JOINT MEETING OF THE
Rome, 12 May 2004
Savings and Efficiencies in Governance
Scope for Efficiency Savings
Proposals for CCP
Proposals for COAG
Conclusions and Recommendations for Consideration by the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees
1. In considering the reports of the 64th Session of the Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP) and the 17th Session of the Committee on Agriculture1 (COAG), the 124th Session of the Council requested that the Secretariat examine the possibility of combining meetings of CCP and COAG in order to achieve efficiency savings, improved participation and effectiveness. A document, Meetings of the Committee on Commodity Problems and the Committee on Agriculture, was accordingly submitted to the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees of 17 September 2003. This paper examined the mandate and Membership, format and cost, and possible alternative arrangements for periodic sessions of the two Committees. It did not consider the merger of the two Committees, as the Council did not question their purpose and mandate.
2. The Programme and Finance Committees considered the analyses and proposals, and requested the Secretariat to elaborate further on possible means to combine meetings of CCP and COAG, and aim for shorter meetings held over fewer days; more efficient management of meetings with clearer separation of discussion and information items; more interesting, relevant and complementary agendas developed in consultation with Members; and more concise (and thus less costly) documentation. The Secretariat was asked to put forward proposals along these lines at the next Joint Meeting in May 2004. This paper makes specific and detailed proposals as requested.
3. As the document prepared for the Joint Meeting of these Committees in May 2003 concluded, the costs associated with CCP and COAG to both FAO and Members are directly proportional to the number of agenda items and the length of each session, including of drafting committees. For FAO, the direct non-staff costs are charged at standard rates for in-session interpretation, translation and printing of documents, and general operating expenses. Thus, the only opportunity to significantly reduce costs to the Secretariat is to restrict the agenda and/or discussion so as to reduce the length of the session and the amount of documentation. Shortening the documents to less than 6,400 words, which is currently under consideration by the Secretariat, could sometimes compromise their effectiveness in presenting an informed analysis and making recommendations on subjects which are wide-ranging and on which a consensus of views may be difficult to achieve. However, the Secretariat will continue to make every effort to minimize the length of the documents presented to the Committees.
4. For Members, the direct costs arise from the time and travel costs of participation of representatives from capitals, and/or the time of participation of Permanent Representatives based in Rome, as well as the time necessary to review documentation and prepare for debate on each agenda item. Except for travel, these costs are also directly proportional to the number of agenda items and the length of meetings, and can also only be reduced by shortening sessions. Savings on travel costs would require sending the same representative(s) to combined meetings of the Committees. However, the mandates of the Committees often require specialized technical representation by Members, so it is unlikely that one representative could cover both Committees while at the same time contributing to an improved level of technical debate. In this context, it should be noted that the Director-General has suggested that CCP invitations should go to ministries of trade in addition to ministries of agriculture.
5. As indicated above, sizeable cost savings for FAO can only be achieved by reducing the length of the agendas and by reviewing drafting committee requirements including for evening, out-of-working hours, sessions. As the mandates of the two Committees are distinct, albeit complementary, there is no evident scope for reducing the agendas based on overlap of subjects covered. Limiting the number of agenda items and shortening the sessions would therefore have to be looked at separately for each Committee.
6. Since both Committees typically meet in the same year once each biennium, savings could be made for Members by organizing the meetings back-to-back, which would allow Members to send the same representative(s) to the two Committees although, as noted earlier, this presumes that representatives would be qualified to address the technical content of both agendas. However, holding back-to-back meetings over more than five calendar days would incur additional expenses for the Organization since overtime would be charged for the services provided by support staff on a days worked outside of the normal, five-day working week.
7. CCP usually has four substantive agenda items: the state of world agricultural commodity markets, the medium-term outlook, policy developments, and international action on agricultural commodities, markets and trade. CCP sessions are four days in length, comprising five plenary meetings and one drafting committee meeting.
8. It would be possible to limit the number of plenary meetings to three, and the overall duration of the session to two and a half days by separating items for discussion and detailed consideration from items primarily for information. This would result in cost savings of over thirty per cent in standard charges for interpretation and other meeting-related expenses.
9. Revisions to arrangements for CCP should emphasize the core of the CCP mandate: namely, to review commodity problems of an international nature, to survey the world commodity situation, and to report on associated policy issues to the Council. The resulting agenda would therefore be limited to two substantive items: namely, the state of world agricultural commodity markets (which would include as appropriate the medium-term outlook) and policy developments affecting agricultural commodity markets and trade.
10. In these ways, the importance of CCP would be stressed by emphasizing its role as an important international forum for agricultural trade policy debate – something that clearly distinguishes it from COAG, and is aimed at a different audience. A further benefit might be that the shortening of the session and the more focused agenda would stimulate wider participation. This might open up the opportunity of extending invitations to ministries of trade. While this could affect the composition and possibly the size of delegations, it would involve no additional costs to FAO and would widen CCP’s sphere of influence.
