JM 99/1


 

JOINT MEETING OF THE EIGHTY-FIRST SESSION OF THE
PROGRAMME COMMITTEE
AND THE
NINETY-SECOND SESSION OF THE FINANCE COMMITTEE

Rome, 5 May 1999

REPORT ON DECENTRALIZATION

Table of contents


A. Introduction and Context

B. Roles of the Respective Components of the Decentralized Structure and Contributions to FAO's Strategic Objectives

C. Working-level Relations among the Decentralized Offices and between these Offices and Headquarters

D. Staffing and Resources

E. Adjustments to the Financial Systems and Procedures, including the Delegation of Authority

F. Criteria for the Establishment of Country Offices

G. Assessment of the Enhanced Decentralization Policy

Annex I - Information requested by the Programme and Finance Committees

Annex II - Relationships between and Responsibilities of Decentralized Offices

 


A. Introduction and Context

1. At their May 1998 Session, the Programme and Finance Committees considered the JIU Report 97/1 (Strengthening Field Representations of the UN System). They requested additional information on FAO field offices structure and received a document on the subject (PC 80/6 -FC 90/18(a)) at the September 1998 sessions. The Committees considered that a broad discussion of certain aspects of decentralization (Annex I) was timely. The present document is submitted accordingly.

2. Decentralization is as old as FAO. The Conference, at its First Session in 1945 (when the Organization was still based in Washington), debated the creation of Regional Offices and approved at its Second Session in 1946 the opening of the Regional Office for Europe in Rome. The remaining four Regional Offices were established and their current locations negotiated with Member Nations between 1946 and 19591. The establishment of Country Offices, was initiated by the 69th Session of Council in 19762; three Liaison Offices were established between 1951 and 19703; and Joint Divisions with the UN Regional Economic Commissions were set up between 1951 and 1974, and abolished in 1994 when their functions were absorbed into the Regional and Sub-regional Offices. In June 1994, the Council at its 106th Session approved4 an enhanced decentralization policy comprising a strengthening of the Regional Offices, the establishment of five Sub-Regional Offices, of two new Liaison Offices5 and the progressive establishment of National Professional Officer posts in country offices. In a second stage, the Regional Operations Services of the Field Operations Division moved to the respective Regional Offices.

3. As the Director-General had informed the 106th Session of Council: " ... a fundamental objective [of decentralization is] to bring FAO as close to you [its Members] as is effectively possible"6. The Council endorsed7 the guiding principles of the reforms proposed by the Director-General, of which enhanced decentralization was a centrepiece. These principles were, inter alia: the strengthening of FAO as a centre of excellence and world reference centre through better delineation of responsibility for global and normative activities on one hand; and operational and country-specific ones on the other; the largest possible measure of decentralization of operational activities to regional, sub-regional and country levels; and to increase the focus, coherence and effectiveness of services to Member Nations. The positive spin-offs of decentralization were expected to be: a better use of national, sub-regional and regional capacities, a faster response to requests by Member Nations for assistance, as well as substantial efficiency savings and reduced costs.

B. Roles of the Respective Components of the Decentralized Structure and Contributions to FAO's Strategic Objectives

4. Annex II provides a tabular summary description of the roles of the decentralized offices. More detailed descriptions of these functions can be found in the respective sections of the Organization's Administrative Manual.

5. The activities of both decentralized offices as well as Headquarters divisions are designed to contribute to the objectives set by the Organization's Governing Bodies. Therefore, the Director-General attaches great importance to ensuring the coherence of the Organization's programmes even in the framework of enhanced decentralization. In his address to the 106th Session of the Council he stated: "..... even with decentralization, FAO remains one Organization"8. The Organization has only one corporate programme which has a worldwide bearing but takes into consideration regional priorities. No decentralized office pursues objectives or executes programmes in isolation.

6. The coherence of the corporate programmes is ensured by the Organization's workplanning and budgeting procedures. During the implementation of the Organization's technical and economic programmes, Headquarters', Regional and Sub-Regional units prepare annual workplans. These are based on the planned outputs contained in the approved Programme of Work and Budget (PWB) with flexibility to include ad-hoc requests as appropriate. Each level in the structure is assigned the execution of particular outputs, or phases or aspects of outputs, that together constitute the corporate programme, according to respective terms of reference and strengths.

