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ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SYSTEM-WIDE RESULTS AND IMPACT

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SYSTEM-WIDE RESULTS AND IMPACT
11 July 2013

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this afternoon held a panel discussion on accountability for system-wide results and impact.  During the discussion, views were exchanged on improving the accountability of the United Nations development system for system-wide results and impact.

Ferit Hoxha, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that General Assembly resolution 67/226 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review called for more streamlined and harmonized planning, monitoring, measuring and reporting on system-wide results.  Implementing system-wide policies, including the outcome of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, would be possible only if effective system-wide accountability mechanisms were in place.
 
Sigrid Kaag, Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator, Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, United Nations Development Programme, and Moderator, said that the Secretary-General had prioritised results-based management but also development in the operational side in accounting of results.  A number of agencies or entities were converging on the use of indicators around particular areas.  Improving planning, monitoring measuring and reporting were important.

Martin Dahinden, State Secretary and Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Switzerland, said that significant economic, political, social and technological progress had taken place in the past decade.  However, unacceptable levels of poverty, inequality, hunger and conflict persisted.  Eradicating poverty and tackling global and regional challenges had to be at the forefront of their work.  The overall structure of funding of the United Nations development system currently did not provide enough incentives for a better coordinated system.  Switzerland expected the United Nations operational development system to engage strongly in the implementation of decisions taken and report on results achieved on this topic. 

Valbona Kuko, Director, Department of Strategy and Donor Coordination, Albania, said that Albania had taken a leadership role in harmonizing donor assistance by better tailoring it to the country’s needs and priorities through an improved coordination process among different types of assistance.  Results had been achieved in gender equality, nutrition, youth employment and migration, culture and heritage for social and economic development, and in the promotion of rural and regional development.  Remaining challenges included delivering results by committing available resources and financial reporting. 

Yamsekre Tiendrebeogo, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Economy and Finance, Burkina Faso, said that in 2009, Burkina Faso started its strategic poverty reduction policy for which it had received support from international donors and from the United Nations system.  Its policies had already achieved many results, including a reduction of the inflation rate, improved access to healthcare, and a significant reduction of extreme poverty.  The United Nations system was actively involved in several national structures in Burkina Faso, including many programmes of the country’s National Assembly.
Paul Lupunga, Chief Economist, Ministry of Finance and National Planning, Zambia, said that Zambia operated an open planning type of policy-framing every five years, anchored on a 2030 vision seeking to place Zambia at the higher end of the middle income country bracket.  The programme was currently broken down annually into activity-based budgeting, and the planning element was open to districts, provinces and civil society and other partners.  The competing bodies within the United Nations competed because of unsettledness about the predictability of what would happen to them as members of the organization.

Ratislav Vrbensky, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Montenegro, said that United Nations agencies were bound to create joint annual work plans and report on these on a bi-annual basis.  Participating United Nations agencies in all the working groups uploaded relevant data on activity output on a database which was public and could be used for different kinds of reporting, which was innovative.  Some of the root causes of lack of alignment were sometimes driven by the fragmented way that Member States dealt with United Nations agencies which promoted competition and contributed to fragmentation.

Anouparb Vongnorkeo, Deputy Director-General, International Organization Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said that reporting on results by United Nations entities at the country level was of great importance so as to adopt appropriate measures.  Harmonization and simplification should be conducted in a more coordinated manner to ensure that the reduplication of work was avoided.  All United Nations entities should focus more on enhancing horizontal coordination rather than pursuing vertical coordination or merely following orders from the Headquarters.        

Participating in the interactive dialogue with comments and questions were Ireland and Norway. 

The Economic and Social Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Friday, 12 July, when it will hold a general debate on conclusions and recommendations for the implementation of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review.

Panel Discussion on Accountability for System-wide Results and Impact

FERIT HOXHA, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the General Assembly resolution 67/226 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review called for more streamlined and harmonised planning, monitoring, measuring and reporting on system-wide results.  The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to develop a policy for independent, system-wide evaluation of United Nations operational activities for development, with a proposal for pilot evaluations.  Implementing system-wide policies, including the outcome of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, would be possible only if effective system-wide accountability mechanisms were in place.  In this session, senior officials from programme and donor countries and a country-level United Nations representative would exchange views on challenges and opportunities in improving the accountability of the United Nations development system for system-wide results and impact.

