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What will the High Level Panel on UN Reform announce this Thursday?

Written by Simon Maxwell

Kemal Dervis, the UNDP Administrator, spoke for ODI and the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development on Wednesday and hinted at the recommendations of the UN High Level Panel on System Wide Coherence, due to be published next Thursday, 9 November.

Here are some extracts from the report of the meeting:

'It would obviously not be right to discuss the details of the Report of the High Level Panel in detail, prior to publication.  However, the UN system was extremely complicated, with 38 organisations, each with different status, governance and funding.  The High Level Panel would argue for less duplication, less fragmentation and lower transactions costs.  It would do this without recommending particular merger or closures.  It would recommend some pooling of funding and new governing mechanisms to improve coherence. . . .

It was possible to think of an 'embassy model', in which the ambassador (the UN Resident Co-ordinator) represented the system as a whole, while the 'embassy' (the UN office) contained people who worked for home ministries (specialised agencies).  Sectoral representatives would have dual management, to the RC and to their home agencies.  In addition, the UNDP would have its own programmes in areas such as governance, economic management and tracking progress against the MDGs.  Roughly, he said, that was what the High Level Panel was recommending.  The embassy analogy was useful in understanding the RC system, but should not pushed too far, since the UN did not have attributes of sovereignty.'

Acting as discussant, I said

'The hints as to the content of the High Level Panel were welcome.  An interesting question was where this would leave UNDP.  As originally conceived (for example in the days of Paul Hoffman), UNDP was the principal development organ of the UN, channelling money to Specialised Agencies and other bodies.  That role had fallen out of favour from the mid-1970s on, with severe negative consequences for UNDP's budget, to the point where its basic infrastructure was threatened.  From the mid-1990s on, UNDP had reinvented itself as a kind of 'n+1' specialised agency, with a focus on governance and post-war reconstruction.  These were two very different models.  Which one did Kemal Dervis believe was right for UNDP?  Or did he hope to ride both horses?'

Kemal Dervis said that 'UNDP had a clear comparative advantage vis a vis the World Bank on topics like governance.  He did not want a UNDP that would be a pure bureaucratic coordinator.  It had to have substantive work on governance and institution-building.  It should not withdraw from substantive matters, but nor should it carry out sectoral work that others could do.'

The audio record of the meeting and a full meeting report can be accessed here.