States Debate Enhanced Powers and Authority for UN Bureaucrats

By | February 1, 2018

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed - UN Photo/Kim Haughton

NEW YORK, February 2 (C-Fam) Responding to criticism of Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ ambitious plans for the UN development system, UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed kicked off a series of briefings for member States on UN development reform Monday.

“We’ve heard loud and clear some of the reservations,” Mohammed told ambassadors and delegates in a packed Economic and Social Council Chamber, following concerns about the enhanced powers that Guterres wants to give UN resident coordinators in every country.

The Secretary General’s deputy reassured the room that the purpose of reform is to make the UN system more responsive to national priorities, and not subjugate them.

“Member states are in the driver’s seat and the 2030 Agenda is the driving force,” Mohammed said during the briefing, the first of a series that will look at each component of the Secretary General’s proposal for UN reform.

A “reinvigorated” system of UN resident coordinators in each country with authority to decide policy priorities, budget issues, and to coordinate country teams of UN bureaucrats is necessary, she insisted, to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of UN development assistance.

In addition to enhanced powers, the Secretary General has requested $250 million of assessed UN contributions for his UN resident coordinator system, including $35 million for a discretionary fund available to each resident coordinator for quick response items on top of whatever foreign assistance, domestic funds, and UN program funds at his disposal.

Mohammed explained that resident coordinators would need authority to “provide direction and accountability to country teams” as well as be able to access “pool funds to incentivize and drive collaboration.” And, she emphasized the role of resident coordinator as “thought leader,” and the need for money to strengthen his teams with experts on relevant aspects of development.

The substantive focus of each resident coordinator and UN country team is emerging as a topic of contention.

The European Union and other donor nations want a heavy focus on gender equality and human rights, while developing nations want expertise in development, economies, industry, and infrastructure.

Donor nations emphasize achieving all goals in every country. Developing countries instead emphasize the need to help countries farthest behind as a priority of the United Nations development agenda, as well as tailoring UN development assistance to national plans and priorities.

To bridge the gap between donors and developing nations Guterres’ plan wants regional coordinators to be the ones to assess the situation in each country and prepare agreements between governments and the UN system, known as UNDAFs (UN Development Assistance Frameworks), that will guide UN involvement in each country aligning efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda with national priorities.

Developing countries are concerned about how such agreements would be created and the leverage they would have in such negotiations, as well as how resident coordinators appointed by the Secretary General will be selected and then be held accountable to countries after their appointment.

The United States indicated last week that it is only willing to discuss reforms within the existing UN resource availability. This week they warned of the need to be prudent, and to consider alternative options.

Though Mohammed, and other UN officials, describe Guterres’ vision as ambitious and groundbreaking, when the United States used the word “overhaul” to describe the plan Mohammed balked.

“We are not overhauling,” she said.

Informal negotiations to reach an agreement that will endorse and fund Guterres’ reform are expected to begin soon after the briefings.