FIFTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS STRENGTHENING OF MONITORING MECHANISMS IN UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM

2 October 2002
GA/AB/3518

FIFTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS STRENGTHENING OF MONITORING MECHANISMS IN UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM

02/10/02
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3518

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Fifth Committee

5th Meeting (AM)

FIFTH COMMITTEE CONSIDERS STRENGTHENING OF MONITORING MECHANISMS

IN UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM

United States Voices Reservations on Recommendations by Joint Inspection Unit

The Joint Inspection Unit JIU (JIU) must produce targeted and realistic recommendations and implement them in a timely manner, the  representative of the United States told the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning as it began its consideration of the reports of the JIU.

[Created in the 1960s to carry out inspection functions within the United Nations system, the Unit is part of the United Nations oversight system.  It is composed of 11 Inspectors, who serve in their personal capacity and are appointed for a term of five years, renewable for one term.  The Inspectors have the broadest powers of investigation in all matters having a bearing on the efficiency of services and the proper use of funds.]

Improving efficiency and productivity at the United Nations was a team effort that required direction from executive heads, but also participation from legislative organs and Member States, said the United States representative.  Many of the reports and recommendations of the JIU were too broad and lacking in actionable items, while others repeated conclusions already drawn from other oversight or internal department reports.  JIU reports should be less academic in nature and more focused on actionable means to improve productivity and efficiency.

Regarding the JIU’s future programme of work for 2003, she said that some subjects were worth pursuing, while others were too broad and beyond the resources and capabilities of the United Nations.

The reports before the Committee were introduced by the Chairman of the Joint Inspection Unit, Sumihiro Kuyama; the representative of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, Jaime Sevilla; and the Chief of the Oversight Support Unit of the Department of Management, Alida Ferrena Mahmoud. 

The Committee will continue its consideration of the JIU reports at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 3 October.

Background

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning to begin its consideration of a number of Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) reports, including those on the implementation of JIU recommendations, the work programme of the Unit for 2002, and enhancing governance oversight role.

According to this year’s report of the Joint Inspection Unit (document A/57/34), during the period under review, the JIU pursued the series of comprehensive reviews of the administration and management of its participating organizations that it commenced in 1999.  In 2001, it completed two reports on the administration and management of the International Telegraph Union (ITU) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  Although the report on the ITU had not been included in the original programme of work of the Unit, it was undertaken at the subsequent request of the Secretary-General of that organization.

As part of its 2002 programme of work, the Unit has now embarked on a similar review for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).  Four other reports were issued in 2001, three of them dealing with system-wide issues.  As some 14 reports and two notes are currently under preparation, the Unit decided to include only five new reports and one new note in its programme of work for 2002.

The Unit reports that it has continued its efforts to improve interaction with its participating organizations and Member States.  In particular, as described in its recent report on experience with the follow-up system (document A/56/356), the Unit worked to establish a follow-up system that would make it possible to systematically track the status of implementation of its recommendations.  Thus, the Unit concluded successful discussions with the secretariats of UNIDO and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on how to handle reports of the Unit.  It is also in the process of concluding a similar exercise with several other agencies.  These agreements constitute a significant step forward.  They are not, however, an end in themselves, but simply a means to improve the impact of the Unit’s reports.

The Unit is also developing internal tools, which would facilitate the accuracy of its reporting on implementation or lack thereof.  In particular, data collected from participating funds and programmes for the follow-up on the Unit’s reports issued since 1998 will be integrated into the JIU internal information system.  The Unit also intends to engage in a constructive exchange of views with participating organizations throughout the preparation process of its reports.  Through this exchange of views, both the Unit and the secretariats of the participating organizations could ensure that potential discrepancies are narrowed to a minimum.  In cases where discrepancies persist, the JIU is planning to faithfully reflect them in an annex to the report concerned, with prior clearance by the relevant secretariats.

