15 November 2007

Ban Ki-moon presented his first bi-annual budget as U.N. Secretary General. Professionally, it was very well prepared. Financially, it contained a negligible 1/2 percent increase, a tribute to masterful work by the Controller, Assistant Secretary General Warren Sach, who faced media questions with his usual patience, understanding, and clarity. The Under-Secretary General for Administration Alicia Barcena handled a press briefing impressively well -- easy confidence and a reassuring voice.

But as is generally known, delegations look at the budget from their own, mostly political, angle. Different member states have different priorities while the budget needs to be passed by consensus. Developing countries seemed to feel that there is an increased tilt toward political affairs and international security at the expense of development. The debate has just started and is not likely to be concluded before mid-December.

By then, the main activity is a close review of every aspect and negotiations (including some night meetings where only the devotees would congregate). The Secretary General has repeatedly indicated that he is a consensus seeker. The new budget presentation is one challenging test.

In presenting a $4.2 billion budget for the next two years, Mr. Ban said that a half percentage point growth in some areas was balanced by reallocations in others; and urged Member States to support a stronger world body.

"Never has the world so needed a strong United Nations," Mr. Ban told delegates in the Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which tackles administrative and budgetary matters. "Yet never have our resources been stretched so thin."

The Committee is currently examining the proposed programme budget of $4.2 billion for 2008-2009, which represents a real growth of $23 million over the previous biennium, or half a percentage point. Mr. Ban said the proposals reflect strict budgetary discipline, balancing growth in some areas with reallocations in others.

Noting that the year ahead will be "among the most challenging in our history" -- with, among initiatives, the deployment of a major peacekeeping operation in the Darfur region of Sudan and diplomatic challenges in a number of countries -- the Secretary-General pledged to strengthen the Organization so it can do the job that is expected of it.

This will require careful fiscal management, balancing varied and sometimes conflicting priorities, and, above all, making the UN "faster, more flexible and more efficient in delivering better results with the limited assets at our disposal," he stated.

"This is a year of immense opportunity -- to build a stronger UN for a better world," Mr. Ban said. "You on this Committee are the key to our transformation."

He noted that, last year, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was reorganized in order to better execute the UN’s many peacekeeping mandates. Now, the focus is on the Department of Political Affairs, with a new emphasis on anticipating crises and proactive preventive diplomacy.

To that end, he asked the Committee to authorize $18 million to support the strengthening of DPA, arguing that boosting the UN’s capacity to prevent and resolve conflicts is "among the smartest investments we can make." The proposed funds also include stable financing for the newly created Peacebuilding Support Office, which is separate from the political affairs department.

Mr. Ban cited the need for fresh thinking and for bolstering research and monitoring capacities to address the needs of the poorest of the world’s poor, the "bottom billion" left behind by global economic growth -- working with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN’s regional commissions.

In addition, he proposed re-organizing the Secretariat to better serve the interests and needs of the least developed, landlocked and small island nations.

Mr. Ban noted that the proposed budget also reflects the decision by Member States to double the resources earmarked for human rights, a key component of the UN’s work.

As part of the UN’s ongoing reform efforts, he emphasized that the Secretariat should continue to improve its working methods to avoid duplication and save costs, so that it can be faster, more flexible and modern. "This requires us to streamline rules and work patterns, in line with the best public and private practices."

In that connection, Mr. Ban has set up a new change-management task force, which will focus on human resources, budget and finance, and procurement. He noted that the proposed budget also provides for "stiffer" internal oversight, and the Committee is examining proposals for a comprehensive revision of the UN system of administrative justice.

He called for extending the work of the Procurement Task Force -- the body which was set up following revelations about widespread corruption in the UN procurement system and is credited with promoting accountability -- for another year, as the Organization works toward more permanent independent auditing and investigative capabilities.

Mr. Ban added that the budget is not only a financial document, but a "compact of understanding" between the Secretary-General and the UN’s Member States. "It details in concrete terms how we intend to realize the goals of the United Nations, and how I intend to exercise the authority you have entrusted to me," he said. Clarifying aspects of the proposed budget, the Under-Secretary-General for Management told reporters that after taking account of inflation and exchange rates (re-costing) and possible budgetary "add-ons" resulting from legislative mandates or resolutions of the General Assembly, the budget will increase. "We are presenting the Member States the proposed budget for 2008-2009 which is almost $4.4 billion, and then we are presenting to them a set of revised estimates that belong to legislative mandates and another set of add-ons that we are presenting, to bring the budget up to $4.6 billion," Alicia Bárcena said at a press briefing this afternoon.

Elaborating on the $18 million requested to strengthen the political affairs department, Ms. Bárcena said it would go towards building more regional capacities, including in Central Asia and in Africa, and to better equipping the Department to work on mediation, conflict prevention and conflict resolution. The funds would also contribute to enhancing support to the UN’s special political missions, creating a number of new posts within the Department, and strengthening and restructuring the six existing regional divisions.

No one seemed to note that there were already around 80 Special Representatives and Envoys, 18 in Africa alone. Perhaps the Secretary General needs LESS ENVOYS AND MORE RESULTS.