Statement on Strengthening governance of operational activities for development of the United Nations system for enhanced system-wide coherence

Robert S. Hagen, Deputy U.S. Representative to ECOSOC General Assembly
New York, NY
May 8, 2009


Distinguished Co-Chairs,
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the Secretary-General’s Discussion Note on Strengthening Governance of Operational Activities for Development of the United Nations System for System-Wide Coherence. Before sharing our preliminary thoughts on specific recommendations, I would first like to make a few general points.

  • As the discussion note points out, considerable progress has been made in recent years within existing structures and relationships towards achieving meaningful reforms. We should bear this in mind when we examine the potential pros and cons of any shift in existing policy, operational or oversight roles of the various UN bodies involved in development activities.
  • It is important to draw on the unique mandates and capabilities of each of the UN’s development, technical, and specialized agencies. This requires flexibility in their programmatic work, as well as in our oversight of their work. The key objectives should be to strengthen the individual effectiveness of the various UN agencies, and improve their ability to work together as a coordinated team in the field.
  • As we move forward with the system-wide coherence agenda, we should also bear in mind the close link between improving organizational effectiveness and the delivery of results, on the one hand, and building political support for increased core funding for operational activities of the UN, on the other.
  • Better coordination in the field is an important avenue towards improving efficiency and results. The up-coming evaluations of the "delivering as one” pilots should provide us with valuable performance data for mapping a way forward.

Let me now offer some more specific observations on the recommendations in the Secretary-General’s report. Our intention is to advance our common goal of a more effective UN development system:

  1. Regarding a central repository of information on UN operational activities for development, we would appreciate knowing what has already been achieved, what the challenges are, and the budget implications of formally creating the repository.
  2. Practice has shown that the individual governing boards are the only proven workable mechanism for translating General Assembly and ECOSOC resolutions into operational guidance for the agencies. Our focus accordingly should be on enhancing, not diminishing, their role in making management and programmatic decisions for the agencies. Of course, the policy pronouncements of the General Assembly and ECOSOC also play an important role in making the system more coherent.
  3. Some consolidation of GA and ECOSOC functions could be a useful step toward achieving better coherence. This deserves additional consideration and debate. Although enhanced coherence at the national level is also an extremely important issue, there are of course many ways to achieve this objective, including by developing strong interagency coordination processes. Creating national focal points might also be appropriate in some cases, but in any event these questions are the prerogative of individual governments.
  4. The United States supports strongly the concept of country ownership over development processes. While the UN Development Assistance Framework has been a mainstay in country-level coordination among agencies and between the UN and host governments, it should not be the only template. To engage in truly country-owned common programming, countries have to have the ability to choose the modalities through which they want to engage with the UN country team. It is important to remember that in many countries, the UN system provides only a small percentage of development assistance.
  5. We see merit in the suggestion to merge ECOSOC's operational and coordination segments. However, we have reservations about holding Board meetings during the ECOSOC operational segment. The Boards are the governing bodies that make practical decisions to guide agencies' management and program activities, while ECOSOC is a political body that engages in normative policy debates and passes resolutions.
  6. The U.S. supports the idea of strengthening ECOSOC's high-level segment to better focus its outcomes on relevant issues, which would also help attract high-level attendance.
  7. We support efforts towards greater coherence at the headquarters and country level, but question the practicality of adding work on a regional coordination mechanism to an already ambitious agenda at this time.
  8. The U.S. supports improved coordination between the UN system and the Bretton Woods Institutions, particularly in the field. There have been some very significant advances in this area over the last few years. At the same time, the UN and Bretton Woods Institutions have distinct mandates and governance structures, and we need to maintain a clear division of labor between them. We would be interested in further elaboration of the call for "harmonization of strategic frameworks, instruments, modalities and partnership arrangements."
  9. We support the strengthening of system-wide performance review and evaluation, particularly with regards to support the UN provides to help countries achieve the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals. It is unclear, though, why a new evaluation unit is needed, as opposed to drawing from existing UN Evaluation Group expertise.

In closing, Distinguished Co-Chairs, we would like to thank you for your leadership and assure you of the United States’ continuing commitment to this process.

Thank you.


PRN: 2009/105