How are UNGA Trust Funds established?
How are UNGA Trust Funds administered?
United Nations General Assembly (“UNGA”) Trust Funds have been identified as a possible mechanism for establishing a Loss and Damage Finance Facility (“LDFF”) outside the structure of the UNFCCC negotiations. This research memo will set out how the UNGA Trust Funds are established and then how they are administered to help the reader determine their suitability for the LDFF.
The UN has several documents that provide a very basic structure and rules for establishing and administering trust funds and their financial management. However, they do not provide an explanation of how these processes occur.
UN documents setting out basic procedure for establishing and administering trust fund are as follows:
- The Modalities of trust fund establishment and administration in the UN
- Trust Fund (ST/SGB/188)
- General Trust Funds (ST/AI/284)
- Technical Co-Operation Trust Funds (ST/AI/285)
The relevant UN financial rules and regulations governing trust funds are as follows:
- The Financial regulations and rules of the United Nations (ST/SGB/2013/4)
- The Supplement to the Financial Regulations and Rules of the United Nations (ST/SGB/2015/4/)
- United Nations policy framework for International Public Sector Accounting Standards (ST/IC/2013/36)
For a helpful visual chart setting out the structure of the UN please see the link below:
How are UNGA Trust Funds established?
Most, but not all, trust funds in the UN system are established via a UNGA resolution. Such resolutions are “formal expressions of the opinion or will of United Nations organs” and take the form of a text adopted by a UN body. While UN resolutions may be passed by a simple majority of delegates, over 80% of UNGA resolutions are adopted by consensus, that is without a vote but without objections.
The UNGA Process
The UNGA will vote on resolutions brought by Member States or Subsidiary Bodies. Resolutions are generally statements symbolizing the international community’s views about a specific world issue.
At the beginning of each new session of the UNGA, the UNGA plenary and its six Main Committees are allocated agenda items to consider. The items on the UN agenda represent the UN’s priority issues. The main goal of each GA session is to take action on each agenda item that has been allocated to the GA for its consideration. “Considering” an agenda item involves first discussing the item and then adopting one or more resolutions on that item.
A “Preliminary list of items to be included in the provisional agenda of the General Assembly” is issued earlier in the year before the session is held. Notwithstanding this, any Member or principal organ of the United Nations or the Secretary-General may, at least thirty days before the date fixed for the opening of a regular session, request the inclusion of supplementary items in the agenda.
Draft resolutions can be found in sessional reports. Once agreed upon, a revised resolution will be published after the session. A General Assembly Resolution may contain a request for the establishment of a Trust Fund in respect of a specific issue, and most Trust Funds are set up in this way. Any proposal or draft resolution recommending that the General Assembly establish a trust fund requires the submission of a report by the Secretary-General on the proposal’s administrative and financial implications in accordance with the financial regulations and rules of the UN.
Example – The UN Road Safety Fund
The Resolution on Improving Global Road Safety states the following in the 70th session report:
“First, the draft resolution calls for developing and strengthening partnerships with the participation of States and international organizations, including the agencies of the United Nations system, civil society and the private sector, in order to improve the situation on roads. As one of the mechanisms that will facilitate the pooling and coordination of efforts, draft resolution A/70/L.44 and takes note of such a consultative mechanism as the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration.
Secondly, the draft resolution aims at the creation of a road safety trust fund that could be an additional instrument of financial support and a catalyst for attracting investments for the implementation of road safety programmes”.
The final wording of the Resolution states as follows:
“29. Requests the Secretary-General to consider the possibility of establishing, from voluntary contributions, a road safety trust fund to support the implementation of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action and the road safety – related Sustainable Development Goals, as appropriate, and to report thereon to Member States…”.
This specific fund was established as a UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund. It was officially launched in UNHQ New York on 12 April 2018.
Trust Funds Established Outside the UNGA Process
In accordance with the financial regulations and rules of the UN, trust funds may also be established by the Secretary-General without a UNGA resolution to channel voluntary contributions toward a specific purpose (Regulation 3.12, 3.13 and 4.13 of ST/SGB/2013/4).
To provide an environmental example, The United Nations Environment Assembly, which is the governing body of the United Nations Environment Programme and sets priorities for global environmental policies, meets on a biennial basis and the has the authority to establish trust funds outside the UNGA. For example, resolutions and decisions adopted by the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme at its first session on 27 June 2014 set out a number of Trust Funds established under the Authority of the United Nations Environment Programme.
What happens after the trust fund is established?
Once a trust fund has been established (via a UNGA resolution or outside the UNGA), it still requires agreement on how it is to be designed and administered before it starts accepting donations and administering funds. The United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund (“UN MPTF”) Office is the only UN unit exclusively dedicated to the design and administration of trust funds established as multi-stakeholder pooled financing mechanisms.
UN MPTFs are designed to receive contributions from donors in support of specific national, regional, or global development results and then distribute these donations in accordance with their constitutions.
The UN MPTF Office has set up over 200 Trust Funds since its inception in 2003. These have helped donors, UN organisations, national governments, non-governmental organisations, international finance institutions and the private sector, distribute funds and manage programmes to make progress towards collective outcomes.
The UN MPTF Office’s procedure for operationalising a trust fund provides a good guide for how a MPTF trust fund might be set up.
How to establish a Multi-Partner Trust Fund?
The MPTF Office is dedicated to UN trust fund design and administration. The steps for establishing such a trust fund are set out below:
- Stakeholder consultations and initial concept note
At the initial stage, national governments collectively agree on the potential of the proposed fund through the drafting of a concept note. This would outline the scope, purpose, financial and governance arrangements and financial viability of the proposed trust fund.
