King Hussein bin Talal Convention Centre, Dead Sea
Statement to the HDM
UNRWA’s activities in the past year have been varied and multiple, as one would expect from an Agency with 25,000 staff and a mandate to provide education, health, social and micro-finance services to 4.2 million Palestine refugees in five fields of operation. Since I cannot do justice to all our operations in this statement, I refer you to my Annual Report presented to the UN General Assembly early this month, a document which describes UNRWA’s activities in considerable detail. I will thus recall only briefly a few important developments, before moving to the way ahead.
The past year has seen momentous change in UNRWA’s areas of operation. This is true in particular of the occupied Palestinian territory with the passing of President Arafat and the smooth transition of power to his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, in free and fair elections in January of this year. Hope for progress in the peace process was rekindled, although it remains extremely fragile, requiring a great deal of nurturing by all parties involved.
Since we last met, at our Major Host and Donors Meeting in May, Israel has "disengaged" from the Gaza Strip and from a small part of the West Bank, generating heavy political interest in the event and its consequences. The international community has shown that it is intent on doing all it can to make this a positive development, and, in particular, to demonstrate benefits to the Palestinians in Gaza. UNRWA has been closely associated with this process, having been in early and continual touch with the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Disengagement, James Wolfensohn, and his team. The Agency was asked to take the lead in areas of its particular expertise--activities which could concretely improve the lives of Palestine refugees and could be implemented in the short term. These include expansion of our job creation programme and a capital injection into UNRWA’s Microfinance and Microentreprise programme, as well as completion of the construction of refugee houses demolished during the intifada. [More detail will be presented on these initiatives later today.]
Some of our supporters have raised questions about the sustainability of such interventions. While I believe these are legitimate queries, I would point out that as short term projects, they are expected to prepare the ground for sustainable growth. Sustainable interventions, like long term socio-economic growth in the occupied Palestinian territory, will require the fulfilment of the conditions laid down some time ago by the World Bank: unfettered movement of persons and goods to and from the outside world, including a freely operating harbour and airport, a link between Gaza and the West Bank, and resumption of access for Palestinians to the labour market in Israel. I had been waiting until the last moment to be able to cite progress this morning at least on the border crossing at Rafah. This is the first tangible improvement on the ground in Gaza as a result of disengagement other than the absence of roadblocks and checkpoints. Many more decisions, both economic and political, must still be taken if there are to be decent living conditions—and stability—in the oPt. On Monday, my deputy and I met with the IDF Coordinator for the Territories, who briefed us on imminent implementation of a number of measures to improve access to and from Gaza. The lengthy and torturous process to reach such agreements, however, does not bode well for the other issues awaiting solutions, those outlined above, and others in the West Bank itself, as in the growth of the fence and settlements, as well as the more general obstructions to freedom of movement there.
Following disengagement, some have asked whether UNRWA should hand over its operations in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. This reminded me of the period immediately following the signing of the Oslo agreements, when the same question was raised. And the answer is identical: the new environment does not change the status of Palestine refugees. UNRWA is at the service of the international community and will continue in all its areas of operation until the parties have found a comprehensive (political) solution to the Palestine refugee question, along with other final status issues. I was reassured to hear President Abbas reaffirm this position when I last met him. I was also gratified to see, during the presentation of my Annual Report to the General Assembly, that this message is well understood, since no delegation mentioned handover. On the contrary, it was heartening to hear the statements of support offered during that debate, as evident, for example, in the United Kingdom’s statement on behalf of the European Union, which unambiguously stated that until there is a final and comprehensive permanent status agreement in line with relevant UN resolutions, I quote, "the services provided by UNRWA remain essential to ensure a decent life to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East" [end quote].
On the way ahead
UNRWA’s essential operations do not change radically from one period to the next. Self-evaluation and review have over the years led to both incremental and substantial improvements which may be less spectacular than all-encompassing change, but they are, in my view, just as important in improving services which stakeholders generally value as a good product. For the benefit of those attending the HDM for the first time, I should like first to describe major programme developments currently underway, then new processes being put in place to optimize our interaction with our stakeholders, and finally to internal management reform, outlining where these reforms stand, and at least a beginning of where we intend to go from here.
UNRWA’s main direction from a programmatic point of view is embodied in the Agency’s Medium Term Plan for 2005-2009. The Plan aims at restoring the quality of the Agency’s operations to levels attained before being undermined by many years of under-funding and consequent austerity. The Plan is under constant review and will be revised as necessary to reflect developments affecting the refugee environment, and the Agency as well as current revisions being made to the Palestinian Authority’s MTDP, with which UNRWA’s MTP was originally coordinated. The Plan contains major interventions to ensure parity of UNRWA services with host and international standards, to address the needs of vulnerable refugees, to maximize refugees’ economic potential, and to improve their living conditions.
