ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
IMPLEMENTATION OF COMMISSION RESOLUTION 53/1 ON RESTRUCTURING THE CONFERENCE STRUCTURE OF THE COMMISSION
(Item 6 of the provisional agenda)
Report of the Executive Secretary
1. The Commission, through its resolution 53/1 of 30 April 1997, decided to reorganize its conference structure. The revised structure of the Commission comprises five committees and two special bodies, meeting at the intervals and for the maximum durations indicated below:
Table 1. The new conference structure of the Commission
Together with the rationalization of the conference structure, the Commission decided to streamline the committee, subprogramme and organizational structures along thematic lines. The specific reform measures implemented and their effects on individual committees, subprogrammes and organization units of the secretariat are noted below.
I. Implementation of resolution 53/1 and its impacts
A. Committees and subprogrammes
2. Congruence between the legislative and programme structures and the internal reorganization of the secretariat was achieved at the beginning of 2000. As two subprogrammes, regional economic cooperation: trade and investment and regional economic cooperation: industry and technology have been merged into one subprogramme, two divisions within the secretariat, International trade and economic cooperation and Industry and technology have been merged into the International Trade and Industry Division, effective January 2000. The Population Division and the Rural and Urban Development Division within the secretariat were merged into the Population and Rural and Urban Development Division in 1998. The new programme structure of the Commission, its legislative committees and its corresponding divisions within the secretariat, effective from the 2000-2001 biennium are shown in table 2.
Table 2. Legislative committees, subprogrammes and Divisions
3. In response to an evaluation questionnaire circulated by the secretariat, most delegations expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the fifty-fifth session of the Commission. The duration of the session was felt to be appropriate and the quality of the support provided by the secretariat was deemed to be at least very good by most heads of delegation. The session was also considered to have been effective in providing a regional forum to discuss and decide upon important issues concerning economic and social development in the region.
4. Since the adoption of resolution 53/1 on 30 April 1997, the Committee for Regional Economic Cooperation has met once, in March 1999, and its Steering Group has met twice, in September 1998 and September 1999. The thematic approach has acquired greater coherence following the integration of two subprogrammes and, correspondingly, two divisions, into one, as noted in paragraph 2 above.
5. It is clear that the Committee and its Steering Group provide a useful forum for discussing important issues and developments in the region in the areas of trade, investment, technology flows and industrial restructuring. The discussions on economic recovery in the region at the meeting of the Steering Group, held at Bangkok in September 1999, were particularly enlightening. It is noted that the meetings were attended mainly by local representatives of member Governments which, to some extent, reduced the usefulness of the two bodies. In order to make the meetings more interactive in the future, presentation of case studies and panel discussions may need to be intensified.
6. The Committee on Socio-economic Measures to Alleviate Poverty in Urban and Rural Areas deals with a wide range of issues, including population, social development, women in development, human resources development, rural development and urbanization. The Committee has become an important regional forum for sharing information and experiences, synthesizing ideas and initiating action on poverty alleviation in the region.
7. However, the broad coverage of the Committee, which also encompasses the activities of two divisions of the secretariat, is partly responsible for less focused discussions at sessions of the Committee. This could account for the lack of full participation of the member countries at the Committee, as observed during its last session, held at Bangkok from 1 to 3 December 1999. Only about one third of members and associate members of ESCAP attended that session, and many of them were represented by their missions in Bangkok. As the Committee covers two subprogrammes, the agenda of its annual sessions could alternate between the two subprogrammes so that more focused discussions could be held in the future. In addition, advance planning of Committee sessions, including agendas, would facilitate preparations.
8. The thematic approach has generally been adhered to in the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Development. In addition to the Environment and Natural Resources Development Division, other Divisions have been involved in the preparations for Committee meetings. It is noted that conformity among conference, subprogrammes and organization of the secretariat has simplified the reporting on and monitoring of the programmes of work.
9. The duration of meetings of the Committee has been shortened, as mandated by resolution 53/1. This has affected the depth of discussion of the issues, which may account for the declining representation from capitals of member countries over the past two years.
10. Some changes within the secretariat to improve efficiency and effectiveness in implementation have also been initiated. The Water Resources and Mineral Resources Sections have been merged into the Water and Mineral Resources Section within the Environment and Natural Resources Development Division; the number of publications has been reduced from 63 in the biennium 1998-1999 to 55 in the biennium 2000-2001; and training activities have been emphasized.
