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Updated On: Sunday, 19 August 2018
Development Issues

Continued Refinement of Management Practices, Policies Key for Ensuring Greater Accountability in Secretariat, Speakers Tell Fifth Committee

Content by: UN General Assembly

An effective accountability system was critical to the successful management of the United Nations Secretariat, delegates told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today, as they called for continued refinement of policies and practices regardless of decisions taken on overall reform of the Organization’s executive branch.

“The status quo is not an option, as the fragmented nature of the United Nations and the inefficient nature of accountability systems are simply unsustainable,” stressed the United States delegate.  The accountability system touched on many aspects of the Organization’s management responsibilities.  As such, future reports must provide more complete information on the overall status, with benchmarks and data to substantiate the impact of accountability initiatives.

Switzerland’s delegate, speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, said roles and responsibilities must be clarified.  “Greater authority should be given to managers entrusted to deliver on the Organization’s mandates, who in turn, must be held accountable for their decisions, performance and conduct,” she said.  They must also have the tools and ability to exercise such authority, and she requested information be provided on the procedures envisaged to that end.

Japan’s delegate, addressing whether it was relevant to demand accountability of the Secretariat for activities it did not perform, said it was needed if those activities were funded by assessed contributions.  He recalled that the current system was launched following the oil‑for‑food programme experience, when bribery by the Procurement Division had been tolerated by a weak segregation of duties.

China’s representative, meanwhile, said the Secretariat and the Secretary‑General himself must be held more accountable to Member States, pointing to strategic frameworks and budget deliberations as vehicles for fostering liability.  It was also important to improve the management culture, review the oversight and policy framework, revise Secretariat rules and regulations and internal control, and promote higher ethics standards.

Christian Saunders introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on strengthening the accountability system of the United Nations under the new management paradigm (document A/72/773), noting that its “three lines of defence” model would clarify roles and responsibilities for risk management and was in line with the goal of management reform efforts.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced its corresponding report (document A/72/885), emphasizing the importance of adopting the United Nations system‑wide definition of fraud and presumptive fraud.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

Accountability System in United Nations Secretariat

CHRISTIAN SAUNDERS, introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on strengthening the accountability system of the United Nations under the new management paradigm (document A/72/773), said its first part outlined progress in defining the Chief Executives Board leadership framework; promulgating an enhanced whistle‑blower protection policy; instituting special measures for combating sexual exploitation and abuse; preventing and responding to sexual harassment and conducting a fraud and corruption risk assessment.  The second part outlined efforts to strengthen the accountability system under the proposed new management paradigm in ways that empowered managers to determine how best to use resources.

He said the increased delegation of authority under that new management paradigm would be accompanied by a simplification and streamlining of the rules, policies and procedures; and the development and dissemination of administrative guidance along with training, support, monitoring and accountability mechanisms.  The “three lines of defence” model, which would clarify roles and responsibilities for risk management, was in line with the objective of management reform efforts, with operational managers — the first life of defence — responsible for managing risks and maintaining effective internal controls.

In the second line of defence, the proposed Business Transformation and Accountability Division, to be established within the new Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, would establish accountability systems to drive a results‑based culture.  The new Division would review recommendations from the oversight bodies, monitor their implementation and support managers in self‑evaluation activities.  By leveraging the global management reporting capabilities of Umoja, the Division would use business analytics to provide real‑time reporting on performance to senior managers, as well as other internal and external stakeholders.

Finally, he said the third line of defence was represented by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), a role reinforced by the Board of Auditors, the Joint Inspection Unit and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee.  Indeed, the Secretariat’s accountability system had evolved over time and the Secretary‑General now wished to articulate and integrate each component into a system that conveyed to every staff member the United Nations expectations for conduct, performance and management.  The updated version of the accountability system, contained in the report’s Annex 1, would provide the basis for preparing global accountability guidance.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced its corresponding report (document A/72/885), emphasizing the importance of the adoption of the United Nations system‑wide definition of fraud and presumptive fraud, as well as of the progress made on the fraud and corruption risk assessment.  The Advisory Committee welcomed the Secretary‑General’s intention to embed risk management in Secretariat entities as part of their responsibilities for the day‑to‑day management of operational activities.  The Advisory Committee was of the view that the provision of some practical examples could enable a better understanding of the envisaged system, to include matrices of typical key functions and comparative information on the existing and envisaged delegations of authority for key personnel.  The Advisory Committee trusted that assurances would be provided to the General Assembly that the requisite safeguards were in place to ensure responsible exercise of the delegation of authority and stewardship of resources.

