PC 92/6a) - FC 108/18-Sup.1

Programme Committee

Ninety-second Session

Rome, 27 September-1 October 2004

Independent Evaluation of FAO’s Decentralization

Preliminary Senior Management Response

Table of Contents


Overall Response

Annex: Response to Specific Recommendations


1. This response is prefixed “preliminary” as it has not been possible, in the time available since Management received the final report on 10 August 2004, to comprehensively address all of the complex issues raised. In several cases, Management sees a need to study certain aspects in further detail before arriving at a conclusion. In others, there is a need for time to carry out full consultations with the parties concerned. Management therefore envisages an ongoing process which will eventually lead to all of the many suggestions and recommendations being fully considered.

Overall Response

2. We commend the Independent Evaluation Team for the preparation of a comprehensive, frank, constructive and very useful review of FAO’s decentralization and thank them for their diligence and thoroughness in taking on such a complex, yet vitally important task. The report rightly stresses the significance of effective and efficient decentralization in meeting the priority needs of the majority of FAO’s member countries.

3. The evaluation report is replete with useful observations and helpful suggestions and well-reasoned recommendations for consideration by the Programme Committee and by the Organization itself. It is indeed a most valuable contribution towards the improvement of the Organization’s decentralization efforts.

4. An important common thread runs through the report: the need for unity and coherence among FAO programmes, starting from demand-driven country activities covering both policy and technical issues which are reflected in up-to-date country frameworks for action. The latter feed into regional programmes which in turn are integrated into global programmes and subsequently into priority-setting at all levels. Inherent in this is the need to recruit and retain the best qualified staff possible at the country, sub-regional and regional levels, and to support them with efficient IT infrastructure and administrative procedures. It follows that there is a need to facilitate constructive dialogue and exchange of information among them, as well as with other UN system and bilateral partners. We believe that the basic structures and elements for this are already in place, but we accept the views of the Evaluation Team that there is scope for strengthening and improvement.

5. While in general agreement with the main thrust of the report, as mentioned above, we should like to highlight two points of particular importance.

    1. The first deals with budgetary constraints, both past and current. We must stress at the outset that the serious budgetary constraints faced by the Organization over the past ten years have impacted negatively on the decentralization initiative, in particular with regard to the FAO Representations. The decentralization initiative originally foresaw the coverage of other sub-regions and the deployment of a critical mass of technical experts at relevant locations. This could not be fully implemented and sometimes even had to be reversed because of budget cuts. Budgetary constraints have continued to be severe and, although costs and savings associated with some of the recommendations are mentioned, the financial feasibility of implementing some of them is not fully assessed. Consequently, the Organization would need to carry out full cost/benefit analysis prior to implementation of those recommendations which have incremental cost implications. Indeed, we fear that budgetary shortfalls may make it impossible to implement several recommendations, regardless of their merit. For these reasons, we very much appreciate and concur with the Team’s call to the membership to consider additional resources for the 2006-07 biennium.
    2. The second relates to several conclusions contained in the report concerning staff competencies that seem to be based, at least in part, on anecdotal evidence that is not always fully substantiated. Although we appreciate the Evaluation Team’s attempt to weigh comments according to their source (e.g. governments, external partners and informed FAO staff), we believe that the overall conclusions concerning staff are not entirely well founded. On the other hand, we also understand the importance of perceptions, whether we agree with them or not, and the influence they can have on our ability to support countries and to develop partnerships.

6. In order to be concise, we will not burden the Committee with detailed comments about the Team’s many analyses, findings, conclusions and suggestions, other than to say that they constitute a wealth of valuable information which will be considered by the Organization in considerable depth. As indicated in the Preface of this response, this will take time. Rather, we will confine the remainder of our response, given in the attached annex, to the specific recommendations made in the report.


Annex: Response to Specific Recommendations

Recommendation 1:

1. Regarding rolling national priority frameworks, Management supports this recommendation which closely mirrors the recent recommendations of the Field Programme Committee to introduce FAO national indicative programme agreements, initially on a pilot scale in selected countries. Management proposes that the Field Programme Committee take into account the additional elements of the Team’s proposal while implementing this pilot phase. In this regard, it should be recalled that FAO has been directly involved in system wide programming processes such as CCA/UNDAFs and PRSPs, to which it has substantively contributed and is currently contributing in specific countries in collaboration with international development partners. The priority frameworks should thus build upon these existing strategies, as well as upon national and sub-regional strategies for food and agricultural development towards 2015 developed by FAO jointly with developing countries.

