The evolution of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is detailed in this simple, coherent, and richly rewarding narrative.
Since it was formed in 1945 the United Nations has rendered signal service in the sphere of social and economic development through its agencies. Paramount has been the role of the UNDP. Several Indians have served in the UNDP with distinction — like Dr I.G. Patel, the only Asian Director of the London School of Economics. Another is Dr Digambar Bhouraskar, who was Director of the Development Administration Programme in the Department of Technical Cooperation. He holds a Doctorate from Bombay University and was a Post-Doctorate Research Fellow in Princeton University. He was also Adviser to the Jamaican Government.
Bhouraskar not only made history but wrote “history”. In 2008 he published a book “United Nations Development Aid — A Study in History and Politics” — which presented a history of UN Aid from 1946 to 1966. The book under review continues the story and covers the next 45 years. The UNDP was established in 1966 by merging two programmes — Expanded Programme Of Technical Assistance and The Special Fund. In the beginning, developing countries submitted project requests.
The UN approved projects it could finance to be executed by specialized agencies. The adoption of the “Consensus” in 1970 radically changed this and accorded recipient countries freedom to chose their own priorities and adopt the necessary modalities. What was called “Technical Assistance” became “Development Cooperation.” UNDP provides grants-in-aid to developing countries which was facilitated by a number of organizations — U N Population Fund; U N Women, etc. The book concentrates on the UNDP’s core programmes financed from voluntary pledges by members. The author has critically examined four major issues – UNDP’s mission, resources, performance and evaluation in the management of aid.
Chapter One of the book is an exhaustive analysis of the debate on allocation of resources among countries and for formulation and implementation of country programmes. How perceptions altered and how practices were changed are related precisely. Between the vast dimensions of the demands for assistance and the limited dimensions of resources, there was a need for the formulation of a strategy by which these resources could be most effectively used. Each new year the UNDP was widening the scope of its activities to meet new challenges. The UNDP made its aim, “Sustained Human Development” with focus on poverty eradication. Significant developments were UNDP Business Plan, Millennium Summit and Millennium Declaration and the First Ministerial Level Meeting.
The next chapter is on resource mobilisation. Voluntary contributions formed the core resources but there was deterioration from 1980 to 1985 and again from 1990 to 2000.By the beginning of 2001 UNDP transformed itself more into an executive agency than a sole funding agency in the United Nations system. Non-core resources assumed a very significant role in financing UNDP activities. Core resources started rising only after 2007. Based on past evidence and expressed in real terms UNDP core income has been particularly responsive to reduction in ODA while only moderately responsive to increases in ODA.
The next chapter is devoted to implementation of programmes. UNDP set up a semi-independent body UNOPS to provide project related services to recipient countries. As core resources shrank donor countries were enabled to participate in third-party financing in UNDP and make supplementary contribution to resources.
Following adoption of “Corporate Planning “ UNDP concentrated its efforts on sharpening the focus on poverty eradication and closer attention to gender mainstreaming and vital areas like environment and governance. The bulk of the core resources went to African countries as they gained independence in the Sixties and Seventies and joined the UN. They were far less well-developed and badly required assistance. Major donor countries attached importance to least-developed countries and UNDP set up a Special Fund for them.
The fourth chapter is dedicated to evaluation. In 2009 UNDP adopted a formal evaluation policy after long experience and experimentation. The author discusses at length the nature, scope, methodology and analyses the strength and weaknesses of evaluation. The UNDP formed the new Office of Evaluation and Strategic Planning to strengthen the role of evaluation as a crucial source of knowledge for enhancing the management, quality and future direction of its programmes. The OESP was renamed as the “Evaluation Office”. The Office published two major studies and made efforts through training programmes to strengthen evaluation capacity in country offices. In 2011, a revised evaluation policy has been adopted to further improve the preparation, submission and tracking of management responses to independent and decentralized evaluation.
The UNDP must ensure the effectiveness of its aid, improve delivery of public services in recipient countries and make efforts to coordinate aid within the UN system. UNDP ought to assure that it targets its assistance and delivers quality outputs at least cost. This book is an outstanding contribution on the role of UNDP and is a reference book to practitioners, students and research workers.