Secretary-General Pledges ‚Quiet Revolution‘ In United Nations, Presents Reform Proposals To General Assembly


Kofi Annan Declares Organization’s Financial Viability Is Essential Condition for Success of Reform

NEW YORK, 16 July 1997 — Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement to the special meeting of the General Assembly on reform, held today at Headquarters:

I am pleased to submit to you today my report “Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform“. The reforms I am proposing are bold reforms. They are the most extensive and far-reaching reforms in the 52-year history of our Organization. Their aim is simple. To transform the Organization. To bring greater unity of purpose, greater coherence of efforts, and greater agility in responding to an increasingly dynamic and complex world.

The establishment of the United Nations was an act of extraordinary foresight and creativity. Our founders, meeting in the aftermath of the Second World War and at the dawn of the era of colonial liberation, designed an instrument of common progress unique in human history.

In five decades, the United Nations has more than proved its worth. In its halls, virtually all nations and peoples come together to discuss common agendas and to resolve common problems. The victims of aggression and of oppression come to the United Nations in search of justice, redress and relief.

There have been great achievements. Colonialism and apartheid are no more. We have worked to foster, restore, and build peace in all corners of the globe. We have moved decisively forward in the promotion of social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom. We have promoted democracy and international law as the pillars of peaceful relations among States. From air traffic control to the law of the sea, from the use of chemical weapons to the judging of war crimes, we have worked to establish clear norms and practices of international cooperation.

Faith in fundamental human rights has never been stronger. We have championed the advancement of women, and brought relief and shelter to refugees. We have fought to ensure that the needs of children — the most vulnerable of all the world’s people — come first.

Today, the world has at its service a United Nations with a proven record of achievement, and a Charter of enduring validity. The need for a common instrument of global service has never been greater. The global agenda has never been so varied, so pressing or so complex. Member States face a wide range of new and unprecedented threats and challenges. Many of them transcend borders. They are beyond the power of any single nation to address on its own.

The United Nations faces, therefore, unprecedented demands and opportunities. That is why an effective and efficient United Nations — a United Nations which is focused, coherent, responsive and cost-effective — is more needed than ever. When Member States turn to us — when they call on us to alleviate suffering and ensure peace — we must be ready.

However, the United Nations is not working as it should. Our Organization has been slow to reflect changes in geopolitical realities. Where we should have been flexible and adaptable, we have, all too often, been bureaucratic. Where we should have reached across sectoral lines and institutional boundaries, we have stayed within rigid structures, working in isolation, with little or no coordination. Where we should have been empowering managers, we have not made optimum use of our resources, either human or financial. Where we should have been enabling the staff to fulfil their potential, we have shackled them with bureaucracy. We must liberate their skills and their capacities.

Now is the time for reform. The Organization needs it. The Member States of the Organization want it. Indeed, they are showing the way for change at the United Nations by rethinking their practices and adapting their policies, seeking out new efficiencies and value for money.

I was given the honour of being elected Secretary-General after 30 years of service at the United Nations — in administration and personnel, in peace-keeping, at Headquarters and in the field. If there is one thing that my experience has taught me, it is that, adequately funded and properly structured, the United Nations can and will carry out its mission on behalf of the world’s peoples and governments. Since taking office, I have vigorously pursued the goal of bringing a culture of reform to the United Nations.

Today, we take a momentous step forward. You now have before you a full programme of measures and recommendations for reforming and renewing the Organization. It encompasses all the reform measures and proposals initiated during my first six months in office. It takes us in many new directions as well. Allow me to review for you some of the highlights.

For the United Nations to pursue our core objectives, for us to carry out the tasks with which we are entrusted, we must first refine our leadership and management. Accordingly, a Senior Management Group will be formed that will function like a cabinet and lead the process of change. A Strategic Planning Unit will be established within my office to identify and analyse emerging global issues and trends. Four Executive Committees, which I established in January to guide the Organization in its principal areas of work, will be strengthened.

I will also recommend to the General Assembly that the post of Deputy-Secretary-General be established. The Deputy-Secretary-General will represent the Secretary-General in his absence from Headquarters, and spearhead efforts to raise financing for development. The Deputy-Secretary-General will also ensure the coherence of the Organization’s cross-sectoral activities.

The United Nations also needs streamlining. My reforms accomplish this in several ways:

  • By proposing a no-growth budget. This will be the first time in a generation that there has been negative growth, in real terms, in the United Nations budget.
  • By eliminating 1,000 staff posts — a 25 per cent cut from a decade ago.
  • By reducing administrative costs by 33 per cent. These savings will be reallocated to development.
  • And by cutting back on documentation. By the end of this year we will have reduced our use of paper by 30 per cent.

