Deputy Secretary-General Notes Shift of Focus to Collaboration, Accountability, in Briefing on Repositioning United Nations Development System

DSG/SM/1393
28 February 2020

Deputy Secretary-General Notes Shift of Focus to Collaboration, Accountability, in Briefing on Repositioning United Nations Development System

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the second plenary briefing on the repositioning of the United Nations development system:  Multi-Country Offices (MCO) and regional review, in New York today:

It is a pleasure to launch this second plenary on the repositioning of the United Nations development system.  This is a series of three plenaries ahead of the Secretary-General’s report to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Operational Activities Segment.

Today, I am joined by the High Representative of our United Nations Office for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), Fekita 'Utoikamanu, as well as Assistant Secretary-General Haoliang Xu from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).  I would also like to acknowledge the role played by UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), as co-chair with UNDP of our Inter-Agency Working Group on the MCO review.  I thank them all for their collective leadership in advancing the Multi-Country Office review.  We also welcome the Assistant Secretary-General for Development Coordination, Robert Piper.

Let me begin by thanking all of you for your active engagement.  Your feedback and questions have shaped our approach and your perspectives will continue to inform our collective work.  The objective of the briefing today is to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation as the informal consultations take place.  We stand by our promise that there will be no surprises in the upcoming Secretary-General’s report.

I am just back from Zimbabwe, where I attended the regional forum for sustainable development and chaired a small retreat with all regional directors of the United Nations development system to discuss the rollout of the regional review.  I also convened a half-day meeting with all resident coordinators in Africa.  This is the first in a series of engagements with regions to accelerate our efforts in this Decade of Action.  Region by region, country by country, momentum is growing and reforms are taking root.

I see a very strong shift in the discussions with resident coordinators.  Instead of dwelling on the mechanics of reforms — such as dual reporting lines and guidance for new cooperation frameworks — the focus is turning to practical solutions that maximize the new generation of United Nations country teams to deliver for people.  This is a sea change from discussions with regional directors just one year ago.

We are seeing greater ambition and focus on collaboration and accountability for results.  There is a shared understanding, which was echoed from Governments, civil society, academia and youth in the regional Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forum.  With 10 years to deliver the SDGs, we have no time to lose.

In recent weeks, our consultations have helped provide greater specificity and advanced our efforts to finalize the remaining mandates of the United Nations development system reforms.  So, where do we stand?  Let’s begin with the MCO review.  Since my last plenary briefing, OHRLLS has held three follow-up meetings — two with countries serviced by MCOs and one with partners and donors.  Colleagues from the Development Coordination Office and representatives of the SDGs have helped clarify the proposals and respond to questions.

We were attuned to the interests of Member States, particularly small island developing States, for more time to consider proposals for the operationalization of the MCO review.  I instructed OHRLLS to continue discussions until March so that we can ensure clear understanding and ownership of the package proposed by the Secretary-General, ahead of the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment.  I have also asked resident coordinators in MCO settings to engage national counterparts to ensure that voices from the field continue to inform this process.

Agencies, funds, programmes and regional economic commissions have come forward with collective and entity-specific commitments to scale up tailored support, integrated policy advice, technical capacities, physical presence, SDG financing, data systems and South-South and triangular cooperation.  The Development Coordination Office has planned, costed and mobilized resources to increase coordination and support across all regions with MCOs.  This is in addition to the strengthened resources — human and financial — that each MCO already receives as part of the new resident coordinator system.

I have been reassured by feedback from Member States that we have a strong policy and operational offer, designed to scale up integrated policy advice; technical capacities; physical presence; increased support to SDG financing; data systems; and South-South and triangular cooperation.  Most questions now revolve around configuration and budgetary implications of increased support.

In response, we have provided a breakdown of the budgets, functions and road maps to move forward.  We have clarified that additional capacities to be supported by the Development Coordination Office will be resourced within the existing budget of the resident coordinator system special purpose trust fund.  We are ready to move into implementation in this first half of the year and look forward to a swift decision by ECOSOC.

I am committed to ensure that, as we advance, we can adjust and course-correct, as needed.  And while the dialogue to clarify final questions by some countries covered by MCOs is ongoing, we also hear the many MCO countries are keen to begin implementation without further delay.  Small island developing States have been waiting too long and cannot afford to lose any more time on the road to 2030, especially given the existential threat of climate change.  We count on ECOSOC to bring this effort to conclusion with a sense of urgency so we can move forward in our support to countries with a stronger, better coordinated United Nations development system.

Let me now turn to the review of our regional assets.  Since my last briefing in late January, Under-Secretary-General [Jens] Wandel has initiated consultations with experts from each region.  Consultations with the African Group, the Group of Western European and Other States and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States were held last week.  Consultations with the Asia-Pacific Group and the Eastern European States Group will follow in March.

