Tuesday, 14 December 2010 12:08

The Failure of the United Nations' "One UN Joint Program"

Written by  Malik Ayub Sumbal

The United Nations' "One UN Joint Program" has been a total failure in Pakistan owing to mismanagement and the apparent appointment of incompetent staff at the key administrative posts.

The One UN Joint Program was a pilot project in which Pakistan was a test case regarding the initiation of a new methodology of working on UN projects in countries that need aid. According to project documents, the One UN methodology was instituted to circumvent replication of efforts by the UN on the development projects. Under this new methodology, all the departments of the United Nations are supposed to work with mutual cooperation and understanding.

According to project documents of the One UN Joint Program, the new management design changes are supposed to bring together many operational sectors: Agriculture, Rural Development and Poverty Reduction Health & Population, Education, Environment, Disaster Risk Management, Human Rights, Gender Equality, Civil Society Engagement, and Refugees.

The One UN Joint Program was considered one of the utmost projects in the history of Pakistan, but unfortunately the tall claims made in the project documents of the attributes and accomplishments of the One UN Program are very distant from the reality on the ground, especially amongst the most vulnerable poor communities of Pakistan.

The UN reform in Pakistan was formally launched by the Prime Minister on March 1, 2007, and according to One UN Joint Program documents, $260 million has been spent on Agriculture, Rural Development and Poverty Reduction between 2007 and 2010, $225 million went to the Health and Population sector, $260.8 million went to Education, $74.5 million for Environment, and $70 million for Disaster Risk Management. Yet there has been no noticeable progress in any of these areas.

It's notable that these sectors that come under the One UN Joint Program have even failed to update their officials websites, and the websites do not contain facts and figures about projects that are being worked on. There isn't even any type of information regarding the projects' objectives and their set targets.

When The New American asked senior environmentalist Munir Ahmed, an advocacy specialist in Pakistan who acts as a watchdog on United Nation development projects in Pakistan, about how the One UN project was working out, he said: "The United Nation's One UN Joint Program is a wonderful project, but unfortunately this pilot and test project was totally failed due to the recruitment of the incompetent staff at the key posts." His view is that the main problem with the program is a lack of transparency in hiring. He said that for last several years experts have been questioning the selection process of the staff for United Nations' projects, as the people hired are only those who have been recommended by the incumbent government. He said that the hiring process favors hiring family members of other UN employees. There are, he said, positive marks in an interview if the applicants have any relative serving in the United Nations, creating a structure where families serve the United Nations from one generation to another. He said that this monopoly is the worst of kind of nepotism and is really shameful.

He said that as far as the One UN Joint Program on Environment is concerned, "The staff and the national program coordinator of the One UN Joint Program on Environment have been reluctant to tell anybody about the project for last couple of years. What they had done nobody knows except themselves. I am a senior environmentalist in Pakistan, but I still cannot understand the working and the innovation that they want to bring in the environment sector of Pakistan." Munir Ahmed said that whole staffs of the One UN Joint Program are always on visits somewhere — whether it's national visits inside Pakistan or international delegation trips to other countries. They are, "Looking busy but do nothing," he added.

Other experts point out other problems with the One UN Program. Dr. Abdul Qayyum, who is a leading water quality expert and has served at various key posts while working with a number of international organizations, said: "There is not any system of monitoring and evaluation in the One UN Joint Program. There is not any authority who can dare to ask about the projects, its objectives, and other vital information." He said that in the project documents and in the files, everything being talked about is theoretical; on the ground, very little help is available to poor Pakistanis. A major part of the huge amounts of donations vanished in the programs protocols and through other non-aid expenditures.

When this correspondent contacted the national program coordinator of the One UN Joint Program on Environment, Saleem Ullah Khan, he simply refused to comment on this issue.

This UN failure is not something new. There are several projects in the past that have also failed, and they were being initiated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). A best example of these failures is the Mountains Areas Conservancy Project (MACP), which has failed badly. This project was considered a failure because the UN didn't generate any awareness among the Pakistani people about the conservancy of the mountains, and there are still a number of projects in Pakistan in which the mountains are being destroyed for the construction of new housing projects. In Islamabad, a major part of the Margalla hills (the mountain range that surrounds Islamabad, the federal capital of Pakistan) has been demolished by stone-crushing plants, and the government is reluctant to take action against the stone crushers. The Mountain Areas Conservancy Project was a project to save the mountain ranges of Pakistan, but when the mountains aren't even protected near the federal capital, let alone in the far-flung areas of the country, how can it be considered a success? The same circumstances behind its failure are now being observed in the One UN Joint Program.

Malik Ayub Sumbal is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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