Assignment on Reform of United Nations operational activities: challenges and goals

The discussion on the reform of the United Nations' operational activities was given a new topicality and urgency in the wake of the UN World Summit of September 2005. The Summit had commissioned the UN Secretary General with drawing up proposals for more tightly managed entities in the field of development, humanitarian aid and the environment. The UN SG is supported in this exercise by a "High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment" which is to submit its report by mid-2006. The launch of this "High Level Panel" has opened a unique avenue of opportunities to make the United Nations fit and competitive in its indispensable role in the international aid architecture. In order to make this effort a true success story it is of utmost importance that Member States establish a joint perception on the concrete shortcomings of the present system, they actually want to address. The depth and concreteness of this diagnosis will decide over impact, effectiveness and sustainability of the current reform process of the UN aid architecture.A. Why do we need a reform of the UN operational activities?
The United Nations offer a unique framework for addressing issues and challenges related to human development and a joint shaping of globalisation, with all aspects being accorded equal ranking. UN world conferences (among them the Earth Summit 1992 in Rjcde Janeiro, the Vienna Human Rights Conference 1993, the World SociarSummit 1995 in Copenhagen, tine World Conference on WomerTin Beijing 1995, the Conference on Financing7 for Development 2002 in Monterrey and the UN Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 in Johannesburg) have come up with decisions providing orientation and have" established standards. With The Millennium Declaration in 2000 and the MDGs, binding targets have been set for the international community's development cooperation as a whole, confirmed and finetuned further by the World Summit 2005. With this process, the United Nations have helped achieve a break-through for an integrated concept of development. This concept comprises economic, social, political and cultural dimensions as well as the dimension of ecological sustainability, peacebuilding and humanitarian aid. This advancement of the international understanding of what is meant by 'development' has not been reflected yet, however, in the United Nations organisational structure.
Despite progress having been achieved in the internal management reform of single organisations such as UNDP, and the foundation of the United Nations Development Group (UNDO), the comparative advantage of neutrality and the special legitimacy of the UN cannot play the role it should because of a fragmented organisational structure. The role oHhe UN in international development cooperation isj/veakened throughjhe ladTofacoherent aricTeffectiye operative arm of the international community in the field of human development.
The fragmentation of the United Nations development cooperation results in overlapping mandates, sometimes even duplication of work and, hence, a loss of efficiency. Development cooperation funds therefore reach the recipients at a loss only. The complexity of the UN development system leads to competition over resources, is a burden on the relations among its institutions, weakens the efficiency of single institutions as well as that of the whole system, and causes more transaction cost than necessary in its operative work. The great number of missions which different UN institutions maintain in the respective partner countries swallows up valuable financial and staff resources and puts an unnecessary strain on the administrative capacities of the recipient countries. These operative inefficiencies tie down substantial funds provided by the donor community, which are, thus, withheld from recipients.

The Specialised Agencies no longer restrict thejr activities to their core task of establishing standards but to a large extent implement their own tecFjnjcal cooperation programmes, and with a great Ideal of input canvass for additional earmarked funding from donors for these programmes. These pro~grammes account for orieThird of the overall volume oFthe UN Funds and Programmes. As these Specialised Agencies are not responsible to the General Assembly or the UN SG, coordination is particularly difficult to achieve - apart from the more fundamental issue regarding the extent to which Specialised Agencies should run technical cooperation programmes by themselves.

However, these numerous organisations - Funds and Programmes, Specialised Agencies and institutions of the Secretariat General - did not come into existence by themselves, but were the outflow of what the international community wanted to have, at least at the point of time they were established. Hence, it is now a matter of mobilising the will of the international community, both donor and recipient countries, to ensure that a reform of these structures will turn into a success story.

The present modalities of financing the UN development cooperation weaken its capacity to act, mostly because of two adverse phenomena: As a rule, Funds and Programmes obtain financial commitments not on a multi-year basis - in contrast to the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). This clearly restrains their planning and acting capacity. In addition more and more major donors contribute their funds to the UN organisations on a non-core basis (either thematically-related or related to specific countries) instead of providing untied funds to the core budget in the first place. In the case of UNDP, these non-core funds meanwhile clearly exceed the untied core contributions. This constitutes not only a bilateralisation of multilateral UN development cooperation counter to the system, but also limits the planning and coordinating ability among these UN development organisations and vis-a-vis other bilateral or multilateral players. We therefore need to reach a more balanced ratio between core and non-core funding.

Since the foundation of the United Nations, the number of member countries has more than tripled. By contrast, the procedures and management instruments laid down in the charter have hardly ever been adjusted. This means that ECOSOC and the General Assembly are scarcely able at the moment to carry out their coordinating and monitoring tasks in a way it would be desirable. The World Summit of September 2005 already adopted important reform decisions in this context. These must be implemented consistently and, if need be, further intensified.