The tools required to achieve these goals include a comprehensive programme of data collection and analysis which will allow the Agency more empirically to identify and understand the needs of the refugees in a precise and accurate manner. This project will also contribute significantly to the process of improving knowledge management within the Agency in conjunction with initiatives led by the Director of Operational and Technical Support. The IUED of the University of Geneva and the University of Louvain team, who are with us today, are working intensively to complete the first phase of this project. While we should be able to brief you more substantively in the near future, some of you will have a chance to meet with the team this week outside our formal sessions.
UNRWA is also pursuing a new approach to poverty analysis to be able to better identify those refugees in greatest need and to determine what the specific needs of the most vulnerable are. This is an integral part of the Agency’s move from a status to a needs-based approach in its budgeting and programming actions.
On-going major activities also include the Palestine refugee records project, the realization of a thoroughly modernized refugee registration system, and camp and community development initiatives, exemplified by infrastructure projects in the Syrian Arab Republic. Large re-housing projects have been implemented in Gaza and the West Bank, and UNRWA’s emergency programme in the oPt continues to ameliorate the persistent humanitarian crisis. [I am very grateful for the continuing support of many of you to these essential ventures.]
UNRWA is also seeking to tackle in an integrated manner a number of cross-cutting issues, among them poverty, camp/community development, disability and psychosocial support. Until now, these have been dealt with by individual fields or programmes somewhat independently of one another. The complex issue of how to afford Palestine refugees, especially children, better protection will be addressed by our new Senior Protection Policy Advisor, who joined us this month. Gender mainstreaming is another process which the Agency now wishes to take beyond past successes in reaching decades long gender parity in schools and admirable health indicators for women and girls. A donor-funded gender consultant is finalizing her initial conclusions following an in-depth analysis of the situation, buttressed by solid field work. You will be hearing more about this, and UNRWA’s follow-up plans, during the panel discussion tomorrow.
Many of you are familiar with the issues I have just mentioned, through the various formal and informal interactions which have evolved in the past few years to respond to the wishes of our stakeholders and the needs of the Agency. The Geneva Conference of 2004 was an example of increased partnership; it also emphasized the wish of stakeholders to continue to be fully involved in developments within the Agency. The resulting informal Working Group on Stakeholder Relations, to be reported on this morning, quickly reached the conclusion that strengthening of the existing structure of UNRWA "governance" fora was required. While the General Assembly remains UNRWA’s governing body, the WGSR felt that the Advisory Commission should be expanded and given a more substantial role in "advising and assisting the Commissioner-General", specifically engaging more with programme and budget planning.
The draft decision to this effect, sponsored by Sweden and actively supported by many of you, adopted at the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee early this week, should be confirmed in December, after which we shall take immediate action to implement it. I am confident this revitalized AdCom will contribute significantly to our working together and to more structured exchanges on UNRWA’s programme and budget planning.
This week’s enhanced HDM represents another tangible improvement in reinforcing and extending stakeholder relations. We all have much to learn regarding the kind of interaction you seek, the form of discussion you prefer and the themes you wish to address. I hope you will see this as a first attempt and will inform us of your views on how to enhance its substance and productivity.
Internally, we have introduced more frequent management committee meetings through fortnightly video-conferencing across our five locations, while discussions are underway on
firmly locating and strengthening the internal policy and decision-making processes, and ensuring implementation of decisions through more structured internal communication channels and follow-up mechanisms.
When UNRWA moved its Headquarters from Vienna to Gaza in 1997, it did so in the expectation that a comprehensive peace, including a solution to the Palestine refugee issue, was imminent. As a result, UNRWA established a skeleton HQ in Gaza, since we expected to be rendered redundant within a few years. To put it mildly, subsequent events did not confirm this expectation, and rather than a peace agreement, we have seen violence, destruction and a full-scale and lengthy humanitarian crisis, which has not yet subsided. However, UNRWA’s staffing, in particular its management, remained at "skeletal" and therefore, inadequate, levels.
It has become increasingly clear that, despite our best efforts and largely because of unacceptably low levels of senior staff over time, we are not in a position to fulfil a number of functions which are required. I acknowledge these deficiencies, which are also highlighted in a number of external studies, reviews and reports (including the recent DFID review). These reports have been very useful in informing the process of internal discussions initiated upon my appointment as Commissioner-General. This process included two senior management retreats in August and October, which provoked substantive discussion of the issues I shall outline below. The follow-up to these retreats has already begun, and the new DCG will be coordinating the efforts which will lead to a revision of the Agency’s management structure.
I should like to share with you some of the thoughts which have emerged.
