No Shorter Floor Statements Nor Cap On Agenda Items, Says WHO Board 03/02/2017 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Despite being in a time of tight budgets, the World Health Organization Executive Board meeting which ended this week had its heaviest agenda ever, according WHO Director General Margaret Chan, adding to staff workload and expenses. But the Board finished its work a day early (though after holding three evening sessions), earning praise from Chan. Efforts during the week to make meetings more efficient by limiting agenda items and reducing time allowed for statements fell short. Separately, concerns arose over a leadership advisory group to the WHO director general. WHO Executive Board meeting this week Part of the reform of the organisation is to find ways to make the meetings of its governing bodies more efficient. Proposals to put a cap on the number of agenda items or to reduce the time for interventions were not approved this week. Separately, some members raised concerns at the characterisation of an advisory group to the director general, and remarked that the director general bears sole responsibility for her decisions. The WHO Executive Board met from 23-31 January. The Board consists of 34 rotating members. A number of meeting documents presented proposals to increase efficiency of WHO governing body meetings. The overview [pdf] of WHO reform implementation noted that the number of agenda items discussed by the WHA has increased by 50 percent over the past seven years. Another document [pdf] noted that the WHO secretariat developed a draft six-year forward-looking planning schedule [pdf] of expected agenda items for the Board, and a number of criteria for the inclusion of items on the provisional agenda of the Board. In particular, the document suggests establishing a maximum number of items for Board sessions, and introducing requirements concerning the inclusion of items on the provisional agenda of the WHA. The document also suggests that the Board chair could limit statements to two minutes (instead of three minutes currently) for example in discussions where no substantive action is required by the governing body. Criteria for the selection process of agenda items proposed by Officers of the Board include the fact that the proposal addresses a global public health issue, addresses a new subject within the scope WHO, and the urgency of the proposal. In yet another document [pdf], a list of “relative weightings” for the inclusion of agenda items is suggested by Officers of the Board in relation with the criteria developed by the group. Malta on behalf of the European Union mentioned an increasing number of draft decisions to be adopted by WHO governing bodies, while Sweden said it could support the proposed system with a “soft upper limit” on the number of items on the agenda, but however opposed the two-minute limits on statements. The United States supported measures to reduce the number of agenda items, and for a better prioritisation of topics to be addressed. Canada also advocated against a “swollen” agenda, and advised against evening sessions for routine business. However some countries, such as Thailand raised concerns about limiting the number of agenda items. Algeria on behalf of the African region said the group would not support measures which would infringe the rights of members, and said that the Board needs to have substantive discussions on all issues. The region did not support the proposal to further reduce the time limit for statements by delegations. WHO Global Policy Group A number of countries voiced concerns at the WHO’s description of an advisory group. One of the meeting documents (paragraph 7) describes the WHO’s Global Policy Group, which includes the WHO director general, the deputy director general and regional directors as “a top-level leadership body of the secretariat.” According to the meeting document prepared by the secretariat, “in order to strengthen organizational accountability and leadership at senior level, the Director-General has established regular engagement of WHO’s Global Policy Group… This top-level leadership body of the Secretariat, which has averaged four formal meetings annually over the past seven years, has instituted a strengthened culture of corporate management informed by collective decision-making and enhanced organizational stewardship.” Sweden voiced concerns on the phrasing “top-level leadership body,” and noted the director general only was directly accountable to the World Health Assembly. Sweden’s remarks were supported by Monaco. Egypt also pointed out to the terms “collective decision-making,” and remarked that the group was just an advisory group, not a body of the secretariat. The WHO director-general is the chief technical and administrative officer, and technical or administrative decisions are the sole responsibility of the director general, the Egyptian delegate said. Egypt added that the description of the Global Policy Group should also be updated on the WHO website. The Global Policy Group webpage states, “The Global Policy Group (GPG), established by the current Director-General in 2008, is the highest level of internal governance and policy making within WHO.” Ian Smith, executive director of the Director-General’s Office said “we hear you loud and clear,” and apologised about any confusing language, which will not be included in future documents, he said. Some Suggestions Retained, Others Out WHO legal counsel noted that the suggestion to have explanatory memorandums for the WHA received broad support. Currently, only the Executive Board has this mechanism. He also noted that the scoring system of agenda items could be taken forward, taking into account the comments of the African region that discretion to move forward or not on agenda items should be maintained irrespective of the scores obtained. Caps on the number of items was not broadly supported, neither was the fixed two-minute time limit on statements being delivered, he confirmed. The secretariat is expected to present implementing language on agreed suggestions at the next session of the Executive Board, on 1-2 June. 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