- Agree terms of reference
After the concept note has been agreed, the trust fund’s terms of reference will be drafted. This will be delegated to a UN Country team and resident Coordinator, along with other potential contributors. All trust fund terms of reference must use the United Nations Sustainable Development Group terms of reference as a template. These may be found here.
The terms of reference will build on the contents of the agreed concept note and set out the function, objectives and governance structure of the trust fund.
- Produce the memorandum of understanding
After the terms of reference have been agreed, participating UN organisations will sign a memorandum of understanding (“MoU”) for the trust fund. Once the trust fund’s MoU is signed it becomes legally established and can be active.
Participating organisations may join the trust fund at a later date.
- Circulate standard administrative agreements
Once the trust fund has become active, the MPTF Office will conclude Standard Administrative Agreements with any donors wishing to contribute to the fund.
Once these agreements have been signed, the trust fund will become operational and the trust fund’s Steering Committee will be able to allocate the fund’s resources.
Donor resources are co-mingled in the trust fund and held in trust by the fund’s Administrative Agent to fund projects and make programmatic allocations of funding.
How are UNGA Trust funds Administered?
UN Trust Funds are administered in a variety of ways depending on how they are established. However, their structure is relatively similar and there are certain commonalities:
- Each trust fund management function will have its own governance body that oversees:
- Fund operation,
- Fund administration, and
- Fund implementation.
The members of the governance body will generally be appointed by the Secretary-General and may consist of independent experts or representatives from UN agencies, donor countries and civil society organizations.
- Each trust fund’s terms of reference will establish exactly what the fund’s purpose is, how contributions may be made to the fund, and who is responsible for administering and implementing the fund.
- Certain UN trust funds such as the UN Democracy Fund and the UN Fund to End Violence Against Women also have an interagency advisory/consultative group which provides expert advice.
United Nations Trust Funds contain the same basic practical processes for the administration of funds:
- A Controller or equivalent body in the trust fund’s terms of reference accepts pledges and controls funds;
- A Review Committee reviews and approves eligible project proposals or requests for assistance that are submitted to the trust fund in accordance with the trust fund’s terms of reference and any other applicable regulatory or programme management frameworks;
- A Programme Manager will ensure that the Trust Fund’s resources are being utilised in support of its purpose;
- A Certifying Office will then disburse approved funds and ensure that expenditure is incurred in accordance with appropriate financial rules and regulations;
- The Trust Fund’s Implementing Partners will implement the approved projects and deliver assistance and support services to beneficiaries of the projects and applications for assistance.
Each trust fund is administered differently depending on how it is established. Unfortunately the administration of each trust fund is not very transparent and some organisations share more than others. Below are some examples of the information we have been able to gather on how various UN trust funds are administered:
- A controller accepts pledges and controls funds.
- The Review Committee (comprised of members from Secretariat Offices, Departments and UN agencies funds/programmes) – reviews and approves eligible proposals in accordance with the Trust Fund Terms of Reference and other regulatory/programme management frameworks.
- A Programme Manager ensures the Trust Fund is utilised for its purpose.
- The Certifying Office ensures that expenditures are incurred in accordance with financial and staff regulations and rules; and disburses funds.
- Various partners coordinate and submit proposals.
- Implementing Partners submit proposals to the Implementing Office, The Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance (DMSPC), or local UN Partners and implement approved projects and deliver assistance and support services to beneficiaries.
Timeline for Project Submissions (though proposals are also accepted on an ad hoc basis)
- Project proposals are submitted as part of the annual submission (15 Sep – 15 Oct)
- Initial review of the proposals (15-30 Oct)
- Revised proposals submitted (1-15 Nov)
- Further reviews of the revised proposals (15 Nov-20 Dec)
- Final review of the proposals (20 Dec – 20 Jan)
- Proposals submitted to the Review Committee (20-30 Jan)
- Review Committee meeting and decision announcement (1-15 Feb)
- Proposals submitted to IPMR [Integrated Planning, Management and Reporting Solution] (15-28 Feb)
- Agreement negotiation and signature (1-30 Mar)
- Release of the funds (1-15 Apr)
- Start of the project implementation (15 Apr)
- Project proposal template – 220427-tf-project_proposal_template.docx (live.com)
- Budget template – 220817-trust_fund_budget_template.xlsx (live.com)
2. Trust Fund to Support the Work of the Commission on Sustainable Development (Closed 2017)
- Contributions are made to the Trust Fund by Governments, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, private institutions, and individuals.
- The Controller (Assistant Secretary-General) is the sole body that accept contributions.
- The Trust Fund is administered in conformity with the UN Financial Rules and Regulations, and the relevant policies and procedures.
- The Division for Sustainable Development Goals of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) is the implementing office of the Trust Fund. This is a division within DESA that works to mobilise the UN system and other relevant organisations to support sustainable development strategies and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- The Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs is the Programme manager of the Trust Fund.
- The Executive Officer of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs is the Certifying Officer.
- The Under-Secretary-General is responsible for ensuring that the Trust Fund is utilized for the purposes defined in the Terms of Reference (e.g. to promote and mobilise support to sustainable development goals and objectives) – Microsoft Word – Trust Fund Terms of Reference – sharing.
- The Certifying Officer ensures that expenditures are incurred in accordance with the applicable Financial and Staff Rules, Regulations, policies and procedures; for the purpose intended; and within the funds earmarked for that activity.
- The UN provides an annual financial statement showing income and expenditures of the trust fund as of 31 December each year.
 See Designing Pooled Funds for Performance: A Manual Prepared by the MPTF Office, June 2015, 19248 (undp.org); Guidance Note for UN Country Teams: UN Country-Level Pooled Funds, 2020, 30410 (undp.org).