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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
21 November 2007

Commissioner-General’s Opening Statement

Advisory Commission Meeting

Amman, 21 November, 2007

Distinguished delegates:

I am pleased to be here with you at this meeting of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission. I extend a special greeting to Ali Mustafa whom we are pleased to have in his role as Chairperson of the Advisory Commission. A warm welcome also to Sten Arne of the Norwegian Representative Office in Al Ram in his position as Vice-Chairperson. I trust you join with me in pledging to this new leadership all the cooperation and support they require to achieve success in their functions.

Many of you participated in our Host and Donors Meeting over the past two days and would have received from those proceedings a comprehensive picture of developments in our fields and programmes. My brief remarks will therefore concentrate on the work of this Commission and on the progress we are making in our growing relationship. I wish, in particular, to briefly highlight instances that testify to UNRWA’s responsiveness to the guidance of the Advisory Commission.

The excellent relationship the Agency shares with this Commission is one of which we all can be justifiably proud. It has been barely 22 months since we unveiled an expanded format with new members welcomed to the fold and a fresh set of procedures. Over that relatively short period, our cooperation has evolved in positive and substantive ways that bode well for the advisory function of this Commission.

This evolution is manifested not only in the breadth of issues with which the Advisory Commission has engaged, but also in the depth to which these matters are discussed. From programme and financial matters to questions about oversight and organizational reform, we are seeing the benefits of an Advisory Commission that exhibits a high degree of genuine interest in topics that go to the heart of the Agency’s management.

In tandem with its expanding agenda, there is enhanced interaction among Commission members and between the Commission and the Agency. The establishment of the sub-committees had a vital impact in generating opportunities to exchange views and thus promote understanding of varied perspectives. From my agency’s standpoint, an important corollary of more vigorous mutual communication has been greater convergence between stakeholder views.

The Advisory Commission’s growing maturity shows in how it is adapting the way it goes about its work in response to changes in the requirements of the members and of the Agency. As an illustration, I refer to the sub-committees, which have adjusted the frequency of their meetings in the course of the year, and in the decision to unify deliberations on programmatic and financial matters. I trust these measures will in due course bear fruit in efficiency gains to our mutual benefit.

I am of course fully aware that the advances have not been achieved lightly. In a multilateral environment such as ours, perfect agreement, desirable as it may be, is not always possible. What is important, however, is that we are developing sound practice in generating consensus, in accommodating divergent views and in preserving the commitment to mutual cooperation that lies at the core of our relationship.

As the Advisory Commission has grown into its role, so too has its influence on the management of UNRWA. This influence is clearly evident in the volume of our reports to the Commission, the seriousness we ascribe to the Commission’s recommendations and the efforts we make to implement them. In those relatively few instances where circumstances have not allowed us to put recommendations into effect, it is clear that it is never for lack of good faith, or for want of effort.

Our regular and detailed reporting on the Organizational Development process – to both the Commission and the sub-committees – demonstrates our receptiveness to your guidance. My deputy, Filippo Grandi, will provide you with further updates later today. We value the encouragement and input we receive from the Advisory Commission on reform issues, and we hope that you share our satisfaction with the pace of progress thus far.

We appreciate the support and advice the Commission continues to offer to our efforts to institute a rigorous programme strategy. This topic will be discussed in more detail later today. In keeping with the Commission’s suggestions, we have drafted an interim strategy which will guide our programmes in 2008 and 2009 and inform a full-fledged programme strategy in the biennium 2010 to 2011. Wherever feasible, we have taken on board your input, on occasion to a level of fine detail on issues such as the definition of human development and the drafting of a logical framework. Also in accordance with your proposals, we are laying the groundwork for ensuring that best practice in programme cycle management will become part of our approach to service delivery. This has involved reinforcing the functions and capacities of programme and project support, coordination, monitoring and evaluation in the fields and at Headquarters. We are also making progress in identifying indicators that measure and promote programme performance in effective ways. In this regard, the ideas you contribute are serving us well.

Before I leave the topic of programme management, I should mention the finalization of the IUED survey as another example of how UNRWA has made good use of this Commission’s recommendations. In response to your requests, we have briefed our principal stakeholders on the essential findings of the survey and on the potential application of those outcomes that have value for forward programme planning. We are pleased that with your advice, we can build on its valid aspects as we move forward to achieve our service delivery goals.

With regard to oversight issues, I must underline the importance UNRWA attaches to the maintenance of internal controls. We recognize that this Commission can assist us to ensure that these controls are effective, realistic and in compliance with international standards, and yet do not constrain the Agency’s freedom to perform or to innovate. You have been provided with a document setting out the current implementation status of recommendations from the United Nations Board of Auditors for the biennium 2004 to 2005. The changes captured in that document are further evidence of UNRWA's openness to the Commission’s legitimate interest in oversight matters.

Resource mobilization is yet another area in which the Agency has gained from your advice. In line with your proposals, we have prepared and are now implementing a resource mobilization strategy with some encouraging results. As I mentioned in my statement to the Hosts and Donors meeting, the funding deficit in our General Fund remains considerable, although also considerably reduced by yesterday’s pledges. That deficit is patently untenable if we are to accomplish our plans to raise the standards and effectiveness of our work. We will pursue in earnest our strategy to mobilize resources. At the same time, we will continue to appeal to you to enhance the levels of your contributions to match the escalating needs of Palestine refugees.

In conclusion, allow me to underscore the unquestionable importance of the Advisory Commission’s role to the present and future work of UNRWA. We have made admirable progress along the path of enhancing the Commission’s relevance to programme delivery and its ability to exert a positive influence on UNRWA’s management. There is, however, still some way to go before this Commission attains its full potential as a model of constructive, mutually beneficial collaboration between a forward-looking humanitarian and human development agency and its multilateral advisory body. Let us work together to consolidate the excellent progress we are making in that direction.

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