1997 will go down in the annals of the UN as the year the Organization took concrete steps on reforms, thanks to the
initiatives of the new Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan of Ghana. Soon after his election in December 1996, he announced his intention to work with Member States to reform the Organization so that it is in tune with current realities on the one hand and gear up to the next century. It will be recalled that the General Assembly had appointed High-level Open-ended Working Groups to look into the reform of the Organization in the fields of financial resources, strengthening the system, Security Council, Agenda for Peace and Agenda for Development. Since 1995 the Working Groups had been deliberating with mixed achievements.
It is to the credit of the Secretary-General who injected a new momentum early in 1997. By March he launched his track one of the reforms. This firmly set the agenda for reform on a very sound footing. In saying that it should not be misunderstood that the reform exercise was plain sailing. What is being asserted here is that for the first time the Organization had clear-cut choices rather than rambling rhetoric. What were the choices one might ask. The Secretary-General laid bear his intention to reform those areas which are of his prerogative as enunciated in the Charter. Specifically these were to do with distribution of functions in the Secretariat, cutting operational costs and harmonization of work among the funds and agencies in order to check duplication and increase efficiency and focus.
It can be said without exaggeration that the launching of the first set of proposals evinced excitement as well as admiration. However, it did not go beyond that for one simple reason. Mr. Kofi Annan declared that another set of proposals will be released in June and most of which will be seeking the decision of Member States. The anticipation created in a sense allowed the first set of proposals to go without much debate or discussion. Whether this outcome was intended only history will tell.
In July 16 became the red letter day of UN reform. The Secretary-General appeared before the General Assembly and unveiled his track two set of proposals with an intriguing title: Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform. This time around the Member States and the international community took notice. Immediately there was a lot of interest and debate in all places where delegations were to be seen in groups. Consideration of the proposals was postponed until after the vacations when the new session of the Assembly started in September.
To the Group of 77 an overriding concern was to ensure that a reformed UN will not marginalize the concerns of the developing world. Consequently we campaigned and articulated our position on development in every forum or meeting. Secondly, we wanted to emphasize the cardinal principle of the universal character of the Organization. This we argued has to be manifested not only in the membership but also in the staffing. In this regard we kept on returning to the theme, every opportunity that availed itself. It is important that those two principles are not lost sight of. It cannot be over emphasized that the developing world needs the United Nations more than any other region. The United Nations provides a voice to the weaker nations and has a portfolio of development which is significant in the developing countries especially the least developed ones.
The Group of 77 although they were slow initially to come into the reform mode, they brought in a new negotiating perspective into play. They first articulated a set of principles that will guide the negotiations on its side and then set in motion a series of consultation meetings within the vast membership of 132 countries. At the end of the day the Group was able to articulate common positions on all the major reform proposals. This was valuable given the diverse nature of the Group and the many conflicting interests. If for anything else the unity of purpose is a lesson that has to be nurtured and preserved.
The Secretary-General has called the whole exercise a process and not an event. We agree with him. Consequently we would like to state 1997 has been a pivotal year in the reform process. But it is only the beginning. Until all elements are reformed and the democratic ethos pervades the entire system, the demand for reforms will always be there. In asserting this aspect we want to distance the Group from those who think that cost cutting and retrenchment is the only rationale for reform of the Organization. The Group of 77 believes that efficiency and effectiveness will ultimately favour delivery of development assistance and championing the causes of the less endowed of humankind. It is important to maintain a proper balance in this lest the cost cutters rob the Organization of even its soul.
Let me now address one serious flaw of the entire reform process. When the World Bank and the IMF embarked on the course of reforms they set aside substantial amounts of money for that purpose. The UN has no money for reforms and all indications are showing that it will be cash stripped at the end of the exercise. What a contradiction. Renewal can only be meaningful if there is life. And life in an organization like the UN means having a sound financial basis to pay its operational costs as well as to meet developmental needs. The UN has embarked on reforms at a time when all indicators are negative. It is a tall order for reforms.
As we enter into the final years of the century and taking into account the numerous achievements recorded by the Organization in the last 52 years of its life, it is important Member States especially the most endowed reconsider their position and give the UN a new lease of life by providing it with the wherewithal.
To the Group of 77 vigilance is the watch word. And for the future we need to articulate our positions on reforms ahead of time so that we become proactive.
Together we shall succeed!