On April 16, United Nations Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon endorsed the proposals of the High-level Panel on United
Nations System-Wide Coherence to streamline U.N. operations in
countries around the world. The underlying objectives of the
panel's November 2006 report are sound. The U.N. system is a
sprawling operation that often works awkwardly or even at
cross-purposes within countries, suffering from poor coordination
and communication among programs, and is in dire need of reforms to
improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Secretary-General Ban should be commended for his willingness to
acknowledge the need for reform in his endorsement of Delivering
as One, but the Secretary-General made a
mistake in endorsing the entire report. As with most U.N.
reform proposals, the report was mixed, containing good and bad
recommendations. One of the most egregious
mistakes was the recommendation to place overall responsibility for
U.N. country coordination with the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP). Recent months have revealed significant
flaws, weaknesses, and misjudgments by UNDP that should have
disqualified the organization from such a prominent and important
role. The U.S. and other
nations interested in making the U.N. operate more effectively at
the country level should oppose the reform proposal unless it is
revised so that that the UNDP is not given authority over U.N.
country operations and other misguided proposals are eliminated or
A Mixed Bag
The United Nations' institutional, managerial, and political
weaknesses have resulted in a litany of scandals in recent years,
such as Oil-for-Food, procurement corruption, and sexual abuse by
U.N. personnel. The U.N. has reacted to these problems by
requesting and releasing a number of reports on how the
organization should be reformed to prevent their recurrence.
Unfortunately, the U.N. has proven much more successful in
publishing reports than in actually implementing reforms.
Delivering as One, the final report of the High-Level
Panel on U.N. System-Wide Coherence in the Areas of Development,
Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment is, like earlier
reports, mixed in its recommendations. Some are positive, but
others are misguided.
The report's key recommendation is to consolidate authority for
U.N. country activities under the Resident Coordinator. The U.N.
system consists of dozens of specialized agencies, funds and
programs, and departments and offices, leading to costly
duplication and competition for resources. Under the "One Country
Programme" proposed in Delivering as One,theResident
Coordinator would strengthen the policy coherence and coordination
of U.N. activities in countries.
One of the most positive aspects of Delivering as One is
its observation that many U.N. bodies claim custody over the same
issues, clouding overall accountability, creating overlap, and
undermining effectiveness. For example, the report noted that "In
some sectors, such as water and energy, more than 20 UN agencies
are active and compete for limited resources without a clear
collaborative framework. More than 30 UN agencies and programmes
have a stake in environmental management."
Though the report rightly urges consolidation or elimination of
duplicative funds, programs, and specialized agencies in order to
clarify responsibility, reduce duplication, and reduce burdens on
recipient and donor governments, it does not explain that a great
deal of redundancy and inefficiency could be resolved if the U.N.
General Assembly would conduct a comprehensive mandate review and
adopt sunset clauses for mandates. The mandate review is
indefinitely stalled, inhibiting the U.N.'s ability to allocate
funds according to priorities and eliminate unnecessary tasks,
personnel, and functions. Secretary-General Ban should supplement
his endorsement of Delivering as One by proposing U.N.
mandates for elimination.
Less positive elements of the report include a call for
multi-year funding for U.N. programs. Such a funding mechanism
would weaken efforts to allocate funding according to priorities by
locking in funding and making it more difficult to consolidate
A large portion of the report makes recommendations to expand
the role of the U.N. in development, but these recommendations
contravene another dominant theme in the report, removing
duplication and overlap. The World Bank, not the U.N., would be
more appropriate as a country-level development coordinator based
on its expertise, in-country presence, and resources. Indeed, it
makes far more sense to eliminate or consolidate the UNDP and
regional economic commissions in favor of international financial
institutions like the World Bank to avoid duplication and lack of
coordination. The U.N. could then address complementary issues,
such as political transformation, post-conflict stability, and
The report goes further in urging donors to let the U.N. guide
and control all development assistance funds and projects-even
bilateral assistance-at the country level. This would elevate a
U.N. development agenda that ignores evidence that foreign
assistance alone cannot increase economic growth and development.
Rather, success in development ultimately depends on developing
countries' adopting and implementing policies that promote economic
freedom, good governance, and the rule of law. Competition in
development strategies is a strength, not a weakness, when a
monopoly on development would eliminate or inhibit innovative
development initiatives like the U.S. Millennium Challenge
An Ill-Advised Proposal
One of the most questionable elements of Delivering as
One is its recommendation that the United Nations Development
Program assume overall responsibility for U.N. country
coordination. In recent months, disturbing reports and incidents of
mismanagement at the UNDP have cast doubt over the soundness of
proposals to place that organization in the powerful position of
managing U.N. activities at the country level.
North Korea. The United States began questioning
the influence that North Korea (DPRK) had over personnel and
financial decisions of UNDP in 2006. In an effort to assess the
situation, Ambassador Mark Wallace engaged in a series of meetings
with UNDP in order to clarify details and access internal reports
Based on available information, Ambassador Wallace concluded:
[B]ecause of the actions of the DPRK government and the
complicity of UNDP, at least since 1998 the UNDP DPRK program has
been systematically perverted for the benefit of the Kim Jong Il
regime-rather than the people of North Korea. The UNDP DPRK program
has for years operated in blatant violation of UN rules, served as
a steady and large source of hard currency and other resources for
the DPRK government with minimal or no assurance that UNDP funds
and resources are utilized for legitimate development activities.
