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Some nations think it’s a bad idea for UN to give more power to countries

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ plan has generated plenty of controversy.
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres a katz / Shutterstock.com
By Stefano Gennarini

By Stefano Gennarini

NEW YORK, January 26 (C-Fam) — Nations expressed concern about UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ plan to give UN bureaucrats in every country enhanced political and budgetary powers this week at UN headquarters. They say it will undermine their sovereign prerogatives and national priorities.

“Resident coordinators will continue reporting to me!” Guterres exclaimed in a packed Economic and Social Council Chamber on Monday. In a loud voice, he urged states to confide in his ability to ensure the impartiality of the bureaucracy he leads, perhaps betraying his frustration after several weeks of closely held consultations with ambassadors to avoid public disagreements that would undermine his plan for UN development reform.

The Group of 77 and China, which represents 127 developing nations, expressed concerns about the powers, appointment, and accountability of “UN resident coordinators” under the plan. So did many others individually, including the Russian Federation.

Until now, resident coordinators have exercised a primarily protocol role, mediating between nations and UN departments and agencies. Under Guterres’ plan they would have power to assess what policies to emphasize in countries, coordinate UN agencies and departments, and find ways to fund implementation through domestic resources and foreign aid.

“Each nation must have its own plan to maximize resources and UN involvement,” the Egyptian ambassador told Guterres on Monday, on behalf of the Group of 77. The ambassador insisted on the “common but differentiated responsibility” of developing nations.

Guterres assured delegates that the enhanced powers would be necessary to “guarantee that agencies act in a coordinated way to correspond to the priorities of the government.”

“What we cannot have is a non-empowered resident coordinator and a system that supports the government!” he challenged states. According to Guterres, the extra powers will help fend off UN agencies and the partisan agendas of their donors.

But tensions in the room remained.

A representative of the European Union preempted Guterres’ assurances, saying the resident coordinators would help in “identifying where the system can add value and coordinating relevant actors to do so.”

Against this presumption, Kenyan Ambassador Macharia Kamau, one of the main architects of the 2030 Agenda guiding Guterres’ reform effort, said the notion of UN bureaucrats coordinating anything was “complicated.”

“For us, countries and governments have to be the coordinator. It is only in a failed state that you can really justify the UN playing a coordination role as such. This is crucially important,” he warned the Secretary General.

Developing nations said UN teams should focus on goals such as water and sanitation, industrialization, economic growth, and infrastructure instead, which are usually less favored by donor countries compared to social policy. The European Union and other donors emphasized delivering on all UN development goals equally instead.

Developing states stressed the role of governments in the selection, appointment, and oversight of coordinators and their teams. Donors said they favored independence.

Least developed nations expressed concern the plan did not do enough to “reach the farthest behind first” as required by the 2030 Agenda.

States are deciding on the process to reach an agreement to authorize and fund Guterres’ plan. The Group of 77 did not seem in a rush to conclude negotiations by September, as the European Union insisted.

Guterres’ sweeping plan also includes a request for higher assessed and voluntary contributions, and a highly controversial merger of the executive boards of all UN agencies and funds. U.S. Ambassador to ECOSOC Kelley Currie told the chamber the U.S. would only be willing to consider reforms within existing resources.

​Reprinted with permission from the Center for Family and Human Rights.


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