Helen Clark: First Regular Session of the UNDP Executive Board

Jan 27, 2014


Statement of Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
to the First Regular Session of the UNDP Executive Board 2014
United Nations, New York, 27 January 2014 at 10 am

Mr. President,
Members of the Executive Board,
Colleagues and friends,

I welcome you all to this first regular session of the UNDP Executive Board for 2014, and wish you a happy new year.  

I would like to begin by congratulating H.E Mr. Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the UN, on his election as President of the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board.

I also congratulate the Vice-Presidents on their election: for the group of African States, H.E Mr. Tuvako Nathaniel Manongi, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the United Republic of Tanzania to the UN; for the Eastern European States group, Mr. Boyan Belev, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Bulgaria; for the group of Western Europe and other States, Mr. Vincent Herlihy, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Ireland; and for the group of Latin American and Caribbean States, Mr. Jonathan Viera, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of Ecuador.

Allow me also to thank most sincerely H.E. Mr. Roble Olhaye, the Permanent Representative of Djibouti and the outgoing President of the Executive Board for his committed service to UNDP over the past year.

As well, my thanks go to last year’s Vice-Presidents for their support - Mr. Eduardo Porretti, Minister, Permanent Mission of Argentina; Mr. Boyan Belev, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Bulgaria; Mr. Andy Rachmianto, Minister Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Indonesia; and Ms. Merete Dyrud, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Norway.

2014 is the first year of implementation of UNDP’s new Strategic Plan, which provides the foundation for UNDP to become an even more focused results-driven, effective, and efficient organization. I am grateful for the strong commitment which the Board showed to the development of the plan. I can assure you that we will now do our utmost to fulfill your expectations for its successful implementation.

We are actively engaging in structural change at our headquarters in New York and our Regional Service Centres to ensure that UNDP is fit for purpose, can deliver on the Strategic Plan, and makes the best use of the resources entrusted to us. In the end what matters is delivery and development impact at the country level and our ability to make a leading contribution to global development discourse. These changes will support that, as will the range of other initiatives which have been pursued through the Agenda for Organizational Change, aimed at improving Country Office effectiveness and efficiency.

We continue, for example, to work on clustering back office functions of Country Offices where that makes sense, and to reinforce those functions with greater support from regional hubs and HQs. We are also working to improve Country Office capacity for programme design, monitoring, and evaluation. I will comment on country-level programme alignment with the Strategic Plan later in my statement.

Also central to our work this year is the support we are giving to the design of the post-2015 development agenda and the organization of the Secretary-General’s climate change summit this September.

In my statement today I will comment on these global processes, Strategic Plan implementation and organizational change, our commitment to transparency, and on matters relating to the co-ordination of the UN development system.

UNDP responses to current crises

But let me comment first on UNDP’s role in responding to the current crises in South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Syria, and to the mega-disaster of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines

The ongoing conflict in Syria and the disturbing recent events in South Sudan and the Central African Republic demonstrate how devastating violent conflict is for development.

In South Sudan hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted, with many fleeing for their lives, many lives lost, and many human rights violations reported. It is to be hoped that the recently signed ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa will end the fighting, and pave the way for healing, reconciliation, and recovery.

To that end UNDP has been supporting South Sudan’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission for some time as it has endeavored to promote dialogue and peace, including at the community level. We believe that state building must proceed alongside peacebuilding, and that the local and community levels need to be properly supported, not only for local service delivery, but also for the intergroup dialogue which can facilitate long lasting peace and development.  Much more now needs to be done to repair serious fractures in the country.

In the Central African Republic, a complete cessation of conflict is needed in order to address the huge humanitarian needs caused by the crisis, and to begin the long journey to a better future for its people. Here too, healing, reconciliation, and recovery are badly needed in communities and a nation shattered by violence. The recent election of a new interim President by the National Transitional Council is an opportunity to move forward on a full transition to constitutional government, establishment of the rule of law, and development. UNDP has significantly built up its programming and operational capacity in CAR through SURGE deployments, enabling us to scale up our support for humanitarian efforts and build a bridge to early recovery, especially in the areas of community protection and building social cohesion.

The crises in South Sudan and Central African Republic have required a strong humanitarian response by the UN and other partners. UNDP will continue to work in line with its mandate to support recovery at the earliest opportunity by addressing immediate post-conflict needs, helping to build greater resilience, foster social cohesion, and promote the long term peace and stability necessary for sustained development.

