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Guterres Starts UN Reforms

Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General (Photo by Erol Avdovic Webpublicapress)

Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General (Photo by Erol Avdovic Webpublicapress)

By J Nastranis - NEW YORK (IDN) – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has taken a vital step towards creating a ‘21st century UN‘ by introducing wide-ranging reforms to the way the world body works and how it delivers on its mandate – thus translating into action the announcement of his intention soon after taking office in January 2017.

Guterres has appointed Jens Wandel of Denmark as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Reforms. An official announcement on July 31 said: “The Secretary-General has decided to establish a reform coordination structure under the joint leadership of the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet to ensure a unified and cohesive change management programme across all three reforms, with dedicated teams to service each individual stream.”

“The transition team will be headed by the Special Adviser on Reforms to ensure the overall coordination of the three Reform streams (Sustainable Development, Peace and Security and Management),” the announcement added.

What qualifies Wandel for the new job, according to UN sources, is that beyond serving as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator (Assistant Secretary-General) and Director of the Bureau of Management from 2012 to 2017, he has served in many important jobs in the UNDP.

States, civil society, and the media have warmly received the reforms Guterres wishes to put into effect. Indeed during a high-level event on UN reform held on the margins of the UN General Assembly on September 18, 2017, over 120 States signed a ten-point political Declaration expressing their commitment to the Secretary-General’s reform agenda. Even U.S. President Donald Trump, not known for his enthusiasm for the multilateral system, has aligned his Administration in support of the reforms.

Development Pillar Reform

The Secretary-General’s December 2017 report elaborates on reform proposals outlined in his first report on the topic, released in June 2017, says Ana Maria Lebada, IISD thematic expert on Sustainable Development Goals.

The report observes that the UN development system needs to move towards better cross-pillar support, building on existing frameworks, commitments and structures that cut across silos, and towards more joint risk analysis and joined-up planning, policy advice, monitoring and reporting.

The report presents a package of seven major changes, all designed to reinforce each other. These changes encompass measures across the 38 actions and recommendations presented in the June report. They include:

  • the system-wide strategic document to accelerate the alignment of UN development system support with the 2030 Agenda;
  • a new generation of UN Country Teams (UNCTs), with enhanced skill sets, optimized physical presence, and consolidated and effective back-office support;
  • an empowered and impartial Resident Coordinator (RC) system;
  • a revamped regional approach, complemented by a strengthened Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA);
  • improved strategic guidance, transparency and accountability;
  • a system-wide approach to partnerships; and
  • a new Funding Compact between Member States and the UN development system.

By the end of 2019, the Secretary-General proposes the launch of a monitoring and reporting system on the UN’s contributions to the SDGs.

On partnerships, at the global level the Secretary-General proposes the launch of six partnership-related work streams:

  1. Agree on system-wide approach to partnerships (the process will take place within the UNDG, and will be coordinated by senior UN leadership, with the support of DESA and the UN Global Compact)
  2. Accept the UN Global Compact’s 10 Principles as a common partnership standard for private sector entities, and create an Integrity Task Force comprising senior UN leadership to manage risks of UN-business engagement and foster a pool of “partner ready” companies.
  3. The UN Global Compact leadership will consider ways to improve governance at the global level, as well as its oversight and the impact of its Local Networks.
  4. “Firmly establish” the UN Office for Partnerships as the UN’s global gateway for partnerships, with a review of its present operations in 2018.
  5. The Secretary-General will continue to develop the UN’s partnership with the World Bank and other International Financial Institutions (IFIs).
  6. The Secretary-General will propose ways to revamp the UN structures and mechanisms in support of South-South cooperation, in time to inform the deliberations of the High-level UN conference on South-South cooperation to be held in March 2019.

At the country level, external partners (IFIs, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders, including the furthest behind) will have the RC Offices as a “one stop shop” resource for partnerships.

As part of a new Funding Compact, the Secretary-General is committing the UN to enhancing transparency on financial data, full compliance with existing cost-recovery policies, and allocating a greater share of resources to joint activities.

He is calling on Member States to, over the next five years: increase the share of core resources across the system from 21.7% to at least 30%; double the contributions to inter-agency pooled funds (from 8% non-core to 16% non-core) and increase agency-specific thematic funds from US$400 to US$800 million; ensure the full capitalization of the new Joint Fund for the 2030 Agenda at US$290 million per annum and a “quantum leap” in funding to the Peacebuilding Fund as immediate step; and fund the RC system through assessed budget (US $255 million, and discretionary policy fund for RCs at US$35 million).

Peace and Security Pillar Reform

As presented in the Secretary-General’s report titled, #Restructuring of the United Nations peace and security pillar,’ dated October 13, 2017, the overarching goals of this area of reform are to: prioritize prevention and sustaining peace; enhance the effectiveness and coherence of peacekeeping operations and special political missions; make the peace and security pillar more effective through a “whole-of-pillar” approach; and align the peace and security pillar more closely with the development and human rights pillars.

To that end, Guterres has proposed the creation of a Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and a Department of Peace Operations. The Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs would combine the strategic, political and operational responsibilities of the Department of Political Affairs and the peacebuilding responsibilities of the Peacebuilding Support Office. It would direct resources to the prevention of conflict, mediation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, as well as to enhanced cross-pillar cooperation. .

The Department of Peace Operations would combine the strategic, political and operational responsibilities of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Political Affairs to provide direction, management and support for peacekeeping and field-based special political missions outside the purview of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.

On December 20, 2017, the UNGA adopted a resolution expressing support for the Secretary-General’s vision for reforming the UN peace and security pillar. The resolution requests a comprehensive report, to be submitted as soon as possible, that would elaborate on the proposed establishment of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the Department of Peace Operations, including detailed information on functions, structure and staffing requirements.

Management Reform

As the Secretary-General notes in his report titled, ‘Shifting the management paradigm in the United Nations: ensuring a better future for all,’ the management reform is central to his broader reform agenda as it directly affects its delivery. The overarching objectives of this area of reform are to: decentralize by bringing decision-making closer to the point of delivery; ensure greater accountability and transparency; reduce duplicative structures and overlapping mandates; and reform the planning and budgetary processes.

Guterres has articulated, in the report of September 27, 2017, a new management paradigm that will empower managers to determine how best to use their resources to support programme delivery and mandate implementation. In that document, he proposes measures to: streamline and improve the planning and budgeting processes; delegate managerial authority to programme managers and demand greater accountability from them for mandate delivery; and change the management and support structures to better support delivery of programmes and provide managers with quality assurance and strategic policy guidance.

The reforms proposed by the Secretary-General in the areas of development, peace and security, and UN management, aim to increase the UN system’s impact on the ground. To that end, the proposals emphasize the use of custom rather than standard responses to countries’ needs, and focus on creating a more effective institutional structure, to minimize duplication and gaps in the UN’s work, while increasing its accountability.

“Member States’ discussions over the next few months will be the test of whether the UN system will be reformed to the extent needed to meet this vision,” says the IISD expert Lebada. [IDN-InDepthNews – 06 August 2018]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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