ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

273rd Session
Geneva, November 1998

Committee on Technical Cooperation



Further developments concerning operational activities
in the United Nations system


I. Introduction

II. Operational activities as a common platform for UN-system action

III. Resources for ILO technical cooperation

IV. Policy and operational implications of the reforms for the ILO

I. Introduction

1. This paper is intended to provide the Committee with a brief summary of major developments concerning operational activities in the United Nations system and an overview of the status of reforms by highlighting issues that are of concern and have policy and operational implications for the ILO. The previous report(1) covered some of the measures taken by the UN Secretary-General to put into effect the reforms. Since then the issue of UN reform has dominated discussions in the intergovernmental and interagency bodies of the UN system. The discussions have centred on how far the Secretary-General has gone with his initiative for change and reform. Discussions have also continued in various political bodies of the United Nations on how to ensure that the measures are effective, on the understanding that the reform process is not undertaken merely for the sake of reform, but rather to make the United Nations an efficient organization capable of fulfilling its goals.

2. Addressing the General Assembly early in the year, the Secretary-General reiterated the basic and fundamental point that transforming the United Nations was not an end in itself but a means to better pursue the mission of peace, development and human rights; that the reform process was neither a luxury, a gimmick nor an imposition, but rather, the very survival and future of the UN. He was pleased that the measures he put in place to effect reforms had largely been implemented from the top downwards, and this was expected to prove itself on the ground with noticeable changes in living standards. The United Nations Development Group (UNDG) established earlier in the reform process, has been spearheading the reform measures by ensuring greater coordination and integration of UN operational activities for development. A more significant development has been the proposed United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) as a tool for the funds and programmes to harmonize their programmes, bringing a coherent programming strategy and working together in support of common visions and obligations determined by member States.

3. Although the role of the specialized agencies in UNDAF remains ambiguous, as reported last year, little has changed since then. However, the agencies will clearly be called upon to play a major role in the future. What this role will be depends on a number of factors that are subject to further discussions and consultations in the Consultative Committee on Programme and Operational Questions (CCPOQ), and on the outcome of the assessment exercise that has been carried out by the United Nations Development Group Office (UNDGO) in the 18 pilot countries. The ILO, like the other specialized agencies, has also carried out an assessment in collaboration with the field structure. The outcome of this assessment will be reported at the Governing Body's next session in March 1999.

4. Another significant development was the appointment early in the year of Louise Fréchette of Canada as Deputy Secretary-General in fulfilment of reform measures proposed by the Secretary-General and endorsed by the General Assembly.

5. The other development of significance to the UN system was the decision of the General Assembly (May 1998) to endorse the Secretary-General's proposal to designate its 55th Session, in the year 2000, as the "Millennium Assembly". A highlighted segment called the "Millennium Summit" will be devoted to in-depth consideration of the theme "the United Nations in the Twenty-First Century".

6. Humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation, peace building and development issues emerged as major issues in discussions of the intergovernmental bodies in ECOSOC, highlighting and emphasizing the role of UN operational activities in humanitarian assistance and development, with particular focus on serious post-conflict situations, peace reconstruction and rehabilitation. These discussions indicate a strong desire within the Group of 77, the European Union and other member States to ensure that humanitarian affairs and development are linked. Human rights issues are likely to feature more prominently in UNDP's sustainable human development programmes. In policy guidance on how to handle the matter, UNDP is to integrate human rights into its sustainable human development programmes at the country level.

7. The World Food Programme (WFP), which is currently undergoing organizational change, has been successfully collaborating with the ILO in food for development activities and receiving input through international labour standards in many countries. Further collaboration with WFP is important in post-conflict reconstruction and the strengthening of national capacities for the construction of rural infrastructure. The ILO's experience of employment-intensive works and training in a number of countries, and in social dialogue, could benefit the peace- building and post-conflict reconstruction in integrated UNDP human rights and sustainable human development programmes, for example, in Cambodia and Mozambique. The new Declaration provides a strong framework for collaboration with UNDP in human rights and sustainable human development.

8. Member States in general feel that the process of UN reform must continue. The General Assembly's 55th Session is expected to focus on the reforms and on the implementation of the Secretary-General's measures. Those concerning the United Nations Development Group (UNDG) have begun to show some effectiveness in relation to operational activities at the country level, particularly in the implementation of General Assembly resolution 50/120. There are also strong indications from member States that reforms should continue, but they are also concerned with how the reforms are to be financed. Reforms will continue to have an impact on the ILO in UN system programme and operational activities, and especially technical cooperation activities at the country level.

