UN Super Bureaucrats Cause Stir at UN Headquarters

By | August 17, 2017

UN Photo/ Kim Haughton

NEW YORK, August 18 (C-Fam) The hottest item of the summer at UN headquarters may not be the crisis in North Korea but new Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ plan to overhaul the UN development system. While UN member States were able to act together on North Korea, they have still to agree on how to proceed with Guterres’ plan.

Russian Deputy Permanent Representative, Mr. Sergeyn Kononuchenko, described the plan as a “highly controversial vision” and an “unjustified expansion of the authority of the secretariat” during a special briefing to discuss the plan in July.

Guterres told states his plan would concentrate political and administrative power in a regional coordinator in each country with a “direct supervisory role over all UN activities.” Until now regional coordinators have been little more than formal intermediaries between countries and UN agencies and funds.

Under Guterres’ reform a regional coordinator at the helm of a “new generation” of UN country teams would have power to direct the work of the entire UN system in the country to which they are assigned. The bureaucrats would raise funding and tell governments how to spend their own and money and foreign assistance to optimize implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Kononuchenko warned that the proposals would “transform” regional coordinators into political actors and “further bureaucratize” the UN development system.  Specifically, he denounced it as an “attempt to weaken control by member states over the system” and objected that the reform would result in a “politically motivated standard for operations” that attempted to sidestep approval of UN programming at the country level.

Guterres rejected the accusations. While admitting the interpretation made by the Russian federation was “possible” and that he “fully respected it,” he denied any intent to “centralize or politicize the system.”

Guterres countered that the reform is designed to increase accountability both at UN headquarters and at the national level. He said regional coordinators would be approved by countries before they took office—though he did not address how they could be held accountable once they took office. He promised that the reform would create a mechanism for the UN system to become more responsive to national priorities, as opposed to the priorities of donors.

Nevertheless, it was donor countries, including Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States, who voiced support for the plan thus far. Most developing countries did not enter into the discussion about the merits of Guterres’ proposal, admitting that they were caught off-guard by the proposal’s release on the weekend before July 4.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, representing 127 developing nations, the Ambassador of Ecuador described the Secretary General’s report as “not traditional.”

“It is not just technical. It has a vision, a dream, a philosophy, political positions,” he said emphatically and rhetorically.  “This is worthy of praise,” he added cautiously, because the “organization needed shaking up.”

Other developing countries acknowledged the need for reform of the UN bureaucracy. Mexico’s ambassador most notably said the UN system’s “institutional complexity has evolved in an anarchic and arbitrary way.”

The final proposal from Guterres is expected in December. Consultations between the Secretary General and member states are ongoing.