The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Statement to the First regular session of the Executive Board 2024

Statement by Jorge Moreira da Silva, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNOPS Executive Director, to UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Executive Board First regular session of 30 January 2024.

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Mr President, honorable members,

Allow me to extend a warm welcome, in particular to the new President and Bureau members, as well as the new members of the Board. It is a pleasure to speak with you all.

We welcome 2024 as our world remains in the throes of wars, climate chaos, poverty, hunger and stark inequalities.

The SDGs remain in peril, and trust in our institutions is in deep deficit. We urgently need to redouble our efforts to come together across divides, and find shared solutions. To quote the Secretary General, “2024 must be a year for rebuilding trust and restoring hope.”

UNOPS is ready to play its part. Alongside our UN family, we unite to work in the pursuit of peace, climate action and sustainable development.

Responding to Crises and Conflicts

I have now been at the helm of this amazing organization for almost ten months - and I have witnessed how my colleagues work against all odds to respond to needs in the most challenging environments. From Gaza to Ukraine. From Haiti to Yemen. From Ethiopia to Pakistan.

Over my several missions, I have seen first hand the circumstances that they work in - and the impact of their relentless efforts to make lives better. Allow me to start my statement with some of these examples.

Just two weeks ago - I was in Gaza, where the humanitarian situation is simply catastrophic. The ability of humanitarian partners to deliver even basic aid has been decimated by intense hostilities, restrictions on movement, fuel shortages, and disruptions in communications.

I had a chance to meet some of our UNOPS colleagues there - who despite the severe challenges, continue to deliver for the people.

This work includes procuring and delivering fuel to enable humanitarian response in critical sectors such as health, food, water, sanitation and hygiene. It includes providing operational support to the UN mine action team – enhancing the security of high-risk UN and WHO missions across Gaza, and bringing mattresses and blankets for distribution to affected communities.

It includes coordinating and managing access to Gaza through the access coordination unit, on behalf of OCHA.

And importantly - as tasked by the Secretary-General following Security Council Resolution 2720 on the ongoing Gaza crisis, we have started work to support the full operationalization of the new Office of Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag. This includes the design, operationalizing and management of the UN mechanism to facilitate, coordinate, monitor, and verify humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza. 

2023 also saw my colleagues continuing their tireless work to respond to urgent needs in Ukraine. Here, our team worked in multiple sectors and regions, with a focus on the immediate humanitarian and early recovery needs.

Last winter, we prioritized winterization support through the delivery of up to 1,000 generators to hospitals and other critical infrastructure facilities across the country, along with modular boiler houses and other equipment to ensure the uninterrupted provision of energy and heating.

We provided immediate support following the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam. We contributed to the development of the Rapid Damage Needs Assessment and aided the general realignment to green energy transition.

We are now working on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged infrastructure to revive the communities. By rehabilitating whole settlements, including damaged houses, schools, hospitals, and supporting local businesses, we aid efforts to rebuild communities across Ukraine. These are immediate responses as we transition to the longer term solutions that UNOPS is incredibly well placed to support.

For example, backed by the EU and other partners, we are refurbishing over 70 schools to ensure children can go back to school in a safe environment. Along with the construction repairs, several schools have been equipped with furniture and supplies so students can return to a more conducive learning environment.

Finally, we support efforts to respond to the explosive remnants of war scattered throughout Ukraine, delivering relief to heavily affected communities.

Throughout the over 85 countries where UNOPS works, we can see the same dedication to delivering meaningful action, across sustainable development, peace and security, and humanitarian functions.

In Yemen, years of conflict, coupled with the impacts of climate change - have severely undermined the provision of public services. Here, we work to restore and improve access to social services in urban and rural areas, including roads, water and sanitation, solid waste management, health, and electricity. One example of this work involves rehabilitating hospitals and health facilities, with funding from Germany. This work aims to rehabilitate a total of 26 referral and district hospitals, 18 COVID-19 isolation units, four therapeutic feeding centers, and 16 vaccine supply chain facilities by 2025, benefitting over 7.2 million people as well as training over 3,600 health workers. And we want to do more. With our partners, we are now discussing the rehabilitation of further health facilities, conducting an assessment of damage and needs at the health sector, and an evaluation of the delivery of digital health care services.

