Of UN development finance progress, terrorism, taxes … & Julia Gillard

Many, many moons ago – well, in June 1997 to be precise – the pantheon of the great and the good, known as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), decided it would be a ‘good thing’ to adopt the (my bold throughout -hro):

Agenda for Development, which called for consideration of the idea of holding an international conference on financing for development (FfD). Subsequently, during its 52nd session in December 1997, the UNGA adopted resolution 52/179, which noted the need for systematic, comprehensive and integrated high-level intergovernmental consideration of FfD, and created an ad hoc open-ended working group to formulate recommendations on the form, scope and agenda for this consideration.

I’ve skimmed the history and evolution of this “idea” and I’m sorry to report that I cannot determine precisely when during the gestation of this “idea” to the now full-blown (i.e. capitalized) International Conference on Financing for Development – of which the third gathering (of no less than 11,000 participants) recently concluded in Addis Ababa – might have transpired. Nor am I certain whether there is any significant difference between a “high-level” whatever and the more frequently seen “High Level” whatever!

Long story short … In the intervening years, there have been many meetings – of various and sundry UN designated kinds – including the most recent July 13-16 “International Conference” at which – if you read between the lines of the IISD’s “summary” – much was not resolved.

OTOH, no “International” conference at which one arm, leg, finger etc. of the UN plays a role can possibly conclude without being designated as “historic”, and of course some words of wisdom from Mr. Happiness, aka UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This one was no exception; here’s the official version of Ki-moon in action on July 13, whereby he was “calling for”:

an ambitious and universally inclusive financing framework to implement the SDGs, highlighting the need for: a social compact for greater social protection; a package for least developed countries (LDCs), including a commitment to increase official development assistance (ODA); a technology facilitation mechanism (TFM); gender equality; and protecting and preserving the planet and natural resources.

There may (or may not) be a difference between Ki-moon’s call for a “universally inclusive financing framework” and the six calls for “innovative finance” – and/or variants thereof – found in this multi-thousand word document. For the record, the “historic” designation was bestowed upon the deliberations of this gathering by “FfD3 Secretary-General Wu Hongbo”.

Here’s an excerpt from the IISD’s summary of what did not get accomplished at this “historic” gathering:

When Member States started negotiating the draft outcome in January, a number of global governance reform items were in the draft text―including a sovereign debt restructuring body; a global health fund to bring together existing global health funds; an ad hoc advisory body to review the role, scale, and functioning of multilateral and regional development banks; commodity stabilization funds; increasing developing country participation in the Financial Stability Board; and implementing reforms in IFIs. None of these items made it into the AAAA.

Amidst the entire series of potentially missed opportunities, however, a delegate expressed satisfaction that a general commitment for “further governance reform” of both the World Bank and IMF that includes a “merit-based selection of their heads” was agreed.

In case you’re wondering about the Quadruple A above; no, it is not a beefed up version of Alcoholics Anonymous. Rather it is the embodiment of a long-standing UN tradition during the course of gatherings of the High Level kind. In this instance, at practically the 11th hour, the UN blessed body (albeit at this typical stage of gestation, a body whose deliberations are of the “non-binding” kind) known as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Furthermore, notwithstanding the 44 mentions throughout the summary (including one in which AAAA received the blessing of the European Union) didn’t quite make it to the written-in-stone line. From the IISD’s summary:

The AAAA includes major achievements, but without the political will to implement it, the promises in the document are likely to be short-lived. However, with the appropriate practice regimen, runners know that these highs—and lows—can be predictable. The AAAA endorses the common vision on a global partnership for sustainable development and provides a continued basis for multilateral cooperation on development finance. States will have to display their discipline in sticking with this regime.

Fancy that, delegates couldn’t muster the required “political will” to move AAAA beyond “non-binding” status. Back to the UN’s recycling and/or reinvention drawing-board for these 44 mentions – behind which I have little doubt that many drafts and documents lurk somewhere in the bowels of some UN affiliated library or other.

There were a few surprises (at least to me!) as I scrolled through this multi-thousand word summary from the IISD. One was the appearance of a word that US President Obama, as I recall, some time ago decreed should not be mentioned. It’s the T-word, folks: Terrorism (and/or variants thereof). It got three mentions, albeit without any specific attributions. I found this somewhat ironic – particularly considering that during the July 16 Plenary …

The first mention fell from the lips of Habib Abbas, from Syria – of all places! Abbas:

urged combatting terrorism, which he said saps resources that could be used for sustainable development

This was surprising, to me, because the UN body charged with actually defining “terrorism” has yet to do so. Notwithstanding the fact that an Ad Hoc Committee has been deliberating on “Measures to Eliminate Terrorism” since December 1996 – a mere year after the establishment of the FfD. Sadly, the events of the past few years very strongly suggest that whatever the “accomplishments” of this Ad Hoc Committee might be – and whatever “measures” might have been recommended in the interim – “successful” is most definitely not a word that comes to mind.

At the other extreme on the “surprise” continuum, however, was the presence of 55 mentions of “tax” and/or variants thereof. It almost puts AAAA (at a mere 44 mentions) to shame, does it not?! Why an “International” body (and a creation of the UN, no less) should be concerning itself with what I would deem to fall solely within national (and/or lower) jurisdiction(s) simply boggles my mind. It may well have boggled the mind of some voting delegates as well. Here’s how the IISD summarized this element:

with the heavy emphasis on domestic resource mobilization in the text, one delegate remarked that it was “ironic” to see developed countries resist intergovernmental cooperation on tax matters that would significantly raise domestic resources. Some Member States that had pushed hard for the upgrade of the tax body, however, were in the end satisfied that global tax norms were now part of the international discourse and that the UN is now seen as a credible body to handle tax issues. As FfD3 Secretary-General Wu Hongbo pointed out, “This is not the end of the journey; Member States will continue to discuss this issue.”

Excuse me?! Sorry, I haven’t had a chance to trace the history of this particular nascent UN grab; but if 55 mentions is all it takes for someone to declare that “the UN is now seen as a credible body to handle tax issues” IMHO, this simply takes the matter completely beyond belief!

Yet another glaring failure on the part of the UN also received surprising mention – well, two to be precise: refugees. But speaking of “surprises” … One mention that certainly made me sit up and take notice was an appearance by Australia’s now former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard! What on Gaia’s green earth is “no carbon tax for Australia” (hah!) Gillard doing at that table, I wondered!

Finance is not known to be her forté – nor, at least to the best of my knowledge, does this once-upon-a-time legal beagle have any actual expertise in the field of education, other than that which she might have acquired when she served as Australia’s Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion.

Yet, here she is at a “High Level” UN table declaiming her “passion” for education on behalf of an organization with the self-glorifying name of the “Global Partnership for Education” (GPE). It is perhaps worth noting that her GPE bio is somewhat more glowing – while glossing over her somewhat less than exemplary performances one finds in the wiki bio I noted above.

Speaking of bios … The current CEO of GPE is a woman by the name of Alice Albright – who may, or may not, be one of the twin daughters of former US diplomat Madeleine Albright. With such scant details from GPE’s Albright (particularly in comparison to those provided by Gillard) it’s kinda hard to tell! But I digress …

Ever heard of the GPE before?! No?! Me neither. Oh, well … here’s Gillard in all her (well-rehearsed and/or scripted) glory: [note link to video updated 06/15/2016 -hro]

But that aside … A few facts from Gillard and Albright’s Ship-Shaping ($3.2 billion strong and counting) – or shape-shifting – GPE Shop, as found on the GPE’s $500,000 (well, that was the budgeted amount) new, improved website.

I haven’t been able to determine exactly how Gillard succeeded in landing in the Chair of this $multi-billion NGO in February of 2014. Nonetheless, land she did! And I’m sure that somewhere on the GPE site, with sufficient perseverance, I might discover how (and/or by whom) such decisions are made.

Considering that the Board structure mirrors that of many UN bodies (and, in fact, includes representative and alternates from UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank) my guess would be that it was dreamed up (sometime prior to its establishment in 2009 – in Copenhagen, of all places) by some dedicated UN-ocrats. However, I’m perfectly willing to concede that this might be mere coincidence (albeit of the very convenient kind!)

And speaking of this $500,000 site … What on earth were those developers thinking when they decided to group the various meetings as one of three types – Meetings, Audio Conferences and E-mail Decisions. Surely a single list – grouped by year if grouping must be grokked – with “type” appended would be far easier for an interested party to navigate with some measure of continuity!

For the record, my mouse and I decided to randomly wander through the “Audio Conferences” section. And we eventually reeled in a (60 page arcanely named – in typical UN fashion) pdf for which the following description had been helpfully – well, at least half-helpfully – provided:

Secretariat Budget. September 2012

This paper seeks a decision from the Board of Directors approving a budget of US$18,076,679 to support the Secretariat work plan for the period of 1 July 2012 to 31 December.

I’m not entirely sure why the above description could not have added “2013” to “31 December”! Perhaps that would be a transparency step too far, for this particular group of documents! To be honest, I cannot say that I’ve read the whole thing. But I did notice (beginning on page 22 of the pdf) the Staffing Plan by Secretariat Team. To my (former CEO of a non-profit organization’s) eye, this 50+ body struck me as being, well, somewhat top-heavy, to say the least!

Well, YMMV, but that’s the view from here;-)

4 thoughts on “Of UN development finance progress, terrorism, taxes … & Julia Gillard

  1. Pingback: Tony Thomas :Cheque Mates: Gillard, Bishop & Hillary | RUTHFULLY YOURS

  2. Pingback: Cheque Mates: Gillard, Bishop & Hillary | No B-S here (I hope)

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