Also before the Fifth Committee was a note by the Secretary-General on the Joint Inspection Unit (document A/57/61) in which he transmits to the members of the General Assembly the work programme of the Unit for 2002.  In the past, a preliminary listing of potential reports for the following year and beyond was issued concurrently with the work programme for the current year.  The General Assembly, in paragraph 5 of its resolution 56/245, invited the JIU to improve the presentation of the preliminary listing by "providing information on the source, including legislative basis, objectives, problems to be addressed, duration and expected date of completion, and to present such information before the final quarter of each year".  To comply with this, the Unit will, in future, issue the listing of potential reports for the following year and beyond as a separate document within the time frame laid out in the resolution. 

The current-year work programme contains five new reports and a new note.  In addition, the Unit has been preparing at least 16 reports and notes which have been carried over from previous years' work plans, and it expects to issue no fewer than 14 reports and notes by the end of 2002.

A further note by the Secretary-General (document A/57/321) transmits to the General Assembly the preliminary listing of potential reports for the programme of work of the Joint Inspection Unit for 2003 and beyond.  If included in the work programme for 2003, reports would, in principle, be initiated during the course of 2003 and be presented in most cases to the General Assembly at its fifty-eighth or fifty-ninth session.

The Unit has included in its preliminary listing proposals for 10 new reports on subjects for inspection, evaluation and/or investigation in the areas of administration and management, operational programme activities and humanitarian assistance.  The duration of the preparation of each potential report may vary from six to 12 months, depending on its scope and complexity and the timeliness of required input from the secretariats of participating organizations.

If included in the work programme for 2003, reports would, in principle, be initiated during the course of 2003 and be presented, in most cases, to the General Assembly at its fifty-eighth or fifty-ninth session.  The Unit would like to receive any comments on the preliminary listing by the end of November 2002.

The Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of JIU recommendations (document A/57/327) includes detailed information on the status of implementation of the recommendations contained in four JIU reports.  Thus, the document deals with efforts to improve the situation as far as coordination in the field of peace-building is concerned and to advance management of United Nations system fellowship programmes (based on document A/52/154).  The report also contains information regarding progress at the United Nations Office for Project Services (based on document A/53/788) and describes efforts to achieve more coherence for enhanced oversight at the United Nations.

Regarding peace-building efforts, the Secretary-General states that after the report on the matter came out (documents A/54/430 and Add.1), the Unit’s recommendations were being implemented system-wide.  They had been considered under several thematic debates on the matter by the Security Council, which established the need to establish “a comprehensive and integrated strategy in peace-building”.  Peace-building efforts in such areas as Kosovo, the former East Timor and Sierra Leone have yielded substantial experience and best practices.

Offices with specific peace-building mandates have opened in Liberia, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau and Tajikistan.  Recommendations on the matter have also been made in the report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (the Brahimi Panel).  The Secretariat and agencies and programmes involved in peace-building have continued to develop coordination mechanisms, working through the Executive Committee on Peace and Security. 

Regarding the JIU report on measures to enhance oversight in the United Nations system (document A/53/171), the Secretary-General states that many of the recommendations have already been implemented or featured in the work plans of most organizations.  Having expressed appreciation for the JIU report, however, the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) did not consider it to be action-oriented.  Therefore, only two of its recommendations were supported without reservation.  One of them contains proposals regarding networking, information sharing and professional development; and the other recommends seeking opportunities to enhance dialogue with representatives of Member States and secretariats.

In his note contained in document A/57/58, the Secretary-General transmits the report of the JIU entitled ”Enhancing the governance oversight role: structure, working methods and practices on handling oversight reports”.  The objective of the report is to contribute to enhancing the effectiveness and quality of the oversight role exercised primarily by the “executive” legislative organs and their subsidiary bodies responsible for oversight issues.  The report focuses, inter alia, on the governance structure, working methods and practices of the legislative organs covering oversight and the procedures of the legislative organs for handling reports prepared by oversight mechanisms.

In a related report, the Advisory Committee on Administration and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) (document A/57/434) notes that several recommendations of the JIU are addressed to governing bodies and that recommendation 4 is addressed to executive heads of participating organizations.  Those recommendations focus on measures to review reports in a comprehensive and coordinated manner; rationalization of governance structures and methods; and improvement of legislative organs’ procedures for handling reports by oversight mechanisms.

The Unit’s first recommendation proposes a certain modus operandi for enhancing the effectiveness of legislative bodies’ oversight functions.  Among the measures proposed by the Unit is listing thematic oversight reports under appropriate agenda items, together with other relevant reports; linking reviews to setting policy directives; linking consideration of programme matters to the consideration of administrative, budgetary and financial issues; and verification of compliance.  Noting that the Assembly has already decided that thematic reports of the JIU should be considered under relevant agenda items, the ACABQ cautions against adopting mechanical procedures that might be difficult to implement.

Regarding legislative machinery, the Advisory Committee points out that the issue of the number, composition and terms of reference of subsidiary legislative bodies with oversight responsibility is a political matter that is within the purview of the General Assembly.  As for recommendation 4, which proposes that executive heads include in the individual sections of programme and budget a summary of relevant recommendations and follow-up actions, the ACABQ writes that such procedures are already under implementation at the United Nations.

Part of a series of reports devoted to increasing the effectiveness of oversight in the United Nations system, the JIU report on structure, working methods and practices on handling oversight reports (document A/57/58/Add.1) presents comments from various agencies on the recommendations contained in previous reports of the Unit.  The document notes that the governance structure  in some organizations is “somewhat fragmented and that the costs of governance related to legislative oversight are not negligible”.  Besides, there is a tendency to sidetrack oversight issues.

Regarding follow-up mechanisms, the report emphasizes that the results of oversight activities will have impact only if recommendations are implemented and fully linked to policy and management improvements.  On the whole, the handling of oversight reports is still not satisfactory, especially with respect of the JIU reports.  In this regard, it is necessary to ensure specific decision-making on each of the recommendations that require legislative action.

Introduction of Reports

Presenting the JIU reports, the Chairman of the Unit, SUMIHIRO KUYAMA, said that, in a recent resolution, the Assembly had invited the JIU to improve its presentation of its work programme by including information on the sources, goals and issues to be addressed in its reports.  The work programme presented today had been prepared based on such an approach.  The Unit expected to complete approximately 18 reports and three notes by the end of the year.  Among those    21 outputs, two thirds had system-wide coverage.  In view of its rather heavy workload, the Unit’s work programme for 2002 contained only five new reports and one new note for 2002.

The JIU believed that if an exchange of views took place with participating organizations during the preparatory process of a report, Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) comments would not be absolutely necessary, he said.  Based on such a premise, the Unit had already prepared, on an experimental basis, a few reports, including the report on support costs.  He was pleased that the Unit’s experience with that new approach, as applied to the support costs report, had been a positive one, and most of the comments by organizations had been included in the final version of the document.  During the reporting period, the JIU had continued to improve interaction with its participating organizations.  That was a means to improve the impact of the Unit’s reports.  The JIU had also taken a number of initiatives to improve its interaction with other oversight bodies of the United Nations system. 

The report on governance oversight had been prepared to contribute to the effectiveness of oversight within the system, he added.  The annex to the document contained factual information related to that matter.  The report was very timely in view of the recent issuance of the Secretary-General’s report on the final stage of the reform within the Organization, for it aimed to improve the impact of the oversight process.  The CEB members appreciated the analysis of the working methods and administration of various organizations.  The Unit’s recommendations, however, were met with mixed reaction.

Regarding the Unit’s proposal on consolidated reporting, he said that some agencies were already moving towards such practice.  He believed Member States could be better served if consolidated reports on the implementation of recommendations of all oversight bodies were presented to the Assembly.  That would make it possible to dispense with separate reporting, which is presently required.

