Ministers of several countries stressed that the reforms must be driven by the desire to strengthen the UN system to play the central and coordinating role in development at the centre of the multilateral system.
Putrajaya, 30 May (Meena Raman) -- Foreign Ministers of the Group of 77 and China voiced strong views on the direction of various on-going United Nations reform processes when they met for a Special Ministerial Meeting in the Malaysian capital Putrajaya on 29 May.
Ministers of several countries stressed that the reforms must be driven by the desire to strengthen the UN system to play the central and coordinating role in development at the centre of the multilateral system, and not weaken it or divert it to only "niche issues', while other organizations (such as the Bretton Woods institutions) are asked to take on central development roles.
Most Ministers who spoke strongly criticised some developed countries for placing a "spending cap" on the budget of the UN Secretary General in an attempt to link financing of the UN to whether the UN reform is going in the speed and direction they want. The G77 Chairperson asked that the spending cap be lifted at the end of June.
The Ministers endorsed the positions taken by the G77 and China diplomats in New York and adopted a G77 and China Ministerial Declaration on UN reform (see report in SUNS #6037 dated 31 May 2006).
Opening the meeting, Aziz Pahad, Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa (which currently chairs the New York chapter of the G77 and China) said the pecial Ministerial Meeting was held to discuss urgent issues in the UN that have arisen since the last G77 Ministerial in September 2005. The issues are mandate review, UN system-wide coherence, Secretariat and Management Reform and the UN budget.
He said the group attaches high priority to strengthening the UN in accordance with the 2005 World Summit outcome so it can address urgent economic and social issues.
Global partnership for development must be enhanced to realize the outcomes of major UN summits and conferences, he said, adding that the group reaffirmed the role of ECOSOC as a principal body for the promotion of development cooperation, coordination, policy making, review and dialogue on international economic issues.
For the G77 and China, strengthening the UN is a collective agenda, and every Member State must be heard and respected during this reform process irrespective of the contributions made to the budget of the organization.
"It is for this reason that the G77 and China is concerned about the spending cap that has been imposed on the Secretary-General in carrying out his duties," he said. "It is unacceptable that this unprecedented measure of restricting the expenditures of the Organization by authorizing the Secretary-General only to enter into expenditures limited to 50% of the approved budget for 2006 is continuing.
"To avoid an unnecessary crisis, the G77 and China expects that the spending cap will be automatically lifted at the end of June 2006. The United Nations deserves to receive adequate, predictable and uninterrupted resources to allow the Secretary-General to undertake effectively the work of the Organization."
Aziz Pahad said the G77 and China expects the results of the system wide coherence process will ensure that the UN can better implement the entire range of its mandates. "We do not accept that the exercise is intended to change the inter-governmental nature of our decision-making, oversight and monitoring processes. Neither is it to reduce the budget levels of the Organization or to fund more activities from within the existing pool of resources, nor is it meant to redefine the roles and responsibilities assigned to the various Organs of the United Nations," he added.
The Malaysian Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar, who hosted the meeting, and who is also the current coordinator of the Non Aligned Movement, said the UN reform could be cast as a clash of ideas and expectations of what the UN is all about and what it stands for, reflecting different conceptions of the UN structure.
Syed Hamid Albar said the G77's ideas are clear and are consistent with the roles of the UN as envisaged in the Charter. The Group has the idea of the multilateral system at the heart of inter-state relations, a system based on sovereign equality of nations, codified in international law, embodied in the UN and its Charter. It is the idea of countries working together in partnership to achieve the goals in the Charter and major international conferences, including the MDGs.
"Ranged against our concept of the UN is their ideal of a multilateral system made up of a collection of plurilateral systems, in which the UN is one out of many such systems. Hence their efforts to reduce the UN to certain niche areas, to manage the UN along the lines of a business and dilute the inter-governmental nature of the UN," he said.
On reform of the Secretariat and management, Syed Hamid Albar summarized four major principles of the G77 position. He said he was extremely disturbed by efforts to portray the G77 as an obstacle to reform, whereas for the G77 reform is a collective agenda where the process is owned by all member states, and all states should have equal roles in monitoring activities related to the reform.
"We recognise the need for the Secretary General to have sufficient authority to carry out his managerial responsibilities and for him to provide a full system of accountability. This can be done without negating the importance of the inter-governmental review mechanisms and the authority of the General Assembly."