I also want to end the persistent state of near-bankruptcy in which the Organization has been living for far too long. Too many Member States are failing to discharge their treaty obligation to pay their contributions in full, on time and without preconditions. In response, I am proposing that Member States establish a Revolving Credit Fund, initially capitalized at a level of up to $1 billion through voluntary contributions or any other means that Member States may wish to suggest.

Let me be clear: assuring the Organization’s financial viability is not only an essential part of reform, it is a condition for the very success of reform. Reform must enhance our ability to promote development and address the root causes of poverty and conflict. The grouping of United Nations funds and programmes engaged in development into a United Nations Development Group will foster consolidation and cooperation amongst them, without compromising their distinctiveness or identity.

This idea will be carried through to the field level, where all United Nations entities will function under “one flag“ in a single “United Nations House“. I am proud to announce that the first such designation, effective immediately, will apply to the United Nations presence in South Africa.

Let us turn now to the question of financing for development. Put simply, we need more financial resources for development, whether from private sector or governmental sources. I am therefore creating an Office for Development Financing. Raising such funds requires a concerted, full-time effort.

My report also proposes a “Development Dividend“ in order to shift resources from administration to economic and social activities. Our projections are that it would reach a level of at least $200 million by the year 2002. However, I am proposing that a down payment be made in January 1998 from savings achieved from the current biennium’s budget.

The programme of reform you have in your hands will affect virtually every department and every activity of the United Nations. It contains proposals for increasing the speed with which we can deploy peace-keeping and other field operations. It focuses on improving our capacity for peace-building, advancing the disarmament agenda, and strengthening the environmental dimension of United Nations activities. It proposes ways to combat the scourge of “uncivil society“ — criminals, drug pushers and terrorists. It reorients our public information activities so that the world’s peoples better understand our goals, our role and our range of activities. It calls for simplified administrative procedures and for a thorough overhaul of human resources policies and practices.

It advocates major restructuring in several areas, including economic and social affairs, human rights and humanitarian affairs. The advancement of human rights needs to be integrated into all principal United Nations activities and programmes. We need to deal more effectively with complex humanitarian emergencies. Accordingly, a new Emergency Relief Coordination Office will be established to replace the Department of Humanitarian Affairs.

The natural complement to these proposals would be certain changes of a more fundamental nature, which can be undertaken only by Member States. Several of these changes relate to the General Assembly.

I have suggested that the Assembly refocus its work on issues of highest priority and reduce the length of its sessions. I am proposing that the Assembly enact “sunset provisions“ — specific time-limits — for initiatives involving new organizational structures or major commitments of funds. Perhaps most significantly, I urge this Assembly to consider adopting a new system of budgeting — a shift from input accounting to “results-based budgeting“. This approach, which many Member States already use at the national level, would give the Secretariat greater flexibility while maintaining strict accountability.

Finally, I have recommended that Member States consider establishing a commission to study the need for fundamental change in the system at large — the specialized agencies which are essential members of the United Nations family.

This is, in broad outline, the reform plan that I am submitting for your consideration. I am confident of their soundness, convinced of their necessity and dedicated to their implementation.

We stand at the threshold of a new beginning for the United Nations.

Poised for a new century, adapted to a new world, and committed to the enduring aspirations of our founders, we face an age of global opportunity. The United Nations must be prepared to seize the potential of this age and harness its powers for the good of all. The reforms that I propose today will enable the United Nations to do even more, even better. They will allow us to rise to the occasion of the age of global opportunity and make the United Nations truly the expression of humanity’s highest aims.

Our aspiration with this reform plan — simply and immediately — is to transform the conception, quality and delivery of the services we provide. That is what you and the world demand of us. No less do we demand of ourselves.

This is my pledge to you, and to the world: that starting today, we begin a quiet revolution in the United Nations. In return I ask of you, and of the world, that you judge us not only by the cuts we propose or by the structures we change. Judge us instead — and judge us rightly — by the relief and the refuge that we provide to the poor, the hungry, the sick and threatened — the peoples of the world whom the United Nations exists to serve.

“The Earth is not ours“, an African proverb teaches. “It is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations.“ We today must ensure that we are worthy of that trust, and make the United Nations, once again, the instrument of its fulfilment. We can and we will lay a new foundation of peace, progress and development.

This is the age of the United Nations.

Unfettered by ideological conflict and empowered by technology and global prosperity, we can envision like never before the realization of our noble aims. We owe it to all succeeding generations that this moment of promise becomes a new beginning for all nations and peoples alike.

There is a light at the end of our century’s dark and dangerous tunnel, and it is brightened by the hopes and dreams of all the world’s peoples. The United Nations remains the one, true and universal vessel of those dreams. Reinvigorated, reformed and re-committed, it can carry those dreams into the next millennium, and make them reality.