Subsequently, it has been revealed that UNDP staff knew about
North Korea's propensity to counterfeit U.S. currency and had
stashed counterfeit $100 bills in its office safe for years. In reaction to
the evidence of mismanagement, Secretary-General Ban announced that
he would have the U.N. Board of Auditors conduct an audit of all
U.N. activities in North Korea. UNDP suspended its work in North Korea on
March 5-months after questions were first raised about its
activities in North Korea-when the DPRK failed to meet conditions
set by the executive board following U.S. demands for an
The Board of Auditors report was due in mid-April, but it has
not yet been released, and neither the Board nor its
representatives have been permitted to visit North Korea. On April
23, the North Korean coordinator for UNDP wrote a letter asking
that the last two UNDP officials, who had remained in the country
to facilitate the audit and protect the integrity of the evidence,
leave North Korea. The letter also demanded that all UNDP assets in
North Korea-estimated to be worth over $2 million-be transferred to
the government "before your departure." UNDP has reportedly agreed to
this demand, even though the World Food Program, which still
operates in North Korea, offered to store the equipment.
The Gambia.Since January, President Yahya Jammeh has
touted his discovery of a cure for HIV/AIDS involving applying a
green paste to an infected individual, splashing them with a
gray-colored solution, and giving them a yellowish tea-like liquid
to drink. The
cure also requires an HIV-positive person to stop taking
antiretroviral drugs. Although the HIV infection rate in the
Gambia is low compared to other African nations, at only 1.3
percent of the population of nearly 1.6 million, a concerted policy
of encouraging infected individuals to reject medical treatment
could have significant consequences. When the chief envoy for the
UNDP in the Gambia, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, voiced doubt over the cure
and criticized the president for urging people to halt their
medication, President Jammeh ordered her to leave the country.
Despite a clear statement in support of Gwaradzimba's position by
UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, UNDP capitulated and
appointed a new chief envoy for Gambia. Presumably, the new chief
envoy will not criticize Jammeh even if his policies threaten the
health of thousands of Gambians.
Thailand.Thailand fell victim to a military coup
on September 19, 2007. Although the military leaders of the coup
have promised to draft a new constitution and return power to a
democratically elected government within a year, they have declared
martial law and suspended the constitution, dissolved Parliament,
cancelled upcoming elections, banned protests and political
activities, and censored the media. The government has embraced the
concept of a "sufficiency economy" based on "sustainability,
moderation and broad-based development; and against excessive risk
taking, inequality and other evils." It has announced
restrictions on foreign ownership of Thai companies, imposed
currency controls, and pressured multinational pharmaceutical
companies to relinquish their hard earned patents.
Demonstrating little concern over the fact that the military
junta had overthrown an elected government, UNDP fully backed the
economic plan and praised the government. According to The
So far, the military government only seems to be creating
shocks. As a result, growth is set to slow, and with it Thailand's
progress in cutting poverty. Neither the UNDP's report, nor the
many speeches launching it, discussed such awkward
Perhaps it makes sense for the new government to obscure its
predecessor's achievements while stealing its best clothes. The
question is why the UNDP thinks it should provide cover for this
whitewash by puffing the sufficiency economy as a miracle-cure for
the developing world's woes. The answer is that the UNDP is a
sucker for this sort of new-age waffle….
In publishing such an unbalanced report on a theory that is
untried on a national level, the UNDP has abandoned all sense of
objectivity. It is also lending legitimacy to a regime that took
power by force. Hakan Bjorkman, the UNDP's deputy chief in
Thailand, says it wanted to provoke a debate. But no such debate is
possible in Thailand, because sufficiency theory is the king's
philosophy and anything remotely critical of it could be seen as
lèse-majesté, punishable with jail.
Burma.According to a Thailand-based human rights
organization, the military junta ruling Burma has used large
internationally funded projects to further its political agenda and
undermine the rights of its citizens. As in North Korea, the UNDP
and other U.N. funds and programs have been so eager to operate in
Burma that they have failed to insist on appropriate oversight and
control of projects. The Karen Human Rights Group released a
121-page report in April 2007 that asserts that UNDP, which funds
educational programs such as teacher training and informal
restricted from accessing and thus implementing and monitoring
their programmes in most areas of Karen State. In [Burmese
government] regulations released in December 2006 covering the work
of UN agencies, such restrictions were deemed necessary in order to
restrict movement and prevent 'unpleasant incidents'. In this
manner the [military government of Burma] is able to utilise access
to UN educational programmes as yet another means of asserting
military control over the civilian population.
