Background

The Director of the CEB Secretariat presented a proposal (CEB/2007/HLCM/3) outlining the possible content and modalities of an HLCM-driven, system-wide response to the recommendations of the “Delivering as One” report in the area of business practices.

The proposal represented a first step for an in-depth, broad review of the Committee’s programme of work. Its aim was to identify areas with a good potential for coordinated action by the organizations of the UN system, to design an acceptable process to carry out such action, and to ensure appropriate support and funding for any agreed plan.

The document under review presented items grouped into six subject areas:

  • cross-cutting general management;
  • accountability and oversight;
  • data warehouses;
  • human resources management;
  • financial management;
  • knowledge sharing.

Individual proposals belonging to each category were synoptically outlined in Annex I to document CEB/2007/HLCM/3, which provided indications of actions already taken at the inter-agency level in each of the areas referred to.

Discussion

The Chair underlined that the review of the proposal would have to be inspired by the principle that business practices reforms should be in support of the UN system becoming more effective and efficient at delivering its mandate in terms of programmes, technical advice, standard setting etc. Any discussion on business practices should not be de-linked from the substantive work and rationale of UN organizations.  A harmonized business process should not focus on savings alone to the detriment of the specific substantive and operational requirements of UN organizations.

In order to inform the discussion with the latest developments on the recommendations of the High-level Panel, the Director of the CEB Secretariat read a letter of the Group of 77 and China of 15 March 2007 to the Secretary General, which suggested that “any process aiming at achieving coherence of the UN system should be inclusive and take into account previous recommendations made by the internal and external oversight bodies […] and already endorsed by the General Assembly”.

The Committee acknowledged the letter and noted that management reforms, in great part, do not require inter-governmental discussion and remain instead within the purview of the Executive Heads.

The Human Resources Network, through its Spokesperson, offered a first, very detailed analysis of the proposal, which had been thoroughly discussed at its last meeting of 14-16 March. The full text of the HR Network comments is available in Annex 4.

The HR Network fully endorsed the objective of greater coherence, and emphasized that harmonization was not about “aligning on the lowest common denominator” but about finding the right, balanced solution agreeable to all. Action towards this end would have to be inspired by the following key objectives:

  • Restoring competitiveness and making the work environment more conducive to attracting and retaining qualified staff;
  • Ensuring that HR practices/systems support and promote a results-based culture, good management and team-based approaches;
  • Enhancing staff well-being;
  • Building trust by ensuring cohesiveness and harmonization of policies and processes;
  • Finding means to share knowledge and build better networks and promote communities of practices;
  • Promoting and enhancing staff mobility (inter-agency, geographical and functional).

Updating and harmonizing human resource policies and practices remained a top priority objective for the HR Network, and an overriding one that would inspire and direct the HR Network current and future work.

These comments were followed by numerous interventions by Committee members, all offering support for the proposal, identifying priorities among the broad range of items under review, and indicating alternative options for a concrete, realistic process to follow-up on the proposal in a way that was feasible and within organizations’ governance and funding constraints.

As the recent adoption of Internal Public Sector Accounting Standards proved, harmonization is difficult but not impossible. It requires a strong mandate by top management, clear business logic, and demonstrated benefits when compared to alternative, non-system-wide approaches. Harmonization must, in the first place, make good business sense, and allow for a corresponding substitution/reduction of costs to be derived by individual organizations.

Consensus emerged on the need to immediately set the high-level priorities and timeframe for the items initially listed in Annex I to document CEB/2007/HLCM/3, including whether they could be characterized as an ongoing activity in no need for additional investment, or a potential quick win, or long term objective, or a low priority. The result of such effort of prioritization is outlined in Table 1 below, where each item has been given a priority rating ranging from High to Low. There was a common understanding that, given the limited time available at the meeting, the ratings summarized in Table 1 represented only an initial attempt at assigning priorities to a list of items that could themselves be in need of further consideration and refinement at a later stage.

One item originally not included in the Business Practices proposal was a review of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC). There was consensus on the fact that the Committee should develop its own position on the matter, and to submit it to the CEB before any discussion would start at the inter-governmental level.

The United Nations also noted that the increasing weight of Peace-keeping, Peace-building and Political missions in the overall activities of the UN Secretariat would have a considerable impact on the direction and implementation of management reform in the United Nations system, and encouraged the Committee to include this factor in its future discussions.

Table 1. Prioritized list of items for the development of the HLCM Programme of Work details are to be found in the body of the report

Action

The Committee, supported by its Networks, will develop a detailed, sequenced and costed plan of action for implementation, based on document CEB/2007/HLCM/3 and on the indicative priorities and areas of interest identified above. The plan of action would be incorporated into the HLCM programme of work, and would include detailed terms of reference outlining the scope, objectives, timeline and resources that each project entails.

A Steering Committee supported by the CEB Secretariat, led by the HLCM Vice-Chair (WHO) and composed by the organizations whose representatives currently chair the HLCM Networks (UN, IAEA, UNESCO, WFP), would drive the development of such plan of action, to be submitted to the Committee for approval at its 14th session in the fall 2007.

The HLCM Chair would report on the Committee’s conclusions at the forthcoming meeting of the CEB of 20-21 April 2007. This would allow advance build-up of the necessary support to the proposal by the donor community and by the organizations themselves, in preparation for specific requests for funding upon approval of individual projects.