United Nations’ Own Reformation1

To prompt structured dialogue and commensurate actions

– To make substantial change a reality

A bureaucracy will not change unless required to change by external factors; the application of Newton’s physics laws to organisational development is apposite. An organisation, especially something with as many stakeholders as the United Nations, UN, will seek stability and what is currently happening are the chief stakeholders to this, and other, institutions are seeking to keep an equilibrium serving short-termism and (starting?) to lose the very ethos of the UN founders.

The Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has shown his political skills translate to the UN stage with work leading the United Nations High Commission for Refugees at a critical time of organisational and mandate development. The wider UN has, itself, great challenges internally as the World looks at the far-reaching challenges set out to achieve the 2030 agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals given wider issues of inequality and popularism, to name two current and apposite themes. Is the UN, able to meet these challenges? Or is the UN, with its constituent entities, becoming anachronistic in numerous respects as the political, cultural, economic and social aspects of poverty reduction, environmental consciousness and the realisation of Rights are delivered in new ways through different mediums? As balances of power and influence change with the massive changes to World order – politically, socially, economically and environmentally – with disruptive technology being mirrored by new forms of activism and engagement, is there need to review the manner of doing business for the development of institutions fit for purpose into the next decade with all its challenges; known and unknown?

The functionality of the UN’s core should now be redefined.

  1. The Security Council 2and its bringing together of the member states is a critical element (Note the manner discussion and dialogue has developed over Syrian) – how does this function into the future? A ‘parliament’ of governments (note issues highlighted with the UK’s ‘BREXIT’ vote and removed powers in the European Union structures? Move beyond the sitting members but reflect the relative power of different states through weighted voting? By population, GNP (as measured by Bretton Woods institution), possibly a formulation looking at contribution to development among peers (people and support as well as financial resources)
  2. Is the Secretary General of the United Nations a World Leader or a person heading an organization offering opportunity for elected (and otherwise) Heads of State to meet and resolve issues, set process and forestall problems? What is the UNSC’s role in enforcement of norms and how to ensure sanctions are taken when member states do not comply plus capability to offer fillips when exceed and lead?
  3. Ask fundamental question as to what is the function of the United Nations? What do the agencies, funds and programmes contribute to the function of the United Nations (and/or the realisation of Rights within the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals)

Peacekeeping? Or preventive diplomacy and delegation of powers to reinforce accountability. Accountability and fit for purpose; particularly given the shifts in World politics and how the UN operations have, probably, lost the neutrality they once enjoyed as peacekeeping has become peace enforcement and perceptions of bias have crept in with regional conflict dynamics ascendant

  1. Commence timetabled re-organisation of all the departments working on the common theme of peacekeeping missions? When were these reviewed? Brahimi Report?
  2. Security Council to re-investigate all peacekeeping missions critically evaluating their effectiveness against mandate and efficiency against alternates noting the manner regional engagement is now working in scenarios of complex interactions of stakeholders and actors (to be fully mapped and contextualised given the mission drifts and changing nature of interactions over time [define periods])
  3. Member States to pick peacekeeping back up and with the onus, in all respects, on them since impartiality has long since disappeared. The need is to look at how the whole approach to peace making and keeping is taken forward acknowledging how Global agendas manifest in inter-State/regional conflicts and then in how these two, higher level, sets of disputes are used to manipulate local, sub state, or national issues across (colonial? And post Cold War) borders. Peacekeeping must be placed back with the people who suffer the consequences of the procrastination and distance from the daily realities of conflict peace making has taken on.

Raison d’Etre of Agencies Funds and Programmes

As resources become tighter and the accountability frameworks further develop, then the need to look at value for money, fit for purpose and ensuring entities deliver outcomes toward the outputs becoming defined with a number of global agendas. If agencies decide to opt away from the system – so be it, they have every right to track their progress; against what? With who? In an increasingly competitive arena where (commercial) forces drive value for money and better use of all resources (thinking along the lines of a stakeholder analysis)