The report further asserts that forced labor may be being used
for U.N. projects and that U.N. funding, including funding from
UNDP, supports programs, such as the state-controlled Myanmar
Maternal and Child Welfare Association, that employ extortion and
forced recruitment to "expand military control over the population
while divesting itself of the cost of operating programmes and
simultaneously legitimising its policies in the name of
A Poor Choice. The dealings between UNDP and some of the
world's most autocratic regimes reveal a pattern of ignoring
repressive or misguided policies in the interest of cultivating a
positive relationship with the ruling authorities in order to
continue projects and funding. As observed by the author of the
Burma report, "UN agencies like UNDP are talking about engagement
with the regime..., addressing poverty without talking about
politics." The UNDP's unwillingness to stand up to
clearly misguided government policy in the Gambia, eagerness to
whitewash the policies of a military junta in Thailand, and
apparent institutional inclination to acquiesce to misuse of UNDP
funds and activities in Burma and North Korea does not bode well
for UNDP being a frank, effective, results-oriented overseer of
U.N. country activities.
Further, a lack of transparency and accountability pervades UNDP
to an extent notable even within the U.N. Unlike the U.N. Office of
Internal Oversight Services, whose audits must now be shared with
member states upon request, the internal audit reports of the
Office of Audit and Performance Review at the UNDP are not
available to the public, member states, or its own executive board.
Recently, UNDP refused to provide audits of its activities in North
Korea to the U.S., even though the U.S. sits on its executive board
and is one the organization's largest donors. Similarly, reports of
favoritism and mismanagement at UNDP have surfaced in the press
only to be met with silence or obfuscation from UNDP. Placing
such an opaque organization in charge of U.N. country operations
would set a terrible example for the rest of the organization.
Secretary-General Ban's endorsement of Delivering as One
is a missed opportunity. While the proposal has positive elements,
many of its recommendations are misguided or off-target. These
recommendations should have been excluded or amended by the
Secretary-General. Crucially, the Secretary-General should not have
recommended that UNDP be granted authority over U.N. country
Recent months have revealed significant flaws, weaknesses, and
misjudgments by UNDP that should have disqualified the organization
from such a prominent and important role. Despite these warning
signs, the U.N. is already establishing eight pilot programs
modeled after the report in Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique,
Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Vietnam. The U.S. and other
countries interested in reforming the U.N. should closely monitor
these projects to ensure that they do not undermine U.N. efforts in
Before Ban's proposal can take effect, the General Assembly must
approve it. The U.S. and other nations interested in making the
U.N. operate more effectively at the country level should seek to
amend or eliminate provisions that would not improve the
effectiveness and efficiency of the U.N. Most importantly, they
should ensure that the UNDP is not given authority over U.N.
D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory
Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, United States Representative for United
Nations Management and Reform, to Ad Melkert, Associate
Administrator, United Nations Development Program, January 16,
2007, at .
"Did UN agency serve as ATM for North Korea?" Chicago
Tribune,March 11, 2007, at www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0703110498mar11,1,6836389.story;
Benny Avni, "U.N. Officials Knew Earlier of N. Korea Fake
Currency," New York Sun, April 3, 2007, at
www.nysun.com/article/51677; and Claudia Rosett "More
Questions about the U.N. in North Korea," National Review Online,
March 16, 2007, at .
full audit of its DPR Korea work; Ban Ki-moon orders system wide
inquiry," UN News Centre, January 19, 2007, at .
"U.N. Development Agency Suspends Its Work in North Korea," The
New York Times, March 6, 2007.
Callimachi, "Gambian president touts 'cure' for AIDS: Miracle
claims plague other African nations,"
Associated Press, February 25, 2007.
"UNAIDS and WHO underline importance of evidence based approaches
to treatment in response to AIDS," Press Statement, March 16, 2007,
J. Kaiser Family Foundation, "UNDP Names New Chief Envoy for Gambia
After Former Envoy Expelled for Questioning President Jammeh's
Claims of Cure for HIV/AIDS," April 13, 2007, at .
"Rebranding Thaksinomics," The
Economist, January 13, 2007, p. 38.
Rosett, "In the UN Dollars-for-Dictators Series, Next Up: Burma,"
April 24, 2007, at .
Human Rights Group, "Development by Decree: The politics of poverty
and control in Karen State,"
April 2007, pp. 86-87, at .
Abusing UN Aid, Says Human Rights Group," Malaysian National News
Agency, April 24, 2007, at .
Kirkpatrick, "United Nations Dictator's Program" The Wall Street
Journal, January 19, 2007, at .
reports have been published by the Inner City Press. See,
e.g., Matthew Russell Lee, "At UNDP, Hiring from Melkert's Dutch
Labor Party, Sudden Retirements and Consultancies," Inner City
Press, March 26, 2007, at ; Matthew Russell
Lee, "As Audit Starts in NY, UNDP Manager Akiko Yuge Leaves Town,
Sale-of-Jobs Unanswered," Inner City Press, March 19, 2007,
at ; and Matthew
Russell Lee, "UNDP Sources Say Dervis Fires Malloch Brown-linked
Officials, Then Offers Hush-Up Jobs," Inner City Press,
November 29, 2006, at .
the Secretary-General, "Recommendations contained in the report of
the High-level Panel on United Nations System-wide Coherence in the
areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment,"
General Assembly Document A/61/836, April 3, 2007, at .
Nations Development Program, "Eight countries pilot UN reform,"
UNDP Newsroom, February 1, 2007, at .