For Syria, the humanitarian dimensions of the crisis have been recognized from the outset, but there is now widespread appreciation that this is also a development crisis, affecting both Syria and its neighbors. This message came through clearly from countries impacted by the crisis during the Kuwait II Pledging Conference on 15 January. Syria itself is estimated to have lost 35 years of human development progress during the conflict, with more than half the population (12.6 million people) now living in poverty, and 4.4 million living in extreme poverty. Syria’s neighbours are now hosting more than 2.3 million refugees. This is placing considerable strain on their basic services, infrastructure, economies, and societies.

UNDP is following a resilience-building approach in its response to the crisis, focusing on the immediate livelihood needs and recovery efforts of affected communities, with special emphasis on vulnerable groups. We are doing so through nationally led stabilization plans and co-ordination mechanisms and with local partners. We have reinforced our presence, leadership, and capacity in the sub-region by strengthening Country Offices and establishing a dedicated sub-regional facility in Amman. I am encouraged by the level of support coming through from partners for this vital work.

I would emphasise that wherever there is conflict, UNDP staff face significant security risks. The safety and security of our staff are of paramount importance to us, and we will take all the measures we can to secure both.

In November Typhoon Yolanda caused massive damage in the Philippines. An estimated 6,200 people lost their lives, 4.1 million were displaced, and almost 1.1 million homes were destroyed.

UNDP quickly initiated its emergency response, in co-ordination with the Government and sister agencies, mobilizing many thousands of typhoon-affected workers for debris removal and for recovery. The goal is to engage total numbers of around 160,000 in short term jobs over the next twelve months. We have also supported the preparation of a post disaster needs assessment, including through a high-level South-South exchange of experience between Indonesia and the Philippines.

We have developed a three-year, US$65 million programme focused on building resilience in the Philippines. We are grateful to Japan, Russia, Ecuador, and Kuwait for contributing to UNDP’s response to the typhoon, and hope that other international partners will follow their lead.

Although the crises in the four countries I have just mentioned are fundamentally different in nature, scale, and context, each country has seen its development set back by them. UNDP’s mandate to support countries to build peace, justice, and resilience is a vital one – now and in the future.

Post-2015 Development Agenda

The outcome of the leader-level Special Event on the MDGs at the UN General Assembly last September was significant for its emphasis on accelerating achievement of the MDGs and addressing the substance of a post-2015 agenda. It recognized the links between poverty eradication and the promotion of sustainable development, and resolved that the new agenda should also “promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality, and human rights for all.”

UNDP and the whole UN Development Group are committed to support Member States as they move to determine the details of the new agenda, by contributing our expertise in development thinking and practice, and by continuing to bring the perspectives of the world’s peoples into the discussions.

Some two million people from more than 190 countries have now shared their priorities for a new agenda through national and thematic consultations, and through on and off line ranking of priorities through the MY World survey. I understand that the feedback has been well received by the Open Working Group on the SDGs and the expert group on financing for sustainable development.

The Secretary-General participated in the launch of the ‘A Million Voices: The World We Want’ report in September. It was most encouraging to see the MDG Special Event Outcome Document state that “our deliberations have taken account of the voices of people worldwide and the priorities they conveyed.”

UNDP’s support for MDG acceleration continues. More than fifty countries are now using the MDG Acceleration Framework to address off-track MDG goals and targets. The support of the World Bank for this work is greatly appreciated.

Our recent report, ‘Accelerating Progress, Sustaining Results’, captures lessons learned from MDG acceleration efforts which should be taken into account in the design and implementation of the post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals and targets. The report is available at the back of our meeting room today.     

Secretary-General’s Climate Change Summit 2014

Parallel to discussions on post-2015 and sustainable development goals are the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, which also aim to reach agreement in late 2015.

UNDP is giving its full support to the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Summit this September. The aim is to have governments and other stakeholders indicate further bold steps they are prepared to take towards preventing a global temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius, and to support adaptation to the significant climate shock already being experienced.

UNDP and its partners in UNREDD – FAO and UNEP, together with the World Bank, are focusing especially on concrete deliverables at the Summit on the REDD+ agenda of curbing deforestation and forest degradation.