On the UN budget, he said "we are concerned at efforts to use the power of the purse to push for reforms in a certain partisan direction, which serves the interests of one or a small group of countries. These efforts are counter-productive and they go against Charter obligations. It would destroy the UN's most precious asset, namely its legitimacy arising from its equitable nature."
Malaysia was equally concerned over the tendency to link the so-called "progress" in management reform with the approval of the Secretary-General's spending limit. "These arbitrary measures are contrary to the UN's budgetary principles, further jeopardize the UN's financial situation and ironically hinder the Secretary General's ability to implement reforms already agreed to in 2005 and this year."
He added that the aim of the mandate review is to strengthen and update the UN's work programme, and should not be a cost-cutting exercise. It should also not change priorities set by the inter-governmental process or transfer priorities outside of the scope of the Secretariat where the General Assembly and ECOSOC have less oversight over the implementation of the related programmes or changes to the mandates.
Given the complexities, the exercise should not be bound by arbitrary timelines as time pressure could be detrimental to the entire reform process.
"We as a Group firmly believe the process must be open, transparent and inclusive with the need for new ways to strengthen communication between member states and the Secretariat and the Secretariat with UN agencies", he said. The Group should register deep concern on the tendency of partners to hold back their UN contributions. It should also engage all partners to prevent immobilization of the UN.
On system-wide coherence, the Minister said the process seeks to radically change UN institutions. Developing countries should be aware of any effort to use this process as a pretext to reduce and diminish the UN. The G77 Ministerial statement gives Ministerial endorsement to the G77 position and would send a clear message to the panel.
For Malaysia, the key aims in system-wide coherence are for the UN to play a more effective role as the "global parliament"; a role in development issues combining the two lines of global-regional-national and normative-analytical-operational aspects; and to ensure the UN retains its intergovernmental nature.
He warned that the process will be long drawn out, with developed countries likely to exert pressure beyond the current process (which is only the first step ending in September), and the G77 must also be in "for the long haul" to shape the agenda.
He concluded that it is a broad and complex process, cutting across three activities (development, environment, humanitarian assistance), three levels of operations (global, regional and national) and "vigilance is required if we are to avoid pitfalls."
Another 21 delegations, led largely by their Ministers of Foreign Affairs, took the floor.
Jamaica said the current processes would have far reaching impact on the UN. The reform should make the UN more effective, transparent and accountable especially to the developing world in the field of development. It was opposed to reforms that weaken the UN agencies.
It was opposed to proposals to merge UNCTAD with other agencies. UNCTAD was formed to serve the developing countries' needs. It is unjust to have a spending cap linked to the UN reform as the reform should not be just a budget crunching exercise. The entire context of UN reform should be to strengthen multilateralism and not narrow political interests, which goes against the grain of the Charter.
Morrocco said that the UN's reform process should revitalize its bodies, especially the Security Council which should be more representative to reflect the current geopolitical environment. ECOSOC should be reinforced and the General Assembly revitalized. The reform process should consider Member States' interests and views regardless of their financial contributions to the organization.
Cuba said the performance of the MDGs is inadequate, with many millions still hungry and illiterate. There is selective protectionism in industrial countries. There is no progress in the Doha round, especially on the development issues. Coercive measures and embargos continue to be applied. Developing countries should work together to protect their rights.
"We can reinvigorate the UN on development issues," said Cuba. There is need to focus not so much on management but on finding a deep rooted overhaul of the international economic system through a system wide coherence process that enables the Third World to progress and achieve the UN's goals of the last decade. The G77 and NAM should oppose financial linkage with reforms and ask for cooperation mechanisms without conditions.
Egypt said UN reform should increase the role of ECOSOC. It expressed concern that the mandates review process is aimed mainly at reducing costs. Instead the focus should be to expand certain activities currently lacking in the UN. In this regard, it mentioned disarmament issues and activities, and the need to defend certain mandates relating to the Arab region, with the Palestinian cause being especially important.
Philippines said UN reform is important but it should not alter the principle that every country has a say. It stressed that UNCTAD has a key role in the UN on trade and finance matters.
Thailand said this is a critical juncture. Decisions on development are moving far too slowly. There is an atmosphere of polarization and the UN reform process is not going well. The G77 must build bridges of cooperation and close gaps of misunderstanding. The momentum for reform should be reinvigorated. Difficult issues should not put a brake on the process. System wide coherence should not be merely on cost cutting but should lead to a well coordinated UN system.