7. The Strategic Framework, including proposed strategic objectives, will be submitted to the 30th Session of the FAO Conference in November 1999. Each segment in the decentralized structure is expected to have a role in the design of programmes, which will respond to the strategic objectives eventually approved by the Conference. The programming and budgeting procedures described above will be followed to ensure that programmes, irrespective of where they are implemented, are in line with the strategic objectives set by the Conference.

C. Working-level Relations among the Decentralized Offices and between these Offices and Headquarters

8. Relationships among decentralized units, as well as between them and HQs units may be summarily described as follows:

9. Annex II also illustrates the reporting arrangements between decentralized units and Headquarters. These arrangements enhance the Organization's responsiveness to the requirements of member countries and facilitate the implementation of the decisions of its Governing Bodies; they ensure coherence between work performed at Headquarters and decentralized locations and help maintaining synergy between normative and operational activities. In this regard, it is important to note that Departments, Divisions and Offices at Headquarters ensure the technical quality of the normative and operational work of the staff assigned to the Regional and Sub-Regional Offices, as follows:

D. Staffing and Resources

10. Table 1 below shows the post movements resulting from the decisions taken by the Council at its 106th Session and subsequent actions.

Table 1

Distribution of Budgeted Posts Before and After the Decentralization9
and Restructuring approved by the Council at its 106th Session

   

Before 10

After 11

Changes

Country Offices Int. Prof. And higher 155 92 -63
National Prof. Officers 0 65 65
General Service 687 606 -81
Liaison Offices Prof. and higher 8 17 9
General Service 21 24 3
RO/SRO/JD Prof. and higher 138 264 126
General Service 225 338 113
HQ Prof. and higher 1,166 957 -209
General Service 1,693 1,146 -547
All locations  Prof. and higher 1,467 1,395 -72
General Service 2,626 2,114 -512
% decentralized  Prof. and higher 21% 31%  
General Service 36% 46%  
Total General 4,093 3,509 -584

11. As can be inferred, the Regional Offices were substantially strengthened following the transfer of posts to the newly constituted Technical Department Groups and the creation of Policy Assistance Branches, Operations Branches and the Management Support Units (MSUs). Technical posts were transferred to Sub-Regional Offices to form their multidisciplinary teams. The posts in the former Joint Divisions were, on the whole, transferred to Regional and Sub-Regional Offices. Professional staff at the regional/sub-regional level nearly doubled as a result of these changes.

12. It should be noted that the reduction of 756 posts at Headquarters was not solely a consequence of the decentralization. Some 239 posts were added to Regional and Sub-Regional Offices and with the establishment of two new Offices in Brussels and Yokohama the number of posts in Liaison Offices increased by 12. The global net reduction of 584 posts, or 14% of the total, reflects the approved programme and budget reductions that were further complemented by efficiency savings such as outsourcing and enhanced office automation. Currently, 46% of General Service staff are working at decentralized locations as against 31% for professional staff.

13. In Country Offices, all internationally recruited Programme Officers were replaced with national officers. The rationalization of the staffing of these Offices led to a reduction of 81 General Service posts. The existing 92 professional posts comprise 7412 FAO Representatives, 1 Liaison Officer (Ethiopia) and 17 Administrative Officers. In the 2000-2001 PWB, an attempt will be made to further rationalize the grades of the FAO Representative posts. In many cases, the Country Offices benefit from Government contributions. These can be in cash (as per the terms of the host country agreement) or in kind (e.g. Government - provided free premises, General Service staff or cost sharing of utilities). Efforts are being made to increase the recovery of the Government Counterpart Contribution (GCC) from the host countries. At the same time, the Organization is encouraging host governments to provide premises free of charge. The number of freely provided premises has increased from 37 in 1994 to 47 in 1998.

14. Table 2 illustrates the present distribution of resources between the respective segments of the Organization. The ratio of resources allotted to the decentralized offices, as compared to those allotted to Headquarters, is one to three.