Recommendation 2:

2. While significant and successful efforts have been made for some time to develop partnerships at country level and in regions with a variety of collaborators, Management will continue to strengthen them, especially with IFAD, WFP and IICA. Significant efforts are already underway in this regard.

Recommendation 3:

3. Management supports Part a) concerning Regional Representatives’ input to normative work. While much of this is already in place, there is scope for improvement. However, Management has reservations about the pooling of technical resources, fearing that the associated administrative complexities and burdens would outweigh any advantages of this.

4. Regarding Part b) concerning defining regional priorities, Management concurs with the analysis but suggests that the timing of the Regional Conferences in the early part of the first year of the biennium makes their proposed involvement in the MTP/PWB impractical. Rather, regional priorities should be seen as input to the development of the MTP and PWB, albeit with improvements aimed at ensuring that they are given proper attention.

Recommendation 4:

5. Management clearly supports the view that Regional Conferences should be flexibly designed and feed into the Organization’s programming, planning and budgeting process. To a large extent, this is already being done, but improvements may be possible.

Recommendation 5:

6. In general, Management supports many of the ideas and, in particular, agrees with Parts b), d), e), f) and g) with this recommendation that addresses greater proportionality and effectiveness in resource use in FAO country offices, although implementation will have some limitations and may not always be easy. It is to be noted that the Field Programme Committee, acknowledging that country-level assistance was more effectively provided by FAO Representations, recommended that country offices be strengthened, initially on a pilot basis. The impact of the Team’s recommendations will be stronger if FAO Representations have a real capacity to be an effective partner in the country and with the other segments of the Organization.

7. With reference to Part a), multiple accreditation, it is accepted that there may be cost advantages of expanding this existing practice to countries not now covered by full FAORs. However, it must be recognized that more and more countries wish to have full FAORs. This has been the subject of Council and Conference debate. In addition, although multiple accreditation can work for some countries, for others, political considerations would not allow such an arrangement.

8. Management continues to be concerned about replacing internationally-recruited administrative officers with nationals (Part c)) because of the increased financial risk that this might entail. In particular, it notes the Inspector General’s assessment that financial and administrative controls are stronger in offices with an international professional Administrative and Finance Officer. They are more experienced in FAO’s management and administrative procedures and less vulnerable to local pressures. They are also utilized to provide administrative and financial support to the nearby country offices. Thus, while accepting that hiring nationals would reduce the cost of staff, implementation of this suggestion may put the Organization’s finances at greater risk and in the final analysis may not be cost-effective. Further, the cost of re-deployment or terminating the existing incumbents would be significant.

Recommendation 6:

9. The Outposted Technical Officer/FAOR scheme was launched following the approval of the Council in November 2000, and is only now getting off the ground. In Management’s view, there has not been sufficient experience to deem it a success or a failure. As problems arise, adjustments can be made, but the premature abandonment is questioned. It is recognized, however, that national contributions (Part b)) have not always been up to expectations. In sum, while respecting the reservations expressed by the Team, Management concludes that the scheme should be closely monitored and reviewed in more detail in the next biennium. Such review would analyse, inter alia, to what extent the OTO/FAORs originating from technical departments are able to perform the technical part of their functions.

Recommendation 7:

10. Concerning Part a), Management considers that the proposal to appoint combined FAORs/Senior Emergency Coordinators to serve in major, complex and protracted emergencies merits further consideration and possible testing. However, the impact on the relations with the government and with humanitarian counterparts of such a combined mandate needs to be assessed. In addition, transferring FAOR responsibilities to Emergency Coordinators during major complex emergencies would be disruptive as far as relations with the government are concerned and would be problematic to manage in a personnel sense. While recognizing that there may be occasional issues to be resolved between the Emergency Coordinators and the FAORs, their respective terms of reference are clear so that misinterpretations over roles and responsibilities should be the exception. Thus, the implications of the proposal to vest these combined FAORs/Senior Emergency Coordinators with budget-holder responsibility for emergency projects must be examined in-depth, but is likely to be very difficult to implement even if found to be desirable. Management believes that recommendations in Part b) deserve more careful consideration in view of the implications they would have on shifting resources away from TCE and require further studies. Concerning Part c), budgetary adjustments can be considered following the normal in-house consultative process in preparing the PWB and with the consent of the Governing Bodies. Management is in agreement with the proposal of increasing RP funding to cover certain TCE continuing central functions but significant increases will be difficult to make as long as the Organization’s overall budget continues to decline in real terms.

