Global Policy Forum

Member States Move Towards a "Basket" Approach

March 21, 2008

Member States are moving towards a "basket" approach in negotiating the elements of UN System-wide Coherence, following recommendations by the co-Chairs of the consultations.

The current agenda for System-wide Coherence was borne out of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. The document called for much stronger coordination across the UN's development-related and other operational activities, and for the establishment of a High-level Panel (HLP) to issue specific recommendations. The 48 recommendations of the November 2006 report of the HLP have since been grouped into eight thematic categories for consideration by Member States. Four of these issues have been placed into the first "basket" of issues, consultations for which will begin on 28 March.

The proposal to move forward on the basis of two baskets comes after months of negotiations between Member States regarding how best to implement the recommendations of the HLP to improve System-wide Coherence across the UN. Reactions to the basket approach have been varied, and the exact modalities of how best to move forward with it remain under active consideration by Member States.

The co-Chairs of Member State consultations on System-wide Coherence are Ambassador John Paul Kavanaugh of Ireland and Ambassador Augustine Mahiga of Tanzania. Appointed by the President of the General Assembly Srgjam Kerim on 11 January 2008, the co-Chairs are tasked with working "towards an agreement on the modalities for implementing greater coherence across the United Nations development activities system".

The "Basket" Approach

In a General Assembly meeting on 7 February, co-Chairs met with Member States to "take stock of recent developments", including the report of the previous (61st Session) co-Chairs and the Stocktaking Priorities and Agenda initiated by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro at the end of 2007. In his opening address, President Kerim urged that "without ambitious and far-reaching reforms the United Nations will be unable to deliver on its promises and maintain its position at the heart of the multilateral system."

Co-Chair Mahiga followed by addressing the dilemma of how to approach implementation: "We believe that as a practical proposition, it would be extremely difficult to seek to move ahead on all aspects of the High Level Report at the same time." Proceeding with "a pragmatic approach" would dictate starting with the aspects that can be addressed immediately. This would rule out the Delivering as One initiative, since "it will be 2009 before we have any definitive evaluation of the effectiveness of this approach in delivering development assistance."

In letters of 26 February and 4 March 2008, and in two papers to the UNIDO conference "System-Wide Coherence: The Next Steps" in Vienna on 4 and 5 March 2008, the co-Chairs proposed addressing the HLP recommendations on a "basket by basket" approach. Of the eight thematic groupings that have previously been debated, four were proposed for inclusion in the first "basket", as follows:


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Accordingly, the co-Chairs proposed open consultations on the four "first-basket" issues, prior to the June scheduled report to the President of the GA, as follows:

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Reactions to the Basket Approach

Member States have expressed concern that the four themes proposed for immediate discussion are primarily the concerns of developed states, and that the remaining issues will not receive the same attention. Members of the Group of 77 (G77) and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) reportedly are seeking assurances that the entire scope of issues will be discussed. The co-Chairs' recommended approach is a departure from many States' position (including the G77 and NAM) that there should be a single decision on all issues. There is concern among some delegations about eagerness for an "early harvest" of some issues, whilst other issues are forgotten or relegated.

Working under the premise that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", the G77 and NAM have agreed to start consultations on the "first basket" issues. The conditions are that:

  • All issues, including those not listed in the first basket, will be discussed before any resolution is considered, and
  • There will be a single decision on all issues.

Progress on First-Basket Issue: Delivering as One

The first issue in the first basket, scheduled for discussion on 28 March, is Delivering as One at Country Level. "Delivering as One" seeks to fundamentally restructure UN operational work at the country level, consolidating all UN development programmes as "One UN." Pilot schemes for the "Delivering as One" project have been ongoing in Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay and Vietnam since 2007 and have been closely monitored by Member States.

Member States are now engaged in negotiating the process by which the ongoing pilot projects of the initiative (also known as "One UN") should be evaluated and eventually implemented. A widely viewed sign of progress on System-wide Coherence in general, and "Delivering as One" in particular, was the outcome of the UN's 2007 comprehensive policy review. The triennial review (TCPR) evaluates the effectiveness and efficiency of the UN development system's support to national development programs. The 2007 Report of the Secretary-General on the TCPR specifically supported:

  • Moving towards greater country-level programmatic coherence, and
  • Fostering teamwork among the organizations of the system, particularly those represented at the country level.