SIGRID KAAG, Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator, Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, United Nations Development Programme, and Moderator, reminded of the importance of value for money for the United Nations. The Secretary-General had prioritised results-based management but also development in the operational side in accounting of results.  Within the United Nations Development Group, agencies were making more use of the United Nations Children Fund’smonitoring results for equity systems” and they were always looking to introduce improvement measures.  A number of agencies or entities were also converging on the use of indicators around particular areas.  Improving planning, monitoring measuring and reporting were important but the culture within which work was being done was also being looked at. 

MARTIN DAHINDEN, State Secretary, Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Switzerland, said that the world had changed since development cooperation had begun more than half a century ago.  Significant economic, political, social and technological progress had taken place in the past decade.  However, unacceptable levels of poverty, inequality, hunger and conflict persisted.  Eradicating poverty and tackling global and regional challenges had to be at the forefront of their work.  Demonstrating development results was crucial and multilateral organizations had a special role to play in this regard.  The overall structure of funding of the United Nations development system currently did not provide enough incentives for a better coordinated system.  The lack of core contributions respecting the burden share as a principle of multilateral cooperation was an important point.  All expected better accountability of the United Nations operational system.  The Secretary-General’s report on accountability mentioned that only 17 per cent of programme countries considered that the United Nations reports provided efficient information for the Governments to assess performance of United Nations operational activities.  Due to the difficult financial situation in many donor countries, the pressure on the development cooperation budget had increased.  Donor countries had to be able to show results to tax payers and parliamentarians and the United Nations development system had to be held accountable that the financial contributions received from Member States were used efficiently.   The quadrennial comprehensive policy review gave a solid, normative framework for accountability and it was now ready for appropriate implementation and significant first steps had already been taken.  Accountability was a challenge for everyone.  Switzerland expected the United Nations operational development system to engage strongly in the implementation of decisions taken and report on results achieved on this topic. 

VALBONA KUKO, Director, Department of Strategy and Donor Coordination, Albania, said that Albania had taken a leadership role in harmonizing donor assistance by better tailoring it to the country’s needs and priorities, through an improved coordination process among different types of assistance and better focus on areas of support, while respecting development partners and agencies’ added values.  Albania’s national development agenda included government leadership, streamlining planning and management procedures.  National indicators had been established along with the national development agenda in order to monitor results and guide the whole process.  Regular reviews and lessons learnt served as the basis for formulating the plan for the following year.  Results had been achieved in the following categories in recent years: gender equality, nutrition, youth employment and migration, culture and heritage for social and economic development, strengthening the capacity to collect data and statistics and national indicators, and promoting rural and regional development. 

Ms. Kuko said that the Government and the United Nations reached out jointly to development partners to seek their support.  In that regard, the principle of the tripartite partnership was important for seeking support and for planning, monitoring and ensuring mutual accountability.  Remaining challenges included delivering results by committing available resources; this was key to attracting more resources, and financial reporting, bearing in mind that financial administrative systems differed between United Nations agencies.  

YAMSEKRE TIENDREBEOGO, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Economy and Finance, Burkina Faso, said that at the institutional level one of Burkina Faso’s objectives was that the United Nations should facilitate cooperation in human rights and international law.  The United Nations system in Burkina Faso consisted of 19 agencies, of which 10 were resident.  The financial resources made available to Burkina Faso were close to $400 million.  In 2009, Burkina Faso started its strategic poverty reduction policy, for which it had received support from international donors and from the United Nations system.  Its policies had already achieved many results, including a reduction of the inflation rate, improved access to healthcare, and a significant reduction of extreme poverty.  All of Burkina Faso’s partners had been involved in efforts to achieve results.  Burkina Faso had established a permanent Secretariat with five members of staff to oversee efforts undertaken under the SCADD programme, and the results were confirmed by the Steering Committee.  The United Nations system was present and active in several national structures in Burkina Faso, including many programmes of the National Assembly.     

