Thursday, October 13, 2011

Statement by Ambassador Joseph M. Torsella, at the UN General Assembly's Second Committee on Operational Activities for Development

Ambassador Joseph M Torsella
U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
October 12, 2011


Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States supports the United Nations and its operational activities to improve people’s lives around the globe. We are often the largest donor and main partner to UN agencies in providing humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable, combating disease, and providing shelter for refugees. Together, we are taking fundamental steps in breaking the cycle of poverty and providing the next generation with opportunities for a better future. From this perspective, the United States wishes to offer several constructive proposals aimed at enhancing confidence in and support for the UN’s operational activities:

First and foremost, the transparency and accountability of the UN’s Operational Activities is a top priority for the United States government. My government was the principal sponsor of the provision in General Assembly Resolution 59/272 that makes internal reports of the UN Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) available to Member States upon request. We applaud Under-Secretary-General Lapointe’s recent announcement that OIOS will make internal audit reports available to the public beginning in January. While many operational agencies have recently taken similarly encouraging steps in this direction, they have yet to achieve full public disclosure of audit, oversight, and program information. We have recently addressed this issue at UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS and UNICEF Board meetings. We welcome and support the commitment of the management of those UN organizations to public disclosure of their audits, and we urge them to reach this goal as soon as possible.

Second, it is equally important to refocus the operational activities discussions in the General Assembly on achieving solid performance and results. Many UN operational agencies are making important contributions in humanitarian, basic health, and poverty alleviation arenas. However, UN agencies often have difficulty capturing and communicating their development results. While we understand and fully appreciate the challenges that the UN faces in gathering and reporting these results from programs worldwide, it is imperative that the UN put in place systems to report meaningful results to the public. It is critical that the UN use evaluative information and program results as the basis for budgeting and resource allocation.

Third, as I noted in my statement on the U.N. budget to the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, in a time of scarce resources, the United Nations cannot afford business as usual. The issue is not just how much money we allocate to each department or program, it is whether every dollar sent to the UN is being used in the most effective, efficient, and businesslike way.

The international community and domestic constituencies are increasingly demanding clear value for money. Some operational agencies that are funded wholly or partly by voluntary contributions are already trimming their budgets and finding ways to cut waste and do more with less. We applaud these efforts and encourage them to continue to streamline their activities. For the agencies that are maintaining the status quo, we ask them to reflect on the fact that they do not enjoy an automatic claim on taxpayers’ resources; they need to demonstrate their ability to use these resources to produce results. Indeed, the July 2011 ECOSOC resolution on operational activities requested that the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) examine UN agencies’ effectiveness, efficiency, and relevance in connection with their funding. For example, in this regard, the UN funds and programs and the UN development system as a whole should immediately clamp down on the costly, and frankly wasteful, practice of business and first-class travel. This is an easy way to cut unnecessary costs while ensuring that scarce resources go to programs for those most in need.

Moreover, as we work together to modernize and improve the effectiveness of the UN development system, we must move beyond traditional North-South divides and embrace the new realities of the global partnership for development which includes important new state and non-state participants. In this day and age, a UN development system almost entirely dependent on ten traditional donors is an outdated and unsustainable formula.

Finally, Mr. Chairman,

Another important topic in the operational activities discussions is coordination among agencies to maximize the impact of their work in the field. The Resident Coordinator (RC) system is a key component of this coordination. In this regard, the “Delivering as One” pilot programs have demonstrated some concrete ways to work together more efficiently. It would be helpful, however, to have systematic evaluations of these programs in order to validate the results. Member States need to see these “Delivering as One” evaluations, which have been long in the planning, in time to provide useful data for the QCPR discussions.

With regard to the QCPR process, we would like to raise two additional coordination-related issues that were highlighted in the recent ECOSOC resolution on operational activities: First, funding of the Resident Coordinator system should involve burden-sharing. Relying exclusively on UNDP funding for the RC system not only places a heavy financial burden on UNDP, but it is inconsistent with the purpose of the RC system, which is a system shared by and for the benefit of the entire UN development community. Secondly, there is an urgent need to ensure enhanced coordination and consultation between UNDP, which is the manager of the RC system, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the selection of RCs for countries likely to require significant humanitarian response operations.

Mr. Chairman,

The UN has a moral obligation not only to its donors but also to the international community, and especially to the poor and vulnerable who are the intended beneficiaries of its work, to account for its activities. We need to work harder to ensure that the UN becomes a more efficient and effective organization. We look forward to engaging in substantive discussions with you and the UN Member States during this session of the General Assembly.

Thank you.

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