Wednesday, May 23, 2007

U.S. National Commission for UNESCO meeting

The United States National Commission for UNESCO held its annual meeting Monday and Tuesday. The meeting was well attended, with the majority of the Commissioners present and perhaps 100 members of the public attending. Most of the meeting was devoted to parallel meetings of five committees devoted to the five major programmatic areas of UNESCO.

High points of the meeting were the presentations by Ambassador Louise Oliver and Deputy Director General Marcio Barbosa. Ambassador Oliver described the great success that was achieved by a drafting committee for a resolution on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The committee, in which she was a key participant, also included members from Egypt, Jordan and Israel, and dealt with a very contentious issue in a very constructive fashion.

An auditor's report detailing failures of UNESCO procedures in contracting for consultant services for the reorganization of the education sector of UNESCO was a hot topic at the recent UNESCO Executive Board meeting in Paris. The problems resulted in the resignation of the Assistant Director General for Education, who was at the time the highest ranking U.S. citizen in the Secretariat. Ambassador Oliver described the action of the U.S. delegation to the Executive Committee in joining with other delegations to demand the reform and improvement of UNESCO's administrative systems so that such problems would not occur in the future. She did not describe, as others have done in private, the success of the team she led in limiting the damage to the interests of the United States resulting from the situation. The Executive Board issued instructions with the full approval of the Director General, that the reforms of the Education Sector would go forth to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its programs.

The attendance at the National Commission meeting of Deputy Director General Barbosa indicated both the concern for UNESCO leadership has for the role of the United States in that organization and the importance UNESCO places on the National Commissions. In his remarks, he recognized the worldwide importance of the leadership provided by the educational, scientific, cultural, and communications communities of the United States and thus their roles in UNESCO. He and Ambassador Oliver both were enthusiastic about the reform that makes the medium term strategy for the next six years a rolling strategy, to be less rigid than in the past. He also described the importance of upcoming efforts to finalize the plan and budget for the next two years, and the follow-on work to develop detailed implementation arrangements for that plan.

The misfit between UNESCO's huge global responsibilities and its very limited resources continues to be a problem. In three of the last four biennium, there were zero growth budgets; only with the return of the United States to membership in UNESCO in the last eight years was there a significant increase in available resources. Unfortunately, the National Commission did not see fit to advise the U.S. government to change its position which still supports an inadequate budget for UNESCO.

The United States has increased its extrabudgetary contributions to UNESCO. In private conversation with Ambassador Oliver she acknowledged how important those contributions are in encouraging UNESCO into programs and projects deemed important by the United States. Still, the U.S. extrabudgetary contributions are much less than would be expected given the economic power of this nation, and indeed are much less than those of some other countries.

The Secretariat of the National Commission reported some success in finding qualified U.S. citizens for UNESCO employment, especially in finding suitable candidates for the young professional program, several of whom were hired. It also reported on the success of efforts to link the U.S. with UNESCO's programs, most notably the literacy initiative associated with first lady, Laura Bush.

Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte gave a strong keynote address, not only formally stating the importance the United States government gives to UNESCO, but symbolizing that fact through his presence and his obvious knowledge of UNESCO programs and their importance.

In short, this was another successful meeting of the National Commission. The State Department staff who organized the event are to be congratulated. Georgetown University provided great facilities for the meeting.

No comments: