UN systems and its interventions

16 May, 2012

Vikas Nath, Associate Director, The FUNDS Project, Toronto writes:

On day one of the New challenges, new partners, a new UN development system? conference, there has been a gradual fragmentation of the UN systems and its interventions. There are too many governance structures: some are overlapping and others are far from reality. The issue is also that of incoherence between the agenda setting functions and results delivery mechanisms of the UN, and lack of financing.

But there is good news. Delivering as One (DaO) is being implemented and is leading to increased ownership and efficiency. The creation of UN Women after consolidation of some of the UN agencies and their overlapping mandates has been a bold move.

However these changes are not irreversible and do not go far enough. For instance while DaO is perceived positively, it has limits and cannot guarantee strong leadership and that the funds will materialise.

The UN is in crisis both institutionally and in terms of relevance. Multiple non-UN and private players are emerging with their own monies on issues traditionally dealt within UN.

While crisis mode can lead to bold and strategic changes, many member States are not aware of this crisis within UN or the extent of it.

The last bold attempt to reform of the UN was over 40 years ago. The “Jackson Report” or “Capacity Study” on UN reform published in 1969, urged that UN projects should be harmonised with a country’s own development plan. While it provoked controversy and debate, very few recommendations were put to practise.

The current timing is strategic for UN reforms:

a. In autumn 2012, the General Assembly will give new policy directions to improve UN system support to developing countries through the quadrennial comprehensive policy review (QCPR).

b. There is a need to think of the role of the UN in the post MDGs scenario.

c. The UN Secretary General has been given a second term and has the time and the opportunity to carry out the reforms.

The FUNDS project aims to understand this crisis of the UN and in the reform process. More than two-thirds of the 3350 people who responded to the FUNDS survey felt that the UN is capable of handling global challenges. Among agencies perceived to be more relevant than others were WHO and UNICEF.

And there are more UN optimists than UN skeptics. Among UN optimists, lack of financing is a key challenge while among UN skeptics the key challenge is ineffectiveness of the UN. Among the donor countries (DAC), the focus is on having fewer UN agencies while for non-DAC countries, the key issue is to increase financing.

The results from the FUNDS survey match with findings from a similar survey done by UN Foundation on the perception of US citizens on UN. Overwhelming number of US citizens held a positive perception of the UN and felt that US should engage with the UN and pay its dues.

The FUNDS survey opens new insights. The sample for the FUNDS survey should be increased to get further results and analysis, and comparisons between Surveys carried over different years should be made. Some newer aspects should be brought into future FUNDS surveys, namely what does the UN deliver and whether it is the UN in crisis or it is the multilateral system itself in crisis? Furthermore there is a need to get greater information on newer and non-UN players emerging on the scene.

There is a need to think that if the UN is not reforming (or not reforming far and fast enough), then what are the alternatives? Which are the needs that are being met within the UN and those that are not? Can UN reforms take place without reforms in other aspects of multilateral systems?

There is lack of coordination between UN system and the national public sector. Most of the UN support is being channeled outside of national government structures, for instance through NGOs and the civil society, and is thereby weakening governments. Operating outside of governments may deliver islands of success but that cannot be equated to national development.

Emerging countries are being asked to give greater financing to the UN systems. However they are being asked to share greater responsibilities without giving them greater privileges or commensurate changes in the global governance structures.

The UN has to make an impact not just through financing available with it but also through its other functions such as rule making and regulatory role to allow it to pull punches above its weight.

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