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Overhaul of UN, from Headquarters to field

Annan proposes overhaul of UN to realign operations from Headquarters to field

Aiming to keep step with the shift at the United Nations from bureaucratic tasks to life-saving work in the field, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today presented proposals for a far-reaching overhaul ranging from setting up a 2,500-strong core of mobile peacekeeping professionals to multimillion dollar investments in training and technology.

His far-reaching report, “Investing in the United Nations: For a Stronger Organization Worldwide,” focuses on ensuring efficiency and accountability in a way that reflects the fact that more than 70 per cent of the $10 billion annual budget now relates to peacekeeping and other field operations, up from around 50 per cent of a $4.5 billion budget ten years ago.

“Our current rules and regulations were designed for an essentially static Secretariat, whose main function was to service conferences and meetings of Member States, and whose staff worked mainly at Headquarters,” the Secretary-General said as he presented the report in the General Assembly Hall. “Today, thanks to the mandates that Member States have given us, we are engaged directly in many parts of the world, working on the ground to improve the lives of people who need help.”

In the 16 years since the cold war ended, the Organization has taken on more than twice as many new peacekeeping missions as in the previous 44 years and spending on peacekeeping has quadrupled. Over half of its 30,000 civilian staff now serve in the field - not only in peacekeeping, but also in humanitarian relief, criminal justice, human rights monitoring, supporting national elections, and in the battle against drugs and crime.

The Secretary-General's comprehensive reform blueprint was called for in the Outcome Document adopted by national leaders at last September's World Summit in New York. It builds on a package of reforms Mr. Annan launched last year to enhance ethics and accountability and address weaknesses exposed by the Independent Inquiry on the Oil-for-Food Programme as well as evidence of sexual exploitation in certain peacekeeping operations.

In the report, Mr. Annan urges Member States to seize the moment for change. “This is an opportunity, which may not occur again until another generation has passed, to transform the United Nations by aligning it with, and equipping it for, the substantive challenges it faces in the twenty-first century,” he writes. “It is a chance to give Member States the tools they need to provide strategic direction and hold the Secretariat fully accountable for its performance.”

While the report identifies a number of areas of potential cost savings and efficiencies, the primary financial message is that it is time to reverse years of underinvestment in people, systems and information technology to address operational deficiencies and ensure that the UN can reach the level of effectiveness expected by Member States.

Mr. Annan said that although the UN had made a number of major organizational changes in recent years to keep up with the increasing expectations of Member States, these efforts had only addressed the symptoms, not the causes, of the Organization's shortcomings. “It is now time to reach for deeper, more fundamental change” he said.

Along these lines, the proposals encompass a revamped version of how to recruit, contract, train, assign and compensate staff, with an emphasis on bringing conditions for field-based personnel up to par with those at other UN agencies operating in the field. This will include proposals for converting 2,500 existing short-term peacekeeping positions into a new flexible and mobile core of dedicated specialists who can be deployed rapidly in urgent peacekeeping and special political missions.

“Increasingly complex mandates require staff with different skills,” the Secretary-General told the Assembly. “We need to be able to recruit and retain leaders, managers and personnel capable of handling large multidisciplinary operations, with increasingly high budgets. As things stand,” he added, “many of our staff ? especially the field staff who serve with great idealism and integrity, often in situations of hardship and danger ? are demoralized and de-motivated by lack of opportunities for promotion, and by the frustrations of dealing with a bureaucracy that can seem both excessive and remote.”

The report calls for consolidating reporting to address logjams associated with the current system, where over 100 senior UN officials are directly answerable to the Secretary-General. It also proposes the formal delegation of responsibility for management policies and overall operational matters to a redefined post of Deputy Secretary-General to help free the Secretary-General to focus on political and policy issues.

The report also proposes significant investment to overhaul the Organization's information and communications infrastructure by replacing current antiquated, fragmented technology systems with an integrated global platform that should be led by a dedicated Chief Information Technology Officer.

Separately, the report identifies significant opportunities to realize cost savings and efficiency gains, recommending that the Secretariat explore options for alternative service delivery, including the potential for relocating core functions from Headquarters to lower cost duty stations and possible outsourcing of less central functions such as printing.

One area where investment could yield substantial savings is procurement, where the report outlines changes that would improve transparency and realize up to $400 million.

A number of the proposals fall under the direct authority of the Secretary-General, who said he intends to immediately carry them out. But most of the fundamental changes, particularly with regard to budget and personnel issues, require approval from Member States.

To help ensure momentum for this agenda through the end of his term and to help equip his successor to follow through, the Secretary-General also proposes creating a Change Management Office that would seek to work closely with Member States to drive the implementation of the reforms.

In the report, Mr. Annan cautions against complacency, stressing that the proposals must mark the beginning of a process that will be carried over the next several years. “One of the weaknesses of the old culture is precisely the view that a report or a vote in itself represents change,” he notes. “In practice, reports and votes enable and authorize change, but change itself is the long march that follows.”

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