Mr. James Gustave Speth
Administrator of the United
Nations Development Programme
"I believe that South-South cooperation has tremendous potential as an instrument to support the development efforts of the developing countries and to ensure their effective participation in the emerging global economy."
"UNDP will seek to increase the TCDC orientation of the programmes funded from its core resources in recognition of the increasing importance of this modality as a strategic dimension of international development cooperation."
A leaner and more efficient UNDP aims to fight global poverty, says Speth
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 (G77/IPS) - The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) says it plans to build a leaner and more accountable organisation that will be designed to fight poverty globally. The poor will still be there-- but maybe, with even fewer champions, UNDP Administrator Gus Speth said of the role he envisages for his agency in the next decade.
In an interview with the JOURNAL OF THE GROUP OF 77, Speth said that global trends, as confirmed by the UNDPs annual Human Development Report, show that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider. With its anti-poverty focus and with its country-driven, country-owned programmes, UNDP will therefore be a more relevant partner of country programmes than ever before, he said. Mr. Speth also expressed his strong belief in South-South cooperation as an instrument to support development efforts of the developing countries and to ensure their effective participation in the emerging global economy.
JOURNAL: How financially sound is the UNDP in terms of contributions from donors? Are donor cutbacks still a major problem?
SPETH: UNDP income from voluntary contributions amounted to $852 million in 1996, more than 98 per cent of which was contributed by traditional donors. The income for 1997 is expected to be somewhat lower although not all donors have made their final, formal pledges yet. The difference is in large part due to the strengthening of the dollar against other currencies in which contributions are pledged. Some countries are expected to cut their contributions slightly, mainly because of general cuts in ODA resulting from domestic fiscal constraints. We are hoping that most donors, however, will maintain the 1996 levels of contribution in 1997.
JOURNAL: Are you confident that big donors like the United States will restore funding cuts to the UNDP next year?
SPETH: The cut in the United States contribution from 1995 to 1996 was dramatic. However, it is significant that, with its 1997 contribution, the United States has already restored about half of what was cut in 1996. Whether the full amount will eventually be restored of course depends on a political decision by Congress. UNDP is working closely with members of Congress and the Administration to ensure a better understanding of the work of UNDP in our programme countries. We hope, of course, that voluntary contributions to UNDP will be restored in full.
JOURNAL: Is there an increasing tendency by donors to earmark funds for specific purposes? If so, is this not an erosion of the concept of multilateralism?
SPETH: It is true that UNDP has experienced an increase of earmarked funds over the last five or six years. Most of these funds, however, come from programme countries themselves as contributions, through UNDP, to their own development programmesin other words, government cost-sharing. Traditional donors also provide funds for specific purposes. These are either in the form of cost-sharing of specific projects and programmes or in the form of trust funds, usually intended for broader thematic areas or for a specific geographic area, whether a country or a region. This type of funding is in addition to the annual voluntary contributions to UNDPs core i.e. unearmarked, resources. Any increase in such earmarked funds does not, generally, occur at the expense of general resources since, with very few exceptions, as an analysis of the funding pattern shows, individual donors provide the major part of the funds to UNDP through contributions to general resources. Only one or two donors can be said to have substituted earmarked funds for non-earmarked funds and even then, earmarked resources have not detracted from UNDPs central mandate. A survey conducted last year reveals that programmes for which earmarked funds have been received generally fall into the UNDP areas of focus as endorsed by our Executive Board. Even so, it is of course important that UNDP maintain a strong core of unearmarked resourcesonly through such a core can we ensure effectively that UNDPs poverty focus is maintained and that the major part of our resources is directed to the poorest countries, as is the case now.
JOURNAL: What role can South-South cooperation play in resolving the current development crisis caused by the continued decline of development aid?
