Kemal Dervis - Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
Simon Maxwell - ODI
Rt Hon John Battle MP, Chair, APGOOD
In this meeting in the 'What's next in international development?' series, Kermal Dervis discussed the High Level Panel on UN System Wide Coherence, the UN's role in the multilateral system and about managing change.
1. Simon Maxwell introduced Kemal Dervis. He reminded the audience particularly of Kemal Dervis' role in the High Level Panel on UN System Wide Coherence, which had been the subject of a previous APGOOD meeting, and which was due to report on 9th November.
2. Kemal Dervis said he would say something about the report, but also comment on the UN's role in the multilateral system and about managing change.
3. On the UN's role, there were activities which only the UN could carry out. Peace-keeping in Lebanon was an example. Similarly, on the economic side, the UN was not the main vehicle for transfers to developing countries, but had played an invaluable role in agenda-setting, for example the concept of human development and the international commitment to the MDGs. The legitimacy of the UN was an invaluable asset.
4. The UN was especially useful as a vehicle for dealing with global public goods - a topical subject given the launch of the Stern Report on climate change. For example, the Brazilian rainforest played a key role in sequestrating carbon, worth perhaps $US5trillion. This was clearly a Brazilian asset, but invaluable for the world as a whole. The international community should support its preservation, and the UN was the natural body that could produce a framework to make that possible.
5. It would obviously not be right to discuss the details of the Report of the High Level Panel in detail, prior to publication. However, the UN system was extremely complicated, with 38 organisations, each with different status, governance and funding. The High Level Panel would argue for less duplication, less fragmentation and lower transactions costs. It would do this without recommending particular merger or closures. It would recommend some pooling of funding and new governing mechanisms to improve coherence. The Report would be submitted to the Secretary General on 9 November.
6. Achieving consensus and delivering change was often difficult, in an organisation with 192 members and a governing structure shaped after the Second World War. This was a political problem and the challenge was to find a global political space within which progress could be made. The problem was that politics was basically national. A new algorithm was needed. Think-tanks could play a role by creating a kind of 'public opinion space'.
7. Acting as discussant, Simon Maxwell praised Kemal Dervis' contributions, including his book on Globalisation which dealt with the governance issues in some detail. He reminded the audience that ODI's work on this topic had been organised under the three headings of 'Why?', 'What?' and 'How?' He did not want to comment on the first, but would comment on 'What?' and 'How?'
8. As to 'What?', the hints as to the content of the High Level Panel were welcome. An interesting question was where this would leave UNDP. As originally conceived (for example in the days of Paul Hoffman), UNDP was the principal development organ of the UN, channelling money to Specialised Agencies and other bodies. That role had fallen out of favour from the mid-1970s on, with severe negative consequences for UNDP's budget, to the point where its basic infrastructure was threatened. From the mid-1990s on, UNDP had reinvented itself as a kind of 'n+1' specialised agency, with a focus on governance and post-war reconstruction. These were two very different models. Which one did Kemal Dervis believe was right for UNDP? Or did he hope to ride both horses?
9. On 'How?', the points about political space were well made, and linked closely to the discussion in previousmeetings about UN reform as a collective action problem. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had made similar points at the launch of the Stern Review on climate change, and had talked approvingly of the global MDG campaign as a model. Could this happen on e.g. the configuration of the UN or the size of the UNDP budget? The general points needed to be turned into a practical action programme for different kinds of actors - politicians, NGOs, think-tanks etc. For example, what new arrangements were necessary for British MPs to work across national borders?
10. Replying to these points, Kemal Dervis again emphasised that he did not wish to pre-empt the forthcoming publication of the High Level Panel Report. However, it was possible to think of an 'embassy model', in which the ambassador (the UN Resident Co-ordinator) represented the system as a whole, while the 'embassy' (the UN office) contained people who worked for home ministries (specialised agencies). Sectoral representatives would have dual management, to the RC and to their home agencies. In addition, the UNDP would have its own programmes in areas such as governance, economic management and tracking progress against the MDGs. Roughly, he said, that was what the High Level Panel was recommending. The embassy analogy was useful in understanding the RC system, but should not pushed too far, since the UN did not have attributes of sovereignty.
11. Replying to a later question, Kemal Dervis amplified this answer. He said that UNDP had a clear comparative advantage vis a vis the World Bank on topics like governance. He did not want a UNDP that would be a pure bureaucratic coordinator. It had to have substantive work on governance and institution-building. It should not withdraw from substantive matters, but nor should it carry out sectoral work that others could do.
12. On political space, Kemal Dervis said that change was a long term process. He thought political parties needed to develop their international links, so that some part of politics became global. He thought the EU had an especially important role, and that it should concern itself less with detailed micro-regulation (like how to define chocolate on an EU-wide basis) and more with forging joint positions on the key issues facing the world. He thought there was also scope for creative thinking about voting systems in the international system, using weighted votes in some way. He had written about this in his book.
13. Other points that were made in questions included:
a. Kemal Dervis agreed with a questioner that there was variation in the performance of UN institutions. The best way to demonstrate this was through rigorous evaluation, which should be central to all projects and programmes. UNDP had come well out of evaluations, for example on its commitment to results. Evaluation needed to be resourced.
b. Fragmentation was costly. Kemal Dervis cited a Latin American case in which the salary and support costs of the representative of a UN organisation exceeded the programme budget for the organisation. He also said ministers sometimes complained that they spent as much as half their time dealing with donors.
c. Gender was an important issue and some wanted an independent specialised agency, perhaps built on UNIFEM. This would be dealt with in the High Level Panel report.
d. The UN needed to impose high standards of behaviour, for example among peace-keepers in Africa.
e. The world system was characterised by increasing bilateralism, which meant that the UN was left with the hardest cases.
f. There would be a big challenge to the UN in mediating changes in international relations caused by the growth of the BRICs (Brazil, Russsia, India and China) and other emerging actors.