11. The Committee on Transport, Communications, Tourism and Infrastructure Development, which meets annually, has agreed on the subject matters to be discussed at each of its sessions. In even years, matters related to water transport, including ports, shipping, inland waterways, dredging, multimodal transport, freight forwarding and tourism are to be considered; and in odd years land transport, including roads, railways and other infrastructure, is to be discussed. The first of the odd-year discussions took place in 1999.
12. Since the adoption of resolution 53/1, the Committee has met twice, in 1998 and 1999, back-to-back with the Regional Inter-agency Committee for Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee on Infrastructure Development. This arrangement enables participants to attend both meetings. A panel discussion has been introduced. Perhaps for these reasons, the meetings were well attended, by representatives of member countries, most of whom came from their capitals, and by representatives from international organizations and non-governmental organizations.
13. The new terms of reference of the Committee, as mandated by resolution 53/1, are more clearly defined and responsive to the needs of the region. The new committee structure has enhanced the ability of the secretariat to respond to the issues addressed in the New Delhi Action Plan on Infrastructure Development in Asia and the Pacific, which was adopted by the Commission in its resolution 51/8 of 1 May 1995. The Committee has also played a crucial role in strengthening cooperation and collaboration between the secretariat and other bodies and agencies of the United Nations, financial institutions, intergovernmental and non-governmental, and private-sector organizations. Such collaboration has contributed towards greater complementarity in the implementation of projects and activities, particularly within the framework of the Regional Inter-agency Committee for Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee on Infrastructure Development.
14. Shortening the meeting has also reduced discussions on items relating to the programme of work to a minimum. More time during the Committee session is allocated for substantive issues. Most delegates who responded to the evaluation questionnaire indicated that the agenda, relevance and duration of the Committee meeting were satisfactory.
15. The Committee on Statistics, with the duration of the session reduced to three days, is likely to concentrate on strategic issues. There was a widespread feeling among its members that the three-day duration was far too short; others felt that it could be sufficient, provided that the agenda focused on a small number of substantive issues.
16. At its twelfth session in 2000, the Committee is to discuss the improvement of its organization, to evaluate the number of days required to conduct its business effectively and to report to the Commission if the members feel that the three-day format is unworkable.
17. The two special bodies meet biennially back-to-back with the Commission session. The meetings of the Special Body on Least Developed and Landlocked Developing Countries alternate year by year with the meetings of the Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries. The revised conference structure does not seem to have affected the impact and effectiveness of the special bodies. In fact, there have been efficiency gains, in that each of them only meets once in two years and focuses on specific issues.
18. The back-to-back arrangement of the sessions of the special bodies enables participants, especially from the Pacific island countries, where transportation costs are prohibitive, to attend the Special Body and the Commission sessions within a single trip.
19. Participants from member countries also benefit from the informal meetings they have with the Executive Secretary, and have expressed their preference for the informal meetings to be continued.
20. The thematic approach has necessitated inter-Divisional collaboration within the secretariat. Although the main responsibility for servicing the committees rests with the respective Divisions within the secretariat, the inter-disciplinary nature of the agendas of the committees calls for contributions from other Divisions. Successful examples abound. For instance, the discussion on economic recovery in the region at the meeting of the Steering Group of the Committee for Regional Economic Cooperation in September 1999, for which the International Trade and Economic Cooperation Division has primary servicing responsibility, has benefited from the contributions of the Development Research and Policy Analysis Division. The latter division also contributed to the last meeting of the Committee on Socio-economic Measures to Alleviate Poverty in Rural and Urban Areas, in December 1999, as well as to the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Development on the implementation of the project on integrating environmental considerations into economic decision-making. The (former) Industry and Technology Division has provided a background document to the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Development on the transfer and adoption of environmentally sound technology.
B. Other meetings
21. Other meetings organized by the secretariat have also been reduced and restructured.
(a) Ad hoc ministerial meetings
The resolution mandated that only one such meeting should be held per year, with the prior approval of the Commission.
(b) Ad hoc intergovernmental meetings
The resolution mandated that no more than five such intergovernmental meetings may be held during a calendar year; the prior approval of the Commission is required and the total duration should not exceed twenty-five days. The two ad hoc intergovernmental meetings held in 1999 were the following:
C. Coordination at the regional level
22. The Second Regional Coordination Meeting was held in Bangkok on 25 April 2000. The report of the Meeting is attached as an annex for the information of the Commission.