PAUL LUPUNGA, Chief Economist, Ministry of Finance and National Planning, Zambia, said that Zambia was qualifying into the lower end of the middle income bracket.  Reflecting on the meaning of this, it meant that they would progressively cease to access things such as concessional loans from development banks, and they hoped to see a less poverty-stricken population.  There was a need to sit back and analyse the situation at that point.  Attention was drawn to the specific picture of how the Zambian Government had tried to manage the processes that really spoke to accountability of system wide results and impact within the Government.  It operated an open planning type of policy-framing every five years, anchored on a 2030 vision seeking to place Zambia at the higher end of the middle income country bracket. 

The programme was currently broken down annually into activity-based budgeting.  The planning element was open to districts, provinces and civil society and other partners.  That said the delivery or execution of the budget then ran with another report, a progress report.  There was also an annual development cooperation report.  There were challenges and those tended to arise a lot more from things such as variations within the budget.  Alignment had to do with how partners helped it in what it wanted to do.  This was predominantly governed by the joint assessment strategy for Zambia.  The relevance of the United Nations could not be questioned.  However, the comparative advantage that it had did not come out very easily.  The competing bodies within the United Nations competed because of the unrest or unsettledness about the predictability about what would happen to them as members of the organization.  There should be a readiness from all to settle this question, quickly enough to cause peace as well as to allow predictability on the country side. 

RATISLAV VRBENSKY, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Montenegro, said that there was more competitive development cooperation space and there was a wider range of development partners.  In order to be a catalyst, the United Nations really had to have a results culture and measure results.  What was happening on the ground was in many cases very positive.  United Nations agencies were bound to create joint annual work plans and report on these on a bi-annual basis.  Participating United Nations agencies in all the working groups uploaded relevant data on activity output on a database which was public and could be used for different kinds of reporting, which was innovative.  If there was no joint common framework it was very difficult to report in a coherent way.  This had to be linked to national priorities as well as corporate strategic plans. 

The capacity of national staff or United Nations staff and skills for monitoring and evaluation and planning were very important.  Lack of these was a key impediment to effective reporting.  Any harmonisation and simplification had to be driven at the headquarter level.  There were some parallel processes that were given higher priority than the United Nations Development Assistance Framework, as well as different programmatic cycles between the agencies that led to discrepancies in setting results frameworks for the same time period.  They had to keep a certain level of flexibility at the country level to respond to specific situations at the country level.  Some of the root causes of lack of alignment were also sometimes driven by the fragmented way that Member States dealt with United Nations agencies which promoted competition and contributed to fragmentation.  In his view, there had been progress in delivering-as-one countries.  Interest expressed by a number of countries in delivering-as-one was encouraging.

ANOUPARB VONGNORKEO, Deputy Director-General, International Organization Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, said that reporting on results by United Nations entities at the country level was of great importance so as to adopt appropriate measures.  Harmonization and simplification should be conducted in a more coordinated manner to ensure that the reduplication of work was avoided.  All United Nations entities should focus more on enhancing horizontal coordination rather than pursuing vertical coordination or merely following orders from Headquarters.  Improving the linkages between national results and results of the United Nations agencies was of major importance.  At the same time, clear guidelines from Headquarters were needed.  System-wide results reporting could replace agency results reporting, but that required a strong political will.  Concerning Resident Coordinators, Mr. Vongnorkeo said that at the moment accountability relied on individual agencies and not on the United Nations system through the Resident Coordinator.  There was a need to strengthen the Resident Coordinator System.  A strong and well-capacitated Resident Coordinator Office was of paramount importance to ensuring efficient and appropriate coordination.  Unfortunately, in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic a number of factors had led to a substantial decrease in the capacity of the Resident Coordinator’s Office.         

Ireland said that many countries were experiencing budgetary constraints and a lot of the funding currently came from taxpayers’ money, and asked how they could take the discussion on robust accountability mechanisms a step further and extend the discussion to involve trade society, civil society, and parliaments on the results they were achieving.
Norway said that one of the main reasons for the lack of development was the poor accountability mechanisms currently in place.  So far it had been difficult to make both individual United Nations organizations and the development system as a whole accountable for what had or had not been done, and reporting had not been systematic.  

