Statement delivered by Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe at the Workshop on the IEE Report and South Africa’s Engagement Strategy with Rome based Food Agencies Organisation, Monday 9 June 2008, St Georges Hotel
Distinguished representatives of the UN Agencies
Programme Director Ms Nduli
Ladies and Gentleman
South Africa’s conviction remains that the multilateral system of global governance remains the only real hope for resolving the many challenges that face humanity today. South Africa’s approach is to work in the collective pursuit of global peace, stability and security, with the specific goal of creating and strengthening synergies between the work of the African Union and the United Nations. The agricultural sector is a key component in strengthening these synergies as well as in the development of Africa.
In September 2000, world leaders undertook in New York to meet the special needs of Africa, in an acknowledgement that the continent itself does not have sufficient resources to address all of the challenges facing it.
South Africa’s engagement in the UN, including its reform processes are guided by the belief that the United Nations serves three main purposes, to which equal weight and urgent attention must be given, namely to promote:
- Security; and
- Human rights, including the right to development.
South Africa believes that that the United Nations must ensure that each nation is sovereign and that one country’s sovereignty is as important as the next. This recognition of equal sovereignty ought to be the only determinant of power in its deliberating bodies. There can, therefore, be no inequities generated by "special" powers.
We further believe that without development there can be no security. The one will not be achieved without the other and neither is sustainable without the respect for human rights, which empowers individuals and communities.
Currently everybody agrees that the UN system should be reformed and since the late 1990's there have been many calls for this. However, there is little clarity or consensus about what reform might mean in practice. Both those who want the UN to play a greater role in world affairs and those who want its role confined to humanitarian work or otherwise reduced, use the term "UN reform" to refer to their ideas. The range of opinion extends from those who want to eliminate the UN entirely, to those who want to make it into a full-fledged world government.
There is a wide range of opinion in exactly how the UN should be reformed. Some NGO leaders aim for a more democratic UN, with greater openness and accountability; Technocrats seek more productivity and efficiency from the UN's staff; while Delegates in general favour reforms that conform to national interests and promote national power.
There however this broad consensus amongst the member states that the reform of this 60 year old organisation is necessary and desirable, indeed essential to its future.
The UN has a critical role to play in promoting international development co-operation for the successful realization of the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as outlined in the Millennium Declaration and the subsequent World Summit on Sustainable Development Outcome of 2005. Even though real progress has been difficult and often painfully slow, the MDGs have given us a valuable framework within which to strive and work towards global development. The UN and its specialised agencies are, therefore, indispensable partners in the development of the countries of the South as a whole. We believe, the UN system is indespensible to the realisation of an African Renaissance in support of an Africa-owned and Africa-led era of accelerated development.
It is with this in mind that South Africa's foreign policy objectives in respect of its engagement of the multilateral system, specifically the UN system, will remain firmly focussed on the following:
- The eradication of poverty and underdevelopment;
- The achievement for peace, security and stability;
- Restructuring institutions of global governance, which in turn will re-align the global balance of power;
- The fight against terrorism;
- The promotion of sustainable environmental practices; and
- Issues of democracy and good governance.
In view of these objectives, it is South Africa’s belief that more transparency and accountability in the work of the UN and its specialised agencies, such as the Rome-based food agencies, are needed in order to improve its capability to deliver. It is also necessary to achieve better implementation and more effective monitoring and evaluation of programs. Ensuring fair representation of geographical regions and gender balance at senior level positions is also important. Too few developing countries are represented at senior levels. In fact, from 2002 to 2006 the number of staff from developing countries has constantly decreased. At senior level, 40% of the staff come from developing countries against 49% from developed countries. This trend is not acceptable since developing countries constitute 77% of the UN membership. Apart from geographic representation the UN system as a whole, but specifically the Food and Agricultural Organisation is notorious for having very few women in senior management positions.
It is our contention that these factors are an important part of the transformation of the system and will contribute to ensuring that the development agenda of the South is the focus; that the MDG’s are attained and a multilateral system is developed that is transparent, representative and just.
This workshop will however focus less on the broader issues of UN reform, but will specifically look at South Africa’s co-ordinated strategic engagement of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations’ reform process and the other Rome based food agencies. I would, therefore, like to briefly turn our attention to the FAO reform process.
Given the importance that South Africa attaches to the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and therefore to the Co-ordinated African Agricultural Development Plan (CAADP) as one of the cornerstones of NEPAD, aimed at enabling economic development through agricultural infrastructure and market development and increasing technology access, it is most appropriate that our country takes an active part in the Organisation’s reform process. It is not only the economic development of Africa that could potentially be affected by such reform processes, but implications for our future engagements with the FAO. Amongst other things, cost recovery on Technical Co-operation Programmes (TCP’s), proposed changes on Committees and Finance, Membership fees and governance issues could affect the way developing countries interact in future with the FAO.
As regards the financial state of the agency, South Africa remains concerned at the deteriorating financial condition of the FAO due to Member States’ defaulting and has emphasised in the past the need on the part of developing countries to honour their financial and other commitments to the Organisation to ensure it’s continued and sustained fulfilment of its mandate.
Further to this, the global environment influencing the production of and access to food has changed significantly over the years. This has necessitated that food agencies like the FAO constantly review their intervention strategies in order to bring about practical outcomes. So, the revision of the Organisation’s strategic plan is critical in ensuring that the FAO responds adequately to the global challenges. It is therefore important that South Africa’s engagement with the FAO reform ensures that the proposed new strategic plan does contribute to the achievement of the all-important goals enunciated in the 1999 Strategic Framework, which complement the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of fighting poverty and hunger, especially in the developing world.
It is also important that the FAO retain its significant global role, as a convenor, a facilitator and a point of departure on issues of food security. Its strategic objective must be to rebuild an authoritative and effective voice on behalf of the rural people, the hungry and all those who can benefit from agriculture playing its role in the economy. However simultaneously strong links and institutional relationships with other global bodies should be maintained. In view of this it will be critical that any possible re-orientations or alignment of the governance structures of these bodies will have to be carefully managed, so that the voice of the developing world is not diminished and developing countries are fairly represented.
We should not forget nor underestimate the challenges facing us. Unfortunately, increasingly the trend seems to be that developed countries are seeking to narrow the wider development work of the UN and its specialised agencies and to align their governance and decision making processes with the Bretton Woods Institutions. Should this manifest throughout the UN reform process, it will hold serious consequences in respect of transparency, representativity and democratisation of the UN and its specialised agencies. While fully supporting the idea of saving resources, it is important that all reforms are needs driven and not donor-driven driven as mere cost-cutting exercises. Some developed countries would seem to favour a donor driven reform process, not necessarily taking the needs of the South as a whole into account. Again, if the reform process is watered-down to a mere cost cutting exercise, the dire implications for the South and its attainment of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) is clear.
I wish to leave you with this thought as you are to consider South Africa’s co-ordinated engagement policy, not only on the FAO reform process, but also on our future engagement with the other Rome-based institutions. Remember that the developmental agenda is broader than just the MDGs. I should therefore remind ourselves that the MDG’s are the minimum and can, therefore, only compliment but never replace the UN’s larger agenda for development.
The Evaluation that you will be considering during this workshop attempts to answer the questions:
- Does the world need the FAO? and
- Does the FAO need to change to be fit for its purposes and challenges in this 21st century?
I believe the short answer to both these questions is “yes” – your task will be to answer “how”?
I wish you good luck in your deliberations. We will watch with interest the outcomes of these discussions.