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Notes for the Opening Remarks by Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the First Meeting of the Ad Hoc Review Group on the Role and Structure of UNHCR, 6 February 1990

Speeches and statements

Notes for the Opening Remarks by Mr. Thorvald Stoltenberg, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the First Meeting of the Ad Hoc Review Group on the Role and Structure of UNHCR, 6 February 1990

6 February 1990

1. UNHCR has been the subject of many previous organizational reviews but none has resulted in a satisfactory and stable structure. Frequent changes in organisation have brought more problems than solutions. I have therefore given first priority to a clear definition of the role of the Office and the establishment of an effective and efficient organizational structure for the foreseeable future.

If we are to regain our credibility with the international community, it is essential that this be done as soon as possible. I have therefore set a deadline for the completion of the current review by early March.

2. In past years, a number of reviews been entrusted to external advisory bodies (such as the Administrative Management Service of the United Nations, in New York) or even to private management consultants. The process has been lengthy and often unsatisfactory and expensive, particularly where private consultants were involved. In have therefore decided on an internal review, with every member of the review body, a staff member or in the case of the Chairman, a former staff member of UNHCR.

This means that I am entrusting you, my own staff, to advise me wisely, objectively and impartially on the role and structure of my Office. I am confident that you will not let me down.

3. This means, however, that each of you must approach the task with no consideration other than the best interests of UNHCR in mind. You are here to advise the High Commissioner and the High Commissioner alone. You are not here as representatives of the sectoral interests of any Division, Bureau, Service or other group. You are not responsible to your superiors in office or to other colleagues, but only to me. Please adhere strictly to this principle so that the compete integrity of the review exercise is preserved.

It follows also that your deliberations and conclusion must be strictly confidential. Your terms of reference require you to conduct your meetings in private and everything which takes place at those meetings must be private too. I naturally expect you not to talk to outsiders about your progress, particularly to diplomatic missions or the press. BUT colleagues will also ask "how are you getting on?" "which units do you think would be abolished?" and other questions of that kind. I rely on you to say nothing even after you have completed and submitted your report. There must be no leaks - the High Commissioner alone will decide what is to be released, to whom and when. If there are leaks, I shall hear about them. I shall know that the confidence I placed in my staff was not deserved and I will be obliged to take action as a result.

4. Your timetable is very short. I cannot help that - the need is urgent. But it means that you should not waste time on small points of detail that can be filled in later or on minor questions of drafting. Please try to give me clear and straightforward recommendations and the reasons for them. Do not get bogged down on trivia and, if you cannot resolve an issue, put it aside for the time being and on to the next. It may sort itself out or be easier the next time round!

If you really cannot resolve a particular issue, then and only then you may give me options with the pros and cons of each. But you need not try to solve every issue by consensus - I do not want the lowest common denominator of agreement which is usually not the best solution but simply the one which offends the least number of people. If you cannot all agree, then give the recommendation of the majority and state the minority view.

5. Always bear in mind that your concern is with the role and structure of UNHCR, not with the position of individuals within the structure. Firmly exclude all personality issues from your minds. Equally, while you are not asked to take projected staffing levels and numbers into account, you are not asked to propose in detail how the structure should be staffed. That is an exercise to be undertaken once the structure is agreed.

6. I have not said much about the role of the Office and how it should be re-examined. Obviously, you will want to deal with this first before you go on to the structure but, again, do not get bogged down. Months could be spent philosophising abut the role of the Office; I am most concerned with what in my memorandum of 30 January if have called "current worldwide realties" and with what, in the light of those realities and constraints, UNHCR should or should not be doing. Have we become over-stretched in some areas or neglectful in others? Is the division of responsibility between us and other agencies clearly drawn? When does our mandate end and theirs begin? It is these practical issues that I want you to address, not the meaning of this or that phrase in a Resolution or report.

7. I think that is all I need to say at this stage, except to reiterate my confidence in you and my thanks to you all for taking on this task in addition to your regular duties. I know you will do your very best - it is vital tour credibility that we do this job now and do it well. If you wish to see me at any time for guidance on any aspect of your terms of reference, then let me know. You have my full support at all times and my confidence that you will succeed.