Support Non-Political UN

Support Non-Political UNLet the ruler be a ruler, the subject a subject, the father a father, the son a son.
Truly if the ruler be not a ruler, the subject not a subject, the father not a father, the son not a son, then even if there be grain, would I get to eat it?” Confucian Quote 12.11.

The main political function of the United Nations is to preserve international peace and security. Chapter 6 of the UN Charter provides for the pacific settlement of disputes, through the intervention of the Security Council (SC), by means such as negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and judicial decisions. The Security Council may investigate any dispute or situation to determine whether it is likely to endanger international peace and security. At any stage of the dispute, the council may recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment, and, if the parties fail to settle the dispute by peaceful means, then…. use of force…!?

What has been happening to this political side of the UN is everybody’s knowledge. There is no consistency of approach except consistency in preserving the self-interest of the powerful members of the SC. This could be another reason why The five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council continue to resist the expansion of the elite club of super five and the “harmless” rotatable fifteen, called the UN Security Council.

So much so there have been many geo-political situations lingering for years and even decades, without any resolutions. However, fortunately, there are a number of socio-economic, humanitarian and operational issues, where the non-political UN agencies have done exceedingly well.

Some of these came into the writer’s life in the past twenty days spent in the South East Asian region, in the midst of waterfalls, tranquil hide-outs, ever green plants, trees and flora and fauna with guaranteed daily dose of rain-spell. It has truly been an energizing experience, as it also helped open a new vista of understanding of what the non-political UN has been doing in this part of the world.

With the high literacy and good education level in this region, the people easily make the distinction between the political face of the UN, and the non-political socio-economic humanitarian UN efforts carried out without much fanfare. Especially after the Tsunami, there has been greater public awareness and support for some of the humanitarian agencies like UNICEF and WFP with public so emotionally involved as to find the right UN agency and humanitarian network to donate generously for the cause of children and women’s well-being everywhere. During the emergencies like the recent Haiti earthquakes, there have been spontaneous outpourings of financial and material support funnelled through specific UN agencies whose credibility for effectiveness, transparency and accountability are already known and established.

Except for the erstwhile Indo-China countries and some of the pacific nations, including small island nations, the needs for material assistance inputs have been overtaken by adversarial, advocacy in policy-making, knowledge-transfer, governance support and partnerships with the middle and higher echelons of the polito-bureaucratic machinery to translate and transform the good lessons learned elsewhere into local reality.

Many countries in the region have long accepted and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – which in many respects was born of the great mother of all rights called Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This CRC acceptance has been a great fillip to tackle child issues, introduce suitable child protection programmes and ensure that children have a voice to be heard and their well-being and growth should remain paramount in the nation’s development agenda. Thanks to the CRC, the media and civil society organizations are getting increasingly involved in exposing child abuse, neglect and violence against children, and help bring those responsible to face the rule of law.

For example, with its Vision 2020, Malaysia laid ambitious goals to become a developed country in ten years from now. From being a recipient of ODA some years ago, the country, in cooperation with the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), has developed a “tripartite model” of cooperation, that is:

  1. the country becoming a contributor to the system in financing its own social-welfare programmes, mutually agreed and in the context of achieving the Millennium Development Goals;
  2. UN agencies providing whatever modest technical but key inputs agreed in terms of advocacy and international expertise, and partnering with the high level political leadership and bureaucracy to enact suitable policies and decisions for the well-being of children and women; and
  3. significantly, the UN agencies have been allowed to mobilize private fundraising from individual donors and corporate socially responsible groups within the country to supplement resources for in-country UNICEF projects and also to provide resources to help poor people elsewhere.

It is satisfying to see how this arrangement is working in a sustainable manner and how it is geared toward rapid annual growth of private donations for children and women everywhere. The whole exercise of funds mobilisation in the country for the cause of children everywhere is being ably managed by a team of national staff within the organizational norms of transparency and accountability.

Thanks to such active and meaningful collaboration between some of the countries and the UN, and with active public awareness maintained through media, civil society organizations, regular events like “Face2Face” contacts with public and socially conscious corporate groups, I wish there would be more forward-looking countries like Malaysia who will be able to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Also, such a collaborative model has helped to characterize and strengthen the “south-to-south cooperation” among countries in the southern hemisphere in the areas of human development, socio-economic and technical advocacy, training and inputs.

Traditionally in the developing countries, there have been respect for and active cooperation with the UN agencies’ technical and research skills, and competence. For example: in the case of agency like International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), with its global and regional networks, it has been possible for even small countries and national governments to keep the essential domestic and international air transport operating without a hitch. The various hand-books, hands-on training and easy-to-follow simple and non–confusing instructions in one language to be used all over the world for air traffic control and management are the best examples of international technical cooperation in the vital sector of civilian air travel.

Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its well-qualified-staffed regional offices alert and share timely information on health issues, prognosis of the situation and possible remedial interventions to prevent and stop the spread of viral and bacterial infections and diseases, health issues and management, surveillance and control mechanisms; both for endemic and pandemic types of seasonal diseases and other chronic and acute cases of country/region specific illnesses. It is true, there have been complaints of collusion between the big global Pharma MNCs and this international organization, and criticisms of complacency, and divergence, delays and dilution of strategic approaches to tackle health issues. Nonetheless, the experience has shown that “give-and–take”, WHO has been able to keep up with the international medical research standards, and bring the drug firms under some oversight, motivating them to do their CSR in developing and delivering vaccines in good time to prevent new strains of virus and bacteria.

In the areas of timely vaccine supplies and continuing research and preventive management of diseases like HIV/AIDS and guaranteed supply of medicine-cocktails for those affected, UN humanitarian agencies have been instrumental in creating several global partnerships and alliances, e.g. Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) who can work independently and in coherence with the international organizations’ goals and objectives. One can say that many such initiatives and charitable institutions/foundations (e.g. Clinton’s, Carter’s, etc.) were indeed the result of UN agencies years of work and presence in the developing countries and their ability to do realistic situation analysis in each of the countries and make them available in the public domain.

In a strange way, if we can “imagine” the situation without these UN specialized agencies doing their work in the aviation, health and social sectors, in the 21st century globalized world, then it would not be difficult to realize and respect the key roles these agencies and others in the non-political sector of the UN are playing with integrity, commitment and involvement to make our modern-day life livable and safe.

It is not that we have tackled all the human development problems, but certainly good lessons have been learned. If problems like climate change can be handled in a similar spirit of non-political and socio-economic development awareness, it should be possible to agree on viable strategies and a workable plan of action to save this planet earth from facing unknown natural catastrophes. Haven’t we seen the recently Icelandic volcanic eruptions that made air traffic go haywire for over a week, and throw hundreds and thousands of passengers stranded all around the world without a clue? This situation also exposed the total lack of coordination among the EU countries as they seemed caught off-guard in disarray?

It is however essential that we as public should keep our active watch-dog functions on these technical agencies under the UN umbrella not to get entangled in any political tussle and lose their sense of purpose and direction.

The difficulty to keep politics away is real in some of the specialized agencies with their own member States and governing bodies (e.g. UNESCO, FAO, WHO, ILO, etc) enmeshed in politicizing all and sundry issues. Situations like the election of chiefs to run these agencies give rise to all kinds of pulls and pressures, as if the purpose for which these agencies were established is totally forgotten and the organizations get paralysed until after the election drama is over and things settle down.

Notwithstanding all these facets, the UN and its funds and programmes like UNDP, UNICEF, etc., have for the past two years or so been taking initiatives to move forward in reshaping organizational policies, practices and procedures to more effectively and efficiently achieve results as per their mission goals, in the human development areas. Typically, the following initiatives are expected to tone up the system in terms of transparency, accountability, cost efficiency and responsibility toward achieving agreed goals within a time-frame:

  1. development of an Accountability System consistent with International Public Sector Accounting Standards that is accessible and understood by any public citizen;
  2. launch of the Enterprise Risk Management Policy and Risk Reference Guide;
  3. development and piloting of the simplified programme results structure and multi-year rolling work plan to enhance the adaptability of country development plans and programmes to changing environments and contexts;
  4. development of a strategic framework for partnerships and collaborative relationships;
  5. launch of effective internal communication network and inter-active home page, which provide staff members with easy access to the latest global developments, key organizational information resources and interactive features;
  6. strengthen the external public domain web-pages to become interactive, informational and more and more user-friendly utilizing the advances in digital technology;
  7. launch of periodic Staff Surveys to know what the organizational people, (who are expected to serve the people in the outside world) have to say with follow-up on findings, led by senior management, at all levels of the organization;
  8. institutionalization of organizational ‘communities of practice’ as a forum for knowledge-sharing and the exchange of good practices, internally and with external partners;
  9. introduction of the country office management report, which provides the field offices with a detailed dashboard to monitor day-to-day operational performance;
  10. launch of e-recruitment website, the organizational electronic recruitment system, accessible to both internal and external candidates;
  11. implementation of the New and Emerging Talent Initiative, the Leadership Development Initiative and  management assessment and development centres;
  12. improvement and simplification of key operations business processes, including better accountability and transactional procedures in those areas that are normally exposed to unsavory practices, like procurement, travel management, contract review and approval, and cash transfers;
  13. development of blueprints for the business process requirements of the new enterprise resource planning application system, and updates as the context changes;

As Confucius said, human beings and human-created organizations develop flaws, fissures, perversions and then finally becoming ineffective because they forget their real “roles” and begin focussing on things external to their mandates and guiding principles. Such a situation can only allow the agencies to become the playgrounds for all types of politics with plenty of dirty linen being washed in the public, and finally becoming irrelevant if the unfortunate trend remains not remedied for a long time.

For goodness sake, if the improvements described in the UN documents and summarized above are true reflection of the inner awakening of the system in the non-political UN arena, and will become reality in the not too distant future, then the world can be thankful to that part of the UN which is not afflicted by political cancer and ulcers.

V. Muthuswami, UN Retiree & Joint Appellant of Common Cause
Appeal # UNAT 2009-001 still waiting to be heard!

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