Recommendation 8:

11. The report rightly points out (paragraph 188) that this recommendation to transfer responsibility for regional technical staff and their budgets and programmes from Headquarters Technical Departments to Regional Representatives may be one of the most controversial. Nonetheless, Management is concerned that the disadvantages of this could outweigh the advantages, and return the Organization to a situation that existed in the early 1990s and which suffered major problems. There is no assurance that returning to such a model would result in the improvement of regional normative work or of technical services to countries. There is even a risk that headquarters technical units could become less committed to regional issues and that technical oversight of regional work could be weaker. Further consideration will be given to the complex issues surrounding this recommendation including the extent to which the implementation of most of the elements of Recommendation 9 might remedy the weaknesses perceived by the Team.

Recommendation 9:

12. Management believes that adherence to most of the roles of Regional Offices and headquarters with respect to technical officers as recommended here would resolve most of the issues which Recommendation 8 addresses. In particular, Management agrees with Parts a), b), f) and g). It also agrees with occasional visits of regional technical officers to headquarters (Part c)), preferably in conjunction with other events, such as meetings of the technical committees, but hesitates, for cost reasons, to insist that they be annual.

13. With respect to Part d) on staff rotation, Management agrees in principle that both headquarters and field experience can be valuable for many posts and, therefore, that staff rotation between headquarters and field and between the different Regional and Sub-regional Offices should be pursued wherever feasible. Such a policy, however, needs to be flexible and not mandatory given the limited opportunities that will exist for rotation because so many posts are highly specialized and the need to follow competitive processes where promotions are involved. As rightly mentioned in the report, FAO does not have the same degree of flexibility as some other organizations with higher numbers of generalist staff and more flexible grading structures. Part e) is not applicable in a situation where Recommendation 8 would not be pursued.

Recommendation 10:

14. Management welcomes the intent of this recommendation that Regional Office technical support to countries should be demand-driven, and it agrees that there is scope for more dialogue between RO staff and FAORs, whether this be by video conference, email or on occasion by meetings, within budgetary constraints. As suggested, country requests through FAORs should feed into work programmes of technical officers, and there could be some form of simple monitoring.

Recommendation 11:

15. Management agrees that technical and operational lead responsibility for projects and the location from where technical and operational service should be provided need to be determined on a case-by-case basis and that, to the extent possible and appropriate, greater consideration should be given to the capacities of regional and sub-regional staff in this regard.

Recommendation 12:

16. The idea of creating a few technical hubs is an interesting one that merits consideration. Management understands the rationale for recommending assigning more technical people closer to the countries that need them most, with duty stations in countries with good airline connections. More important, however, would be to consider linking them to existing political entities, such as regional and sub-regional economic groups, especially when such entities are located in cities well connected by airline services. However, the staffing and administrative issues related to this would need to be very closely studied and evaluated. In particular, in this era of downsizing, Management would need to ensure that its already diminished technical staff are not spread so thinly across the Organization that it has no critical mass anywhere. Noting that the Team suggests implementation of this recommendation over the coming two biennia, Management will study the matter in greater detail before taking a final position on the recommendation.

Recommendation 13:

17. While the desire to have greater budgetary resources for staff travel is understood, the view of the Team that regional and sub-regional technical staff should be reduced by 15-20 percent in order to free resources for travel is not supported. Doing so would make it even more difficult to implement the above recommendation. More importantly, FAO Governing Bodies have consistently insisted that budgetary reductions be made with as little impact on technical programmes as possible, and reducing technical staff would be tantamount to reducing programmes. In Management’s view, it is better to have a moderate cadre of staff who can undertake some travel rather than to have fewer staff who undertake extensive travel, within degrees of course. Doing so allows the provision of a greater range of technical skills to countries and to normative work. In addition, it should be noted that it is not always necessary to travel in order to provide advice and assistance to FAORs and member countries. On the other hand, Management will revisit the issue of resource allocations to determine what can be done and it will also encourage efforts to secure extra-budgetary support that can partly cover additional travel needs.