II. Operational activities as a common platform
for UN-system action

9. In his report to the General Assembly's 53rd Session on the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review: Operational activities for development of the United Nations system, the Secretary-General reaffirmed the importance of the review as an effective common platform for reviewing action by the United Nations system at the country level. He noted that the range and diversity of operational activities have increased considerably in response to the growing diversity of the situations and demands faced by the UN system.

10. The Secretary-General also noted that development cooperation was, as a result of globalization, the interdependence of such issues as private capital flows, the transformation brought by new technologies and communications, becoming increasingly dependent on the international situation. Developing countries need UN system support and assistance to enhance their capacity in order to effectively integrate themselves into the global economy. The report underscored the importance of according top priority to poverty alleviation and related economic and social issues. The report also points out that cross-cutting themes such as finance, trade, science and technology, human resource development, human rights, gender, children and governance, have continued to shape the orientation of national priorities supported through UN operational activities for development.

11. Renewed efforts are being made within the UN system to link research, normative and operational activities with new approaches to technical assistance based on learned experiences that link technical assistance more directly to capacity building. In the context of reforms and the growing range and complexity of demands, there is increasing recognition of the need for the UN system to deepen its relations with not only governments, but also with the society at large. The UN system's global plans of action contributing to integrated implementation at the national level are dependent on countries' perceiving the UN system as an integral part of their development efforts while recognizing their individual specific mandates. The Secretary-General expects that the momentum generated by the reform process will prove a solid platform for achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness, and must be maintained.

12. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), as a tool for programming and resource planning for the funds and programmes, remains a major development in the Secretary-General's reform measures. It was noted in the previous report that the exact role of the specialized agencies and its link with the country strategy note were ambiguous and unclear. A number of developments have taken place since then which could remove this ambiguity and clarify the role of the agencies: the pilot exercises undertaken in 18 countries have been completed; and the UNDG office has already carried out an assessment on this pilot exercise.

13. While participation in the UNDAF pilot exercises was mandatory to the funds and programmes, the ILO participated in some of the countries. Reports from the field indicate varied experiences. In support of the UNDGO assessment exercise, the Office has undertaken its own brief assessment in collaboration with its field offices to determine some basic premises for the ILO's participation, such as: UNDAF's usefulness to the Organization, the APP, the country objectives and the question of whether, in the long term, the ILO stands to benefit by participating. The outcome of both the UNDGO and the ILO's assessment will be reported to the Governing Body in March 1999. However, it is important to note that some member States are generally supportive of UNDAF and would like to see more involvement of the specialized agencies, national authorities, other relevant stakeholders and the Bretton Wood institutions. It is expected that, after these exercises, the role of the ILO will become clearer and less ambiguous.

14. It is also important to note that, through UNDAF and the thematic groups at the country level the ILO has greater opportunity to promote its priorities and those of its constituents in the context of the APP. UNDAF could also provide another window of opportunity for the Organization to mobilize UNDP resources for the technical cooperation activities emerging from the action plans of its country objectives. Guidelines have been issued to the field on the ILO's participation in UNDAF to complement provisional guidelines already issued by the UNDG.

15. The Resident Coordinator System (RCS) has continued to be strengthened, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 47/199 and 50/120, through the CCPOQ Working Group on the RCS. Although more progress has been made in this area, particular attention is to be paid to competency-based assessment, other procedures, and their knowledge of other agencies' mandates in selecting potential candidates for Resident Coordinators drawn from the whole UN system. UNDP continued to finance the functioning of the Resident Coordinator System, but there are indications that cost-sharing between the UN agencies will be encouraged. Many governments seem to favour cost-sharing to finance the functioning of the Resident Coordinator. This issue has been a serious subject for discussion in the CCPOQ Working Group on the RCS. General Assembly resolution 50/120 does not however specify the modality or form of such cost- sharing. CCPOQ will discuss the issue further and make appropriate recommendations for decision by the ACC. Cost-sharing will clearly have implications for the ILO in the field where area office directors are members of the UN country team. The Office will continue to monitor the situation.

16. National execution remains the major modality for implementing technical cooperation activities funded by the UNDP and continues to provide a framework for sustainable capacity building and genuine ownership of development programmes, guided by General Assembly resolution 47/199. This modality is linked to the programme approach through which the UN system supports nationally managed programmes. The application of both national execution and programme approach modalities continues to evolve on the basis of the needs and situation of each country. Many governments, however, continue to support national execution fully, but are also concerned that its implementation has marginalized, and to some extent diminished the opportunities for the UN agencies to play an effective role in development cooperation activities at the country level.