Additionally, the 2005 TCPR (Resolution A/RES/59/250) reaffirmed "the principle, as contained in resolutions 44/211 and 47/199, that the country-level presence of the United Nations system should be tailored to meet the specific development needs of recipient countries, as required by their country programs."

The recent UNIDO conference provided further opportunity for experts, UN staff and Member States to evaluate the progress of "Delivering as One", including expert reports from the United Kingdom and Uruguay. Member States and the pilot countries are in general agreement that "Delivering as One" has made substantial impact on participant countries' ability to conduct their development agendas. Indeed, according to the Center for UN Reform Education there are approximately 30 small and medium-sized states currently interested in joining the project as pilot countries. The January 2008 appointment to co-Chair of Ambassador Mahiga of Tanzania, a prominent pilot-country, could similarly be considered a signal that further implementation of the "Delivering as One" process is high on the agenda.

The co-Chairs have pointed to progress on at least two fronts (see briefing for NGOs on 4 February 2008), noting advances in the eight pilot countries as well as in other, non-pilot countries. According to recent reports from several pilot countries, the initiative has had a positive effect, and it is successfully upholding two cardinal principles:

1. The centrality of national ownership, and
2. Acceptance of the idea that no one size fits all.

The co-chairs are similarly encouraged by work undertaken by the Secretary-General and the Chief Executives Board to harmonize business practices throughout the UN System.

However, the "Delivering as One" Stocktaking Exercise and Priorities agenda, initiated by UN Deputy Secretary-General Migiro at the end of 2007, published in February 2008, identified the following problems that have arisen from the pilot studies:

  • The slow speed of the reform process at UN headquarters,
  • The heavy workload being experienced by pilot countries,
  • The short term start-up costs being experienced by pilot countries,
  • That high expectations for funding are leading to unrealistic programming in pilot countries.
  • The need to strike a balance between issue inclusiveness and overall strategic focus, and
  • Misconceptions and confusion about the role of the Resident Coordinator.

Indeed, "Delivering as One" pilot country Rwanda has stressed that "greater consideration needs to be given to reforms that will clarify accountability and decision making channels between agency headquarters, country agencies and the UN Resident Coordinator."

In response, the report identified three priorities in response to these problems:

1. Ensuring good implementation of the One UN programme, by:
- Ensuring government ownership and leadership, and
- Continuing to map and address transaction costs in pilot countries.
2. Ensuring that the lessons learnt from pilots programs are applied to future One UN efforts.
3. Ensuring that any required changes are implemented to pilot programs in a timely fashion, by:
- Accelerating the speed of reforms at UN headquarters, and
- Taking action on areas of issue congestion as identified by UN headquarters and the Resident Coordinators.

Following a meeting of the G77 and NAM on 22 February 2008, there were reported concerns that Member States felt pressured into endorsing the One UN program prematurely, before reports of the pilots countries' experiences had come back.

This sentiment was reportedly further intensified following the public statement made by Migiro on 18-19 February. She suggested that if UN failed to endorse the Delivering as One project, the cost would be borne by the entire UN system. Her comments reportedly were interpreted by several Member States as suggesting that failure to endorse Delivering as One would be tantamount to failing on the entire issue of development, reportedly leading some to feel "boxed in" on the question of endorsing "Delivering as One," when the pilot projects had not even been completed.

At the UNIDO conference, co-Chair Mahiga noted that Member States could not reach any definite conclusions until the "Delivering as One" pilots are evaluated conclusively at the end of 2009. He urged Member States, however, to confirm their political commitment to the process.

Progress on Other First-Basket Issues

The issue of "early harvest" mentioned above has been particularly attached to another of the first "basket" issues - gender - following reports that the HLP recommendations to establish a new women's entity at the UN could proceed more quickly than other areas. A full Latest Development on the Gender Architecture aspect of System-wide Coherence is forthcoming.

Next Steps

As indicated in the 26 February programme of work from the co-Chairs, consultations with Member States will resume on 28 March, to consider the first-basket issue, Delivering as One. Consultations on funding, governance, and gender will follow, culminating in a co-Chairs' report to President Kerim in early June. Senior officials of the Secretariat are expected to brief the General Assembly in early May on the Chief Executives Board's efforts at coherence, including the "harmonization" of business practices.



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