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Home » ARCHIVE, INTERVIEW » John Ashe: Reforms – Number One

John Ashe: Reforms – Number One

President of the 68th UN General Assembly Session John William Ashe (UN Courtesy photo - for education only)

President of the 68th UN General Assembly Session John William Ashe (UN Courtesy photo – for education only)

By Erol Avdovic – NEW YORK - The lack of global consensus is holding back United Nations reforms, despite the majority of states at each and every corner of the world now being aware of the pressing need for those UN reforms, the new President of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, Dr. John William Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, told Webpublicapress (WPP) in an interview.

Dr. Ashe, who succeeded Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić as UN General Assembly President, said he will continue to  focus on overcoming extreme poverty and on ensuring sustainable development where it is most needed. He stressed “failure is not an option,” but confessed that all of the Millennium Developments Goals (MDG) and the eradication of extreme poverty had not been realized with the dogged determination in all countries. He added that the “post-2015 development agenda” have been set up for this very reason.

Ashe said he intends to travel to those countries where he’ll further push for UN Security Council reforms, saying that it is the “secret dream” of every UNGA President to bring those reforms near conclusion. Ashe put January 1, 2015 as a realistic date when some of the crucial UN reforms may be achieved.

WPP interviewed him in his office at the UN Headquarters in New York just three days before he took the presidential gavel.

WPP – What can we expect to be different with this new 68th Session of the UNGA regarding the promised reforms – especially those of the UN Security Council (UNSC), but also as in reinvigorating of UN General Assembly itself?

Ashe – “As you know the issue of the UNSG reforms has been in one shape or another on the agenda of the General Assembly for the past 20 plus years. It is a secret dream of every President of General Assembly – no matter of the session to bring this matter (Security Council reforms) to the close, and I don’t think I am any different from any predecessors. And, here – we don’t have shortage of any ideas on that. What we don’t have is consensus of the member states what should be done. And there lies the problem. Should we do that? And I am afraid that we will be stalled by that”.

WPP – Since there are as you mention different directions of where to move forward regarding the UNSC reforms – what is going to be your role as the new PGA to restart the whole process?

Ashe – “As you know, where there is a will there is a way, especially if there is a collective will to move forward on this matter. I am also sure that you are aware that many of the countries that were identified selected 70th Session of GA as a perfect end-date. Why? Because it would be ten years after the initial impetus  – to move the items of the UNSC reforms forward. So what I hope we have to do is to continue that impetus.

WPP – Still, which of the avenues are to be undertaken: there are European “United for consensus”, than “G-4” in which Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, are seeking their formula to be implemented for the UNSC reforms; there are also some ideas that are coming from Ankara on that: Which reform road is most affordable to start with?

Ashe– “It is not up to the President of UNGA to determine a particular course of action. After all we (the United Nations) are a member-states-driven organization.  It is for the members to decide that — this is the way we want to go. What the President can do is try to bring them together and help identify what they believe is a particular course that would meet the cause of most if not all the membership.”

WPP – Do you intend to travel or you will listen to the UN member states more here in New York?

Ashe – “Well I have met with some of the interesting parties here regarding UN Security Council report and I will continue to do so during my tenure. So, the short answer is: Yes, I do intend to travel in order to try to reach consensus with interested parties”.


- Setting a New stage


WPP – You have identified as one of the items on your agenda importance of the “relationship between humanity and physical environment”. What kind of the impact one could expect from that on the development agenda in the countries like Turkey for example?

Ashe – “As you know the overarching objective of any development agenda set in the UN context is eradication of extreme poverty. That has been the case and should always be the case. We are calculating how that developed agenda would play in the post 2015 framework. I believe the member states ought to focus what specifics they on their sides would have to adopt that could within 10 to 15 years eradicate the extreme poverty.”

WPP – Does that mean that some of the MDG as they were proclaimed on the Millennium Summit in New York in 2000 are definitely not going to be met? So, I guess our question is – what should be done?

Ashe– “I think there is a realization that all the goals (Millenium Development Goals as they were set in 2000) will not be met in all the countries. And, hence something needs to be done to continue to work in that area, and also progress in what we have recognized as a shortcomings in officially set up goals. That is not to say that in adopting that we did not make mistakes and we have not done enough. Another thing that happened, no one back in 2000 could have perceived the crisis of 2008 and 2009, and some of the countries did not recover yet from it. It does not justify our delay, but in recognizing this we do realize that there is a broader agenda beyond those set within specific goals what we are trying to place it”.

WPP – What can be done in order the UNGA to become more powerful body – sort of World Parliament, bearing in mind that UNSG is late with its reforms and practically the UN body only in full charge of the peace and security in the world?

Ashe- “The General Assembly is consistent of 193 countries  and they do take a number of decisions – calling on for the action on variety of issues. One of the very first things that I think the member states ought to do is  look at their own decisions and to implement them.  That would make the Organization (of the United Nations) extremely effective, to begin with. Secondly, the (UN) Organization needs to reform, because it was designed some 60 years ago. There is a new reality.”


- Holding back the UN reforms


WPP– Who is holding back UN from reforms?

Ashe – “Well, I don’t think that there is any one thing that holds UN back. I think what happens is the world of ours tends to change rapidly and the UN organization has always been of the organization as it was. UN always has to play catch-up. And I think it is ultimately a more nimble Organization to deal quickly and can react quickly to the changes of the environment around us.”

WPP – Talking about implementation especially of the MDG (Millennium Development Goals), it was very interesting to hear that you are invoking the “evolution of thinking”. What do you mean by that?

Ashe – “Well I think after some 15 years of the implementing of MDG there are lessons that we have drawn we have fair idea of what can and perhaps what does not work. And I think – building on the lessons we can certainly involve in how we can develop the delivery mechanisms say – how to help to most vulnerable in our societies.”

WPP – So what really did work, and what really should be changed?

Ashe – “Well, I do think that I am minority in this regard that the MDG overall – they had a positive effect. They certainly caught the attention of the general public at large. So, we do know that there are certain aspects of goals that were overlooked. For example, there are those who would say that perhaps we should have one in sanitation, and certainly we need one in energy. So there are number of areas which we know they are important, and which we know that, perhaps there ought to be some goal or targets set it. And I think this is what I meant.”

WPP – The water and sanitation are the pressing issues within the agenda of sustainable development?

Ashe – “I have called for a thematic debate on three of those issues: Water, sanitation and sustainable energy. The intent is to focus member states on the importance of those three elements and get the ideas of how see them as a part of a larger development framework in the post 2015.”

WPP – Is this “post 2015” is put like some sort of entering to a new stage of global development? Actually, you have mention “new stage” – what does it mean? What are you going to leave to your successor – next PGA, especially in the area of water and sanitation?

Ashe – “Well, we have to prepare the basic parameters: What is that the member states ought to focus on, if they’re going to have development agenda. And I would hope, that in September 2014, when my term ends we would have done exactly that. We would have identified what are some of the key elements that ought to be included in such an agenda. And this has to be seen as sort of a parallel exercise because member states are defining a set of sustainable development goals. That exercise is to suppose come to end right about then. So we would have hopefully through my efforts and what some of ongoing initiatives – a set of parameters that can then allow member states at the start of 69th Session of UNGA, to begin an intense process, at shaping the final agenda.

WPP – It is good to hear that you are already planning what to leave to someone who is going to come after you to this one-year mandate position of PGA. But, we would like to ask you what did your predecessor (President of the 67th Session of UN General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremic of Serbia) leave to you?

Ashe – (laughter) Well I will not know until the closing of the Session on Monday, when he will outline the what he has accomplished in his term.

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