Table 2

Distribution of resources between components
of the decentralized structure PWB 1998-99

 

Approved Programme of Work
(millions US $)

Percentage

FAORs 62 8.3%
Liaison Offices 9 1.2%
Regional Offices 78 10.5%
Sub-Regional Offices 19 2.5%
Subtotal Decentralized Units 168 22.5%
TCP 77 10.3%
SPFS 9 1.2%
Subtotal RP-Funded Field Programme 86 11.5%
HQ Units 492 66.0%
Subtotal HQ 492 66.0%
Grand Total 746 100%

E. Adjustments to the Financial Systems and Procedures, including the Delegation of Authority

15. Decentralization, to be effective, should not be limited to changing the organigram and moving units, posts and people from Headquarters to decentralized offices. It also needs to involve a major re-design of the Organization's business processes. This process-redesign (with many aspects obviously benefiting the whole Organization) was guided by the following considerations:

16. With regard to financial systems, the Oracle Project was designed to: (i) make management information available where and when it is needed; (ii) allow for on-line management and integration of transactions; (iii) reduce administration and control costs by eliminating certain procedures and automating others, streamlining business processes, and ensuring controls proportionate to the risks; (iv) replace the current corporate systems (FINSYS, PERSYS, PLANSYS, Treasury); and (v) achieve greater integration of these systems, in terms of software and communication technology.

17. With the progress in communications infrastructure which now allows Regional Offices on-line access to corporate systems, they will use the same tools as Headquarters to manage their financial functions. This will improve efficiency, as it will eliminate a large part of the paper flow concerning accounting transactions and reports moving between Regional Offices and Headquarters. Major simplifications have also been introduced in the way the Organization budgets for, and reports on, operational projects. These changes will reduce the administrative cost of technical assistance and, at the same time, give project managers greater freedom and authority in the management of project funds.

18. Presently, the communications infrastructure does not as yet allow on-line access to corporate systems for the other decentralized offices. Therefore, these offices operate local imprest accounts. The new Field Accounting System (FAS) has been developed and is being introduced to support their accounting and management reporting. It enables these offices to: (i) conduct and manage their business with respect to local transaction; (ii) prepare accounting entries; (iii) engage in a, daily, two-way exchange of posting/editing and transactions with Headquarters; and (iv) receive up-to-date reports on the status of their Regular Programme and project budgets. The system also produces reports with appropriate audit trails to support local audits.

F. Criteria for the Establishment of Country Offices

19. Since 1976 (when the Council decided at its 69th Session to establish a network of FAO Country Representations) the Director-General has provided periodic reports on the location, budget and number of Country Offices. While the benefits for the membership of the Organization are well understood, Governing Bodies have not established a formal set of criteria to which a Member Nation should conform in order to qualify for the establishment of a Country Office. Every biennium, within the framework of the PWB discussion, the Conference approves the resources for Country Offices under Major Programme 3.4. In 1987, the number of Country Offices was set at 78.13

20. In the absence of any formal criteria defined by the Governing Bodies, the Director-General, in establishing Country Offices, has been guided by the following considerations:

receipt of a formal request from a Member Nation;

Government's willingness to meet part of the establishment and running costs and to facilitate the exercise of the FAOR's functioning, including unrestricted access to line-ministries concerned with areas of FAO's mandate;

potential or demand for technical assistance programmes;

presence in the country of other UN and non-UN development partners.

21. The National Correspondents (NC) scheme has been designed to assist in liaison between the Organization and a number of countries in which it is not possible to post a FAO Representative. NCs are senior civil servants who devote a percentage of their time to assisting the accredited FAO Representative with a number of liaison functions. They are designated jointly by the Government and FAO. FAO provides them with a limited budget to cover some operational costs, a computer with software and E-mail and a modest salary supplement proportional to the percentage of time devoted to FAO Liaison functions. To date, 18 National Correspondents have been appointed out of the 35 foreseen.

22. About half of the Organization's 175 Member Nations host a Regional, Sub-Regional, Liaison or Country Office. Another thirty countries maintain links with the Organization through a double accreditation of a FAO Representative in a neighbouring country. In addition, new liaison arrangements are under consideration in fifteen countries. Forty-three Members will have no special in-country liaison mechanism They generally communicate with the Organisation through its Regional and Sub-Regional Offices or directly with Headquarters from their capitals or through their Permanent Representations as the case may be.

G. Assessment of the Enhanced Decentralization Policy

23. The Council's decisions aiming at a greater decentralization of the Organization were implemented during a period of declining resource levels. The Organization was compelled to maximize efficiency, i.e. reduce the cost of inputs while maintaining the quality if not the quantity of outputs. While the decentralization policy endorsed by the Council was not driven by cost-savings considerations alone, the real declines in the budgets approved for 1996-97 and 1998-99 very much influenced the range of actions considered.

24. The decentralization of support functions wherever possible has been generally advantageous because the cost of support staff in FAO's Regional and Sub-regional Offices is lower than staff of the same grade in Rome. Decentralization of such functions is estimated to have led to savings of US $ 14  million per biennium.