Turning to the senior managers’ compact, he said the Advisory Committee recommended that the General Assembly request that the Secretary‑General pursue efforts to improve the effectiveness of the compact system as an instrument of accountability and to provide in his next report information on measures to further strengthen the system.  The Advisory Committee noted the Secretary‑General’s annual progress reports did not include information on the mechanisms for monitoring or reporting on the application of those measures, the indicators and performance data used to measure progress or an analysis of their effectiveness in terms of strengthening accountability.  Annual progress reports on accountability should be enhanced to provide an overview of the status of accountability in the Secretariat, with key performance indicators and supporting statistical information to substantiate results, as well as an analysis of the impact of the application of specific accountability measures.

ALEXANDRA ELENA BAUMANN (Switzerland), speaking also on behalf of Liechtenstein, expressed support for a more robust and effective accountability system, with transparent reporting to the General Assembly.  Responsibility, authority and accountability must be aligned, with both roles and responsibilities clarified.  “Greater authority should be given to managers entrusted to deliver on the Organization’s mandates, who in turn, must be held accountable for their decisions, performance and conduct,” she said.  They must also have the tools and ability to exercise such authority, and she requested information be provided on the procedures envisaged to that end.  A new monitoring and compliance function should assess the conformity of United Nations operations in line with the internal control system and the best practices applicable to business processes.  Risk management was another important aspect of a strong accountability system and she pressed the Secretary‑General to outline measures taken to monitor and mitigate risk, as included in the Risk Registrar, in future progress reports.

ANCA S. DIGIACOMO (United States) said the links between the discussions on management reform and the accountability system on issues such as delegation of authority were essential.  “The status quo is not an option, as the fragmented nature of the United Nations and the inefficient nature of accountability systems are simply unsustainable,” she stressed.  In that context, the Secretariat must continue to strengthen organizational accountability, regardless of any decision that may be taken on the management reform initiative.  The accountability system touched on many aspects of the Organization’s management responsibilities, including the senior manager’s compacts to results‑based management.  For that reason, her delegation concurred with the Advisory Committee that future reports must expand on the implementation of the accountability system by providing more complete information on the overall status.  The best way to accomplish that was to include benchmarks and data to substantiate the impact of accountability initiatives.

KATSUHIKO IMADA (Japan) strongly supported the ongoing reform and called for clear accountability as a goal of the initiative and throughout the reform process.  He noted that the Secretariat’s current accountability system was launched following the experience of the oil‑for‑food programme, in which, according to the 2005 final report on the matter, bribery occurred in the Procurement Division due to a weak segregation of duties.  The Secretariat’s work was funded by the collective investment — in the form of assessed contributions — of Member States.  As such, in cases where the Secretariat provided funds for activities implemented by any other entities, including funds, programmes and non‑governmental organizations, Member States should demand accountability of the Secretariat.  It was worthwhile for the Secretariat to consider establishing a proper accountability framework to hold each Secretariat entity accountable for the performance of activities by entities other than the Secretariat when they were funded through transfers from the assessed budget of the United Nations.  Should cases of misconduct arise in relation to such activities, the normal expectation was that those who were responsible for the transfer of funding should be held to account.

GAO HUIJUN (China) said continued refinement of the accountability system was crucial.  The Secretariat should be held more accountable to Member States, he said, expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s efforts and underscoring that that he must be held accountable to Member States in the performance of his functions.  Strategic frameworks and budget deliberations were among the vehicles for creating accountability.  The supervision of accountability by the Committee for Programme and Coordination and the Fifth Committee should be strengthened.  Finally, internal accountability should be enhanced in the context of management reform.  Noting that the current phase involved the delegation of authority, he said the system should be improved accordingly in a timely fashion.  He welcomed the proposed “three lines of defence” model and establishment of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division to support implementation of reform measures.  It was also important to improve the management culture; review the oversight and policy framework; revise Secretariat rules and regulations and internal control; and promote higher ethics standards.  The Advisory Committee had noted that the implementation, follow‑up and reporting on General Assembly resolutions had been inconsistent, which he hoped would be clarified in further discussions.

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*     The 44th Meeting was covered in Press Release GA/12022 of 5 June 2018.

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