Press Releases

    DSG/SM/153
    15 March 2002

    TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LOUISE FRÉCHETTE ON UNITED NATIONS REFORM,
    AT HEADQUARTERS, 6 MARCH

    The Deputy Secretary-General: As you will have noticed from the Secretary-General’s agenda for the last couple of days, he is meeting with each regional group to talk about his second mandate, the priorities of the Organization and his own personal priorities. He has indicated once again that we are very fortunate to have a very clear template of policy in the Millennium Declaration, which really is the framework within which all our activities nowadays should fit.

    As he indicated to the Assembly in the fall, he has chosen to attach particular attention to issues of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development and the campaign against HIV/AIDS. But he is telling the Member States that, of course, since 11 September, terrorism has risen as a priority on the agenda. It is a priority in its own right. The United Nations is engaged in a number of activities that are directly linked to the fight against terrorism, but it is also an event that has changed the context within which many of the issues we are pursuing are dealt with.

    He then went on to tell the Member States that, as he told them in the fall, what the United Nations does, it must do well. Therefore, he intends to continue the reform process that he initiated at the beginning of his first mandate.

    The main reasons for pursuing this reform exercise are, first, for the programme of work to be better aligned with the policy framework contained in the Millennium Declaration, and second, there is a sense in the Secretariat, the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council that there is just too much happening, there are too many papers and too many meetings, and that a systematic review of all would be useful from all perspectives.

    The third reason is that we think that some of the processes fail to perform their functions as well as they should. We are thinking here in particular of the resource allocation process, where, in spite of lots of time being expended on looking at budget proposals and so on, at the end of the day the decisions are not necessarily always based on a rational analysis of where the needs are. We know that the budget decision this year led to a decision to very heavily cut support services, which is going to create some serious problems for the day-to-day functioning of the Secretariat and will cause some trouble for the Assembly and, therefore, perhaps, we can have a better approach to resource allocation in the United Nations.

    So he is indicating to Member States that we are proceeding with a number of projects, which I would regroup into three categories. The first category, the first big project, is a review of all activities of the departments of the United Nations. Each department has been asked to look at what it does to identify activities that may no longer be as pertinent as they were when they were first started some years ago, to look at those activities that could be merged, combined or better performed and to identify areas where, frankly, we are not paying enough attention. We are not devoting sufficient attention to new areas and new problems.

    The Assembly had asked for a review of all publications that are paid for by the regular budget. There are a very, very large number of those. I think it is in excess of 2,000, if I am not mistaken. We will do a review of all these publications, hopefully to come back with proposals for the Assembly for a kind of update of the programme of work of the Assembly.

    Secondly, there are a number of administrative questions that will be reviewed. One is about conference services, which absorb quite a big chunk of the UN budget -- how it is done and about the practical support to conferences of translation, interpretation and documentation. I think the review of documentation will be particularly important. Not only should we reduce the volume, but we should also see if there is a different way of producing reports for the Assembly so as to facilitate its work and decisions.

    There will also be a review of administrative duplication. We will look at administrative processes. These things may not appear very important or very evident to people looking from the outside, but they do consume a lot of resources -- as to how many people it takes to authorize a travel plan, or whatever -- and there is a need for a good systematic look at our administrative processes. We have come a long way in the last five years, but we think there is room for further improvement.

    We are going to have another look at our human resources management and see if we want to propose to the Assembly some further steps.

    Finally, we want to look at resource allocation. It is a very complex procedure. It is very resource-intensive in terms of the amount of work that has to go into its preparation. Then the consideration of all these documents is very labour-intensive. Is it possible to have a simpler system and one that would give greater flexibility to allow the United Nations and the Secretariat to be able to respond to quickly changing priorities?

    We will also take stock of how far we have come in our own internal coordination mechanisms, which were a very important element of the first part of the reform programme that the Secretary-General put forward in 1997. I think we have come a long way in making the various parts of the United Nations system work better together, but we also think that there is probably some room for further improvements. We are going to look at that also.

    The Secretary-General is telling Member States that he believes that there are two essential conditions for that sort of change to take place. First, this exercise should really not be looked upon as a budget-cutting exercise. It should really be approached from the point of view of the optimum allocation of available resources. Secondly, it should not be led by a concern to protect the employment of a specific individual. As employers, we certainly have to look after our employees, and if there is a change in the type of work or in work priorities, we should be able to look after our people by giving them other assignments or by giving them more training. In some cases, it may lead to the need for early separation, and we should be able to do that in good conditions.

