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August 1973

Time for a Mini-Jackson Report?


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Published in International Associations 25, August-September, pp. 429-430

Extracts from a talk (followed by questions) given by Bradford Morse, U.N, Under-Secretary- General for Pol itical and General Assembly Affairs, on the occasion of the first World Assembly of NGO's concerned with the Global Environment (Geneva, June 1973),

We have in the United Nations today a revived emphasis on the NGO com munity. We have a Secretary-General who is an experienced man who knows full well the importance of the contri bution that you can make in real terms, not in sham terms. He has as signed to me a particular responsibil ity to serve as a point of contact on the 38th floor of the United Nations, with the NGO community and I would be privileged to meet any of you in my office. The door is open to all of you if you are in New York. I have a background which gives me a very real understanding of the impor tance of the sub-structure of any dyn amic mechanism like the United Nat ions system, and I know full well that it is only working through the substruc ture that the real results can be achiev ed. In a very real sense you are the sub-structure of the United Nations without which the United Nations could not long endure. We hope in the months ahead to tighten the role of the NGO's throughout the United Nations system. New structures may be neces sary. New arrangements certainly will be necessary if you are to be, as you must be, full participants as well as petitioners. As I said, there is a new day before us in the United Nations.


S. Waqar Ahmed Husaini. Asian Environmental Society (also asked by: Mian Fazali-Hannan, Family Planning Association of Pakistan) I think there is one question which is probably bothering all of us: what are the insti tutional constraints on the United Na tions system in helping, putting on their feet, and seeking out on your ini tiative the cooperation of NGO's in developing countries. How much can you do and what is it that you cannot do?

Morse. I think there are two kinds of restraint: one institutional, the other financial. I think one of the problems has been that there has never been effective communication and coordin ation among the various elements of the United Nations, each of which has a responsibility to have meaningful com munication with the nongovernmental community. They have failed to have effective communication among them selves. That's one of the problems. And I am working very hard to over come that. We have instituted within the last six months a regular program me of communication among the var ious elements of the U.N. which do have the responsibility to listen to and heed the NGO community. Second is the financial inhibition, and that is the relatively small level of resources that have gone in the U.N. budget to support such U.N. activities and this is something that hopefully will be ad dressed by the NGO Committee of ECOSOC at its next meeting (see page 423).

Glen Leet, Community Development Foundation. One question we have often been asking is whether it is pos sible or not for an NGO which is exclus ively concerned with environment, although it may not be international, to acquire status with the U.N. ECOSOC.

Morse. I don't pretend to have any ex pert knowledge of the legalistic requir ements, so I can't give you a pat ans wer. I can tell you that it would seem to me that any organization which does have the vitality and the vigour and the interest to associate itself with one programme ought to be received by the system as a whole.

Anthony Judge, Union of International Associations. Mr Morse, can I ask you a very blunt question. Can we expect any dramatic changes in the relation ship, firstly between NGO's in consul tative status with ECOSOC, and sec ondly of NGO's in general in consul tative status with different parts of the U.N. system and, if so, can you give us some indication as to when such dram atic changes might be coming along ? That's the first question. (Morse: Yes, within 3 months). Thank you. And the second question -- isn't there a case for a sort of mini-Jackson Report on the relationship between the NGO's and the UN system. The Jackson Report on the Capacity Study of the U.N. Dev elopment System very much missed out any mention of NGO's and how they related to the U.N. system [NB:The first major Internal study of the functioning of all elements of the United Nations sys tem in support of the development programme was made by a team headed by Sir Robert Jackson (hence " Jackson Report ") and published under the title: Capacity Study of the United Nations Development System. New York. United Nations. 1969. 2 vols.]. And yet much has been built on the Capacity Study thinking in different ways including, I mention specifically, the U.N. Information systems.

Morse. I haven't heard the proposal made in those terms earlier, for a sort of a Jackson study of NGO relationships -- a mini-Jackson Report. But I cer tainly think there's merit to it and I'll think about it. Now what I have done, after meeting with the NGO Bureau (for ECOSOC NGO's) here and talking to representatives of the NGO Confer ence (for ECOSOC NGO's) in New York, is talk to one foundation so far in order to obtain foundation support for the two NGO leadership communities here in Geneva and in New York in order that the two groups can start having belter communication relations. But this doesn't at all go to the larger question which you raise -- it's a good idea I think, and I'll certainly explore it.

Comment in retrospect

Mr Morse later clarified his answer to the problem of activating developing country NGO's by stating that the matter should be put by the NGO community before the ECOSOC Committee on NGO's. Given the ability of this Com mittee to work imaginatively however (see page 423), it is extremely unlikely that this approach would produce more than token recommendations. Appreciation of his positive response on the question of national NGO's is similarly much diluted by the know ledge that it is very much the politi ca//y-governed interpretation (in the above Committee) of the legalistic requirements that prevents many national bodies from associating their programmes more closely with those of the U.N.

Whilst welcoming Mr Morse's confir mation that " dramatic changes " would be made shortly, one wonders on the basis of what information and analysis they will have been made. Surely it would have been an advan tage, and a useful precedent for the " new era ",to have consulted NGO's before the change rather than after the proposal had been finalized, if at all. His comrnendably rapid action to seek financial support for two potentially very important units within the inter NGO system, also raises the question as to whether objective study by external consultants would reveal such action to be the most appropriate. All the people and organizational units (both U.N, and NGO) who are connected with the inter-NGO/UN-NGO question (includ ing this observer) are currently part of the problem -- not part of the sol ution -- because of the way they are obliged to behave in the existing inter organizational system. Mr Morse has been misinformed (by whom ?): there is no " leadership of the NGO com munity "because that community is fragmented (see article on page 414) and has no desire for umbrella, coor dinating bodies. The consultative status system perpetuates and reinforces that fragmentation around each of the UN Specialized Agencies (UNEp is the latest example). In fact each Agency has its own " NGO "community which, alt hough unacknowledged, considerably overlaps the others (See analysis in tabular form: International Associations, 1971. p. 358) and naturally generates a separatist mentality to the advantage of those who have the time for such activities. However, even with respect to a given UN body, many major NGO's have a policy of " token partic ipation "in existing NGO consultative status Conferences, where at most (possibly for fear of UN censorship on the occasion of some " Review ") the representatives ensure their presence on the list of participants before depar ting the meeting for more direct and fruitful -discussions with secretariat official.

Such assertions should of course be substan tiated by a systematic, external analysis of the membership, participant and voting lists of NGO Conferences and their working groups. This should be accompanied by an analysis of the percentage of plenary resolutions and working group reports which give rise to new UN or NGO programmes or activities. (An equivalent schol arly analysis of the UN system showed that 3 % of resolutions of UN bodies gave rise to new activ ities. See footnote 6. page 412).

Under these circumstances, perhaps a " mini-Jackson "study should have been commissioned, and commented upon by NGO's in draft form, before tinkering with the system, rather than 'at a later stage. At least it would help to identify those units and procedures through which effective change could be made and those which, although apparently well-placed, constituted obstacles to effective change in their present form or gave excessive empha sis to certain features of the UN-NGO system. Such a study should suggest organizational structures which remove the currently damaging stress placed on personalities, organizational status and variously motivated, inter-organ izational discrimination.      

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