Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 17 February 1983

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Meeting of Members of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), 17 February 1983

17 February 1983

Distinguished delegates, welcome.

We have come together here to discuss the recommendations made by the Administrative Management Service of the United Nations regarding the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Acting Chairman of the Executive Committee, Ambassador Ewerlöf, has asked me to convene this informal meeting. As he is not able to be here I should for practical reasons like to ask the Deputy High Commissioner to conduct our debates.

As you know, the initiative to undertake the AMS study followed the process of strengthening of the Management of UNHCR which was reviewed in the Executive Committee in October, 1981. As you will remember, the recommendation that UNHCR seek the assistance of the AMS originated with the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions[1] and was supported by the Executive Committee. I had hoped that their conclusions would be available in time for the formal session of the Executive Committee last October, 1982. Unfortunately, this was not the case. We have, therefore, been obliged to defer the exchange of views until now.

The Under-Secretary-General for Management of the United Nations, on behalf of the Secretary-General, informed me that I could not send to you any more of the report than the recommendations and a summary. Three weeks ago I sent you the recommendations, along with charts of the Office as now constituted and as recommended by the AMS. Last week, when we received the summary, we also sent that to you, and I should now like to make some preliminary comments - I say preliminary because I should like to listen to the views from the Committee members as you asked me to do - before I formulate my final comments.

I regard the AMS report and its recommendations as part of a long process of change in the Office. That change has been forced upon us by events beyond our control. The number of refugees and displaced persons of concern to UNHCR grew dramatically and the responsibilities of the Office expanded. The management methods appropriate to a small office could not be appropriate to a large one, and already now the Office of today is very different from what it was only a few years ago.

As one who has watched and helped the Office grow, I have been concerned for some time about improving the management. It was this that led me to recommend the strengthening that the Executive Committee approved in its meeting of October, 1981.

A number of structural changes have been introduced in the course of the last two to three years, four years even. In order to provide for a closer integration of Headquarters response to various activities in the field, the task of regional coordination has been entrusted to four Regional Bureaux. Within these Regional Bureaux a series of desk officers have been made the focal point for all activities in their area of the relation between the Branch Offices and field and the Bureaux and the Desks here. Co-operation with other agencies was strengthened through the appointment of an Inter-agency Co-ordinator. In an effort to improve our emergency response, an Emergency Unit was established. A Policy, Planning and Research Unit has been created in my Executive Office and a project evaluation function introduced. Programme and financial monitoring and control were reinforced through the creation of a Programme Management Bureau and Financial Services. The Personnel function was reorganized under a new Personnel Service. An Electronic Data Processing Unit was created to introduce new management tools.

In conjunction with these developments, we have reviewed and refined a wide range of our management methods. To ensure the proper functioning of the operational focal point, an internal operations manual has been issued. The Operations Manual provides the basis for the organizational relationships within Headquarters and between Headquarters and the Field Offices. A project management system providing for more rigorous programme and financial control has been introduced. An Emergency Handbook with detailed guidelines on emergency preparedness and response has been developed. The internal manual of administrative and financial procedures for field offices has been revised.

Nonetheless, I have been very conscious over the last year and a half that further changes in UNHCR should await the conclusion of the AMS report and our discussion of it. I therefore hope that we can use this report as a springboard from which we can expand the development of our management techniques and can make further changes needed to make our Office more efficient in assisting the refugees.

The AMS study concentrated on the organizational structure, the alignment of functions and staff resources, the decision making process, the delegation of authority, and the relationship between Headquarters and Field Offices. This is a quotation from the Summary and Recommendations you have received. In these areas, the AMS generally followed the three principles:

(a) A greater decentralization of responsibility and authority within Headquarters and Field Offices;

(b) Strengthening of planning, execution, control and evaluation of our programmes; and

(c) The reinforcement of co-operation with other organizations - within and outside the United Nations system - which are engaged in humanitarian activities. May I say, in this context, that when I was in New York only a few weeks ago I made it a point to meet the UNDP Administrator, Mr. Bradfor Morse, to review a number of topics of common concern, notably in the framework of the forthcoming Second International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa, ICARA II.

