA ALEJANDRINA ROSA SUAZO (Honduras) said the Secretary‑General’s reports on repositioning the United Nations development system represented a good basis for debate in line with the 2030 Agenda.  Welcoming proposals to improve coordination, planning and accountability, she said that such changes must reverse a trend towards highly fragmented financing.  She went on to support the adoption of new models to analyse the work of the development system in the field, and emphasized the importance of avoiding a one‑size‑fits‑all approach, given differences between countries.

DOYEON WON (Republic of Korea) welcomed the reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system and its focus on accountability and impartiality.  Resident Coordinators should be able to coordinate system‑wide actions across the humanitarian-development-peace continuum at national levels.  Their recruitment should effectively foster gender balance and geographical diversity.  On system‑wide approaches to partnerships, an enhanced focus on due diligence and risk management would ensure integrity.  Meanwhile, harmonized and common partnership standards would help to overcome fragmented efforts and better support countries in mobilizing resources.  Private-sector partners were crucial in, among other things, promoting innovative funding.  He welcomed the funding compact’s focus on pooled funds and core funding.  The compact should be anchored by country‑level results, he said, reiterating his delegation’s support for the Secretary‑General’s reform initiatives.

CARLOS ARTURO MORALES LÓPEZ (Colombia), associating himself with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Like‑minded Group of Supporters of Middle‑Income Countries, said that two years since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and other important instruments for the multilateral system, the time had come for the system to adapt to those new demands.  There was a great deal of inequality worldwide and not enough was being done to improve living conditions, particularly for youth and women.  His delegation agreed with the Secretary‑General on the need to build country teams based on specific situations and believed that single formulas did not effectively contribute to national development strategies.  With regard to the possible evaluation of the regional commissions, there must be a differentiated approach based on the specifics of each region.  The reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system must harmonize cross‑agency activities to maximize impact while avoiding duplication.

TOSHIYA HOSHINO (Japan), emphasizing the need to improve the quality of country team activities to achieve improvements in the development system’s efficiency and effectiveness, expressed support for strengthening the Resident Coordinator system.  On the funding compact, he said the Secretary‑General’s report proposed measures to increase accountability and transparency.  Expecting to see concrete commitments in addition to those proposals, he expressed appreciation for UNICEF’s efforts to improve efficiency by modifying business models, with cost savings being diverted into programmes benefiting developing countries.  Implementing the 2030 Agenda depended on national ownership and partnerships with the international community.  Efforts should be made to continue studying the feasibility of efficiency and effectiveness gains through enhanced partnerships when considering proposals to, for instance, configure country teams and recalibrate the function of each entity.

MATÍAS PAOLINO LABORDE (Uruguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, endorsed the Secretary‑General’s reforms and believed the United Nations development system should be able to support all developing countries in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  More stable and predictable funding was key to achieving the main objectives of that development plan, which was poverty eradication, while all efforts must align with national development plans and strategies.  South‑South cooperation was important, but it was a complement to North‑South cooperation and should not replace it.  He urged developed countries to fulfil and scale up their official development assistance (ODA) commitments.  Cross‑agency cooperation and synergies must be maximized and competition between various development bodies should be eliminated.

ABDELLAH LARHMAID (Morocco), associating himself with the Group of 77, expressed support for the reform process launched by the Secretary‑General and called for a joint commitment from the Secretariat and Member States to identify the measures to be taken to bolster the Resident Coordinator system and country teams, bearing in mind budgetary restraints.  Combating poverty must be at the heart of the United Nations development system given its position as a cross‑cutting goal.  It was crucial that the priorities of Africa be included in the reform process.  The improvements envisaged in the Resident Coordinator system could only be achieved through national ownership of development activities.

ASHISH SINHA (India), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that the repositioning of the United Nations development system should ensure that full responsibility for its national ownership and leadership was maintained.  The reporting obligation to Member States was fulfilled in letter and spirit.  The system’s expertise should help the programme countries leverage enhanced resources, taking into account the different levels of development and realities on the ground in each country.  On the selection criteria for Resident Coordinators, he said that the qualification and competency requirements should match the needs of countries and should be different for countries facing humanitarian situations and those in conflict and post‑conflict situations.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said a strengthened, impartial and independent Resident Coordinator — together with more integrated country teams aligned around a common United Nations Development Assistance Framework — was the fundamental step towards the various agencies’ more effective and coordinated system‑wide action on the ground.  Also calling for stronger multi‑stakeholder partnerships, he welcomed efforts towards the more efficient and integrated involvement of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the regional commissions.  As a donor country, Italy already had in place a funding structure that prioritized multilateral and core financial contributions, and agreed with the need to reform the United Nations Development System in similar ways, with the aim of rendering it more purposeful, transparent and accountable and increasing both its credibility and funding.

Ms. BARANDUA (Switzerland) stressed that it was essential to reinvigorate the role of the Resident Coordinator, and in that connection, her delegation supported the use of assessed contributions for funding the Resident Coordinator system.  The system‑wide strategic document was an important step in clarifying what the United Nations development system proposed to achieve under the 2030 Agenda.  Switzerland welcomed the creation of a funding compact in recognition of the fact that there must be a change in the way development activities were paid for.  Funding must be appropriate and effectively used, while joint accountability mechanisms must be strengthened.

NGUYEN PHOUNG NGA (Viet Nam), aligning herself with the Group of 77, offered suggestions on how to reposition the development system to respond to 2030 Agenda requirements.  As the review remained the guiding instrument for repositioning, poverty eradication should be at the core of the process.  In addition, a new generation of country teams must have the capacity to deliver the 2030 Agenda on the ground, she said, adding that Viet Nam had worked with the country team to develop a strategic national plan to do so, and Resident Coordinators should be empowered.  As decreases in core resources hampered the development system’s abilities and credibility, she underlined the importance of contributions to inter‑agency pooled funds, such as the Joint Fund for the 2030 Agenda.

MARCOS MONTILLA (Dominican Republic), emphasizing the specificities and challenges faced by each country, called for careful consideration of the role of Resident Coordinators going forward.  There must be flexibility, not a single model for all.  He said his country viewed a very positive the proposal for a funding compact, which should however not result in a greater financial burden for developing countries.  He underscored the role of regional commissions beyond that of think tanks, and reiterated the central role and responsibility of States to coordinate development efforts.