Remarks at the Secretary-General’s Briefing to the Economic and Social Council on Repositioning the UN Development System

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
January 22, 2018


Mr. Secretary-General, thank you for your presentation, and congratulations to you and your team for moving ahead on a topic of great significance – a more efficient, accountable, transparent, and results-driven UN. The report you introduced covers areas that, if properly reformed, could build upon and improve the ability of the UN development system to deliver for those in need – offering an important reminder of why we are undertaking these reforms. We are still reflecting on it, but I am pleased to offer some limited comments on the reform report today.

Ultimately, the success of the UN Development System reform initiative will be assessed in terms of whether the results advance truly sustainable development on the ground. Proposals for improving country-level coordination and coherence, strengthening transparency and accountability, rationalizing field presence, and making business operations more efficient can contribute significantly to such success, and we see many of these in the report.

We are eager to engage on the specifics, so we can identify and avoid negative unintended consequences while moving ahead in the most promising areas. We encourage you to release the evidence, information on costs, authorities, and successes and failures considered in the consulting and drafting process. We also encourage you to convey further information on efficiencies, reductions of duplication and overlap, and cost savings associated with the reform recommendations.

There needs to be better integration between development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding activities by cultivating and utilizing flexible and comparative advantage approaches in the system. We support evidence-based approaches to identify effective, flexible, field focused solutions to well-defined problems. We are wary of top-heavy or costly approaches that rearrange the organization to little effect or create larger and more complex bureaucratic structures and processes. We also continue to emphasize the need for mobilization of domestic resources, and the importance of human rights and good governance in creating truly sustainable development.

We fully support the goal of better cohesion and coherence across agencies, but we do not believe a merger of Executive Boards of Funds and Programs will help us achieve that goal. Neither will an RC system funded by assessed resources. We look forward to working with you and Member States to address coordination across agencies in ways that do not negatively affect transparency and accountability of individual Executive Boards to the donors who fund their agencies’ programs through voluntary contributions.

The report contains requests for additional resources, both specific and aspirational. These requests require careful review. A system that delivers better is naturally one with an improved financial position. The surest way to attract resources is to provide evidence that programs are driven by results, use funds wisely, meet high standards for accountability and transparency, and match the comparative advantage of the organization. This is foundational to increasing confidence in the system, making it fit-for-purpose, and embracing tangible improvements to efficiency within existing resources. We must underscore the importance to keeping reforms within existing resources.

While a good start, the report leaves out critical elements that are essential to effectively repositioning the development system. In our view, UN Development System reform requires a streamlining of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, DESA, and the Regional Economic Commissions, RECs, putting resources to better use carrying out activities that actually advance goals on the ground. Efforts to reform DESA and the RECs, and to reduce the number of reports, conferences and negotiations across the system, should begin now in order for the overall development system reform to gain traction and to achieve our collective goals of greater efficiency and impact.

As reform of the development system moves toward intergovernmental negotiations, we urge a laser focus on outcomes that will help those in need through effectiveness, living within a resource envelope, and efficiency. We renew our pledge to be partners in the reform effort, and are confident that if we work together and champion truly bold but sensible reforms, the United Nations will emerge as a stronger, more effective, more just, and greater force for peace and prosperity in the world.

Thank you.