    So that is, in essence, what the Secretary-General is telling the Member States these days. I should add that there are two other exercises that are going on at the moment. One is a comprehensive review of the Department of Public Information (DPI). I mention it because it is of particular interest to all of you and was requested by the Assembly. It is under the leadership of Shashi Tharoor. There was also a specific request to do a management review of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. That is also under way with the involvement of the Office of the Inspector General.

    The idea of the Secretary-General presenting a report to the Assembly at the end of the summer or in early September, in time for consideration by the Assembly in the fall, as you can well imagine, will mean a lot of work to have it ready in the time that we have established. The Secretary-General has asked me to lead that project overall for the Secretariat, but clearly each department, each section of the Secretariat, will have to make its own contribution. We will be working quietly and assiduously over the coming months, but, at some point, there will be a comprehensive report issued by the Secretary-General.

    Question: Thank you, Ms. Fréchette, for this briefing. On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association, the first question is on the matter of the DPI review. I wonder if you could be a little more specific about what the approach would be to any changes that might impact particularly on the working press here.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: The request from the Assembly was for a comprehensive review of DPI, which means that Shashi Tharoor, his team, and, I must say, the whole DPI management team are involved. As for looking at what their activities are, what their products are, what their field offices are doing, with a view to coming up with proposals where change is deemed necessary, it is too early for me to tell whether that will make a significant difference for the press corps here in New York. I think what we will be looking at is, for instance, the use of information technology, the configuration of all the field offices. There are many information centres around the world. So there may be changes at the end of the day. Whether it will make a big difference to you here is too early to tell.

    Question: Usually, as journalists we take whatever is said here in this room and give it to our people. But today I want us to turn that around because I am really loaded with criticism about the United Nations and the Secretary-General, and as you are representing the Secretary-General, I hope that this can go to him.

    You spoke about HIV/AIDS, terrorism and all the rest. But there is no action by the United Nations to really help those children and people who are being killed by the Israeli bombardments. I have to say this here in order to make you realize that people there are unhappy, but they cannot come to you. They have written a lot of letters. They have sent some people, but, of course, nothing has happened. So could you please tell me why these people -- the United Nations and the Secretary-General, in general -- have been silent and why they are not doing anything to support these children and people who are being bombarded all the time?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I do not think that the Secretary-General has been silent on the conflict in the Middle East. It is a subject of very deep preoccupation to him. He has spoken out publicly, and I think [Spokesman for the Secretary-General] Fred [Eckhard] is better placed than I am to review what the Secretary-General has said and done on this issue. I can well understand the anguish and the frustration, but I think the Secretary-General is doing as much as he can, first, to try to come to grips with the conflict and then to stop the violence, which has been a constant concern on his part. On the ground, the United Nations has been present for many years trying, through UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] and the various UN agencies, to provide as much practical support as we can to victims, wherever the case may be.

    Question: The question is this. If, instead of the Palestinians, they were other people, and if it were the other way around, if the Israelis were Arab countries, would the United Nations and the Security Council stay silent all the time, as they have all these years?

    The Spokesman: This is a briefing on UN reform, so why don’t we talk afterwards, please?

    Question: Maybe I missed it, but two important items that the Secretary-General emphasized in the past as being critical to the new United Nations are its relationships with civil society and business. I do not know if you mentioned them or if I just missed them. How will that feature?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: My briefing this morning does not deal with every aspect of United Nations work. It is really concentrated on a few specific projects that we want to pursue. But I think that you are quite right in picking up these points about relationships with civil society and business. If you go back to the Secretary-General’s speech to the Assembly in November, in which he looked forward to a second mandate, it raised these two issues. While they are not part of this very distinct reform package, that does not mean that they have ceased to be of interest.

    Question: Maybe I should rephrase the question. When you are considering the way the UN operates, will there be any thought given to the new institutional structures within the Secretariat to deal with these areas?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: I think that, at this stage, what I have described are a few projects on reform. But, as the Secretary-General said in 1997, it is a process. It is not an event and, therefore, it is not limited to what I have described to you. He is committing himself to presenting a report that will deal essentially with the issues that I have described. But, yes, indeed, we are giving a lot of thought in the Secretariat to how to further improve the relationship between the United Nations and civil society. How do we deal with the business community?

    Quite a bit of work has been done in recent years, just on the business side, from the Global Compact to the establishment of guidelines for partnership with the business community. I would not for one minute think that we have exhausted the subject, and work will continue to go on. At this point in time, the report that we are anticipating for the Assembly is going to deal with the subjects that I have identified.

