67 Coombs to Chifley

Letter (extract) [1] [LONDON], 13 March 1947

I spent some time with Owen [2], the Assistant Secretary-General, responsible for economic affairs, and his senior assistants. [3] Generally, I was disappointed. Their conception of the Secretariat's functions appears to me to be unduly passive, although this view is to some extent imposed upon them from the top. This weakness was well illustrated by the recent meeting of the Employment and Economic Commission which Wilson attended. We have always been strong advocates for the establishment of this Commission, and it was our conception of its work that it should be concerned primarily with a review of the current employment and economic situation throughout the world, so that it could act as an international watchdog and report to the Council on any threat of serious unemployment in order that preventive action could be taken in time. Some such procedure as this is essential if the dependent economies, for instance, are to be able to obtain freedom to take protective action against outside deflationary influences with full international approval. The Commission met, however, without any data relating to the general employment and economic situation in front of it. It is clearly impossible for a group of busy men all from different countries to carry out a review of the world situation in three weeks. It can only be done on the basis of material prepared in considerable detail by the Secretariat beforehand. This material should not only review the facts, but should analyse the economic factors operating and lead up to possible lines of action. it would then be possible for the Commission itself to prepare an effective report to the Economic and Social Council. I discussed this question with the Secretariat and found them in some ways anxious to undertake this type of work, but apparently feeling that it was impracticable for them to move at all without specific direction from the Economic and Social Council. Accordingly, as you know from my telegrams I consulted with the United Kingdom and New Zealand representatives on the Council and arranged for a Resolution to be submitted which would give the Secretariat clear responsibility for this work and also authorise the Secretary-General to advise the Chairman of the Employment and Economic Commission if in his opinion there were any factors in the world economic situation warranting a special meeting of the Commission. This, I think, should go some way to fill the gap.

Perhaps the most depressing thing, however, is the apparent inadequacy of the staff. One cannot feel any very great confidence in the capacity of the Economic Division to do this work satisfactorily. Owen himself is good, but he is not an economist and he is very heavily burdened with work of a non-economic character. His chief assistant, Weintraub [4], seems reasonably capable but not of sufficient stature to support the Secretariat case to the Commission if it were, for instance, critical of developments in a major country. I understand that Kalecki [5], previously at the Nuffield Institute at Oxford and more recently with the I.L.O., has joined the staff. He is very capable on the theoretical side at least and may represent a substantial increase in strength.

There seems to be a real weakness in the general planning and budgetary control of the activities of the Secretariat as a whole.

I understand that, generally, the financial control operates primarily by requiring evidence in the nature of a Resolution of the Security or Economic and Social Council of a direction to the Secretariat to carry out any particular piece of work. In some cases Resolutions directing that certain work should be undertaken arc adopted with little, if any, serious consideration of what is involved in the way of cost, staffing, etc. As a result there appears to be disproportionate development in certain parts of the Secretariat with little relation to the relevant urgencies of the tasks being undertaken. It seems to me that it will be necessary for greater authority to be given to the Secretary-General to plan the activities of the Secretariat year by year. It ought to be possible, for instance, for him to submit at the same time as the budget a proposed programme of work which would take into account the directions he had received from the various Councils, but provide also for regular activities which he considered essential to the conduct of the work of the United Nations Organisation as a whole taking into account also his assessment of the relevant urgency of the tasks that it had been asked to undertake. This could be examined perhaps at the Annual Assembly, and on approval, together with the budget, could provide a basis for a more balanced programme of activity for the remainder of the year.

1 The first part of this letter is published as Document 86.

2 A. D. K. Owen.

3 Coombs visited the United States en route to Europe for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment.

4 David Weintraub, formerly Deputy Director-General of UNRRA.

5 Michai Kalecki, Polish economist.

[AA : A1068, ER47/70/7]