I firmly support the three objectives just described. As you know, a major purpose of the strengthening and of the new Rules of Procedure was exactly intended to provide for greater decentralization and for better execution, control and evaluation. At the same time, I am very conscious of the need to co-operate fully with other agencies.

Having said this, however, I need to utter a word of caution. The process of innovation must never hinder the exercise of the responsibilities of the Office. The Administrative management Service in their management review has come to the same conclusion. Thus, no major structural reorganization is proposed by the AMS.

Let me turn more specifically, I must say without going into details because that is not our job here but nevertheless more specifically to the Field, and to the Field-Headquarters relationship. Field Officers need to be able to function effectively in the administration of our Protection Activities and Assistance Programmes. They also, however, need to have the authority and the support from Headquarters that are often required to give effect to internationally mandated principles of protection of refugees. It is important to decentralize authority. But it is also important to be able to report fully to donors on the expenditures of their funds. Most of all, it is important to retain the flexibility that we need to respond quickly to developments almost anywhere in the world. Therefore, all management principles, even those we most warmly endorse, must be applied to our Office with a special understanding for its particular responsibilities and needs.

So, we see some limits and some reasons why a sufficiently strong Headquarters should remain. First of all and logically, to maintain basic policy and consistence. On this I should not elaborate; this is a normal role for a Headquarters. But also, UNHCR must constantly monitor the evolution of sometimes rapidly changing situations, so as to allocate adequate staff and programme resources in emergencies, and proceed with readjustments from one region and continent to the other as required. Fire-brigade operations, furthermore, may be easier and more rational to launch from Headquarters. New situations may arise, circumstances outside UNHCR's control may bring new problems, or pave the way for solutions, thus preventing long or even medium-term planning. This places UNHCR on the alert, and requires some built-in flexibility at universal level. This is up to Headquarters to ensure.

In protection matters, a strong set-up at Headquarters also appears necessary. The delicate nature of the function must permit carefully prepared interventions - whether of an urgent nature or not - in support of the field. Here, the weight, and the vantage point of Headquarters may be an important asset.

On the basis of these broad principles, let us now deliberate on how we can best proceed. The AMS report has been submitted to the Under-Secretary-General for Administration and Management for his consideration on behalf of the Secretary-General. I intend to inform the Under-Secretary of my stand regarding the various recommendations. In this respect, the expression of your views is extremely valuable to me.

With this in mind, I have divided the recommendations into two separate types.

(a) First, those recommendations for organizational changes and, where appropriate, for staffing adjustments growing out of those changes.

(b) Second, recommendations regarding our procedures and processes.

I intend to conduct a thorough review of the organizational proposals and staffing recommendations as soon as possible, in part through our own annual staffing review which begins next month. As part of that review, I shall look again at the positions that I proposed to the Executive Committee last October, the most urgent of which have been filled through temporary measures. I shall also welcome your comments.

When this review is finished, I shall then comment upon the results to the Under-Secretary for Management. I would hope to do this within the next few months, and of course, as usual, our staffing tables will be submitted in every single detail to the Executive Committee in October. I can tell you in advance that I believe that many of the AMS recommendations appear useful and may be incorporated into our structure after this review.

As for the AMS recommendations regarding procedures, I do not believe we need to wait so long. Many of them are well adapted to our particular circumstances. I plan, therefore, to begin implementing and applying them as soon as possible.

As I said earlier, we have already in this Office undertaken a wide range of management reforms over the last few years. The report has provided us with a thoughtful foundation on the basis of which we can proceed and it would be my intention to do so as quickly as possible.

I hope very much that we can use this discussion in order to accelerate the process that I have described and to be able to reach the best possible appraisal of the document before us, as well as with the best possible understanding of how it can be implemented. In this spirit, I would very much welcome your comments and suggestions.

[1] Ref. document A/AC.96/597 of 2 October 1981, paragraph 35.