Proliferation and duplication of organizational units and coordinating bodies of the United Nations system


There is a progressively increasing number of intergovernmental and expert organs within the UN system, many with overlapping competences. This proliferation complicates the task and consumes the time of governments and delegates. With it is associated a dispersal of authority among the key units of the UN and a consequent difficulty of harmonizing their activities. In some cases geographical separation of the units compounds the coordination problems resulting from the political and administrative fragmentation.


The change in the political balance in the General Assembly was mainly responsible for a great fragmentation of the UN economic machinery that occurred in the mid-1960s: namely, the establishment by the General Assembly, under strong pressure from the developing countries, of important new organizations within the UN in the fields of trade and development (UNCTAD) and industrial development (UNIDO). The form they were given (that of 'an organ of the General Assembly' (UNCTAD) or an 'autonomous' organization within the UN (UNIDO), and not of specialized agencies) was influenced by other considerations: first, the urgent search for economy on the part of the major contributors, and, secondly, doubts, largely in the same quarters, as to the efficacy of the arrangements between the UN and the specialized agencies in enabling the Council and the General Assembly to exercise their responsibilities under the Charter for Co-ordination. It was hoped that, under the direct authority of the General Assembly, their expenditures could be better held in check and their activities better coordinated. Given the circumstances in which they were established, considerations of good administrative order were perhaps bound to be secondary. But the then Secretary-General felt it necessary to observe that the creation of autonomous units within the Secretariat, and therefore under his jurisdiction as Chief Administrative Officer, raised serious questions of organizational authority and responsibility. Moreover, such a trend was perceived as inconsistent with the concept of a unified secretariat working as a team towards the accomplishment of the main goals of the Organization and tending to have the adverse effect of pitting one segment of the Secretariat against another in competition for the necessary financial and political support for its own work programmes.


The dispersal of authority is not an entirely new phenomenon (in the area of narcotic drug control, for example, divided authority was a cause of constant friction for many years), but it has become much more common with the development of trust funds, the natural desire to meet the views of generous donors, and the equally natural desire to enlist the services of prestigious persons of the right nationalities to help ensure the success of the enterprise concerned. Year by year, units and posts are being set up for special tasks, with little regard for their relationship to units already in existence. An example is provided by the arrangements to deal with population questions. For administrative reasons, the UN Fund for Population Activities was set up in 1967 entirely independent of the existing Population Division of Economic and Social Affairs (ESA). It was officially placed under the supervision of the Governing Council of UNDP in 1969 but it has its own funds and has engaged in an active and independent programme throughout the world with its own coordinators in different countries in which projects are being undertaken. It was given main responsibility for preparations for World Population Year (1974), of which the World Population Conference was the highlight. An independent Secretary-General and staff for the Conference were appointed, whose relationships with the Fund (or indeed with the Population Division) were quite tenuous, although the Director of that Division was named one of the Assistant Secretaries-General of the Conference.

One early case of duplication is particularly interesting in relation to the respective roles of governmental bodies and secretariats: the case of UNCTAD and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the latter regarded in most of the Third World as a bastion of the great trading countries. UNCTAD represented a direct challenge to General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which, apart from its traditional work on tariffs, had already embarked on a number of the activities assigned to UNCTAD by the General Assembly after the first Conference on Trade and Development, in December 1964. In response to the challenge, in February 1965, the Contracting Parties to General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) added a Fourth Part, on Trade and Development, to the General Agreement, giving General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) a mandate (as well as subsidiary bodies) on subjects falling directly within UNCTAD's domain. Two great intergovernmental institutions with largely overlapping membership were thus, by deliberate decision of their governing organs, engaged in open duplication.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
06.05.2019 – 20:11 CEST