Monday, February 25, 2008

World Food Programme to Ration Aid?

The BBC is reporting that the UN World Food Programme is considering plans to "ration" its food aid to developing due to a combination of rising prices and inadequate resources. Leaving to one side the odd use of the decidedly emotive idea of "rationing" in this context - one can only assume, given the widespread and enduring persistence of hunger and starvation in the world, the WFP has been "rationing" its aid since its establishment - we are clearly confronted with an issue of interest to any emerging global administrative law: an international administrative agency, clearly exercising a public function, in a manner that will potentially have profound and far reaching effects on some of the world's most poorest and most vulnerable people. The first and most obvious question that arises is: what mechanisms exist to ensure that these people, these interests, are adequately represented in the decision-making process?

This is an area that warrants detailed study, and for my part I can claim no sort of expertise (comments from any readers more informed on this topic would be hugely welcome!). A quick perusal of the Constitution of the WFP (including financial regulations and the Rules of Procedure for the Executive Board), however, suggests that there is really very little in the way of applicable administrative law mechanisms to the decision-making process; and no procedure to contest any decision to restrict or remove aid. Certainly, there are certain "monitoring" provisions, but these pertain mainly to the accountability of the Executive Director to the 36 Member State Executive Board; an annual reporting requirement on the Board to the UN Economic and Social Council and the Council of the FAO; and provision for internal control and external audits in terms of financial matters. The only other administrative law-type provision that I came across was contained in Rule XV of the Rules of Procedure, which deal with the participation of (non-voting) observers in the deliberations of the Executive Board: Member States of the UN/FAO with a "particular interest" in deliberations have the right to participate; NGOs "interested and cooperating with the programme" can also do so, but only on the invitation of Executive Director.

Not, I think, the most robust of administrative law regimes; and this despite the profound human rights implications of the regulatory activity in question, and the high level of institutionalisation of the administrative body carrying it out...

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