Dervis: Joint Meeting of the UNDP/UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP Executive Boards

Jan 26, 2009

Statement by Kemal Derviş
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
On the occasion of the Joint Meeting of the Executive Boards of

Reinforcing State Capacity: a Harmonized United Nations Systems Approach to National Capacity Development

26 January 2009, New York

Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Our world is facing the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.  We have had the opportunity to discuss these issues at various points over the course of the past few months.  I have also voiced UNDG concerns most recently at the Accra High Level Forum and at the Doha Financing for Development Review Conference and at the Board meeting last week.  

The crisis is a huge financial and economic crisis, but other issues such as climate change and food security have not gone away. The many challenges we face are intertwined and require a concerted and comprehensive approach.

The global crisis has shown that an effective state is vital for development, for the fair distribution of the benefits of growth, and for managing a sustainable environment.  Vibrant and truly competitive markets are also essential for development, but it is only when they are embedded in political and social institutions that can regulate them to the benefit of all that markets can produce the results we expect of them.

The need for enhanced state capacity, and for the United Nations system to respond vigorously and predictably to the call for strengthening national capacities is more compelling today than ever.

I wish to take this opportunity to outline some of the steps a harmonized UN system is in fact taking in this regard. Along with the background paper you all have, I will focus on, the question of state capacity.  This is not to detract from the broader realm of national capacities that must continue to be strengthened, including those of civil society and the private sector.  But today I would like us to focus on the aspects of effective and responsive state institutions at both central and local levels that should play such a critical role during these complex times.

State capacity can be defined as the ability of state institutions to manage the business of the executive, judiciary and the legislature towards human development ends.  The measure of effective state capacity would be how national policies are made, how services are delivered, how markets are developed and justice and security is provided, and how the rights of all people are protected. Where this is done well, where the largest numbers of people benefit over time from development, when an economy grows and a society is engaged in the democratic process and feels secure – then state capacity is effective.  

To be sure, it takes time to demonstrate the positive results of years of considered investments, through domestic and external resources, in nurturing the human resource skills and knowledge base, ensuring the right institutional arrangements, introducing vibrant state-citizen engagement and accountability mechanisms, and enabling a space for leadership development at all levels.  But progress in the four core issues of leadership, knowledge, institutional arrangements and accountability provide a good basis for measuring change in state capacity and its contribution to human development and to achieving the MDGs.

One question today is: What can the United Nations system bring to the table, in a harmonized way, to support the goal of strengthening state capacity?

To help answer this question, let me just touch on some priority areas for capacity investments, as elaborated in the background document in front of you, where I think the UN must play an increasingly important role in today’s world, bearing in mind that there is ongoing work in these fields that must be built upon, not one size fits all and that we must adapt the work across a spectrum of countries - from those that face day-to-day conflict where state institutions are fragile, to middle income countries where many aspects of state capacity are high:

First, the full UN system, including the World Bank and IMF, could play a sustained and collaborative role in helping countries to put in place the capacities to design and implement counter-cyclical policy measures to respond to the economic downturn, and in the longer term help strengthen the capacity to manage the national and local economy to respond to shocks and slowdowns.  

Second, the UN can reinforce its role in greatly enhancing the knowledge and skills base at all levels of the public service, with the appropriate incentive mechanisms that train, motivate and retain the best individual talent to serve the country;

Third, the UN can further help support the development of state capacities to design and implement policy, regulation and investments that support a greener economy and effectively address the risk of climate change, where balancing social, environmental and economic sustainability are seen as complementary and not competing ends;

Fourth, the UN can increase its support to the development of capacities that address and redress human development disparities and inequalities through social justice and social protection efforts, with local development, employment generation and inclusive governance that delivers the benefits of development to the poorest;

Fifth, the UN must continue to support capacities of the state as an enabler and facilitator of non state capacities, to ensure that civil society, the private sector and international development partners contribute to the country’s development agenda aligned with national strategies and in the most beneficial way.

And finally, the UN can greatly facilitate state efforts to engage in finding south-south solutions, in multilateral platforms and in global debates that bring a wide variety of views and answers to the centre table, to influence and define the share of global public goods, global development trends and the global financial architecture.

To assist Member States on these fronts, where we are present but can do and must do more,  as required by the TCPR 2007, we have worked together to ensure a harmonized approach to the UN system support to capacity development.  A common position statement that scopes the contribution, a common methodology for capacity diagnostic, and joint programming efforts are helping to make this a more systematic and measured contribution throughout our programmes.  

The new UNDAFs, being rolled out in 90 countries during the course of 2009 to 2011, will frame the support to national capacity development as a core contribution, defined through and with nationally owned and guided processes and national development plans.  For UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and WFP, our respective strategic plans state this intent very clearly, and we hope to be able to capture this contribution in more systematic ways across the system through an increased focus on sound programme design, quality assurance and evaluation carried out together with our national partners.
In crisis and post-conflict situations, there is a need to pay special attention to prioritizing investments in basic state capacity, ensuring some short-term tangible and visible gains within a longer-term planning horizon.  The United Nations system is acting with increasing agility and responsiveness to  maximize peace building ‘windows of opportunity’ for supporting capacity development, to facilitate a rapid, yet stable move towards longer-term development.  This includes helping governments to create the conditions and incentives for growing and maintaining national capacity, and to engage in a more stable process of nation building, based on a foundation of effective and accountable state institutions.

To engage in successful, sustainable capacity development initiatives, it is difficult if the United Nations development system is driven by a dash towards year-end resource and delivery targets. Rather, established, adequately resourced multi-year funding frameworks, strategic planning and reviews, allow for and encourage a longer-term perspective to contribute to required state capacity development – and then to capture that contribution through the appropriate indicators of success. Internally, the necessary staff competence requires a mix of technical skills with a high degree of understanding of the change process and ability to support country-owned strategies during periods of transformation. Collaborative United Nations system-wide efforts, and those teamed with other development partners, help foster this mix of competencies aimed at effective capacity development support.

In this connection it is also worth emphasizing that the UN country presence is an asset that a country can draw on to support its existing capacity assets base and bring in those capacities it has been drained of, or needs to build up. The multi-dimensional expertise mix available to the United Nations system, coupled with its staying power over the long term and its presence at local and central levels, makes it a partner of choice to support the long-term nature of national capacity development. The UN country team, with each agency drawing on its relevant expertise and mandate, is also able to facilitate, on impartial grounds, the multi-stakeholder dialogue, diagnostics and actions that can maximize existing capacity assets and draw on global and regional good practice, expertise and evidence, as needed.

We are delighted to have with us today, H.E. Mrs. Adiyatwidi Adiwoso Asmadi, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Indonesia to the United Nations.  It would be good to hear from her as to what is possible and what is not, what lessons we have learnt on what works for capacity development, and what we need to do more of together, to help strengthen and support state capacities where requested by governments to do so.  Credible and jointly developed capacity development initiatives can be the key value-added partnership between the United Nations development system and national governments in the years to come.

As we look towards what drives transformation and real lasting change, let me end with the inspiring words of Mahatma Gandhi, who once said that ‘the difference between what we do, and what we are capable of doing, is sufficient to solve all the worlds problems’.  

It is true that we have the knowledge, we have the technology, and we have the skills to eradicate extreme poverty. These skills and this knowledge are available- but they are not deployed everywhere. Sharing them and deploying them in a way that enhances national capacities everywhere, and adapting them to national needs and priorities, can create truly rapid progress.

I hope today’s deliberations can help move us in that direction.

Thank you.

UNDP Around the world