17. Procedures on national execution have been finalized and issued by UNDP in consultation with the agencies to all UN system representatives in the field. However, a few aspects of the procedures need to be refined, particularly those that relate to financial management, auditing and reporting procedures. In principle, the ILO accepts these procedures, although some field offices have experienced difficulties that are not entirely related to either national execution or its procedures. The Office will continue to monitor progress on these issues in consultation with other agencies through the CCPOQ machinery.

18. Common premises and common services in the context of the "UN House" continue to receive attention in the UNDG. While the ILO and other specialized agencies view the concept positively and are encouraged to join, the effect of joining a "UN House" for the Organization and its constituents should receive close consideration in the future. A UNDGO feasibility study on common premises in three countries has revealed a number of constraints such as the lack of appropriate buildings and the high cost of acquiring them. The Office will continue to monitor developments in this regard taking into account the need to accommodate freely the social partners and to guarantee free access to ILO visitors.

19. Follow-up on global conferences at the country level continues to evolve around the Resident Coordinator System. The ACC has reaffirmed the recommendations emerging from recent global conferences as an important basis for establishing dialogue on national development priorities and needs at the country level, and as an effective link between the normative and operational activities of the UN system, by providing coherence and integration between micro-economic and social policy frameworks and other cross-cutting policy dimensions such as gender, human rights and environment. The three inter-agency task forces (that on employment and sustainable livelihoods was led by the ILO) have completed their work with the following outputs: the identification of the key elements of a policy framework, recommendations and guidelines for UN system programming; country reviews and case-studies; and institutional arrangements for follow-up.

20. The ACC has reaffirmed the need to maintain, together with governments, the momentum created for integrated and coordinated follow-up on the global conferences and supporting the translation of their outcome into concrete national policies and programmes. Broad systemwide guidelines for the Resident Coordinator System have been finalized by CCPOQ and approved by the ACC.

21. Efforts are continuing to enhance the linkages with civil society and collaboration with Bretton Wood institutions, and to ensure that UN operational activities focus more on providing support in coordinated internationally agreed strategies and targets. However, a key concern of governments in implementing the recommendations of the global conferences remains the need to take into account country-specific situations and national priorities, as well as the specific mandates and capacity of each UN system organization. The output from the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Employment and Sustainable Livelihood led by the ILO needs to be translated into more concrete programmes within the framework of the APP and country objectives.

22. Regarding decentralization of authority by the agencies, the Secretary-General noted with appreciation in his report to the General Assembly the ILO's efforts to decentralize and delegate more authority to its field structure under the Active Partnership Policy. These issues have been the subject of continuous discussion in the intergovernmental bodies.

III. Resources for ILO technical cooperation

23. In November 1997 the Office noted with concern the decline in resources to finance development activities in the UN system and in ODA resources in general. The situation remains unpredictable. Concessionary resource flows to developing countries are in fact declining at a period when needs and demands are increasing. This decline in turn affects UN system activities in many recipient countries. Resources to support UN system activities at the country level have varied from 1 per cent of external aid to 100 per cent of external assistance. These variations have affected the efficiency and effectiveness of the UN system's operational activities. The ILO faces the same situation as other UN agencies.

24. UNDP, the traditional source of funding for ILO technical cooperation, also continues to experience a decline in resources as ODA and UNDP regular resource flows remain uncertain and difficult to predict. The UNDP Executive Board is concerned with the critical state of its core funding situation. Resource projects made in June 1998 indicate that US$750 million in voluntary core contributions is expected, but with the reduction in the pressure faced by European donors to meet the Maastricht criteria, a moderate increase in contributions from these donors is anticipated. However, in order to mobilize more resources on a more predictable and assured basis, the Board, together with the major donors, has set up an ad-hoc working group to develop a more sustainable funding strategy for UNDP.

25. In order to enhance its effectiveness at the country level amidst declining resources, UNDP will now focus more closely on individual countries by providing high-quality development services to meet the sustainable human development needs of programme countries. The Executive Board has reaffirmed poverty alleviation, employment, sustainable livelihoods and the advancement of women as its main areas of focus beyond 1998. The finalization, maturity and application of UNDAF as a programming tool and as a basis for resource allocation for UNDP in the coming years will have an impact on resource mobilization for ILO's technical cooperation activities at the country level. While member States, donors and recipients of ODA have expressed support for UN system operational activities for development, they are also concerned at current trends in the flow of core resources for UNDP. This underlines further the ILO's efforts to mobilize UNDP resources.