In Ethiopia, we support the government and other partners to develop and deliver projects to serve development priorities. This includes modernizing the agriculture sector, providing clean energy, improving the health sector and restoring access to basic services in the conflict-affected areas of the country.

Together with the federal and local authorities in Tigray, we are restoring and improving access to water and sanitation, health and education. This work also includes responding to gender-based violence and shoring up the revival and development of agriculture production. These efforts are expected to improve the lives of 1.2 million people in Tigray. 

Similarly, we continue to support the people of Afghanistan, where decades of conflict, the climate crisis, an economic downturn and severe limits on women’s participation in public life have made for a grim development and humanitarian outlook.

Here, we work to strengthen community resilience and improve livelihoods, in a project that benefits nine million people, including by providing short-term employment opportunities for one million households. Local ownership is at the heart of this work, which involves community-based organizations composed almost equally of men and women, selecting work activities, identifying vulnerable households and recruiting workers. 

In the aftermath of the earthquakes in Herat in October 2023, our team is working in affected areas to restore services to meet basic human needs. Ensuring people have shelter, providing essential healthcare, providing access to clean and safe water, rehabilitating irrigation systems to enhance farmers’ livelihoods, and supporting the recovery of the local economy. Essentially, playing our part to improve lives in a very challenging environment.

And along this - our support continues to sustainable development around the world. Few months ago, I also had the opportunity to visit Bangladesh - where UNOPS has been working for over 20 years. I saw how UNOPS’ work, together with the government of Bangladesh, has contributed to stronger planning, and technical and operational capacities to deliver resilient infrastructure. This helps the country withstand various shocks and stresses including from climate change. I saw how we worked to strengthen the health system, for example by constructing oxygen plant facilities at government hospitals across the country.

Honourable members,

Allow me also to highlight UNOPS valuable contributions in efforts to advance global climate action and build resilience against climate change.

Last year’s COP-28 shifted the focus - rightly and urgently - on the implementation gap in climate action.

UNOPS - with our focus on operations - works to help our partners bridge that gap and deliver immediate, and meaningful action on the ground. This was clearly recognized by Member States, when the decision was made to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund - a fund that focuses on post disaster response and prevention strategies.

We are proud to have been chosen, together with UNDRR, to host the secretariat of the Santiago network for loss and damage technical assistance and capacity building. The Fund and the Santiago network are parallel mechanisms coming together to deliver policy, finance and technical assistance for loss and damage.

This is not just a show of trust for UNOPS - but also an acknowledgement of the power of partnerships within the UN family. We look forward to working together with UNDRR to provide practical solutions in the face of the climate crisis.

Restoring Trust

For UNOPS, 2023 has also been about continuing the important work to rebuild trust with our partners and the communities we serve, following the mismanagement crisis that unfolded the previous year. The Executive Board’s support in this process has been crucial.

The Comprehensive Response Plan that my predecessor Jens Wandel developed together with the Board guided this process. Over the past year, we have tirelessly implemented the recommendations and presented our progress to the board on a monthly basis.

But while this work progressed - so did the everyday work of my colleagues around the world, to make a tangible difference to lives and livelihoods, as the examples I have shared clearly highlight.

In sharing some of the impact of our work - I wanted to highlight two points:

  • We have made big strides in restoring trust.
  • And we know that UNOPS is in demand - against a challenging development, humanitarian and peace and security picture - where our operations on the ground are needed more than ever.

While my colleagues are working to finalize our figures - estimates show that we have delivered 2.7 billion worth of projects over 2023. In total, over the past year, we agreed to do almost 300 new projects and to extend our operations across a number of countries.

We are committed to continuing our journey of reforms - and as we do so - we remain ready to respond to the needs of our partners and the people that we serve, against a background of growing needs and multiplying crises.

Comprehensive Response Plan

Allow me now to move the focus onto our internal management efforts - and the progress we have made on our various reforms, both driven by the Comprehensive Response Plan and what we are doing beyond.

Here - our progress has been robust. Of the 43 original recommendations put forward by KPMG, 32 were completed by the end 2023. Seven of these will be completed during 2024, one will continue until 2027 and another is led by the UN Office of Legal Affairs. Two of these have not been operationalized as we have closed down the workstream connected with the former Sustainable Investments in Infrastructure and Innovation (S3i) initiative.