25. Similarly, strategies targeted at reducing the average cost of the Organization's professional capacity, including through partnership agreements, resulted in relatively large cost reductions. At Country Office level, US$ 10 million are saved each biennium by replacing internationally-recruited Programme Officers with NPOs having similar or often better qualifications. At the same time, the General Service staffing structure of the Country Offices was reviewed and rationalized, generating further savings of US$ 2.2 million per biennium. In addition, less quantifiable savings in other areas, e.g. travel costs, have also been achieved. Part of these savings have been used by the Organization to dramatically improve the communications capacity between the decentralized offices and Headquarters, as previously indicated.

26. The various elements of the decentralized structure are now in place. Their expected contributions to the implementation of the Organization's objectives and programmes have been illustrated above. It is naturally up to the whole membership to judge the qualitative difference that decentralization is making on the Organization's impact and its effectiveness in addressing their requirements. For most members, it is of great importance to have effective country level representation to ensure adequate access to the Organization's services. Unfortunately, only a limited number of countries can benefit from the presence of a decentralized office. There is ample evidence from comments made at meetings of Governing Bodies and from encouragements directly provided by Member States, that they are satisfied with the impact of the decentralization policy, and welcome the fact that the Organization's technical capacity and attendant services have become much more accessible to them.

27. Nevertheless, it would be over-optimistic to expect a structural change of such magnitude to be free from problems. The process of adjusting procedures and nurturing common understanding on the most productive ways for all segments of the structure to work together must continue. Many procedures have been adjusted to take decentralization into account. Further improvements will be made in the redesign of the Organization's working methods, during and after implementation of the Oracle system and other advances in the communications infrastructure. Similarly, the widespread adoption of a revised PWB process, as endorsed by the Committees, will impact on programming procedures, with the full involvement of the decentralized offices.

28. The attention of Senior Management and the efforts of all concerned in the near future will continue to ensure that the various components of the decentralized structure function smoothly both among themselves and with Headquarters.

29. No doubt, more synergy is possible through:

 


Annex I - Information requested by the Programme and Finance Committees

Extract from CL 115/10 Report of the 90th Session of the Finance Committee (para. 50)

In wishing to ensure the most cost effective use of resources, the Committee asked that the question of decentralized structures remain on its agenda and that the following additional information be provided to it so as to facilitate its work:

Extract from CL 115/8 Report of the 80th Session of the Programme Committee (para. 69).

In noting the extensive information requested by the Finance Committee regarding the general area of decentralization, the Committee felt that this information would also serve its own planned discussion of the subject. There was therefore merit in consolidating the requested study to serve the needs of both Committees. The Committee asked that the effectiveness of programme implementation in the context of enhanced decentralization and the criteria for establishment of country offices also be covered.

Extract from CL 115/REP Report of the 115th Council

The Secretariat was requested to include the aspect of devolution of authorities to decentralized operations in the study to be prepared for the Finance Committee on decentralization.


Annex II - Relationships between and Responsibilities of Decentralized Offices

Office

Reports to

Responsibilities

Regional Office DG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regional Representatives are the senior representatives of the Director-General in the Region. They are the Director-General's main advisers with respect to the Organization's policy and priorities in the Region; they monitor and advise on appropriate working arrangements with regional organizations with which they liaise. They keep the Director-General informed of major developments and trends in food and agriculture in the Region. They advise the Director-General, in collaboration with departments and divisions at Headquarters and with the assistance of the SRR in their region, on the incorporation of priorities, identified by them, into the biennial Programme of Work and Budget. With assistance from Sub-Regional Offices, the Regional Offices ensure multi-disciplinarity of approach to problems and programmes; provide managerial and administrative leadership and support for the implementation of approved programmes in the Region; monitor the level of programme implementation and draw attention to any matters that call for corrective measures and policy guidance. They administer all of the Organization's resources and staff allocated to the region. They provide guidance and support to the sub-regional and country offices in the Region by assisting them in programme development and policy level negotiations with Government, provide secretariat services for the Regional Conferences, assist in mobilizing extra-budgetary resources, maintain liaison with UN, Regional and Sub-Regional Offices , cooperate in the development and formulation of the field programme.

