Inadequacy of intergovernmental decision-making process

The central structural defect of governmental decision-making machinery is that it is structured vertically, in terms of specialized ministries dealing with particular areas of decision. But society is evolving in such a way that all problems tend to be related with other problems; a great many of these problems being in other disciplines in a strictly practical manner; this leaves the 'vertical' machinery helpless. Instead, a 'horizontally' structured decision-making machine is called for into which all relevant disciplines are introduced from the 'vertical' elements. This is quite beyond the ability of the unaided human intellect to achieve, because of the bulk and complexity of the subject matter. Governments will not be able to assert effective control over the complex of intergovernmental organizations which now exists until their own decision-making machinery, or at least that of the more powerful of them, is equipped and structured in such a way as to be adequate for the tasks which it is called upon to perform under present and foreseeable conditions. The inadequacy of governmental decision-making machinery, more than any other factor outside the United Nations, deprives governments of the power to control. Only governments can exercise such control, first by a rational distribution of finance between organizations and then, project by project, within the organizations themselves. Unless they can achieve an overall view of the activity of the whole group of organizations concerned in all relevant disciplines, and of the interaction of all the factors involved, it is inconceivable that they can go further and give collective effect to decisions of a committee of ministers or other intergovernmental bodies.
An investigation carried out in 1968 under the auspices of the Secretaries and Directors-General of four intergovernmental organizations in Europe, and attended by the European Commission, revealed that in the field of science and technology alone, twenty-five intergovernmental organizations were then operative. Some governments participated in all of these and most in a large majority of them, at an annual cost of about $350 million. No government, or organization, however, was in a position to obtain an overall and at the same time detailed view of this vast effort, because the relevant information as to each organization's operations was nowhere centrally assembled, processed and organized. In the case of some organizations, because of the lack of adequate programme machinery, it was difficult for governments to obtain a clear overall view of even the work of that single body. But a further barrier to any systematic approach to programming was due to the fact that in different organizations, each with a different emphasis upon its work, government representation and supervision in capitals would tend to be in the hands of different ministries. For example, the OECD might be the concern of a ministry of economics or finance; the Council of Europe would be dealt with by the ministry of foreign affairs; UNESCO would tend to be in the hands of a ministry of culture or of education. The formula varied widely from country to country, as did the channel of responsibility from direct relations with individual departments, to channelling through a ministry of foreign affairs filter system, or a treasury coordinating committee. In the example cited, it was particularly unfortunate that all three organizations mentioned were involved in the science and technology field, with no perceptible relationship between their programmes in terms of harmonization of overall aim or of particular projects, though there were many exchanges of documents and visits of observers, the latter at least partly motivated by the desire to find out what the other organizations were doing. All three secretariats seemed to be promoting their own programmes in rivalry with the other two at the expense of governments.

The Capacity Study of the UN noted that enquiries revealed example after example where Departmental Ministers have advocated policies in the governing bodies of the particular Agency which concerned them which were in direct conflict with their governments' policies towards the UN systems as a whole. Unless a majority of Heads of Governments of Member States, assisted by their Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance, are determined to establish policies deliberately designed to introduce the necessary changes into the present 'non-system' and to ensure that their Departmental Ministers adhere to those policies in the various governing bodies, then the UN system generally will deteriorate.

Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Date of last update
01.01.2000 – 00:00 CET