Recommendation 14:

18. The idea to have regional specialists on call is an innovative one that merits careful consideration. When the expertise of the regional panel is highly specialised, its coordination may require the involvement of the relevant experts at headquarters where it is more likely to find such specialised expertise. When appropriately qualified, retired FAO staff could be a potential source for such a call-down roster. In addition to the technical needs, Management will assess the contractual/administrative issues, as well as the budgetary feasibility of putting such a scheme in place, at least on a pilot basis.

Recommendation 15:

19. Management will explore the possibility of developing flexible arrangements with new donors to supply technical expertise in expansion of the previous recommendation.

Recommendation 16:

20. In essence, this recommendation adds specificity to Recommendations 12 and 14 concerning technical hubs and regional specialists, and will be assessed in conjunction with these recommendations.

Recommendation 17:

21. Management will extend the ongoing competency project to all decentralized posts through the development of general competency profiles for FAOR positions, and is already issuing vacancy announcements for regional and FAOR posts (at least below ADG level), in line with Parts a) and b) of this recommendation. At this point in time, however, it does not see the merit of establishing special selection panels for these posts distinct from those already in place for all D-level and FAOR posts.

22. With reference to Part c) concerning performance assessment, Management notes that performance management is a part of the strategy Continuing to Improve the Management Process and that the issue is currently being revisited as part of the Oracle HRMS Project. However, it is too early to indicate in what form it might be applied to the FAORs. Finally,Management wishes to point out that it does not share the view presented in the report that staff associations had resisted staff assessment in general and that existing procedures are not taken seriously.

Recommendation 18:

23. Management concurs with Parts b), c), e) and f) concerning regional experience, training, gender balance and flexibility in staffing in decentralized offices. While these are already highly valued in the Organization, we agree to ensure that they are given appropriate attention in staffing. With reference to Part a) on staff rotation, comments have been provided in paragraph 13. Regarding the possibility for national professional staff to work in other countries, Part d), it should be recalled that, in accordance with existing rules, these officers are recruited locally and are nationals of the country where they serve. They are therefore not subject to assignment outside their own country. However, these rules do not prevent NPOs to travel to other countries, for example for training or to participate in meetings or even to undertake research/information gathering for the office to which they are assigned.

Recommendation 19:

24. Regarding the proposal for a more flexible use of TCP, it should be noted that at the request of the Council in 2003, a document on “Policy and Operational Framework of the Technical Cooperation Programme: Responding to a Changing Environment” will be reviewed by the Programme Committee at its session in September 2004. While Management agrees in principle that the FAORs should have more financial resources available to them and that TCP might be a source that could be tapped, any moves in this direction should be made progressively. In addition, FAO being a technical institution providing assistance in many areas, it is important that all TCP project proposals continue to be scrutinized by the competent technical division(s) before their approval if the benefits of FAO’s multi-sectoral capacity are to be realised.

Recommendation 20:

25. Management will review the authorizations the FAORs have to receive funds, with the intention of giving them greater flexibility to accept funding from donors, and also to accelerate the technical clearance process for such projects. The review process should better reflect the size of projects and establishing response deadlines may be useful in this regard.

Recommendation 21:

26. Management agrees with this recommendation and will examine the needs of countries and responsibilities of their FAO country offices, following which it should be in a position to assess FAORs as individuals and their staff and systems for capacity in order to identify training needs and infrastructure improvements.

Recommendation 22:

27. Part a) of this recommendation is in essence a summary of previous recommendations relating to increased authorities for FAORs, Regional and Sub-regional Representatives, which it is agreed merits careful consideration. Parts b)-f) refer to the transfer of several administrative functions from headquarters to the Regional Offices. While Management is not at this point in time in a position to concur, it agrees that these are important and useful suggestions that warrant careful analysis. Transferring such functions would not only need to be cost-effective, but Management would also need to ensure that all monitoring, oversight and control functions were also fully and adequately in place, particularly in view of the concerns expressed by the External Auditor.