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Review of UNHCR's Budget Structure

Executive Committee Meetings

Review of UNHCR's Budget Structure

7 February 2000


1. In 1999, UNHCR presented for the first time a unified annual programme budget for the year 2000 (A/AC.96/916 and Add.1), approved by the Executive Committee at its 50th session. The move to a consolidated annual programme budget had been recommended in 1998 by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (A/AC.96/900/Add.3), and approved by the Executive Committee.

2. The structure of the annual budget document in its new format has been the subject of discussions within the Standing Committee, both in informal consultations and at its fourteenth meeting (A/AC.96/913 paras. 28-32). Preliminary comments were made by the ACABQ in February 1999 (A/AC.96/900 Add.4, para. 3), based on a prototype, and led to a decision by the Standing Committee at its fifteenth meeting (A/AC.96/924 paras. 43-47). The ACABQ then made more specific comments in September 1999, based on the annual programme budget for 2000, which were submitted to the 50th session of the Executive Committee. The relevant extract (A/AC.96/916/Add.2, paras. 3 and 4) is attached in Annex for easy reference.

3. The main recommendations of the ACABQ concerned the size of the document, which it suggested could be reduced, for example by:

  • Decreasing the amount of detailed information provided in the chapters on regional operations, using the Global Appeal and other suitable channels for this purpose;
  • Eliminating many of the tables and narratives on programme categories that are no longer relevant under the unified budget approach;
  • Avoiding the issue of an addendum by extending the date of information and data beyond 31 May.

4. A number of other factors are of relevance to this review:

  • The importance for UNHCR of decisions on structure and contents before beginning its preparation of the annual programme budget for the coming year;
  • Continued efforts to ensure linkages while avoiding overlaps between related programme documents (Annual Programme Budget; Global Appeal, Global Report and Mid-Year Progress Report);
  • Continued efforts to achieve harmonized presentation of administrative support costs, in line with those of UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF;
  • The somewhat exceptional requirement faced by UNHCR of presenting a comprehensive programme budget, on an annual basis, combining programme and support costs. The examples of other agencies1 illustrate how these requirements can vary in frequency and content.

5. The proposed changes defined below are based on the ACABQ recommendations, taking account of these factors.


(a) Structure of Annual Programme Budget

6. For the 2001 unified Annual Programme Budget, UNHCR will present in one budget document both the programme budgets and the support budget. This document will consist of 3 parts:

I. Budget Summary, "rolling-up" the programme budgets and the support budget (programme support costs; management and administration costs) for the year 2001, giving a global picture of budgetary requirements;

II. Regional and Global Programmes Budgets.

III. Programme Support Budget;

(b) Length of Annual Programme Budget

7. The overall budget document for the year 2001 will be some 145 pages in length: Budget Summary (25 pages); Regional and Global Operations (60 pages); and Support Budget (60 pages). To achieve this significant reduction, sections of the budget dealing with regional and global operations will be reduced from some 280 pages to 60 pages.

8. In its comments on the budget presentation, the ACABQ commented on the length of the section dealing with "Regional Operations". For the year 2000, 245 pages (including 40 pages of tables dealing with support budgets) were devoted to 35 major programmes over the 8 geographical regions, with a further 40 pages covering "Global Operations". However, since UNHCR has some 110 country programmes throughout the world, the narrative coverage of these programmes could still be said to be selective and incomplete. The issue is not whether UNHCR's programmes should be clearly articulated through a statement of goals, objectives and indicators but how much of this information should be put in the Annual Programme Budget. In addressing this issue, other programme-related documentation recently introduced for the benefit of the Members of the Executive Committee needs to be taken into account.

(c) Content of Annual Programme Budget

9. Part II of the 2001 Annual Programme Budget (regional and global operations) will briefly describe the major programmatic issues in each of the eight geographical regions covered by the Bureaux, as well as the objectives established for each region. The narrative presentation will be supplemented by a table, giving the programme budget and the support budget for each country operation, as well as the number of posts included in each of these budgets per country. A summary presentation of key global operations will also be included in Part II.

10. Part III of the Annual Programme Budget (the support budget) will conform as closely as possible to the approach adopted by UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA, ensuring the use of a comparable presentation for the main issues and related tables and pie-charts.

11. Detailed information on all country operations (including goals, objectives, indicators etc.) are required from the field as part of the annual budget exercise. Initially this information will be placed on UNHCR's Intranet for management and information purposes. With the full introduction of the Operations Management System (OMS), it is envisaged that this information will be placed on the UNHCR external web site. In the meantime, descriptions of UNHCR's major programmes (including goals, objectives and indicators) will be made available on UNHCR's external web site. In the course of a year, a regular review of operations in the various regions will be undertaken by the Standing Committee in the context of the regional strategic presentations.

(d) Cut-off date

12. Given the streamlined approach to the presentation of the Annual Programme Budget for the year 2001, it will be possible to extend the cut-off date for data beyond the end of May. As recommended by the ACABQ, this should also obviate the need to issue an Addendum to the budget document on new situations.

Annex: Annual Programme Budget: 2000

Addendum 2 - Report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (A/AC.96/916/Add.2) (Extract)

"3. As previously noted in its report A/AC.96/900/Add.4, paragraph 3, budget documents should continue to be streamlined and improved in the light of the experience gained. Accordingly, the Committee recommends that in the next budget presentation greater attention be paid to ways and means of reducing the size of the document. This could be accomplished, for example, by a substantial reduction of Part II, which contains eight chapters on regional operations. In this connection, upon enquiry, the Committee was informed that a logical place for this information (but not in the detail that it was presented in the Annual Programme Budget) would be the UNHCR Global Appeal 2000; this document bases itself on the Annual Programme Budget in that it sets out to mobilize resources for the budget approved by the Executive Committee. The more detailed information, namely Outputs, Measurable Indicators, etc. could appear on UNHCR's Website where all its programmes for the year 2000 are described.

4. The Advisory Committee trusts that in future, with the introduction of new cost categories in UNHCR's support budget [...], the annual programme budget would do away with a large number of tables and narratives dealing with programme categories no longer relevant under the unified budget approach being followed. Furthermore, what could be inferred from the tables should not be repeated in the narratives. These narratives should be concise and more focused, and wherever possible, graphs and charts should be used in lieu of narratives. The reduction of the document by some two-thirds of its current volume would reduce its production cost and facilitate its review by the ACABQ and approval by the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme. Moreover, a smaller document produced to reflect information and data available as of a date later than 31 May might obviate the need for an addendum containing data as of 1 August."


1. For UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA, only the support budget is reviewed by ACABQ once every two years, presented as separate documents of some 60-80 pages. The country programme budgets of these agencies are normally considered once in a four-year period, each document (of some eight pages) covering a given country and related resource requirements. For example, the UNICEF Executive Board considers only a number of specific country programmes in a given year. This is done in two phases: at the first session of the Executive Board, Country Notes (3-5 pages each) are considered for 10-15 countries, setting out the proposed country programme strategy for each country. The Board's comments are then conveyed to the UNICEF country teams. Following discussions with relevant national authorities, the final programme document is prepared and submitted to the Executive Board in September of the same year for approval. As part of the United Nations reform initiatives, United Nations development agencies are attempting to synchronize their programme cycles; this means that in each of the governing bodies, the same set of country programmes are being considered in a given year.