28 May 2014
of the 115th Session of the Programme Committee
and 154st Session of the Finance Committee
Chairpersons and Members of the Programme Committee and the Finance Committee,
Independent Chairperson of the Council,
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you today. My presence here is part of our effort to report back to you, Member Countries, on our ongoing work and to share key elements and challenges that we face in the road ahead. I believe this is the way to move forward, with a transparent dialogue that respects the red line that separates Guidance from Member Countries to Management by the Secretariat.
2014 is turning out as another busy year for all of us. We have just ended our Regional Conferences cycle that took us from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Santiago, Chile. We had very positive results. Your ministers actively engaged in the Regional Conferences. We were able to open more room for participation and debate and they appreciated this opportunity of a more hands-on approach to FAO’s work. I would like to emphasize the strong support we received to the transformational changes that we are implementing. All Regional Conferences gave a very clear message of commitment to the path on which we are, and of support to the strategic direction of the Organization, and to our decentralization efforts.
The Regional Conferences also welcomed our work at the regional, subregional and national levels and how we are translating the Programme of Work and Budget into concrete action. In particular, they supported and endorsed the 15 regional initiatives that were presented. They also noted and appreciated that the leadership of these initiatives and budget responsibilities are with the Regional Offices, supported by the Strategic Objective Teams and Headquarters as needed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Among the important items in the agenda of this Joint Meeting is the review of the Implementation Report of our 2012-2013 Program of Work and Budget. Without repeating what you have read in the report, I would like to highlight a few points that I think are relevant not only for the last biennium but for our ongoing and future work.
My first point is that I would like to recognize the work of FAO staff. This is a true team effort and thanks to this team effort, FAO has pulled together to make the transition to a new way of working a reality. We implemented the PWB together, with the involvement and commitment of staff at Headquarters and the Decentralized Offices. We are not only are implementing as a team, but are also discussing the work and budget together. I am participating as much as possible, at different levels. So, besides the regular senior manager meetings I have also met with all Strategic Objective Teams and Technical Departments. This week, I am having videoconferences with all our Regional teams.
As I said, staff were very much involved in all steps of the work planning that includes the discussion on the budget we need to deliver. That brings me to my second point: the budget, and budget cuts. It seems as if we never stop having to deal with this situation. As the Portuguese expression goes, it is as if we were trying to dry a block of ice. It does not matter how much we try, it always stays wet.
You will recall that, over the years we are constantly being asked by Members to cut the budget and find additional savings. The result is that the real value of the FAO budget has decreased nearly 30 percent in the last 20 years. It also seems that when we finish an exercise, we are asked to start over again and find new savings.
Of course, we recover part of this lack of resources through extra-budgetary contributions. This works in some cases, but not in all of them. And at the same time that we have to find savings, we are asked to do more and more.
On our part, I want to assure you that we will not relax on our commitment to deliver best value for money. But if the tendency of cuts and savings continues, it will eventually have a negative impact in the support we offer to Members and I know none of us wants that to happen.
It will affect our support to Members for one simple reason: as you know, about 75% of FAO’s budget refers to staff costs. So, budget cuts mean the abolition of posts. And in a knowledge organization such as FAO, our biggest asset is staff.
In 2012-2013 and our current biennium we are being able to find the requested savings while preserving and fully delivering on the agreed Programme of Work. We did this by taking a hard look at how we could find efficiencies in the administrative side of the Organization. Much of them were found thanks to the introduction of new tools such as the Global Resources Management System (GRMS), but it led to the abolition of many posts and that was not an easy process.
I will not say that there are no more further efficiencies that can be found. There always is and we will continue looking for them. However, while it is true that you can always find something more to cut, please bear in mind that those cuts have very high costs and ultimately add little value.
FAO cannot solve this equation on its own because most of the additional savings that may still to be found do not fall under my responsibility. They fall under your responsibility: you are the members of the United Nations General Assembly which considers the recommendations of the International Civil Service Commission, in New York, that sets the rules UN organizations must follow. As we had agreed to before, to do more internally FAO needs your support: we need you to send a clear message to the ICSC and the UNGA.
Allow me also to update you on the implementation of the 2014-2015 Programme of Work and Budget and on what we are working to do now.
The first point that I want to make is that we are fully concentrated in delivering the programme of work. The planning phase is over and it is time to transform what we put on paper into reality to make a difference at the regional, subregional and national levels. That is where our focus is.
This is learning by doing. As you know, we delivered our previous PWB at the same that time we shifted to a new way of working. These were not two separate processes. They informed, supported and reinforced each other. An example of this was the regional initiatives we piloted in 2013. The lessons learned will help us deliver the current PWB.
We have learnt a lot and will continue learning and adjusting as needed to deliver the results we have agreed to. That is the big shift that we have made: focusing on results defined in a corporate programme. In previous budget exercises we would detail the budget allocations to organizational units, on how much they could spend on missions, hiring consultants and so on. That is not there anymore: our budget defines the results we need to achieve and resources are allocated accordingly.
That is the change in our working culture: we want to see results. This brings me to my second point. We can only truly aspire to have the results if we have the means to identify problems and adjust to them as we are working. So we are trying to strengthen the internal monitoring and evaluation of our ongoing activities. The way it is now, we receive ex-post Evaluation and Audit reports. This gives us useful information for future work, but at that stage the specific project evaluated has already ended and the resources have been spent.
Real time monitoring and evaluation will give us feedback while there is still time to make adjustments to ongoing action. This is a new culture we are implementing. It is not easy but we need to deliver best value for money.
My third point refers to decentralization. We have made important advances and received the confirmation of the continued support of Members. We are now giving special attention to how to increase the engagement with Middle Income Countries. Over the past years many countries have made the transition from lower to middle income. These are countries that are recipient of FAO support but also have a growing interest in South-South Cooperation. Where there is interest, we are working with the governments of these countries to incorporate a liaison function into FAO national offices.
My fourth point has to do with FAO coverage. This is a sensitive issue that was purposefully left out of the FAO Reform process. It is, however, an issue that we cannot ignore. There is, for instance, the need to improve FAO’s coverage in the South Pacific and in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The Small Island Developing States in the South Pacific are especially vulnerable to climate change and have requested increased FAO support. FAO has a lot to contribute, be it in food safety, adaptation to climate change or promoting the efficient and sustainable uses of marine resources. Meanwhile, Eastern European and Central Asian are asking our support to transition to a more modern, efficient and sustainable agriculture. We need to find ways to respond to these needs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to end by emphasizing again how much I value the rebuilt trust between FAO Member States and the Secretariat based on an understanding of our different and complementary responsibilities in providing guidance and in managing the Organization’s work.
I would also like to emphasize that FAO staff members are all international civil servants and I ask you to respect that. At the same time, I want to reaffirm my commitment to improve geographic distribution and the presence of women among our staff.
Finally, let me thank you, again, for your ongoing support. In particular, let me thank the Independent Chairperson of the Council and all Permanent Representatives for their involvement in the preparation of Regional Conferences and their participation in these meetings.
Thank you for your attention.