Director-General prepares a “road-map to the future” for UNESCO Delegations
The Director-General held a special information session with permanent delegations on Thursday, 26, to bring them up to date on measures being taken to deal with the Organization’s current financial difficulties. The Director-General opened the meeting with a review of the savings that were made before the end of 2011. She then provided an overview of the changes that will be necessary to meet the challenges of 2012, as well as the deeper reforms being considered to improve the Organization’s performance and efficiency in the long term.
Irina Bokova told a packed room that in less than six weeks at the end of last year, “drastic” measures had been taken to absorb a deficit of $72m. This was accomplished by massively cutting expenditure and freeing resources. For example, some $4m was saved by cutting travel costs, with missions scheduled for December being reduced from 319 to 70. Temporary assistance was also slashed; only 160 of the 482 temporary contracts were renewed. Several activities were cancelled or deferred. And, finally, the Working Capital Fund was totally drawn to fill the remaining gap.
At the same time, the Multi-Donor Emergency Fund was launched. To date, this fund has received more than $25 million dollars in contributions and several million more in pledges. Turkey, said the Director-General, was the latest Member State to contribute to this Fund, with a donation – announced this morning – of $5m. Some $30,000 has been given in individual donations. Ms Bokova warmly thanked all those who had shown their solidarity with UNESCO.
As for the biennium now opening, the Director-General stressed that the suspension of funding from the U.S. and Israel left the Organization with a much reduced budget of $465m from a planned budget of $653m. Achieving the Organization’s goals during the 2012-2013 with a financial cut of this magnitude would require a profound change in the way we work, she said.
To this end, the Director- General is preparing a roadmap that will be presented to the next meeting of the Executive Board beginning 27 February. This roadmap, she said, would be based on three core principles:
1) Focusing on programme delivery and safeguarding our leadership
2) Seeking cost savings as well as efficiency gains
3) Transforming the way we work to move from a culture of control to one of accountability
The roadmap will set out precise goals to be achieved over the short and medium term, along with an outline for their implementation by the end of 2012.
Feeding into this process, a Working Team on UNESCO Efficiency Initiatives has been established with the active participation of the Staff Associations. Some measures to generate immediate savings have already been identified and implemented such as ways to reduce travel costs; a 50% cut in publications; simplifying business processes, ensuring strict implementation of office space distribution norms and reviewing and renegotiating all commercial contractual arrangements. These measures alone should lead to estimated savings of $3.6m over the biennium.
The Director-General stressed that work plans would also need to reflect the reduced funding. To meet an overall cut of 29%, 75% of all vacant regular programme posts at HQ and in the field will be kept vacant; all activities foreseen in the first months of 2012 will be reviewed, with travel kept to a strict minimum, and all sectors and bureaus will be requested to mobilize extra-budgetary resources, including for statutory meetings.
Irina Bokova said she would approve work plans for the first three months, but will keep them under continuous review, adapting them as the situation evolves.
The Director-General told the delegations she would be seeking their active support for all of the efforts undertaken at the February meeting of the Executive Board and emphasized that ‘Solidarity must be our guide in all of this”.
Concluding the meeting, Irina Bokova said: “This moment is an opportunity to build a sharper Organization with greater impact, with better delivery, in tune with the ambitions of its mandate and in sync with the needs of the 21st century. Our goal must be this ‘UNESCO +’”.
Several delegations took the floor following the Director-General’s address, expressing their thanks and support for her efforts. They also raised a number of questions, notably concerning recruitment and the budget ratio of spending on staff to activities. Some suggested that vacant posts should be permanently shut down, and higher positions downgraded. Others proposed cutting expenses for governing bodies and statutory meetings, and restructuring programme sectors.