Issue 18: Evaluating three recent organizational developments within the UN system

This year, the Secretary-General has advocated fundamental organizational reform of the UN. Since this is the last edition of The Wednesday Watch for 1998, let’s review the success and shortcomings of three recent organizational developments.

Analysis: (1) Once again, in its 53rd session, the General Assembly adopted a bloated agenda far too reminiscent of previous years. The Secretary-General has recommended that the year 2000 Millennium Assembly concentrate on a limited number of key issues, rather than repeating the 166 agenda items discussed during the current session. While many of the current agenda issues are worthwhile, the General Assembly, like the rest of the UN, must learn to operate within the confines of limited resources. Perhaps in next year’s session, the General Assembly, in anticipation of the Millennium Assembly, will adopt a focused and realistic agenda that yields more results than rhetoric.

(2) There is a great push for the UN to work increasingly with civil society. Harnessing the support of grass roots and special interest groups for effecting world change is desirable. The UN already works closely with non-governmental organizations; the UN Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation continues its strategy to instruct and support local organizations through its field offices. The Secretary-General has also called for increasing cooperation between the UN and private industry. To this end, the UN Conference on Trade and Development has launched a venture with the International Chamber of Commerce to promote business investment in developing nations.

Working with civil society can be a cost-effective and efficient way for the UN to manage its work-load. Cooperating with smaller, streamlined organizations should remind the UN that bigger is not always better. However, working with civil society is not without its hazards: Member States and individuals at the UN must not use civil society to further their own political agendas, and non-UN partners must be held to high levels of accountability. In the coming year, the UN must detail its programs of work with, and its expectations of, civil society.

(3) In July, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland became the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Having inherited an organization in dire need of reform, the overhaul began with measures demanding increased financial disclosure on the part of WHO senior employees. This overdue insistence on accountability and transparency is needed in many other UN agencies. WHO has embarked on several inter-agency programs, including a malaria eradication program with the World Bank, UNICEF and UNDP. Efficient and proactive inter-agency cooperation should be pursued more often within the UN. The coming year will allow for a deeper analysis of her tenure.

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