Statement by Mr. Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme (ExCom), Geneva, 26 June 2001
Mr Chairman, Distinguished Members and Observers of the Standing Committee,
It is a pleasure for me to be with you this morning and to address this Committee to convey some of my thoughts about the work of UNHCR, six months into my tenure as High Commissioner. Although my intervention here is about funding issues, I would like us all to realise that burden-sharing in relation to refugees is not only about financial resources. While the "cash donor countries" are very important - not only in financial terms but also because they are very active in resettlement and asylum - the reality is that the major burden of refugees is shouldered by countries other than the rich ones.
I would like to start by referring to the two letters I wrote to you, Mr Chairman, on the exercise I initiated soon after assuming office, referred to as Actions 1, 2 and 3. Through you, I communicated to ExCom the preliminary decisions we reached at the beginning of April, and at the end of May I informed you of the final decisions on the three Actions including budget proposals for 2002. I would like to pay tribute to the Government of Japan for having communicated to me in writing their views on the results of Action 1. I also thank others who have verbally shared their views on the matter.
To prepare a "serious" budget for 2002, I had to strike a balance between the minimum credible scale of UNHCR and a realistic estimate about what is fundable. It was not easy to strike that balance. From the perspective of the needs of the 21 million people of concern to UNHCR, one understands that billions of dollars per year are needed if we take into account the requirements of other partners who work with us, such as the World Food Programme.
However, given financial possibilities and constraints, it was imperative that UNHCR should prioritise. Therefore I defined the minimum workable operational framework for UNHCR, which is reflected in the budget proposal of US$ 828 million for 2002. I consider this to be the absolute minimum.
Now that we have taken decisions based on the three Actions, I can state that Action 1 has helped us to define Action 2. As I wrote to ExCom, Action 2 is reflected in the budgets for 2001 and 2002 partly by striving for more efficiency and partly by reducing some of the larger operations, in particular in South East Europe and Timor.
With the budget of US$ 828 million as presented now, there are certainly needs which will not be met. Even if I restrict myself to the perspective of cash donor countries, it is clear to me that some of those countries want UNHCR to do more. I have to say that this can only be possible if and when more funding is made available.
As the resources have to be found in the budget of donor countries, one cannot expect, from one day to another, a totally different level of funding. But, it must be possible, as I wrote in Action 3, to grow into a situation where the more generous countries continue to provide their high levels of contribution and the less generous countries gradually grow into a minimum level of support to my Office, more in line with their commitment to our work. I have suggested an amount of one dollar or one Euro per citizen.
Last year, ExCom approved a budget that proved to be beyond the funding possibilities. We cannot afford to repeat such an experience. This raises a fundamental question: who is responsible for ensuring that the annual budget is fully funded? ExCom? UNHCR? Donor countries?
According to the rules, ExCom should "authorise the High Commissioner to make appeals for funds, and to review at least annually the use of funds made available and programmes and projects being proposed or carried out by his Office". This is fine but it does not make clear who is accountable for a situation in which ExCom agrees to a budget, authorising the High Commissioner to proceed with his programmes, while there is a considerable lack of resources. At the same time, it is clear that ExCom Member States cannot take decisions over funding from donor countries.
What have we done in practical terms until now? We agree on the budget in October and then there is the Pledging Conference in November or December. This is far too late. I would like to explore the possibility whereby countries can give funding indications at the time of ExCom instead of December which is now the case. I would think that it must therefore be possible to have a more accurate assessment, during the forthcoming session of ExCom in October, about what will be fundable in 2002.
It is important to move the whole funding exercise to earlier in the year. If we do so, this will result in a more balanced ExCom meeting in October. The time between the end of ExCom and the end of the year can be used for bilateral discussions on funding - focusing on specifics.
I understand that donor countries have their own parliamentary procedures. It is therefore important to promote that, taking into account the rhythm of parliamentary/governmental decisions and procedures, UNHCR relates in such a way to donor countries that soft, informal commitments can be given before ExCom or made clear during ExCom. By "soft commitments", I mean that they are conditioned by parliamentary approval and final governmental decision. What we need is more than the valuable indications we receive from donor countries which allow us to make income projections. Those are useful, but they represent, if I may say, a speculative approach to the resourcing of our budget.
This is the background of the proposed decision during this Standing Committee which calls on Governments to allocate sufficient resources to UNHCR so that its mandate can be fulfilled; and which also calls on Governments to consider my proposals which I shared with the Chairman of the Executive Committee in April, in particular the proposal aiming at attaining normative - as opposed to current - levels of financial support to UNHCR.
I propose to improve our consultative process with donors in such a way that last year's situation, i.e. the approval of a non-fundable budget, will not occur anymore.
In this short intervention, I will refrain from speaking about the merits of the unified budget which includes what we have called Special Operations, or the proposal for the establishment of limited trust funds, as and when required. The Director of Communication and Information will address those important questions. I will also refrain from speaking about the good balance between earmarked and unearmarked funds. I do however want to emphasise the importance of a results oriented and performance driven budget. This will ensure that a credible budget will be submitted to ExCom. More needs may emerge after ExCom for which funding should be made available.
Finally, I want to stress the need to prevent a situation by which a lack of funds results in such a tight control of actual spending that the quality of our operations becomes too low. This was a serious problem last year and we cannot afford to see this happen again. In that connection, it is not only important that we have sufficient funds but it is also essential that we receive funds in time.
In conclusion, Mr Chairman, my pleas today, revolving around the all important question of funding, are that all donors give unequivocal financial support to UNHCR; that those who are currently the major donors of the Organisation continue their strong support, and that others gradually strive to higher levels, commensurate with their wealth and their moral obligations; that all donors announce their contributions, in a soft or firm manner, in time for the budgetary process to be meaningful; and that all donors provide the Office with their cash contributions early in the year so as to allow my Office to proceed with the smooth implementation of the programmes approved by ExCom.
I hope that the response to my pleas today will be a speedy, timely and adequate funding that will allow me as High Commissioner to accept - at the next ExCom meeting - the responsibility of implementing the programmes proposed by my office and approved by the Executive Committee.
Thank you, Mr Chairman.