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UN budgets for 2018-19 : tracing decision-making across the UN system [regularly updated]

In our research on UN budgeting (results and early insights published for example here, here, here), we follow budget procedures throughout the UN system, in particular in the UN proper and in the Specialised Agencies of the UN. This post collects the most relevant documents, in particular UN system budget outlines, proposals, and final budgets adopted.

The document list below will be updated continuously throughout 2017 to help you follow UN’s regular budgeting like we do. We also follow the consequences of the Trump budget cuts on the UN for you.

UN Budgeting

Since UN budgets are under special scrutiny this year due to the Trump cuts announced earlier this month, I will help those of you interested to follow some of the procedures throughout this year.

The first and important insight from our ongoing research is that budget procedures in the UN system follow their own logic and timeline in each of the UN organisations, and few people actually follow them across the whole UN system.

Below you find budget proposals from UN specialised agencies, other UN entities, and the UN regular budget. They are order by the expected month in which they’ll typically be adopted by the main assemblies of the respective  UN organisations, usually for the next two years (= biennium). Once the budgets are officially adopted, I’ll also link to these versions.

I will update dates and add further organisations and additional documents in the coming weeks and months as these processes advance throughout 2017 and as I’m continuing our research.

Some organizations are missing because I simply haven’t added them to the list. Some of the organisations we study don’t actually provide updates on budgeting procedures on their websites. Others only provide final budgets or budget resolutions but not draft budgets, so it’s difficult to list those here.

One of the calls that I would have to the whole UN system is to make it easier for us, the public, to follow budgetary decision-making, for example by having dedicated budgeting and planning pages with all relevant documents, including for past years.

If you are interested in more details on our research on UN budgeting or if I’m missing something important in the list above, feel free to make me aware of it via Twitter or via email.

Updated:

- on 29 March 2017 with the ILO budget adjustment document link

- on 12 April 2017 with the first section of the UN proposed budget for 2018-19 (UNRWA), on 20 April 2017 with the UNHCR budget section; on 21 April 2017 with the UN-Women budget section of the UN Regular Budget; on 22 April with Sec. 10; on 25 April with the ICJ and disarmament sections; 9 May with the Geneva and Vienna Offices budget plus Section 8+28., 14 May with UNEP and the Office of Central Support Services

- on 19 April 2017 with the timeline for  UN-Women, UNDP, UNICEF and UNFPA 

- on 25 April 2017 with the UNESCO draft budget

- on 26 April 2017 with the UN peacekeeping budget proposal for July 2017 to June 2018

- on 15 May with the WHO proposed programme and budget

on 5 June with the ILO draft programme and budget

- on 12 June with updates of the UN general budget sections published during the past weeks, the projections for the UNFPA and UN-Women integrated budgets, and the WIPO draft budget

- on 20 July with 2018-19 budget estimates of UN-Women; ILO budget resolution

- on  7 August with the UN budget 2018-19 introduction; draft integrated budget 2018-21 of UNICEF

Freedom of information in international organizations

One year ago, I sent an email to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye (@davidkaye), in reaction to a public consultation, not knowing whether it mattered. Now that his report on “Access to Information in International Organizations” is published, I realized that I was one of a few people who had sent in a submission.

As you can see on the website of the report, my name is listed as one of five submissions from civil society and academia. However, my submission is not published because it came via email.

To make this more transparent, I publish below the text that I sent on 18 October 2016 in reaction to the public consultation. It’s not a refined submission – indeed just an email – but maybe it’s useful for future work in the direction of making the United Nations system and other international organizations more transparent to have this published here:

Dear Mr. Kaye,

through the Centre for Law and Democracy and a person working for Access Info Europe I saw that you are currently consulting with UN organizations on their access to information policies.

I do not know whether a submission from a researcher in political science and international public administration is welcome, especially after the general deadline has passed three days ago. However, I thought my observations would still be useful as context and as a “user’s” perspective.

My ongoing research on UN budgeting is part of a publicly funded project (see http://ipa-research.com/time), which itself is part of a larger research unit in Germany studying the work of international bureaucracies (http://ipa-research.com). I have been in particular to the UN in New York, ILO, UNESCO and WHO, including each of their archives. We also do research on other UN organizations, but less detailed than in these four cases.

If you allow, I would like to share three observations that I have found through my research in the UN system in the past two years:

1. Besides the archives or libraries, there is often no contact person named on public websites through which (ad hoc) requests for access to documents can be made. This means that one is forwarded from archives to relevant units, while relevant units may refuse access right away or refer back to higher levels of the hierarchy, leaving it unclear how to even ask for access to documents. Some UN organizations also have dedicated public document registers, some including main categories of administrative documents (even those that are not public), which allows to reduce the “unknown unknowns”, while other UN organizations publish their documents in unstructured ways or, if they have structured document repositories, they are not easily accessible for the public or documents are dispersed across several systems with different levels of (full-text) searchability.

2. The 20-year archival policy in the UN combined with the lack of access to documents policies makes well-reasoned academic research on UN organizations very difficult at worst and sketchy at best. There are two reasons for this:

First, the decision whether to actually archive documents is often taken years before the 20-year period is over. Going through archive documents 20 years and older (e.g. in UNESCO), I found that important parts of the budgeting decision-making documentation I was interested in had not been archived, while I had also no right to request more recent documents that were still in the hands of the secretariats. This left me without any documents not just for periods of 20 years but even well beyond that.

Second, the 20 year period seems to apply to documents with quite different degrees of political importance. In some cases, I was just looking for basic administrative guidelines describing a process inside the organization, but these documents, past and present, are treated similarly to internal letters in which detailed views and opinions of member states and UN administrative leaders are documented. The latter seem to have quite a different potential for creating diplomatic misunderstandings if published too early, while the former do not threaten diplomatic relations but rather reveal just basic systems of governance that are useful for our academic understand of how the respective UN organization works.

3. There is a lack of coherence in the application of the rules and practices, both within UN organizations and across the UN system. I happened to get documents in UN archives that were much younger than 20 years while the same type of documents from previous years were not accessible. Similarly, some of the documents I would get in one UN organization are difficult to impossible to get in another organization.

I make these three points since our research project started with a similar analysis for the EU-level, where there is Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents. I can say that getting access to administrative documents on EU budgeting of the past ten years relevant to our research was much more easy than any similar attempt to get access to UN documents.

Altogether, I think that all UN organizations should have a dedicated access to information policy, with clear guidelines for the outside world and a separation between archival documents and documents that are accessible outside the archives, either directly online or through requests.

Please do not hesitate to contact me in case you have any questions.

Ronny Patz

PS (Disclaimer): I have worked, in the past, for the EU Office of Transparency International (2010-12 as a volunteer, 2012-14 as a full time staff). I am in no work or other formal relationship with the office since June 2014, so the points made above reflect my personal views as a researcher.

 I really hope for future researchers, activists, and citizens that access to information from international organizations becomes easier in the future. The historic record of what IOs such as the United Nations have contributed to shaping our present world should be accessible, and today’s and future generations should be able to hold global institutions to account.

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