Moving forward on the Strategic Plan

The work I have been describing in response to crises and on the design and implementation of major global agendas is very much in line with our new Strategic Plan. As well, we have a number of initiatives aimed at embedding the Plan systematically and substantively in our work.  

Some specific examples:

•    To ensure that we can achieve the Plan’s objectives, the global and regional programmes being presented to the Board at this session have been specifically designed to complement each other. The fit between these programmes, while not perfect, is much tighter than it has been in the past, and we will monitor their implementation in this regard closely. Both sets of programmes address a common core of issues, and, together, help provide UNDP with a critical mass of programming at the country, regional, and global levels in its mandated areas of activity. This creates a global pool of knowledge and experiences on which we can draw to drive transformational change for development and can help share through South-South and Triangular Co-operation.

•    While respecting national priorities and local level agreements, country programmes are being aligned with the Strategic Plan more systematically than has been the case in the past. This process will continue throughout 2014, and, if necessary, into 2015. In preparation for this, all Country Offices have completed a survey to enable us to define the scale of the task and the specific issues which will need to be tackled.  Many Country Offices report that they see good opportunities for building stronger programmes and partnerships as they align with the Strategic Plan.

•    The Strategic Frameworks of the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and UN Volunteers (UNV) are being prepared under the auspices of the Strategic Plan.  UNDP has been working with UNCDF and UNV to identify where more collaboration could help us achieve our shared goals. UNDP has also provided substantive input into the overall design of the Strategic Frameworks of these two associated programmes. These efforts mean that we are collectively in a stronger position than in the past to deliver better results for programme countries.

The engagement with UNV has already yielded good results. We have agreed on principles to guide our collaboration, and on shared programme priorities in important areas of mutual interest. We have committed to investing jointly in promising initiatives. We have agreed on ways to continue our strategic dialogue to guide our work together during the period of the Strategic Plan. We are confident that good results will come from our higher level of interaction. This way of working is a major improvement on past practice.

•    In line with the Strategic Plan, we continue to step up our promotion of South-South and Triangular Co-operation.

Our two main entry points are through our hosting of the United Nations Office for South-South Co-operation (UNOSSC) and through our extensive country and programme reach. The latter will enable us to provide a global operational arm for South-South co-operation which is also accessible to the broader UN development system, as envisaged in our new Strategic Plan. These two entry points complement and support each other.

This week the Executive Board is discussing the new Strategic Framework for the UNOSSC. It aims to strengthen the Office’s capacities to deliver on its normative and co-ordination functions. The Office has played, and will continue to play, an important role in bringing the UN system together in support of South-South co-operation. Its strategic role for global and system-wide policymaking and coherence in this area is appreciated by UN agencies and Member States.

UNDP is undertaking a comprehensive review of its own programme experiences to date with South-South and Triangular Co-operation, developing the new approach to it which is outlined in the Strategic Plan, and identifying practical opportunities for us to engage in more collaboration. This work will inform a new corporate strategy on South-South and Triangular Co-operation. The aim is to make tangible progress this year on providing the foreshadowed global operational arm for South-South and Triangular Co-operation. In this regard, we warmly welcome the interest and engagement of both programme and donor countries. This is essential as we accelerate and scale up our work in this important area.

•    To support delivery of the Strategic Plan, we have embarked on significant structural change in headquarters and the regional service centers. The outcome will ensure more efficient use of resources, and release a greater proportion of UNDP expenditure for programme delivery by Country Offices and for better headquarters and regional service centre support for that. I understand that the Board has recently been briefed on the change programme.  
Since I announced the direction of those changes in October, each UNDP Bureau has been planning for the implementation of its future state. Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan is chairing a governance group to oversee this process, to ensure that the changes made do support delivery of the Strategic Plan, that implementation is consistent throughout the organization, and that there is integrity and fairness in the process. A central Implementation Team has been established to support and co-ordinate the implementation, which will be led by Bureaux leaders. A Staff Council Liaison Committee on the structural changes has been established, and will continue to meet regularly to discuss implementation issues, particularly as they impact on staff.  

Our timeframe is to see through significant changes this year, including shifting more of our footprint out of New York to our regional hubs, and seeing the summer as an opportune time to undertake this task. Full implementation will continue into 2015.  