Chile said the G77 document was excellent with in-depth analysis. There is a tsunami of mandates (for UN reform) and the Secretary General has trouble coordinating. In 1990s, there was a lot of debate on poverty reduction in ECOSOC and there should be a mechanism to follow through to combat poverty. ECOSOC should be restructured for cohesion and coordinating of various gencies. Spending caps are highly regrettable as better management does not come from spending caps.
Syria said the G77 comprises two third of UN membership and has the right to lead the reform process, which should make the UN more effective for development. The reform process should not be confined to cost cutting. Timeframes to implement the reform process should not be used as a form of pressure. The use of budget restraints to get results that benefit a limited group of countries should continue to be resisted.
India said the IMF and World Bank have strayed far from their original roles. The Bretton Woods institutions have power but no mandate, while ECOSOC has mandate but no power. There is need to mobilize political will for policy coherence. The basis for this should be set by the UN on global economic issues based on the UN agenda. The UN should provide leadership. There is an important role for UNCTAD and its mandate needs to be secured.
Laos said the UN's development role should be strengthened. On Secretariat management reform, there should be a universal decision-making mechanism. Reform measures should ensure increased representation of developing countries in senior staff echelons. The mandate review should not be a cost cutting exercise. Savings should be directed to developmental activities. There should be predictable resources. The spending cap should be lifted on request of the Secretary General at an appropriate time. Size of financial contribution should not be used as a means for pressure.
Pakistan said the strength of the G77 emanates from its number of members and ability to transform this into political clout through a common strategy. The G77 should stress that key attention be given to development as well as equitable representation. UNCTAD should be given resources to commission development impact assessment of trade agreements and norms and to ensure policy space for developing countries.
Guatemala said equality and sovereignty of all countries is an important principle, regardless of financial contributions of countries. It opposed measures that impose conditionality on UN organizations. It highlighted issues of poverty and uneven benefits of globalization and the need to protect biodiversity and rights of migrants.
Indonesia said the reform process can only be done through global partnership. There is need for coherence of humanitarian assistance and environmental programmes. There is also need for improved coordination between the UN and Bretton Woods institutions. Funding should be more predic table and sustained for humanitarian and environmental assistance. There should be no spending caps.
Zimbabwe, speaking on mandate review, said some mandates may not be redundant and could be on agenda but remain unfulfilled. It is better to allocate resources for them than to strike them off as redundant. The General Assembly is the only forum where every member is present and that should be the body to review the mandates to ensure the widest possible participation. On reform of Secretariat management, there should be equal participation by all. On system wide coherence, developed countries have shifted resources from development to political issues, such as rule of law, democracy and human rights. It looks unlikely that the MDGs will be achieved. MDGs.
Venezuela said each nation can determine its own development, there is no one single model of development or democracy and this should be reflected in multilateral agreements. It stressed the importance of the General Assembly in monitoring the UN reform processes. Some countries do not have coherence between what they say and how they act, for example, speaking about free trade but practising protectionism, and asking for liberalizing goods and services but limiting movement of people.
It warned against hidden political motives of some members asking for mandate review. It rejected conditionality for development, stressed the need to democratize the World Bank and IMF and to rectify systemic imbalance in them, stressed respect for political space and national sovereignty, and reaffirmed South-South cooperation. It also denounced the role of TNCs in corrupt practices. TNCs have to respect the law and the interests of people should be above those of TNCs.
China said the reform processes are important. There should be equality in decision-making. It is important for developing countries to have a comprehensive strategy to protect the common interest. Mandate review should not be aimed at cost cutting but on strengthening the UN. It supported management reform that increased the effectiveness and credibility of the UN.
In summing up the debate, South Africa's Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad said the many statements indicated that the G77 and China was united in its broad approaches. He added there was need to put at rest the misconception that the G77 is not committed to UN reform. The Group seriously wanted to transform the UN but as a club not of the more powerful but of all. This had to be explained to the world at large, as the misrepresentation against the Group's position should not continue. "We should be evolving public opinion for effective transformation of the UN," he added.
Aziz Pahad said the G77 would continue to dialogue with the G8 and EU. The dialogue would not be for dialogue's sake but to put across the G77's concrete concerns. "Our national and regional interests can only be served if we are cohesive and understand the issues at stake," he said, adding that the reform process should not be a case of the strong dictating the weak. With the continued support of its members, the G77 was confident that "we will transform the UN in the interests of all."
The meeting then adopted a 32-paragraph statement of the G77 and China on the UN reform (see report of this in SUNS #6037 dated 31 May 2006). The meeting ended with the Chairperson saying that "the deliberations have given us a greater confidence in building a vibrant movement."