D. Future course of action
23. In anticipation of the comprehensive review of the implementation of resolution 53/1 to be undertaken at its fifty-eighth session in 2002, the Commission may wish to consider the desirability of convening an ad hoc intergovernmental meeting next year or in early 2002, to facilitate the Commission's deliberations on the subject. The Commission's views and guidance on this, as well as on other issues raised in the present document would enable the secretariat to continue to devote attention to the reform agenda.
REPORT ON THE SECOND REGIONAL COORDINATION MEETING
FOR THE ESCAP REGION
(Bangkok, 25 April 2000)
1. The Second Regional Coordination Meeting was held at Bangkok on 25 April 2000. The Meeting was chaired by the Executive Secretary of ESCAP on behalf of the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and was attended by eighteen United Nations bodies and specialized agencies.
2. In his opening remarks, the Executive Secretary welcomed the United Nations agency heads and drew their attention to Economic and Social Council resolution 1998/46 of 31 July 1998 on further measures for the restructuring and revitalization of the United Nations in the economic, social and related fields. Annex III, para. 13 of that resolution highlights the efforts of the Secretary-General to improve the coordination of the United Nations system, including his proposal for yearly meetings, to be chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General in each geographical area, of the relevant entities of the United Nations system engaged in regional and intercountry activities. He emphasized that these meetings should be cost-effective and build on already existing regional coordination mechanisms and should focus on specific issues. He noted that the outcome of the Regional Coordination Meeting would be reported to the Council through the respective intergovernmental bodies of the regional commissions .
3. The first part of the Meeting was devoted to the follow-up action to the first Regional Coordination Meeting, held at Bangkok on 2 June 1999. Some of the chairpersons of the subcommittees of the Regional Inter-agency Committee for Asia and the Pacific (RICAP) reported on the collaborative work they had undertaken on specific issues. The subcommittees on Disability-related Concerns, HIV/AIDS, and Poverty Alleviation had made considerable progress. Ten of the 14 subcommittees had met during 1999. It was observed that besides the work of respective subcommittees, United Nations agencies continued to collaborate with each other either through working groups or on an ad hoc basis, in the areas of gender, food security, education for all, the trafficking of women, drug control, and so forth. There was also greater interaction in the implementation of programmes with non-governmental organizations, civil society and the private sector.
4. In the second part of the Meeting, discussions were held on priority areas in the light of the global conferences which had been held and the review and appraisal meetings planned to be held in the months following the Meeting. The Meeting identified nine advocacy or work agendas, namely, (a) gender-related issues, (b) the trafficking of women and children, (c) environment and development, (d) HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, (e) disability-related concerns,
(f) poverty alleviation, rural development and food security, (g) drug control and two more areas relating to (h) human rights and governance and (i) social safety nets.
5. The third part of the Meeting concentrated on a review of the committee structure of RICAP. The following decisions were taken:
(a) To abolish RICAP and replace it with the Regional Coordination Meeting.
(b) To abolish the 14 RICAP subcommittees and set up nine thematic working groups, in line with the advocacy or work agendas. This would not, however, preclude the possibility of collaboration between agencies in other areas.
(c) To arrange for the technical support to thematic working groups to be provided by the respective designated lead agencies.
(d) The terms of reference of thematic working groups will be time-defined for a period of 18-24 months, with a sunset clause, and should be results-based and target-oriented.
6. The fourth part of the Meeting considered possible working arrangements under the Regional Coordination Meeting. It arrived at the following decisions:
(a) Given that the Regional Coordination Meeting takes place annually, Heads of Agency meetings will be held on a quarterly basis, in order to oversee the collaborative process and to modify arrangements as may become necessary and appropriate.
(b) There will be three Heads of Agency meetings and the fourth meeting each year will be considered the Regional Coordination Meeting.
(c) The thematic working groups will report to the Heads of Agency meetings.
(d) The Heads of Agency meetings will ensure that issues of administrative coordination will be addressed by means of a Committee on Administrative Management and Services, as well as by a Committee on Management of the United Nations Building.
7. The Chairman, summarizing the decisions of the Meeting, stated in conclusion that:
(a) The Regional Coordination Meeting mechanism, revolving around the quarterly Heads of Agency meeting, would be flexible in order to be able to address ad hoc issues and be an effective means of coordination.
(b) The thematic working groups should deal with specific issues and be target-oriented, with appropriate sunset clause provisions.
(c) The Regional Coordination Meeting would ideally focus on collaboration at the subregional level.
8. The secretariat of ESCAP would continue to serve the Regional Coordination Meeting and would be responsible for follow-up and reporting on its decisions.