  1. Such an approach will then look at the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, they are muddled even before starting to look at the 168 targets in the 17 SDGs. Streamline, place higher-level goals with others flowing into these. Show the inter-linkage and how achieving one goal contributes to others. And how certain ones are simply political manifestations to keep vested interests content. Such an approach raises issues of complementarity and working together; these can be addressed in a more constructive fashion along the SDG lines than in the present fight for mandate.
  1. Follow guidance offered by the European Commission with regard to remodelling along functional lines (and allowing this to rationalise the Sustainable Development Goals grouping the goals into linked missions and mandates). Why is there no water agency in the UN make-up? For example, a number of food and rural development entities treading in each other’s fields spawning coordination without commensurate impact?
    1. Why not streamline into Water, Health, Food, Education, Employment, and Governance/Human Rights? Then work accordingly to look at the inter-linkages with regard women, children and specific interest groups – notably the current topic of the displaced/migrants; be they refugees or internally displaced persons given the changing nature of conflict.
  2. A structured evaluation of all agencies, funds and programmes against OECD DAC criteria of Relevance (are organisations self referencing and self reverential? What influence do they have on actions of member states?), Efficiency (comparing different entities working on same agendas for example), Effectiveness (as with academic institutions, quoted and referenced work and capability to set agendas of action; as per Climate and Environmental action over the last decade) and Sustainability in terms can the work be done more effectively and efficiently? Is the organisation value for money in the present and what is its future during the coming decade (The new Secretary General’s optimum tenure to lead meaningful change)
  3. Review, with clear time-lined actions, for the changing nature of employment within the United Nations system.
    1. Reinforce the United Nations is a building block allowing people to develop and return to Member State set ups
    2. As practice is emergent, make more systematic, Member States contribute personnel to specific elements of work within the Sustainable Development Goals (in-kind resources rather than financial, non tied, contributions perpetuating lethargy in the systems)
    3. Reinforce HR systems for the assessment and development of people and structures and systems in operation
    4. Full review of nature of recruitment looking at charges of nepotism and cronyism within systems and structures removed from direct accountability to those contributing financial resources to the United Nations
    5. Review of structures and functionality of job roles noting duality and overlap in a number of key areas – noteworthy, referenced by a member states, resident coordinator, representative functions alongside the mandates of Secretary General special representatives and agencies claiming coordination roles. Direct line management and accountability reinforced – Who is responsible for what? What outputs and outcomes expected?
  4. All UN entities to be open to public inspection. No denial of public access to all processes possibly impairing the delivery of (revised) mandate of UN and its constituent entities
    1. Procurement processes fully open (as has become practice with a number of key agencies)
    2. Accounts open for immediate public scrutiny
    3. Communications, non security related, open for stakeholder analysis

Look again at alternative means of working further – as per UNOPS for example. Cutting core staffing and working through member states held accountable to Rights and signed agreements?

  • This relates to member states using elements of the UN as places to second people (on their state salaries and terms and conditions and not as a new but part of their Member State diplomatic career). Removal of the ambiguities and paradoxes as people purportedly dispense with their Member State agendas to be UN impartial.
  1. Review, with commensurate actions, on the functionality of agencies, funds and programmes in the light of 12 and 8 (noting the set up of UNWomen being a noteworthy consolidation; what of other areas of working in, for example, health?)

This is not ‘simply’ to subcontract work out since this is a major reason UN supporters are now of the view to shorten the procurement and supply chains. By going straight to these subcontractors or using for-profit organizations with a greater clarity of financial efficiency and delivery effectiveness than the UN then states can report back to taxpayers with greater clarity.

  • Support functions – Procurement and HR systems can be set to the functional areas with common approaches and systems supported by specialist/technical personnel. To an extent this is already happening with the UN’s Office for Project Services offering contracting (much further subcontracting out of generic competences. Issues of career path and loss of technical skills could be argued; the same as in any industry or organisational setting – given portents set a working generation ago, then member states more influential and the trend to fewer, core, functions the better for accountability and functionality) services to other AFPs and the UN’s missions.
  • Security is also a common function where Member States should offer greater engagement (other than retired military officers showing up). Again, the UN has commenced subcontracting; in essence already the de facto situation is one of handing over to a private sector without acknowledging this. Make it an organizational wide, structural, change and remove the duplicity now apparent in how the UN is viewed.

References of note and background

China has lifted more people out of absolute poverty through economic growth and some strong, some say Draconian, leadership – How does the United Nations, UN, compare? The announcement of a fifth of all children in developing countries are in absolute, some would say abject, poverty hardly inspires since it is not set in context as UNICEF and the World Bank Group ‘call on governments to do more’ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-37548563. Given a large proportion of the countries they talk about are also being used as marketing calls for more money because they are failed, failing or fragile and conflict affected states and require support, then is this just another call to perpetuate these organisations? Yes, progress has been made – future prospects will not rely on the past as we, humankind, reach key decision points in how we go forward.

Recent work by the United Nations University offering advice to the next Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres. https://cpr.unu.edu/new-ideas-for-a-new-secretary-general-reforming-the-governance-of-the-united-nations-development-system.html This piece links as with work by an external organisation, Linklaters, http://www.linklaters.com/ClientServices/Practices/International-Governance-Development/Pages/Index.aspx; it is a piece looking at governance and not the functionality of the whole to achieve governance through concerted actions.