26. It is however encouraging to note that the field structure continues to actively collaborate with UNDP in its upstream programming process, particularly in the formulation of the Common Country Assessment (CCA) and Country Strategy Notes (CSN). A noticeable increase of about 50 per cent has been observed in ILO activities under UNDP funding, mainly due to its cash surplus. The Office continues to provide the field structure with new information on developments in the ODA resource situation and changes in UNDP. It is expected that ILO relations with UNDP will continue in the context of its APP. However, UNDAF will be a crucial factor in the ILO's resource mobilization efforts in the future.

IV. Policy and operational implications of
the reforms for the ILO

27. In 1997 the UN Secretary-General requested member States to begin a quiet revolution to transform the United Nations, its leadership structures and its performance, and challenged the General Assembly to become a "Reform Assembly" and focus on revitalizing the Organization, as reported in the previous report. The measures taken by the Secretary-General were highlighted in last year's report. In this report the Office highlights measures concerning UN system operational activities which have direct significance and implications for ILO operations in the long and short terms in the context of the Active Partnership Policy and for its constituents.

28. The ILO has already reaffirmed its position on UN reforms. However, as the Secretary-General has stated, "Reform is not an event, but a process." He has also emphasized that "transforming the UN is not an end in itself, but rather a means to better the mission of peace, development and human rights." The ILO believes in these issues, but as the reform process gathers momentum, the Organization needs to ask itself what role it should play within its mandate and priorities and where and how it can place itself in the context of reforms in the next millennium. The Millennium Assembly has been proposed by the Secretary-General to mark the year 2000 and to articulate a vision for the United Nations in the new century and to propose systemwide institutional adaptation to respond to that new vision. The ILO should at that Assembly promote its mandate and values and the new Declaration. A reassessment of UN achievements with a view to further close the gap between aspirations and accomplishments should also provide the ILO with an opportunity to reassess its own achievements in the labour and social sectors.

29. In re-examining the continued viability of the juridically based fragmentation of the UN system as a whole in order to provide strategic guidance to the UN for the twenty-first century, the ILO should also look into the future and determine its role in UN operational activities for development and consider how it intends to reinforce the Active Partnership Policy to better serve its constituents and assess its contribution to the betterment of humankind.

United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)

30. The United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) was introduced by the Secretary-General to ensure the harmonization of the time-frames of the individual country programmes of the funds and programmes, based on common objectives, with the aim of achieving collaboration in the pursuit of shared goals, programmatic coherence and mutual reinforcement (General Assembly resolution 50/120). As stated in last year's report, participation and involvement in UNDAF is mandatory for the funds and programmes, but voluntary for the agencies. The United Nations Development Group carried out pilot exercises in 18 countries to test the applicability of UNDAF. Although the participation of the agencies was ambiguous, some area offices and MDTs participated in the pilot exercises at the invitation of the UN Resident Coordinators. This exercise has been completed and an assessment undertaken by the UNDGO.

31. Reports received by the Office on the participation of some field offices indicated varied and mixed experience. In order to determine the role and participation of the ILO in UNDAF in future, the field has been requested to provide further information on experience of the UNDAF process in order to enrich the findings of the UNDGO assessment, and ultimately to develop appropriate guidelines that are acceptable to the UN system as a whole. There are strong indications, however, that while UNDAF is destined to be a major programming tool for the funds and programmes, more active involvement of the specialized UN agencies is expected. Further development of UNDAF is likely to take into account and pay more attention to ownership of the process through consultations and by involving governments more in its preparation; collaborative programming within the framework of UNDAF to reflect the strengths and mandates of each participating organization; and a joint monitoring and evaluation component in ensuring coordinated follow-up on global conferences with a view to ensuring coherence and effectiveness.

32. UNDAF has many potential implications for the ILO's technical cooperation activities in the future, and this poses a number of fundamental questions. What will be the benefits to the ILO and its constituents in participating in UNDAF? Will its mandate, priorities and competences be preserved? What impact will the instrument have on the tripartite nature of the Organization at the field level? What added value will accrue to the Organization by participating? Answers to some of these questions will depend on the feedback from the field offices and the UNDGO assessment of the pilot exercises. However, the Office will continue to monitor developments in this area through the CCPOQ.