We thank all experts for their active engagement and insights.  Their initial feedback confirms support for our approach and shared expectations for more collaboration and better results on challenges that transcend borders.  There is support across the board for a focus on areas where the regions can have a comparative advantage — including in data, analysis and convening for issues that cannot be address on a country-by-country basis.

We are clear.  The task of our regional presence is not to implement, but to generate knowledge, pool together capacities and enable results in countries.  At the same time, important questions remain, and we have heard clear calls to further unpack the final set of proposed measures as they apply to each region.

Let me touch on three consistent messages from our conversations with Member States:  first, a call for more clarity on the regional collaborative platforms, in particular, their governance structure and interaction with United Nations country teams.  The platforms are not a new structure or a legal entity.  Like the SDGs or United Nations country teams, they are a collaboration mechanism.  But they would be a unified mechanism — moving away from the duplication we have today in all regions.  The platforms offer a pragmatic way to reduce overlaps and promote coherence, coordinated action, improved internal communications — and therefore a more effective deployment of our regional assets.

We have noted your concerns regarding oversight to United Nations country teams.  We have clarified that the oversight of resident coordinators remains a direct line to the Secretary-General, managed by the Development Coordination Office, in line with resolution 72/279.  Please be assured that the oversight role of the regional collaborative platforms does not entail additional reporting lines or formal reporting.  It aims to ensure that regional directors can also assess, in a coherent way, the overall collective performance of United Nations country teams — not that of resident coordinators or individual agency programmes.  Perhaps a better term may be “assessment of results and strategic direction”, rather than oversight.

I am also aware that we must be clearer on the relationships between the regional collaborative platforms and the country level; collaboration between the platforms and regional organizations; and the division of labour between the regional collaborative platforms and the issue-based coalitions.  Checks and balance are important in all we do, and these will remain robust.  We will provide further details on the specific role and added value of the issues-based coalitions and measures to avoid duplication.

Second, we have heard general support for knowledge management hubs in the regions.  We all agree on the need to organize our policy assets in a more structured way, to make them more identifiable and accessible by regions.  A regional knowledge hub will ensure that expertise across the SDGs have a clear home — virtual or physical — in each agency and are able to pool their expertise together rather than duplicating them in separate offices.  This does not exist today.  Our policy offer in each region is unknown and, consequently, its impact is suboptimal.

When it comes to design, several experts stated that the hubs should focus on rosters of knowledge rather than rosters of experts — and that those should reside in the public domain.  Some of you suggested more cross-regional conversations to share practices and ideas.  We will do so in upcoming weeks.  We have also heard calls to help empower Member States to contribute to the SDG Gateways that will consolidate data in each region, in light of capacity constraints that persist at the national level regarding data and statistics.

Third, you asked for more clarity on how the regional review will translate into efficiency gains at the regional level.  We hear you loud and clear.  We are establishing the foundations for a more efficient regional response.  Our goal is to deepen assets to maximize investments in development results — in other words, transforming duplications into synergies.

When we started this exercise, there were no plans or data for efficiencies in the regions.  We have come a long way; but this is a long-term effort.  In the briefing on efficiencies earlier today, you heard about our efforts to advance a strategy for more efficient United Nations operations, in terms of common back offices, premises, procurement, car fleets and other administrative issues.  The regional level has now been included at the heart of the efficiencies agenda.  For the first time.  By the time we get to ECOSOC, we hope we will reach a common understanding on establishing the building blocks for a more accountable, results-oriented and efficient regional response.

Your inputs will continue to steer our work as we conclude our recommendations for your endorsement during the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment.  I look forward to engaging in the upcoming regional meetings and detailing our regional proposals.  I will hold a third and final briefing on these remaining mandates in March, ahead of the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment.  The outcomes of all three consultations will be reflected in the Secretary-General’s report to ECOSOC, which will be released prior to the Segment.

In the next few weeks, we will continue to reach out to ensure our recommendations reflect your priorities.  We all want to ensure success and a system that fully responds to the demands of the Decade of Action and the expectations of the people we serve.  We have another month to go before the Secretary-General submits his final package of proposals to reposition our regions and MCOs.  I am confident that, together, we will deliver the remaining mandates of the quadrennial comprehensive periodic review with the same level of ambition that has marked the reform process so far.

We are all eager to turn fully to implementation and to leverage the reforms to advance the Decade of Action.  Ambition, mobilization, solutions.  This is what the world expects of us.  This is what our reforms are about.  Thank you for your engagement.  I look forward to an open and candid exchange today.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.