Budgetary cuts will hurt developing nations and weaken Habitat

Nairobi, July 14 (G-77) - Ambassadors and representatives of the G-77 countries met to review and access any development of decisions that were reached during the sixteenth session of the Commission on United Nations Centre on Human Settlements (Habitat) which took place two months ago in the Kenyan capital.

During the May meeting, organisation and financial management took centre stage with members recommending budgetary cuts to breath a new lease on life into the United Nations body.

The organisation's expenditure and commitments for the year 1996- 97 were reduced from the proposed $24 million to $23 million.

The committee further reduced the expenditure for the year 1998-99 to $21 million. Non-earmarked budget was slashed from $6.5 million to $5.2 million for the year 1996-97.

This new development definitely is bound to hurt developing countries more. ''We're aiming at securing the same budget as the previous two years'' says T.P Sreenivasan, the Indian High Commissioner to Kenya and Permanent Representative to UNEP and Habitat. According to him, the Least Developed Countries of the Group of 77 needs the U.N. body more than the developed nations.

Sreenivasan says developed countries want to weaken Habitat, which has its headquarters in Nairobi. ''They are allocating the same responsibilities carried by Habitat to other centres in the U.N. while creating others to do the same'' he says.
A report by the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) following a week's probe visit had alleged that the Nairobi Centre (UNCHS) is at 'a critical point of its life, suffering significant shortcomings in its management system, staffing and approach'.

It also said that the Centre was lacking in leadership and had a new, lop-sided organisational structure that has caused unnecessary duplications in responsibilities and blurred accountability. It also asserted a unilateral, personalised decision-making process as well as lack of commitment by the management, which resulted in a weak and dispersed internal control system of the Centre's resources.

''Investigations of the U.N. body were in order and recommendations were put forward were welcome, but we were against personal attacks which were targeted to the head of the Habitat, Wally N'Dow who comes from a developing country'' says Sreenivasan.

Sreenivasan says there were also charges of personal attacks by developed countries aimed at the secretariat. He says such allegations should not serve as excuses to affect the programme of the Habitat. ''Instead of withholding funds, work programmes should be be taking place simultaneously as irregularities are looked into'' he says.

Besides the OIOS report, another report which had sponsored by the Governments of Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa and Uganda was also tabled before the sixteenth session.

''One of the biggest threats to the Centre is the deteriorating financial situation both in the short and the long term'' said the second report. It blames the financial crisis on poor funding, decline availability of funds that are not tied to specific programmes and weak administration systems.

The report recommended that an external facilitator (individual) be brought in to manage the Centre through the transition period.

The individual would report directly to the Secretary-General and would have powers to make important decisions in co-operation with the Centre's Executive Director.
''We have no objection to the alignments of the Centre as this would contribute positively to discussions on revitalization of the Centre, which has been designated by the General Assembly to be focal point for the implementation of the Habitat Agenda'' says Sreenivasan.

Sreenivasan also says that that while management and financial matters deserved the attention of the Commission, the Commission's interest lay in ensuring that the work programme and budget are implemented by a Centre that is capable. '' Nobody hates a properly managed shop'' concluded Ambassador Sreenivasan.