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Needs-Based Budget: U.S. Government Statement on Budgetary Issues

Samuel Witten, Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Remarks to the 59th Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee
Geneva, Switzerland
October 9, 2008

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We thank UNHCR for the very comprehensive revised 2008-2009 budget document submitted to EXCOM. The United States has continued to encourage UNHCR to present a needs-based budget and we commend their efforts to begin this process through the Global Needs Assessment. It is tangible proof that UNHCR is moving towards a system of results-based management in which beneficiary needs are paramount and prioritized. We note that it is also important for UNHCR to be able to accurately detail the impact of funding cuts on programs and beneficiaries. We understand that there is a fine balance between proposing a budget based solely on needs and setting a realistic budget that is fundable and we hope that the GNA will assist in achieving that balance.

The next big challenge is for UNHCR to come up with a standardized approach and common criteria for the GNA prior to global rollout. Prioritization of needs will be a difficult task. This exercise needs to be considered and weighted properly, given that country context and beneficiary populations needs can vary a great deal. Input from implementing partners, host governments, and donors will be key for continued buy-in to the process. We stand ready to lend our support and believe that we are all up to this challenge.
We note the reported $103.9 million overall shortfall in UNHCR’s budget in 2008, including a shortfall in the AB of $10.6 million and urge donors to support UNHCR’s work with robust and predictable contributions on behalf of the world’s displaced populations. We also urge donors to limit tightly earmarked contributions, given that these reduce the organization’s flexibility and undermine responsibility-sharing by donor and host governments.

The United States continues to be concerned with the increasing number of Supplementary Appeals in 2009, which represent more than a third of UNHCR’s total budget. Although there is reference in the budget document to mainstreaming refugee SBs into the Global Refugee Program, we reiterate our interest in seeing UNHCR mainstream these SBs as soon as possible since many of these operations fall into UNHCR’s core-mandated responsibilities and should be integrated into the Annual Budget. We hope that the proposed new budget structure will address the issue of criteria for mainstreaming SBs.

As reported at last Standing Committee, many of the major changes with regard to reform will be finalized by mid-2009, where UNHCR will then transition to implementing and improving these initiatives. We look forward to continuing to be actively consulted on next steps. The United States also encourages UNHCR to continue to provide regular feedback to the Executive Committee regarding concrete ways in which reform efforts have made a positive impact on the lives of refugees, the stateless, IDPs, and others of concern.

We believe that UNHCR’s efforts to date to move towards a more results-based management culture are ground-breaking and we commend its efforts to develop a comprehensive, quantifiable, performance measurement system. It is vital for UNHCR to be able to establish and use indicators to track progress against achieving meaningful objectives and standards, both at Headquarters and in the Field. This enables us to see where the gaps and needs lie, as well as the true impact and success of operations. We will be following closely UNHCR’s performance management process, particularly the ways in which the organization links together its various performance measurement initiatives. The ability to integrate these current efforts with budgeting is UNHCR’s next big challenge, especially as a new budget structure is rolled out.

We welcome UNHCR’s openness and transparency in presenting the 2009 budget in the new budget structure at the last Standing Committee meeting in order to provide us with a snapshot of what the 2010-2011 biennial budget will look like. The level of detail and ways in which the budget can be viewed through Focus is quite impressive. We are interested, however, in better understanding at what level of detail the new budget structure will be presented next year and would appreciate some clarification from UNHCR. As noted in previous interventions, we would also like some clarity in terms of the ways in which UNHCR will be able to differentiate between populations of concern and staff time that may cut across two or more pillars. We encourage continued consultation with EXCOM members as final details are decided.

UNHCR’s new budget structure is linked with UNHCR’s efforts to improve its resource allocation framework, which not only will empower managers so that decision-making is more effective and efficient, but should also strengthen accountability and oversight. This is particularly relevant as UNHCR moves forward with regionalization and decentralization. Establishing a strong global accountability framework for UNHCR management, staff, and implementing partners is critical to the overall success of the organization.

Mr. Chairman, over the past several years, UNHCR has undertaken a series of reform initiatives with the aim of becoming a more flexible, effective, and results-oriented organization that can better serve the needs of its beneficiaries. Greater responsibility for UNHCR’s populations of concern through strengthened accountability and oversight should be UNHCR’s – and our – ultimate goal of reform. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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