I acknowledge that this is a difficult time for staff, and every effort will be made to minimize the stress which structural change causes. We will do everything we can to ensure that the pace and sequencing of implementation of the structural changes does not undermine our capacity to deliver on the Strategic Plan and our services to programme countries. It is imperative, however, that we move forward expeditiously with the change programme.

Transparency and Accountability

UNDP has been ranked first among multilateral organisations in its commitment to transparency by the NGO, Publish What You Fund. We are publishing more information on our projects than ever before on our transparency portal, open.undp.org. This, together with our adoption of the International Public Accounting Standards (IPSAS), has helped us to deliver more complete and accurate financial reporting.

UNDP is a founding member of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), and assumed the role of being a co-host of it last autumn. This week in Montreal, with the generous support of the Government of Canada, IATI is hosting its annual technical meeting to expand the global standard set for aid transparency. UNDP is proposing a “UN extension” to the standard to support the UN system reporting efficiently and comparably.

Our public disclosure of internal audit reports demonstrates to all that UNDP’s work is subjected to rigorous and independent scrutiny. Where shortcomings are brought to light, management takes action. To date, a total of 133 internal audit reports have been disclosed.

At this session, the Board will have the opportunity to review the report of UNDP on the status of its implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Board of Auditors (UNBOA) for the year ended 2012. The full audit report is posted on the Board’s website and on UNDP’s public website.

As I mentioned during the Board’s September session, UNDP received an unqualified (clean) audit opinion from the UNBOA for the first year of implementation of (IPSAS).  UNDP does not take this achievement for granted, and is working hard on the audit-related management priorities identified. I thank the UNBOA, the Audit Advisory Committee, and the Executive Board for their constructive engagement on these issues, and also UNDP personnel around the world who have worked tirelessly to maintain high standards on audit and related fiduciary management matters.

Driving UN Reform

UNDP is committed to the implementation of the 2012 QCPR resolution. UNDG members and UNDESA have developed a monitoring framework to help track progress on that. The framework ensures that a comprehensive, evidence-based, and streamlined approach is taken, and is aligned with the strategic plans of funds and programmes. Together with UNFPA and UNOPS, we have shared with the Bureau of the Executive Board a roadmap for taking the QCPR-related actions - which will require engagement with the Board as we work towards full implementation.

Advances on UN reform include the following:

-    New Standard Operating Procedures for countries wishing to adopt Delivering as One have been agreed on. The UNDG is issuing guidance for their implementation at the country level. A ‘Plan of Action for Headquarters’ has been drawn up, outlining priority areas to be addressed at headquarters and by governing bodies.

-    The new ‘Delivering Results Together Fund’ becomes fully operational this year. It will be focused on getting results, making performance-based allocation, and strengthening accountability. It will help increase the predictability of funding for UN programmes in Delivering as One countries. Our special thanks go to Norway which has already made a generous contribution to the Fund – we hope that other donors will consider following suit.

-    On business operations reform, we are committed to continuing to work to lower administrative and transaction costs, including through consolidation of common support services where that is cost-effective. Pilot projects have been launched for fully integrated business service centres in Brazil, Copenhagen, and Cape Verde. These promise significant savings through efficiencies and reduced transaction costs.

-    Continuing to improve the functioning of the Resident Co-ordinator system is a priority, including through the induction courses which prepare newly appointed Resident Co-ordinators for their multiple roles.

-    This month, implementation of the system-wide cost-sharing of around 27 per cent of the cost of the Resident Co-ordinator system by UNDG member entities has begun.

Of the eighteen UNDG member entities expected to contribute to the cost sharing modality, including the UN Secretariat, ten have confirmed their intention to provide their full amount in 2014; four have confirmed that they will start contributing with a reduced amount; and four, including the Secretariat, have yet to confirm their contributions.

As not all UNDG member entities are contributing to the cost sharing, this year and next, there is a funding gap. Accordingly, the UNDG is seeking continued contributions from Member States to bridge the gap until the cost-sharing becomes fully operational in 2016.


This is a busy year for UNDP as it rolls out the new Strategic Plan and the integrated budget; fine tunes its organization; contributes to global development discourse; and responds to the needs of programme countries – with a special focus on those which are being badly affected by conflict or natural disasters.

We thank the Executive Board for the strong support it continues to give to our work, and look forward to your close engagement with us in the course of the year.

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