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

UNRWA Commissioner-General’s Presentation to the Advisory Committee on Administrative & Budgetary Questions (ACABQ)

New York, 24 October 2007

Distinguished Chair and Members of the Committee:

Allow me to begin by expressing UNRWA’s appreciation for this opportunity to present our programme budget requirements for the biennium 2008 - 2009.

Over the past 59 years, the population of registered refugees in UNRWA’s five fields of operation, Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has grown to some 4.5 million, more than five times the number in 1948. The Palestine refugee issue is the most intractable the world has known, and given its intimate link with the geo-politics of the Middle East, is an issue with implications for global peace and security. Many of the refugees have become largely self-sufficient, but the majority continues to depend on UNRWA for essential education, health and relief services. My agency is also active in the construction and maintenance of infrastructure in 58 refugee camps and provides microfinance services to small businesses.

The scale of the task entrusted to us has grown dramatically over the past six decades, and with it, the nature of the challenge of achieving our mission. As the region has developed, refugee needs have inevitably grown more complex and sophisticated, compelling the agency to become more dynamic and more responsive to the demand for programmes of enhanced quality. These changing needs and plans for higher standards of service delivery are reflected in our biennial budgets and our Organizational Development Plan, which covers the three years to the end of 2009.

Amidst changing circumstances and growing needs, UNRWA’s humanitarian and human development vision, however, remains constant. It is for every refugee to be able to enjoy the best possible standards of human development consistent with international and regional standards, in consonance with those fundamental rights enshrined in the UN Charter and its Conventions, and in line with the Millennium Development Goals. Irrespective of the waxing and waning of prospects for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which must include a just and durable solution to the refugee question, it is our obligation as a UN agency charged with upholding the wellbeing of the refugees to aim at achieving these standards for our beneficiaries.

UNRWA’s strategic objectives for the coming biennium are thus to support the educational, health, social and economic development of the refugees and to provide targeted relief for the most vulnerable among them, particularly women, children and the disabled. Meeting these objectives requires an increased financial commitment on the part of the international community to improving the well-being of the refugees.

Allow me to outline briefly the main features of the 2008-9 budget.

Features of the 2008 – 2009 biennium budget

To meet the Agency’s goals, the recurrent activities of UNRWA over the 2008 – 2009 biennium have been budgeted at $1.09 billion. Subject to member states’ approval, the Agency has budgeted for an additional 20 international posts in this period. I will elaborate on this last point later in my presentation.

In terms of their financial weight, the main programmes remain as they have been for over a decade: education, health, relief and social services, and microfinance and micro-enterprise. Under our regular budget, the General Fund, education consumes 54 percent, health 19 percent, and relief and social services 9 percent. The microfinance programme supports itself from its own income, while the newly established infrastructure programme runs largely on donor funds earmarked for specific projects.

When required, the reallocation of scarce resources to meet new priorities is a feature of the Agency’s approach to management. The establishment in 2006 of the Department of Infrastructure and Camp Improvement is an example of this. Many of the 58 official refugee camps are badly overcrowded; their residents suffer from poor, or even non-existent, infrastructure essential for the enjoyment of minimum standards of living. In late 2006, an internal reorganization process clarified the urgent needs in this area, resulting in the creation of a department tasked with taking a comprehensive approach to the improvement of camp living conditions and promoting a healthy and sustainable environment for Palestine refugees.

The forthcoming biennium will be a critical period of transition for my agency. This is not least because the foundations will be laid for the introduction of a full-fledged Programme Management Cycle that will come into effect in 2010, and be linked to a five-year strategic plan. To enable this planning framework to take root, it is essential that the human and other resources we have requested are made available.

Among the many initiatives that will be taken during the biennium are the development of programme management systems, notably in the areas of information and communications technology and human resources development. In these areas, our strategic priorities are:

1. To maintain the level of service delivery achieved during the current biennium;
2. To plan key improvements without which the scope and quality of programming, services and facilities would be at risk of further deterioration;
3. To implement the Organizational Development initiatives planned under our management reform plan; and
4. To enhance results-based management through strengthening capacity for planning, monitoring and evaluation, at the HQ and field levels.

