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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

South Faults One-Size-Fits-All Approach

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 07 April, (IPS): The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of 77 (G77), the two largest political and economic groups of developing nations, have expressed reservations on a proposed plan to restructure the U.N.'s operational activities for social and economic development.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, both groups have cautioned him against rushing into any hasty decision leading to the implementation of the proposed plan, which includes a single, unified approach to all U.N. development activities in the field.

"There is no one-size-fits-all (approach)," the joint letter said, warning that there should be no restrictions on the ability and sovereignty of national governments to determine their own development priorities or select their own development partners.

The letter was a strong reaction to a report by a blue-ribbon panel of current and former world leaders who have called for "a unified United Nations" at the country level -- with one leader, one programme, one budget, and where appropriate, one office.

Titled the "High-Level Panel on U.N. System-Wide Coherence", the 15-member panel released a study last November called "Delivering as One" that focused on three areas: development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.

The ultimate aim of the "One-UN" initiative is to reduce duplication and transaction costs so that the United Nations can use resources more effectively to support partner countries to achieve their development goals, according to the panel.

While conceding there are "a number of useful recommendations on the report we can build on", the NAM/G77 letter warns that the study may have mistakenly touched on "cross cutting issues" -- such as human rights, gender and sustainable development -- as part of U.N. operational activities for development.

While cross-cutting issues are not confined only to developing countries, the letter says that both the G77 and NAM are concerned "that those issues, as well as humanitarian assistance, might be misused to introduce new conditionalities on international development assistance, which is not acceptable to developing countries."

Both groups met the secretary-general last week to brief him in greater detail. The secretary-general himself is expected to provide his own reactions and recommendations to the panel's report shortly.

Among the other recommendations in the report are: a Sustainable Development Board to oversee the One-UN Country programmes; a new panel consisting of the U.N. Secretary-General, the president of the World Bank and the Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to review, update and conclude formal agreements on their respective roles and relations at the global and country levels.

As part of the "One-U.N." programme, eight countries have volunteered to be guinea pigs in an experimental exercise meant to reduce duplication and to use resources more effectively.

The programme, which is expected to be launched later this year, will be evaluated over the next 12 months for possible inclusion of additional countries willing to join it.

The eight pilot countries -- Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Vietnam -- will provide case studies as to how the U.N. family can deliver in a more coordinated manner by pooling funds at the country level.

The G77 and NAM are skeptical of the One-UN approach to operational activities for development.

"The U.N. development system should continue to support development efforts of developing countries principally by assisting in the implementation of nationally determined development plans, strategies and priorities," the letter said.

James Paul, executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, points out that the whole concept of "coherence" is problematical, since it is driven by pressure to adhere to a single standard of development -- a standard that is heavily influenced by neo-liberalism.

In institutional terms, he argued, the coherence panel favors eliminating institutions and streamlining a process that is likely to eliminate or seriously reduce the advocacy emphasis of the various U.N. funds and programmes.

These include the U.N. Development Programme, the U.N. Children's Fund, the U.N. Population Fund, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and the U.N. Environment Programme, among many others, which are actively involved in various country programmes in developing countries.

"Institutional tinkering is a way to avoid directly addressing the crisis of development and the dilemma of an aid system that is making so little progress," Paul told IPS.

Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway and one of the co-chairs of the panel, told a U.N. press conference last November that the United Nations could save up to 20 percent of its current costs system-wide by eliminating duplication and consolidating certain funds and programmes.

"The whole idea is not to save money for donor countries, but to save money so we can use more money for development, more money for protecting the environment and more money for humanitarian assistance," he added.

But despite the good intentions of the panel, the successful implementation of its proposals will depend largely on whether or not it receives the necessary support from developing countries, comprising over two-thirds of the 192-member General Assembly and who represent all the members of both NAM and the G77.

The letter to the secretary-general also points out that coherence at the national and international level should also involve the Bretton Woods institutions, namely the World Bank and the IMF, where they exist.

"They should be part of any integrated approach to development cooperation. Bilateral development partners should also be part and parcel of this approach," it said.

Chee Yoke Ling of the Penang-based Third World Network, one of more active development-oriented non-governmental organizations, points out that 2007 is a decisive year for U.N. reform.

"The fundamental issue is whether the high-level panel proposals will overall strengthen or weaken the U.N. system's activities and impact on sustainable development, in both policy and operations," she told IPS.

Increasingly, she said, the trend seems to be developed countries seeking to narrow the wider development work of the United Nations and to align the world body with the Bretton Woods Institutions.

Developing countries have always had more trust in the U.N. system, but this can be drastically eroded if the reform further weakens that system, she added.

"The G77 and NAM letter reflects this shaken trust," Ling said.

She said that her own organization and many civil society groups are very concerned that the panel's proposals seem to reduce the U.N.'s economic and social affairs mandate to "development", which is further reduced to only aid and some technical assistance.

She said there are also concerns that the diversity and best aspects of the United Nations may be replaced with a concentration of authority in the proposed Sustainable Development Board, the Development Policy and Operations Council, and a Development Coordinator, thereby creating "an architecture where the UN system makes or breaks on the shoulders of a small number of individuals."

-Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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