MARTIN DAHINDEN, State Secretary, Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Switzerland, said that two very important issues had been raised.  Accountability was extremely important on many levels.  For donor Governments, they were accountable to parliaments and the wider public.  What Mr. Dahinden had been wondering during the discussion was did they not have to some extent too technical an understanding about accountability?  Should they not look at another level of accountability, to first provide transparency and transformation and also bring those populations in poor countries in a position to make them accountable?  The Swiss Development Cooperation was under constant pressure to demonstrate results.  One important issue was not to confuse results and measurability. 

VALBONA KUKO, Director, Department of Strategy and Donor Coordination, Albania, said that accountability had many aspects, depending on the level of representation.  Accountability was first of all on a political level of the Government and of the United Nations.  The Government of Albania jointly with the United Nations reported regularly to development partners and the wider donor community in the country.  There were requirements from donors asking the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Government to report on the sector level.  There was a need to join efforts to have the same understanding and the same reporting.  Training on reporting was also very useful and needed, especially for the Government structure.  Using the national system to avoid duplication, increase capacity and be more sustainable in the long-term was very important. 

YAMSEKRE TIENDREBEOGO, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Economy and Finance, Burkina Faso, said that in terms of evaluation it was necessary to have a break-down of results achieved in each region with regard to efforts made to decrease poverty or to improve the health sector.  The reliability of data and the reliability of the methods used to collect data were very important, and Burkina Faso was currently building appropriate systems in order to break down results at the regional level and ensure the reliability of data collection.   

PAUL LUPUNGA, Chief Economist, Ministry of Finance and National Planning, Zambia, said that in Zambia the Progress Report, which was a reflection of the National Plan, aimed to evaluate the implementation of the national programming.  Regarding the implementation of the programming financed by its partners, the Development Cooperation Report illustrated the preliminary outputs in each sector separately, including a geographic graph showing how implementation proceeded at the district level.  

RATISLAV VRBENSKY, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Montenegro, said that last year there had been a visit from the Inter-parliamentary Union looking at the delivery-as-one approach.  A quick survey was done and it had been found that there was no steering committee for delivering-as-one for parliamentarians. 

SIGRID KAAG, Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator, Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, United Nations Development Programme, and Moderator, said that a lot had been said about country experiences, noting political, management and leadership accountability, as well as how reports and reporting could have positive effects.  A lot had been heard about the benefits of harmonisation and how the delivering as one experience had very much benefitted the multilateral system as one in leveraging assets.  There was a lot to do. 

Burkina Faso said that you could not compile all of the actions of agencies in a report.  Some activities were omitted because they were not key focuses of national policy action.  They needed to take into account the range of activities of agencies and find some kind of framework in which all results could be compiled. 

MARTIN DAHINDEN, State Secretary, Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Switzerland, said that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development peer review could function as an accountability mechanism.  Peer reviews, such as the Universal Periodic Reviews held regularly in the Human Rights Council, were a useful evaluation tool.  It was just a matter of determining what could work in the United Nations system.  

PAUL LUPUNGA, Chief Economist, Ministry of Finance and National Planning, Zambia, said that he agreed with Mr. Dahinden, and said that they should convey very clearly how they thought the whole process could help them to attain their objectives while remaining focused.
 
RATISLAV VRBENSKY, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Montenegro, said that he would be going back to the field quite encouraged by the speed of follow up on quadrennial comprehensive policy review recommendations.  It was felt that some of the elements that Resident Coordinators were missing in the past were being put in place. 

FERIT HOXHA, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that there had been a lot of information and food for thought.  It was not easy to measure everything in the same way but there should be measurability in accordance with the areas of activity.  The importance of having the results framework compatible with the national framework was noted.  To have a system with accountability, it had to be part of and the result of coherence at the system level.  Regarding reporting simplification, it was hoped that the figure of about 17,000 reports a year was incorrect. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

ECOSOC13/020E


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