As shared with you earlier, a follow up independent review- conducted by KPMG - has confirmed UNOPS commitment to the ongoing implementation of the Comprehensive Response Plan - and I do hope this strengthens the Board’s confidence in the success of our reform journey.

Last year, endorsed by this Board, we launched our restated strategic plan 2022-2025, which places a strong emphasis on our role to expand capacity for the implementation of the SDGs.

We know that our operational focus is needed - and we want to be a stronger, more agile and more responsive UN agency, to support the wider UN family, national governments and other partners, to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.

The journey to reform our organizational culture is a critical step in this direction.

Last year saw significant steps in this journey - and my colleagues have reported in detail on some of the concrete actions taken. Some achievements in this area have included internal reorganization, including through the creation of Mission Hubs to strengthen knowledge sharing and planning in the service of the SDGs, the launch of new senior recruitments and the development of new transformation initiatives. The establishment of a new culture unit within the People and Culture Group, and the ongoing recruitment of a new Head of Organizational Culture and Engagement, have enhanced these steps. As you can appreciate, changing an organization's culture requires and takes time - and significant and sustained collective effort, which we are deeply committed to, and we look forward to continuing our organization's cultural transformation throughout 2024 and beyond.

But I want to make a point here - that in this journey we are going beyond the commitments in the Comprehensive Response Plan, via six transformational initiatives. These include:

  • Reviewing our organizational culture and addressing long standing issues around people management, accountability, leadership approaches, and ways of working.
  • Defining our success in terms of our contribution to the SDGs - by focusing on evidence, insights and learning.
  • Strengthening our capability to develop, sign, and deliver quality projects and programmes.
  • Ensuring that our processes and information systems are fit for purpose, integrated and that they leverage digitalization.
  • Reviewing our policy framework and revising our financial regulations and rules as well as the ongoing work on strengthening our risk management framework.
  • And finally, transparent management for net-zero revenue, so we ensure that UNOPS charges fairly for services rendered while ensuring that all legitimate costs for implementation are charged to the projects.

Allow me to also touch briefly on the issue of the distribution of excess reserves - I am conscious that my colleagues have shared this in great detail with the Board. As you know - for the past year we have worked hard to distribute the excess reserve funds to over 250 partners. This has been new to both us and all stakeholders involved. This process is complex but we are fully committed to it.

Out of the 124 million USD in the excess reserve, we received instructions for a total of 98 million USD and managed to distribute 95 million USD by the end of December 2023. Thus UNOPS has received instructions for 79% of the total amount to be refunded.

Despite its challenges, we are proud of what we have achieved so far. Our calculations and processes were validated in an independent Deloitte review, which gives us confidence and we hope it offers yet another step towards rebuilding trust in UNOPS.

Honorable members of the Board,

We have come a long way from the turbulence of the past couple of years. We have learnt much, and we have built on those learnings to emerge stronger.

I thank EB members and UNOPS partners for their support, both on the reform agenda and new project engagements. Both are of immense importance. Yet we cannot pick and choose.

What matters most is balance. Improving our organization without distracting from our purpose - to improve the lives of those people who need our help the most.

In the most challenging of environments - in this forum and externally, I am immensely proud of the amazing UNOPS Team since my arrival.

  • In reforming UNOPS processes, while remaining committed to expanding our partners capacity for implementation, especially in fragile contexts.
  • For the transparent, open and responsive nature that the organization responded to the problems it faced, while retaining a sense of purpose, motivation and pride.
  • For addressing accountability and reinforcing controls, while fostering the readiness, flexibility, innovation and agility to cost-effectively deliver.
  • And for mobilizing towards a reshape of our culture, and improving the way we care for, interact with and guide our colleagues, while preserving the values that are so needed in today's multilateral development system: the getting things done culture.

We will not be complacent. We are committed to internal reforms, within and beyond the Comprehensive Response Plan. But we are in a global poly-crisis. And we have a dramatic need to overcome the capacity for implementation gap on SDGs and climate.

Our responsibility goes beyond internal reforms. So we should not dedicate all of our discussions to this topic. Rather, we must create the conditions to have more focus on UNOPS activities. On the practical solutions we provide to make this world a better place, in the service of peace, sustainable development and climate action.

Thank you

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