Our Organizational Development Plan is the vehicle that will deliver an extensive overhaul of UNRWA’s business processes and systems. Its expected outcome is a transformed approach to management at all levels, with a stronger emphasis on delegated authority, accountability and concrete results that will improve the lives and living conditions of Palestine refugees.

However, at this juncture I must say that the financial outlook for 2008 gives cause for much concern. Budgeted expenditure of $544.6 million compares with projections of donor income of $395.9 million, indicating a funding gap of $148.7 million. Given this unfavourable prognosis, we have adopted a contingency approach to programme planning and implementation. Some components of our planned activities will be put into operation only as funds become available in the course of the biennium.

Before moving on to our staffing requirements, I wish to quickly update this distinguished Committee on the implementation status of recommendations made to UNRWA by the UN Board of auditors in their 2005 report. From a total of 34 recommendations, one of which was subsequently withdrawn, 14 have been implemented while good progress is being made in the implementation of another 14. Of the five recommendations yet to be implemented, two are being addressed under our OD plan, while implementation has been initiated for a further two. We are preparing proposals to address the remaining recommendation that has not been implemented.

Distinguished Chair and Members of the Committee:

Allow me at this stage to turn attention to our staffing requirements.

Staffing requirements

UNRWA’s vital humanitarian and human development activities depend on the work of some 28,000 locally-recruited staff, many of whom have spent decades in the service of their fellow Palestinian refugees.

Managing a comprehensive process of reform is a painstaking and highly time-consuming task, the burden of which falls primarily on a very small complement of international staff. These staff, with their broad experience, are essential to the Agency’s capacity to manage its operations effectively and plan ahead. Nevertheless, and in spite of our efficient use of the UN regular budget, the challenge of managing an extensive reform process in the context of escalating refugee needs and a complex programmatic and security environment, has thrown into sharp relief the inadequacy of our current international staffing needs. Sudden changes of conditions on the ground, such as have taken place lately in Gaza and Lebanon, have created additional burdens for our already overtaxed international staff.

I need here to draw the Committee’s kind attention to UNRWA’s endeavors to meet its staffing requirements to the maximum possible through local expertise. The Agency is calling for international expertise only because it is satisfied that the posts required to attain our management reform goals require a breadth of experience that is best acquired through international recruitment.

As described in its current budget submission, the Agency has requested 20 new posts to build the required the organizational capacity necessary to implement the OD strategy. Bilateral donors are expected to fund the $28.5 million plan, albeit on the proviso that the additional financial requirements are mainstreamed into the UN regular budget as quickly as possible

In an effort to strike a balance between the ideal sought and the minimum required to carry out the management reform plan, UNRWA agreed with the Secretariat and its key bilateral donors to phase its request over two biennia, i.e. to seek 10 new posts in 2008 – 2009 and 10 thereafter. Two posts, at P-4 and P-3 – have already been included in the Secretary-General’s budget proposals for the coming biennium which you have kindly supported. The Agency thus still seeks the resources needed for an additional eight posts.

The additional posts required in the coming biennium will, inter alia, enable the agency to strengthen its human resources administration capacity; respond to cross-cutting requirements as in gender, age and disability initiatives; tighten links with key stakeholders; and improve the effectiveness of management across the agency. Half of the new posts are designed to reinforce the planning, monitoring, evaluation and lesson-learning capabilities in all five fields of operations. Further details relating to our request for the additional 20 posts are available.


In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, UNRWA hopes that its demonstrated success in promoting the human development and well being of the refugees for almost 60 years, coupled with the scale of the humanitarian burden it is obliged to carry in a troubled region, will elicit the support it requires from this Committee.

While UNRWA is used to making do with less than it needs, and is proud of its record as a highly cost-effective deliverer of essential services to needy, vulnerable people, the time has come for its management to be given the resources to enhance the agency’s efficiency and effectiveness. We therefore urge you to keep this in mind and to recognize in your report the ample justification for the additional posts we are seeking at this time.

My colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.

I thank you for your kind attention.

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