ILO Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work

33. While the issue of human rights features strongly in the UN reforms, the UNDP has made policy decisions to integrate human rights within its sustainable human development programmes. Both developments have implications for the ILO with regard to its Declaration which reaffirms the commitment of the Organization's member States "to respect, to promote and to realize" the right to freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, and to work toward the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour, the effective abolition of child labour and the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

34. It is important for the Office to identify areas with potential for collaboration with its traditional funding partner, the UNDP, since follow-up activities on the Declaration are relevant to its sustainable human development programme. Follow-up activities should be promoted at the country level through the thematic groups and collaboration with UNDP as it implements its integrated human rights and sustainable human development programmes, such as that on employment and sustainable livelihoods. The Office will continue to monitor the situation, and area offices and MDTs will also focus on UNDP implementation strategies at the country level to determine possible areas of ILO intervention.

35. Member States are increasingly advocating linking the humanitarian assistance and development activities of the UN system, particularly in peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. The Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC) is continuing to review and develop a strategic framework to guide UN system assessments and actions to ensure the necessary linkages. The ACC has endorsed in principle the CCPOQ proposal to identify one country for a pilot exercise to test this concept, and has also considered a draft Strategic Framework for Afghanistan (SFA) as well as draft generic guidelines for dealing with post-conflict peace building. ILO work in post-conflict reconstruction is considerable, and has provided useful guidance (for example, on employment generation programmes in Cambodia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Herzegovina).

National execution and programme approach modalities

36. National execution remains the major means of implementing UNDP- funded ILO technical cooperation activities at the country level. Governments and donors remain favourable to national execution as a modality, but are concerned with its implementation aspects, weak local capacities and accountability. The role of the specialized agencies has been re-emphasized in the new national execution procedures, but problems are still being encountered by the ILO at the field level. The decline in UNDP resources has continued to affect the Organization's project implementation responsibilities, and as a result the ILO, like other UN agencies, has confined itself to programme and project designs and other normative and substantive areas of ILO concern.

37. However, the ILO will continue to play a significant role in implementing programmes through national execution in view of the normative, research and analytical competencies available at headquarters and in the MDTs. Area offices and MDTs will continue to explore new avenues for collaboration with UNDP within the framework of the APP and country objectives by being more proactive in resource mobilization. CCPOQ guidelines on national execution have been made available to the field offices of the UN system. The Office will continue to monitor the implementation of national execution and provide the field with appropriate guidance.

Follow-up on global conferences

38. Follow-up on global conferences continues to evolve around the Resident Coordinator System at the country level, but governments have remained key players in implementation in view of their responsibility for developing national plans of action which translate the conclusions of the conferences into policies and practical strategies. The outputs of the inter-agency task forces have been used by the UN system and the Bretton Woods institutions to develop joint and coherent approaches to translate the normative recommendations of the conferences into operational guidance for country-level action.

39. CCPOQ has already issued, for UN systemwide use, a standardized guidance note for coordinated follow-up on global conferences at the country level, based on the work of the task forces and the Turin Workshop of December 1997. In addition to the task force outputs, CCPOQ is also developing guidelines for UN-system policy advisory services in a number of areas relevant to conference follow-up, such as sustainable development, human settlements and HIV/AIDS. However, greater emphasis is being attached to identifying best practices regarding follow-up on the global conferences, to be shared among the UN system organizations. ECOSOC is expected to review the theme of poverty eradication in reviewing the World Summit for Social Development and the Fourth World Conference on Women for the special session of the General Assembly in 1999.

40. These events are important to the ILO in view of its leading role in relation to employment and sustainable livelihoods in the implementation of the commitments made at the Social Summit. A new common UN system approach to action and partnership has been proposed by the Secretary-General, entitled Freedom from Poverty. The ACC has already reviewed and discussed some of the proposed measures for implementation. These include the creation of an enabling environment to address poverty, economic growth (external and internal), investment in physical infrastructure (especially for low-income communities), the promotion of access to basic social services for all, securing sustainable livelihoods for the poor (including access to productive assets such as credit), advancing gender equality and providing social protection for vulnerable groups.

41. Two of these measures are likely to affect the ILO's work on employment and sustainable livelihood and social protection. The area offices and MDTs will take full advantage of the thematic groups to highlight and promote the ILO's priorities regarding poverty alleviation, democracy and social protection, while headquarters will continue to monitor progress in the implementation of this new approach.

Geneva, 5 October 1998.

1. GB.270/TC/3.

Updated by VC. Approved by RH. Last update: 26 January 2000.