11. Reports from the CCP’s various subsidiary bodies, notably the intergovernmental groups for the various individual commodities, which have tended to stimulate little discussion in past sessions of CCP, would become information items only. This is consistent with Rules 6 and 7 of the Rules of Procedure of the CCP and would reduce the number of substantive agenda items and provide significant cost savings. Obviously, major developments regarding individual commodities but of general concern would be raised in the discussion of international commodity market developments, and Members would have the opportunity to comment on the reported activities of the subsidiary bodies as appropriate. Further savings on documentation costs might be made by combining the various individual reports of the different subsidiary bodies into one summary report.
12. The Secretariat would continue to organize side events, allowing the participation of non-governmental and civil society organizations, outside of the formal meetings on specific topics pertinent to the mandate of the Committee. This development in relation to the 64th Session of CCP was well-received by Members. However, the proposed reduction in the length of the CCP session would impose some constraint on the number of such side events which could be included without overloading the programme.
13. Another option would be to further reduce the length of CCP sessions to two days to accommodate back-to-back sessions of CCP and COAG over six days if the same delegations were to attend both. However, this would impose further constraints upon the agenda and business of CCP and the scope for side events. While the proposed substantive agenda items could be covered in the available plenary meetings, the drafting committees, adoption of the report and any side events would have to be held in evening meetings, incurring extra costs for overtime. Of course if delegations to CCP and COAG were different then the time constraints would be eased by the possibility of running certain CCP and COAG meetings in parallel. However, this would reduce the extent of any possible savings to FAO and may run into shortages of suitable meeting room space. High level roundtables of the kind to be held at the time of the 65th Session of the CCP could be organized outside the constraints of CCP sessions since different delegates would be persumably involved. Some additional time might be released within a two-day CCP by using alternative reporting methods and reconsidering the need for a drafting committee. However, Members may find this not in line with the importance of policy issues discussed and to be reported.
14. Like other Committees reporting to the Council, COAG has an advisory role. Its areas of competence are very broad compared to those of the Committees dealing specifically with commodity problems (CCP), fisheries (COFI), forestry (COFO) or constitutional and legal matters (CCLM): they relate to agriculture, food and nutrition, with emphasis on the integration of all social, technical, economic, institutional and structural aspects related to agricultural and rural development in general (Rule XXXII 6(b), GRO). Given this all-encompassing mandate, several items are usually presented to COAG for consideration and the length of each session is normally five full days. The drafting committee usually meets four times, often late in the evening and with substantial cost implications.
15. COAG has the following standing agenda: review of FAO’s programme of work in the food and agriculture sector (items on both programme implementation and planned activities); selected development issues; and, for presentation at every other COAG, an item on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD). Substantive items presented as selected development issues or under other matters are four or five, as in the last two regular Sessions of COAG (2001 and 2003). In principle, no limit is imposed either on the number of these items or on the information documents made available to the Committee. For example, the 17th Session of COAG in 2003 had seven substantial agenda items and fourteen information documents. Of the agenda items, some are requested by the Committee as follow-up to those presented in the previous session. Side events, which have become an increasingly common feature of COAG, are generally well appreciated by Members; however, they can be costly to organize (participation of resource persons, preparation of documents or presentations, translation and interpretation whose costs are incurred by the Secretariat in some cases). Seven side events were held during COAG in 2003.
16. As for CCP, shortening the length of COAG sessions and reducing costs can only be done by limiting both the scope and number of agenda items. Thus, consideration by COAG of its two standing agenda items on programme implementation and planned activities should be more forward-looking and have a primarily strategic focus, in close relationship with FAO’s Strategic Framework. It should complement the examination of programme planning, implementation and evaluation by the Programme and Finance Committees.
17. It would also be desirable to explore means by which the number of substantive agenda items might be limited in each session, say to a maximum of four emerging issues of highest priority to Members and/or not already examined, globally or regionally, by other FAO statutory bodies. A more focused and limited agenda would allow the reduction of drafting committee meetings. Additional cost savings could be made by limiting the number of information documents and from linking the themes of the side events directly to the substantive agenda items.
18. The above proposals would allow the shortening of COAG sessions by at least one day to four full days. Cost savings of at least twenty per cent would be made in standard charges for interpretation and other meeting-related expenses. Further savings could be made in terms of production and translation of documents if the scope and number of agenda items as well as information documents were reduced. Some measure of cost savings would also result from organizing fewer side events.
19. The different mandates of CCP and COAG, requiring specialized technical representation by Members, leave little margin for combining the two Committees or their agendas. There is some scope, however, to reduce the respective length of sessions of the two Committees (CCP by one day and a half, COAG by one day). This would be achieved by limiting the number of agenda items (and, by implication, drafting committee sessions), as well as information documents and side events, while respecting the Membership’s preference for separating discussion and information items and for participating in side events on specific issues. The cooperation of all parties concerned in determining CCP and COAG agendas would be essential.
20. Running sessions of the two Committees back-to-back is a feasible option since both Committees nowadays hold their sessions in the same year of each biennium. However, while savings would be made by Members if the same delegates attended the two Committees throughout, there would be increased cost to the Organization if meetings were held outside the normal five-day work week or in the evenings.
21. In the light of the above proposals, the Joint Meeting is invited to consider the following recommendations:
For both Committees:
1 CL 124/9.