SPETH: First of all, I want to emphasize that the decline in development aid is totally unwarranted in the face of the formidable development challenges still to be tackled. In fact, I will continue to make the case for an increase in such aid in order to eradicate the unacceptably high levels of poverty that currently afflict such a large proportion of the worlds population. Having said this, I believe that South-South cooperation has tremendous potential as an instrument to support the development efforts of the developing countries and to ensure their effective participation in the emerging global economy. The reality is that many developing countries, particularly in East Asia and Latin America, have developed significant technical capacities in recent years that can be used to support the development efforts of other countries. In fact, many of the countries that now possess these capacities have in the past benefited from international development cooperation. It therefore makes eminent sense for us to capitalize on this past investment by employing TCDC as a cost-effective approach to technical cooperation. Moreover, the potential for the expansion of South-South trade and other forms of economic cooperation could produce real economic benefit and also assist the developing countries to respond effectively to the challenges posed by globalization.
JOURNAL: What role can UNDP play in coordinating all UN social and economic development activities under a single entity?
SPETH: UNDP has been given special responsibilities in the field of coordination of UN social and economic development activities at both the country office and headquarters levels. In over 130 offices throughout the world, the UN Resident Coordinators constitute a powerful network which, if properly utilized, will enable the UN system to realize its mandate to promote economic and social development and national self-reliance through a collaborative and coordinated support to national development plans, priorities and strategies. The Administrator of UNDP has been entrusted with the stewardship of the Resident Coordinator system (RCS) and UNDP bears virtually all the costs of the RCS, expending substantive human and financial resources at the country level that permit the establishment of interagency support units and teams in a coherent, coordinating structure.
JOURNAL: What practical measures are being taken by UNDP to support South-South cooperation?
SPETH: Through the work of its Special Unit for TCDC (SU/TCDC), UNDP has supported a wide range of activities designed to further the objectives of South-South cooperation. Apart from specific programmes and activities carried out globally, SU/TCDC provided substantive support for the South-South Conference on Trade, Investment and Finance held in Costa Rica in January 1997. It has also supported a project designed to strengthen the substantive capacity of the Group of 77 to promote South-South Cooperation. The role of SU/TCDC in the promotion of TCDC will be further strengthened with the increased allocation of resources for this purpose by the UNDP Executive Board for the period 1997-1999 and the mobilization of contributions to the Trust Fund on South-South Cooperation established in accordance with General Assembly resolution 50/119. At the same time, UNDP will seek to increase the TCDC orientation of the programmes funded from its core resources in recognition of the increasing importance of this modality as a strategic dimension of international development cooperation.
JOURNAL: What do you think are your achievements after four years as head of UNDP?
SPETH: Starting in 1994, I launched an array of reforms in UNDP aimed at recasting its mission, priorities, programming arrangements and other defining characteristics. Major change in UNDP has now become an ongoing reality and I believe that we have made significant progress in the following areas:
JOURNAL: What role do you envisage for UNDP in the next decade?
SPETH: The poor will still be therebut maybe with even fewer champions. Global trends, as confirmed by the Human Development Report, show that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider. With its anti-poverty focus and with its country-driven, country-owned programmes, UNDP will therefore be a more relevant partner of programme countries than ever before. The international community will rally behind a new, more dynamic, more cost-effective and responsive UNDP that is able to leverage funds from various sources to make an impact on poverty. More developing countries will channel their own resources through UNDP to maximize results.
In dealing with trade, debt and other macro-economic forces in the international economy, developing countries will still require an impartial source of advice. UNDP will act as that source, with the moral and political authority of a rejuvenated and more effective United Nations.
Issues of governance in a turbulent world order will be the subject of considerable debate and possible tensionin international relations. UNDP, with its in-country presence, its access to political leaders and its knowledge of local values, structures and institutions will be an important agent in efforts to help nations build transparent, accountable systems of governance that meet the needs and respond to the aspirations of the majority of the population. As ecological threats and environmental insecurity will remain high on the international development agenda, development models that are more sustainable and more friendly to an overstretched global resource base will be in demand. UNDP, as a champion of sustainable human development, will have an array of tried and tested development strategies to deal with environment, equity, empowerment and employment in sustainable forms. In doing all this, and through its stewardship of the Resident Coordinator system, UNDP will constitute a force to ensure that the United Nations system is more effective and efficient at the country level.