Global Policy Forum

Mandate Review Moves to Humanitarian Cluster

March 6, 2008

With a new color-coded methodology devised by the co-Chairs on Mandate Review, the General Assembly's Ad Hoc Working Group on the issue voiced tentative agreement to move "from format to substance" in assessing humanitarian assistance mandates. Informal consultations took place on 27 February, the first meeting of the Working Group in the 62nd Session. The General Assembly is faced with the task of reviewing its 9,000 mandates five years old or older (as of September 2005). Click here for the database of mandates.

The co-Chairs appointed by the GA President Srgjan Kerim in October 2007 - Ambassadors Rosemary Banks of Ireland and Kaire Mbuende of Namibia - spent the previous few weeks consulting with delegations on the format and presentation of information to be used in reviewing mandates. Their hope at the 27 February meeting, said Ambassador Mbuende, was to reach agreement on the review methodology so the Group could proceed to substantive discussion. At the conclusion of the meeting, he indicated that Member States had given signals to that effect and he believed the substantive review would commence soon.

The co-Chairs described the methodology they had designed, and they provided a preliminary list of humanitarian-related mandates that may require discussion, which totals 155. The next meeting will take place on 12 March. Delegations are expected to provide responses on the methodology and possibly to begin discussion on the thematic cluster of mandates called Effective coordination of Humanitarian Assistance Efforts. There are 279 such mandates in total; 155 tentatively have been categorized by the Co-Chairs as needing review.

The other thematic clusters to be reviewed are: Maintenance of international peace and security; Promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development; Development of Africa; Promotion of Human Rights; Promotion of Justice and International Law; Disarmament; and Organizational, administrative and other matters. The co-Chairs hope to complete three clusters by July 2008 at the rate of two months per cluster. The next two clusters have not been determined yet. The co-Chairs anticipate that all decisions ultimately reached in the Working Group will be submitted to President Kerim for his formalization as a Resolution for action in the GA plenary.

New Methodology Presented

Guiding Principles

The co-Chairs said that their work was guided by the principles and parameters suggested by President Kerim in October 2007 and accepted by Member States (see letter of 6 November 2007):

. The main objective of Mandate Review is "to strengthen the UN, to update its programme of work and to improve the effective and efficient allocation of scarce resources";
. Resources saved by eliminating redundant or outdated development mandates should be reinvested into development-related activities; and
. Regarding politically sensitive mandates, the review process should proceed "with caution and with due respect to the perspectives of those Member States whose interests are directly engaged."

Matrix - Color-coded Groups of Mandates

The co-Chairs aimed to develop a "framework for analysis" - a methodology for mandate review that would allow for fact-based analysis, provide a transparent process, make information easy for delegations to use in decision-making, and be applicable to all mandates.

The framework they devised uses a matrix to organize mandates into categories, according to two criteria - 1) "suitability of mandate with current need" - whether the mandate fully, partly, or does not at all reflects current need; and 2) "efficiency and effectiveness" of the mandates' delivery. The options for delivery status are:

. Not being delivered;
. Being delivered in accordance with mandate, with some duplication of activities; and
. Being delivered in accordance with mandate with no duplication of activities.

Member States would use the matrix to assess each group of mandates, which are color-coded:

. Green: mandates that fully reflect current need and are effectively implemented;
. Amber: mandates that would benefit from consolidation or strengthening;
. Red: mandates on which action is needed to fill a gap or to discontinue; and
. Grey: mandates which are already completed.

The co-Chairs said that a cluster with which to test this methodology had been selected in consultation with delegations -"Effective coordination of Humanitarian Assistance Efforts."

Analysis of Mandates

The next step is to analyze each mandate using information from Member States and implementing agencies. The result of the analysis is to place mandates in their appropriate categories. The co-Chairs' "preliminary analysis" relies on information already received from relevant Member States as well as the UN Secretariat.

Preliminary results for the humanitarian cluster:

. Green: 155 mandates
. Amber: 26 mandates
. Red: 35 mandates
. Grey: 54 mandates

The last step is to identify gaps and duplications in the overall work of the UN in that area, in this case humanitarian efforts.


A "limitation" to the methodology is that the UN Secretariat's accounting system does not make it possible to show the total resources being committed to individual mandates.

Comments from Member States

Member States' preliminary responses:

  • The members of the Working Group were impressed by the large work load involved in preparing the materials presented, and they acknowledged the co-Chairs' dedication.

  • Many Member States were receptive to the proposed methodology, to addressing the humanitarian cluster first, and to approaching it as a "test drive" for the methodology. The EU suggested that after completing the humanitarian cluster, the working group should apply any lessons learned to the following clusters of mandates. Singapore agreed with this, noting that the humanitarian cluster was an appropriate place to start because it was "not too sensitive." Japan suggested that the methodology was worth trying, but that given Mandate Review's "checkered past," it was important to continue building confidence in the process. Thus the Group should apply this methodology on a trial basis and evaluate it following the first cluster.

  • Several delegations voiced concern about the UN Secretariat's accounting system, which the co-Chairs explained does not allow for a financial analysis of mandates. Currently it is not possible to merge mandates with program budgets to reveal the resources devoted to each mandate. Delegates wondered how they would calculate the resources freed up by the elimination of a certain mandate, and further, how to decide on the better use of those resources. Japan urged resource implications to be included in future revisions of the materials presented. Barbados stressed the importance of continuing to seek financial information from the Secretariat. Co-Chair Mbuende noted that 1) a resource-based management system - which will allow for financial analysis - is being introduced as part of other reforms; 2) Humanitarian mandates are somewhat different from others in terms of the resources used, as they are funded primarily from outside the regular budget, they are based on emergencies and ever-changing situations, and the management of their programs costs about 10% of their total budget; and 3) The resource implications of reviewing mandates will become more evident upon moving to the other clusters. At that point the Secretariat will be requested to report on resource implications.

  • The issue of confidence and trust also was raised in the context of the principle to reinvest resources in development activities. South Korea noted that the Group should seek to work by consensus only, and that transparency would be essential to "justifying the outcome" of the Group's work. Pakistan also urged a "transparent and inclusive" process and said the proposed methodology provided the basis for that. Sierra Leone and Brazil reiterated the agreed principle that resources made available by eliminating a development-related mandate must be reinvested in development activities, and Sierra Leone stated that most of the UN's resources should be spent on development.

  • One delegation questioned whose opinions were reflected in the category of humanitarian mandates that were "no longer needed." Ambassador Banks replied that affected countries had been contacted for their views, some of which are included in the 26 February letter on the methodology. Djibouti, one of the States in question, agreed with the assessment that the mandate in that country was no longer required.

  • Japan called for a "reality check," saying that the process depended not only on the right methodology but also on the quality of information used in analysis. Member States' expertise would be important in addition to input from the Secretariat.

  • The U.S. stated that the goal of mandate review is to reduce, consolidate, and eliminate old, inefficient, or no-longer-applicable mandates, and that so far, the pace of the review was of concern. Cuba noted that the goal was not only to eliminate mandates but also to strengthen mandates, which conceivably could result in increased spending, and this should be acknowledged by the co-Chairs.

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