A. Strategic/overall planning, decentralization
UNRWA has made substantial and UNHQ-commended progress with its introduction of results-based budgeting. This is an important step towards the implementation of the broader goal of results-based management, and initial UNNY-led training on rbm is scheduled for later this month. Through intensive discussion, we have agreed on next steps, involving the Fields fully at all levels in an expanded phase of strategic reflection prior to the initiation of the next biennial budgetary process. This will ensure that the direction taken by the Agency in planning its operations will be thoroughly informed by both an overall strategic perspective elaborated by UNRWA’s senior management, and approved by me (ensuring, i.a., better integration of cross-cutting issues), on the one hand, and better bottom-up initiated assessments of the needs and concerns of the refugee population that the Agency serves on the other. Within the resulting financial framework, decision-making processes can more easily be decentralized, with accountability functions clearly ascribed to the respective Field Directors.
B. Project management
Project management has been insufficiently developed within the Agency. We have no "logical framework" to capture the philosophy and strategy underlying the activities currently scattered in various UNRWA departments. Most project implementation work is best left at the field level, and significant strengthening in all five fields is needed to address this task adequately. Work is underway to inform a final decision on the establishment of a small central project management unit to provide overall strategic guidance and oversee the planning, prioritizing and reporting processes.
C. Monitoring and evaluation
UNRWA’s main programmes have relied to a great extent on self-evaluation. The Agency is also fortunate to benefit from the expertise of its sister organizations, UNESCO and WHO, who give us our most senior education and health staff, to provide critical examination of its work. As an example, WHO undertook a comprehensive technical assessment of UNRWA’s health operations early this year, the results of which have been integrated into subsequent health interventions under the able leadership of Dr. Mousa, who will retire after long and commendable service at the end of this year.
As widely recommended, and widely agreed internally, a dedicated unit (under the Director of Operations) is required to tackle the monitoring and evaluation function effectively. The unit will draw on expertise from inside and outside the Agency. Follow-up processes will be put in place to ensure that evaluation results effectively feed back into programme operations and are available to the newly-constituted Advisory Commission.
Both internal and external communications have been discussed at length. While donor funding has enabled an improvement in external communications and provided the Agency with some of the tools required for the implementation of a modern communications strategy, a systematic approach to public information has not yet been fully developed. An internal working group is preparing a paper for discussion at the meeting of the Management Committee in December.
E. Servicing requirements of revitalized governance structures
The revitalized AdCom and this HDM require a fully fledged secretariat. Until now, this function has been added to the workload of individual External Relations Officers, but it has become impossible for them to "cover all the bases" in this regard. A dedicated unit to serve these fora as well as the enhanced internal management committees will be established.
F. Human resources
Numerous lacunae have been identified and are currently being addressed in administration and human resources: a human resources policy task force has been set up under the chairmanship of the DCG. It is tasked with developing and overseeing the implementation of improvements in, inter alia, performance evaluation of senior managers, transparency in recruitment, career development, training, induction procedures, relations of with staff representatives, revitalization of internal appeals processes, and communications with staff and beneficiaries.
I realize that this considerable cluster of tasks will require a deliberate and dedicated effort and will not occur overnight. However, they will bring the Agency’s management of human resources in line with modern concepts and strategies, including UN reforms, thereby improving staff cohesion and motivation, optimizing internal synergies and contributing to a more open and constructive work environment.
G. Management structure
The developments outlined above clearly point to the need to adapt the Agency’s senior management structure. Until now, the functions of Director of Operations and that of Director of Operations in Gaza have been combined in one person. Many of you are familiar with the expertise and hard work that Lionel Brisson has devoted to these two tasks over the past several years. But each of these is a full-time job, so with Lionel’s impending retirement, the two posts have been advertised separately and the new Director of Operations will be placed in Amman where s/he will be able to more easily "direct" operations throughout UNRWA’s five fields. The Department’s remit will be expanded to include some of the cross-cutting elements mentioned above.
H. Requirements for success
It will not come as a surprise to you to hear me reiterate that the plans outlined above require additional resources. The way forward is fairly clear, though it may not be free of obstacles and setbacks. I am confident, however, that the Agency has the capacity to design and implement the changes required. Many of these plans require additional human resources, part of a package we are developing and will be conveying to you shortly. Implementation will be contingent upon your willingness to support our efforts.
As I hope is evident, my colleagues and I are enthusiastically embracing the convergence of a number of important processes, all of which are helping us in considering how to appropriately transform the Agency, improving its overall functioning and efficiency. The management literature will tell you that such a transformation will succeed only if it is fully and sincerely supported by senior management. I can assure you that I am fully committed to leading this process, and with the support of my staff, who are also keenly involved, I have begun to strengthen our internal decision-making processes to ensure that all views are heard and taken into account, so that management is united to implement whatever decisions are taken.
The support of Host and Member States and other stakeholders is also of crucial importance to our making progress in realizing a more transparent, inclusive, stakeholder- accountable UN organization.
My earnest request is for you, our stakeholders and partners, to trust us, and to support us in our firm intention to fulfil the ambitious objectives I have described. My staff and I stand accountable for the results of this endeavour, and I promise you will find that we have fulfilled our duty to your satisfaction and to the benefit of the refugees we serve.