    Question: Normally, the Secretary-General is mandated to introduce a report to the General Assembly every year. What point of this report would be different from the other reports? It seemed to me that you mentioned some priorities, and one of them is poverty, which is the main problem of the developing world. How do we get to that?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Again, yes, the Secretary-General is mandated to produce a report on the work of the Organization every year. These reports deal with all the activities of the United Nations, but they are descriptive.

    The report that I am talking about will deal with specific proposals for change. If you want to have an idea of the kind of report I’m talking about, you should go back to his reform report of -- was it July, or August, 1997? -- which contained a number of specific proposals for specific changes that were focused more on the management.

    Secondly, we are now under mandate from the General Assembly to issue reports every year on how the United Nations and the international community are following up on all the decisions of the Millennium Declaration. I think it would be in these reports, and in the reports of the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and all the development agencies of the United Nations system, that you would be able to assess what the United Nations is doing on poverty eradication, for instance, how well it is doing in support of the achievement of the goals in the Millennium Declaration. This special report that I’ve described this morning is focusing more on the managerial aspect of the United Nations.

    Question: Do you have any parallel activities in the United Nations system that should be eliminated, or at least reduced?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: That’s one of the things we’ve asked each department to identify. One of the problems with the processes we have in the United Nations is that it is easy to add new mandates. Almost every resolution requests new activities, new reports, but it is much more difficult for the Assembly to systematically say, OK, these things are no longer really as important as they were when we asked for them five years ago, or 10 years ago. So that is what we want to do, in a comprehensive way, and go back to the Assembly and say that we have reviewed all the activities and this is what we propose by way of elimination of some things, and probably more attention being paid to some of the new issues that don’t receive enough attention.

    Question: What will be the size of the budget reduction in the light of this administrative reform?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: This is not with a view to reducing the budget. We are making it very clear to the Member States that as we embark on this more comprehensive review we are saying that this is not, and should not be seen as, a budget-cutting exercise. This is for the purpose of reviewing where the resources are allocated and to make sure that they are applied to the new priorities. So this is not a budget-cutting exercise.

    Question: What outside and independent consultants, if any, is the United Nations working with to achieve this review, and if so, how much are you allocating in terms of budget for the review?

    The Deputy Secretary-General: When it comes to assessing the work programme of the Organization, the series of activities that each department undertakes, I don’t think it’s something that a consultant can do very easily. I think this is an exercise in managerial leadership and vision as to what in your own field you think are the things that are worth pursuing in light of what you know, of what the Member States are interested in, and what are the things you can dispense with or reduce in terms of attention. It is not a mechanical exercise; it is an exercise in the application of good judgement.

    The Millennium Declaration was not written by a consultant. How it is applied is something that is quintessentially a responsibility for the Secretary-General and his team to develop in consultation with the Member States. At the end of the day, they are the ones who have the decision-making power.

    That doesn’t mean that on some elements of review this or that department will not need the help of a consultant. For instance, when the time comes to review 2,400 publications, there is some work that is probably a little more mechanical, if that’s the word, but that implies less in the way of judgement to do a first sorting-out of things. Yes, there we will turn, probably, to a consultant to do some preliminary research. But at the end of the day, that work and whatever recommendations come out will be the result of discussion by managers and their teams and will be submitted to the Secretary-General. Consultants can come in to do some discrete piece of work. At times, they can bring good ideas, but it is not the idea to farm out everything to consultants.

    Question: Thinking of resource allocation ... Do you envisage looking at the medium-term plan and saying, we would like you to look at your priorities? Are you actually asking with the report ... ask the General Assembly to reconsider priorities? Now, for instance, items that you have mentioned are not the same as those in the medium-term plan.

    The Deputy Secretary-General: Actually, I think the purpose of this review of the programme of work is for the Secretary-General to make some proposals in substance to the General Assembly, to give them a basis from which to work. Therefore, that is why it’s important for managers of various departments to exercise their good professional judgement as to what are the things that are really in line with the strategic objectives that the leaders agreed to in the Millennium Declaration. What things are more routine and are probably not having much of an impact and could be dispensed with?

    So yes, the Secretary-General will stick his neck out, in a sense, and say, here is what I think could be better shaped for the programme of work of the Organization, so that we focus on the new priorities and not get stuck in the old ones, in practical terms, and that we also try to invest in quality and reduce, perhaps, the volume. Remember, one of the motivations for this is the sense that there just is so much, that many of these delegations are completely swamped by the amount of people. Even the large ones recognize that to do, every once in a while, a good review and streamline the work of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council would be very useful. Frankly, it’s as important for the General Assembly itself to be able to update, every once in a while, its programme of work if it wants to remain relevant and focused on those things that matter today. That’s the general purpose.

    Thank you very much.

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