This further piece from the UN University tends to show a process of thinking inside the UN system rather than look at the changed nature of operation impacting on how the internal must evolve or even make major shifts ahead of trends in working – https://cpr.unu.edu/new-ideas-for-a-new-secretary-general-fixing-the-uns-human-resources-system.html. The advice is well meaning and apposite; but thin and not fully contextualised.

If further affirmation of the breadth of opinion, then a further piece http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/09/19/how-to-fix-the-united-nations/?utm_content=buffera7a56&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer, talks long on the why we need to see the UN evolve; nevertheless it is short on the how this is going to happen.

It could be argued, and possibly this is the rational of the Linklater review, the UN is pulling in very different directions as the political level continues to offer a meeting place for dialogue on key policy issues engulfing us now (Climate change; note how the Montreal Accord is coming back to be used as a basis for developments given other elements of environmental protocols have stalled – https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/recent-international-developments-under-montreal-protocol and http://www.economist.com/news/international/21707531-extending-old-treaty-saved-ozone-layer-could-improve-cooling-technologyand-slow – note also latest posts from UNDP Somalia – and the post showing all the individual air conditioning units https://www.facebook.com/undpsom/photos/pcb.1003803196433246/1003801863100046/?type=3&theater reflecting the disjointed nature of working policy to practice, practice to policy) and discussion on politics of the present and near future (Syria and commensurate migration being the major headline. Also note points on Afghanistan, and other countries, presently to highlight other extended/protracted settings where new view of what can be achieved could be useful – http://www.economist.com/news/international/21700323-development-aid-best-spent-poor-well-governed-countries-isnt-where-it). Following, more probably in parallel, Habitat III, Arab States came together in Abu Dhabi to talk of sustainable development and plan, plan not strategize, the future of urbanisation. Note the write-ups have no mention of Habitat III or the UN’s specialist agency for urban settlement.

The false equilibrium is being challenged when ‘accepted practices and protocols’ are being abused – The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21707212-extension-jim-yong-kims-term-president-world-bank-short-sighted, reported how the Bretton Woods institutions are putting forward people for positions they are not able to take up with a surety to offer confidence in the capability of the institutions to operate strategically.

Note the call issued by UNICEF and World Bank Group on the number of children in abject poverty – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-37548563 and their call for governments to do more. Yet, go past the marketing and question the related, contradictory messaging, stating states are failed or failing and must be supported to deliver basic services.

Recent events in Syria where twenty people were killed seeking to deliver food and other aid to Aleppo. The people killed were Red Crescent/Red Cross people whilst all the banners on the lorries were UNICEF and WFP. People felt the need to tie banners on trucks where, possibly, the ethos of the International Red Cross/Crescent, ICRC, could well have been better served without such (high) profiling. The press reported ‘the food and supplies were UN’. Surely the food and supplied were for the people stuck in Aleppo and, possibly, this is where the onus should have been placed rather than source of largesse.

The UN says it is now a target and so has to spend inordinately in protecting itself and its people – rightly. Sometimes this is manifesting itself in ‘hiding’ behind mandates. The Guardian has continued to report on the unwillingness of UN Peacekeepers to come to the assistance of aid workers or locals suffering in the present South Sudan rounds of conflict – https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/06/un-peacekeepers-refused-to-help-south-sudan-rebels-raped-aid-workers-report. Moon sacks the (Kenyan) head of the peacekeeping mission to South Sudan. But what of the political elements who’s job it was to see these situations coming? Listen to any old Sudanese hand and the words ‘I told them this would happen’ reverberate.

This last sentence is critical. The responding, some would argue resulting in making ‘do and mending’ of the UN system has reached a set of breaking points. An apposite analogy is the Austin-Morris engine designed in the 1930s and the basis of generations of subsequent cars. Added to, re-vamped but not challenged. Rivals learnt and went past the various companies who took on ownership of the engine, the cars. The lack of questioning and the relative complacency, allied with various wider cultural issues, led to the demise of so much of the car industry in the United Kingdom.

The need to look, again, at why and how the UN formed and the setting at the time. Time has moved on and possibly left the functionality of the UN behind as vested interests take precedence over the reasons for the original set up of the organisation. We now need asset of scenarios for the future to revitalise the structures and systems we have to allow people to re-engage and re-invigorate proactive diplomacy. Notable successes have been made; but only a foolish CEO dwells on last year’s profits; now is the time to invest for future prosperity and realisation of Rights.

The need is for a proactive change to a system delivering for the people who rarely have voice. Get past the marketing and let us look at substance and how we are geared to deliver.

1 http://www.history.com/topics/reformation

2 Permanent seats based on Bretton Woods massive stumbling block; while change is needed, would any of the permanent members want it? Questions of power politics, again very evident in today’s World where, for example, would the UK be now? Alongside Pakistan as a nuclear state? A lower order member of the G10?