The note by the Secretary-General transmitting the comments of the CEB was introduced by JAIME SEVILLA of the secretariat of the CEB.  He said that the CEB members had found the analytical part of the report very useful.  The document was considered by some CEB members to be timely, as strengthening of legislative oversight was at varying stages of development in their respective organizations.  CEB members, however, showed a range of reactions to the recommendations contained in the report, and many of them pointed out their individual concerns regarding the relevance and applicability of some recommendations to currently established practice, their feasibility and resource constraints.

On the whole, while the overall comments of the CEB members reflected the fact that they had already been taking proactive steps to improve and enhance the oversight functions of their respective legislative organs, they appreciated the careful thought and consideration given by the JIU Inspector to the important and sensitive nature of the structure, working methods and practices in the exercise of legislative oversight.  It was clear, however, that the recommendations put forward by the Unit were not sufficiently comprehensive or fully responsive to the various requirements of individual organizations.  Nevertheless, the report was exceptionally useful in bringing out the strengths and weaknesses of present arrangements.  It also provided an opportunity for a frank and realistic evaluation of the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of existing legislative oversight arrangements.

ALIDA FERRENA MAHMOUD, Chief of the Oversight Support Unit of the Department of Management, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of recommendations of the JIU, saying that the document was a compilation of the activities of a number of departments and organizations system-wide.  The Administration continued to attach high priority to the timely and comprehensive implementation of all the Unit’s recommendations that had been approved by the Assembly.  The Secretariat was also working closely with the JIU in developing and designing new and improved methods of reporting on the progress of implementation of the recommendations.

Statements

ELIZABETH A. NAKIAN (United States) said that oversight mechanisms had produced many reforms to improve efficiency and productivity in the United Nations.  However, much remained to be done.  It was a team effort that required direction from executive heads, but also participation from legislative organs and Member States.  It was not enough to identify areas for improvement: recommendations must be targeted, realistic and implemented in a timely manner.  Her delegation had found that many of the reports and recommendations of the JIU were too broad and lacking in actionable items.  In other cases, the reports repeated conclusions already drawn from other oversight or internal department reports.  Her delegation hoped that future JIU reports would be less academic in nature and more focused on actionable means to improve productivity and efficiency.

While some of the preliminary listings of potential reports for the JIU’s work programme of 2003 were worth pursuing, other subjects were too broad and beyond the resources and capabilities of the United Nations.  One area her delegation had identified as a particularly useful study would be a report evaluating United Nations mandates for relevance and effectiveness.  Another possible report would be to what degree and effectiveness the United Nations implemented the existing rules governing programme planning, budget aspects, monitoring of implementation, methods and evaluation.

Regarding the implementation of oversight recommendations, particularly those of the JIU, her delegation was dismayed to learn of a limited success rate.  While the General Assembly had taken specific action on eight JIU reports, for example, other legislative bodies had failed to even consider many of them.  Additional measures should be taken to ensure that such reports were submitted for consideration to the legislative organs of participating organizations.  Furthermore, legislative bodies needed to improve the structure and practices relating to oversight, since, due to the technical and specialized field of some of the agencies, oversight issues tended to be sidetracked.

The General Assembly, she continued, had requested in its resolution 52/220 that the individual sections of the programme budget contain a summary of the relevant recommendations of the internal and external oversight bodies, that information on the follow-up action be provided for each recommendation.  Her delegation was pleased that the programme budget for 2002-2003 contained such information.  However, with regard to many other participating organizations, she was dismayed to learn that this recommendation was found to be inappropriate or unworkable.  She was pleased to note, however, the JIU’s optimism that reallocation of staff resources for the 2002-2003 biennium should reinforce the Unit’s research and supportive capacity.  She also noted that the JIU was including only five new reports in its 2002 work programme rather then the six provided last year.  Her delegation expected that this scaled-down work programme would be reflected in more targeted, detailed and actionable JIU reports.

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For information media. Not an official record.