Third World countries cry foul over UNEP

NAIROBI, April (G-77/IPS) — After two days of heated deliberations at UNEP’s Governing Council meeting in Nairobi, there was a break in the two-month-long impasse that has existed since the agency’s last governing council session broke up in disarray in February.

The council finally agreed to adopt the proposals advocated by the United States, Britain and Spain to have its operations overseen by a senior committee of ministers and high level officials.

‘’It was a take-or-leave-it proposal of which we had little option’’ said Sid Ali Ketrandji the Algerian ambassador to Kenya and Permanent Representative to UNEP and United Nations Centre for Human and Settlement (UNCHS) who is also the current chair of the G-77 Nairobi chapter. ‘’It was a bad experience for G-77 which had been blamed for the February break-up’’ he said.

He says developed nations gave the impression they were to use their financial position to impose their views. However the constructive approach of the G-77 and China during their resumed session made it possible to reach a compromise acceptable to all.
The new committee made up of 36 members elected for a two year term will have the mandate to consider the agency’s international environmental agenda, and make reforms and policy recommendations to the governing council.

The meetings will be taking place at UNEP headquarters Nairobi at least once a year. The committee will also be empowered to give ‘guidance and advise’ to UNEP’s executive director so as to enhance co-operation with other bodies and mobilise financial resources.

The governing council also decided to strengthen the agency’s committee of permanent representatives which has now been mandated to hold four meetings in addition to a revised, wider mandate which includes reviewing the implementation of the governing council decisions on the administrative, budgetary and programme matters.

The resolutions of the governing council fall within Washington’s wider campaign for wholesale reform of the United Nations and its agencies. A leaner and thinner U.N. system, reckons the US will enhance efficiency and will serve the cause of world peace and development.

During the February governing council session, Eileen Claussen, assistant secretary to the state, who had led the U.S. delegation had insisted that UNEP suffered from a loss of focus, strategic vision and influence.

‘’Instead of doing a limited number of things effectively, its work plan is disjointed and lacks clear priorities’’ she had charged.
But in a counter attack, UNEP’s executive director Elizabeth Dodswell accused UNEP’s critics of condemning the agency to a slow death by uderfunding it.

In 1991/92, the UNEP budget was $160 million. Within the next two years, it had decreased to $105 million. Now the 1996/97 budget is only $62.5 million. ‘’Such a modest budget will only paralyse the agency’’, said Ambassador Ketrandji.