The Regional Technical Department Groups, Operations and Policy Branches work under the overall administrative and managerial supervision of the Regional Representative, and the direct technical supervision of the relevant division/department at Headquarters. Each Regional Office (with the exception of REU which is located at Headquarters) has an Agriculture Group, an Economic and Social Group, a Fisheries Group, a Forestry Group, a Sustainable Development Group, a Policy Assistance Branch and an Operations Branch. Management Support Units perform budgetary, programming, financial, personnel, administrative and information technology support functions.

Sub-Regional Office Regional

Representative

The Sub-regional Office complements and assists the Regional Office by undertaking the same tasks (to the extent permitted by staff + budgetary resources) focusing on the special needs of the countries of the Sub-region. The technical work of the Sub-Regional Office is undertaken by a Multidisciplinary Team that performs selected functions of the Agriculture, Economic and Social, Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development Departments at the sub-regional level. A separate Policy Assistance Branch provides Policy Assistance. Administrative Support is provided by an Administrative Officer and concerned General Service staff.
Liaison Offices

a) LONY +

LOGE

DG (through SAD) LONY has a lead responsibility and LOGE advises and assists, together with LONY, in the development and implementation of enhanced FAO cooperation and partnerships with the United Nations system and with other international organizations and other institutions located in New York and Geneva respectively. They serve as the focal point for relations with these organizations.
b) LOBR,

LOJA and LOWA

DG (through OCD) LOWA and LOJA advise and assist in the development and implementation of FAO programmes by facilitating communication and cooperation between: (i) FAO and the Government, and the public in the countries to which they are accredited; and (ii) between FAO and the international and regional organizations based in Washington and Japan respectively. LOBR follows the work of the Commission and other organs of the European Community in areas of relevance to FAO's programmes, and facilitates communication and cooperation with the Commission. It also provides liaison arrangements between FAO, the Government of Belgium and other institutions, including non-governmental organizations based in Belgium.
Country Offices DG through OCD(have direct access to Technical and Operations Units for day to day matters) The main objective of the FAORs scheme is to make the technical expertise of FAO more readily available to the governments of member countries. As the senior representatives of the Organization in the countries of assignment, FAORs are responsible for:

Representing the Organization vis--vis the Host Government, national, bilateral and international organizations as appropriate and acting as the focal point of contact with them; and vis--vis the civil society of the country in general;

works particularly closely with Regional and Sub-regional Offices on the programming and implementation of technical assistance programmes

channelling and coordinating the use of FAO's resources to assist the Government and, with its concurrence, national institutions, entities and associations in the planning and execution of technical cooperation activities;

facilitating the timely and adequate collection of data and information required for the normative work of the Organization;

alerting Headquarters and respective regional and subregional offices on emergencies affecting food and agriculture sectors in the country and taking necessary actions in accordance with established guidelines and procedures;

monitoring and reporting on FAO activities in the country and on national developments of concern to FAO.

1.  The Sub-regional Representative serves as the FAO Representative in the country hosting the Sub-regional Office.

2.  The technical quality of the normative and operational work of the staff assigned to Regional Offices and the coherence of activities between countries and regions is ensured by the departments, divisions and offices at Headquarters.

3.  Copies go to Regional and Sub-regional Representatives.


1   REU, 1946, Rome; RNE, 1947, Cairo; RAP, 1948, Bangkok; RLC, 1956, Santiago; RAF, 1959, Accra. It may be noted that the European office was moved to Geneva in 1961 and back to Rome in 1970; the Regional Office for the Near East was moved temporarily to Rome between 1980 and 1990.
2   The 18th Session of the Conference in 1975 delegated this authority to the 69th Council (in resolution 16/75).
3   LOWA in Washington in 1951, LONY in New York in 1955 and LOGE in Geneva 1970.
4   The 27th Session of the Conference in 1993 delegated this authority to the 106th Council in Resolution 10/93.
5   LOBR in Brussels and LOJA in Yokohama.
6   CL 106/REP, Appendix E (Director-General's Address to the 106th Council), para 69.
7   CL 106/REP, para. 19
8   CL 106/REP, Appendix E (Director-General's address to the 106th Council), para. 72.
9   To facilitate comparison, both the "before" and "after" figures include all income sources i.e. Regular Programme as well as other income
10   1996-1997 PWB Base (This restated the 1994-1995 budget in terms of the new programme structure)
11   1998-99 PWB (approved)
12   Excludes the 4 Sub-Regional Representatives which also serve as FAORs
13   C 87/REP, para 188