Budget Committee Takes Up Reports of Three Oversight Bodies – Board of Auditors, Office of Internal Oversight, Independent Audit Advisory Committee
Budget Committee Takes Up Reports of Three Oversight Bodies – Board of Auditors, Office of Internal Oversight, Independent Audit Advisory Committee
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fourth General Assembly
4th Meeting (AM)
Budget Committee Takes Up Reports of Three Oversight Bodies – Board of Auditors,
Office of Internal Oversight, Independent Audit Advisory Committee
Speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning stressed the importance of effective oversight for the continued viability and effectiveness of the United Nations, as they considered reports of the Board of Auditors, Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and newly-constituted Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC).
The United States representative stressed the importance of the work of the OIOS, which, he said, had played a significant role in enhancing accountability and effectiveness by exercising appropriate internal oversight, promoting responsible use of resources and identifying and reporting instances of waste, fraud and mismanagement. The creation of the Office in 1994 had been one of the most important United Nations management reform measures in the last 25 years. He, therefore, welcomed the five-year review of the functions and reporting procedures of the OIOS that the Committee started today as an opportunity to discuss measures to strengthen the Office.
For this latest five-year review, the Committee had before it recommendations of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee, which, according to its terms of reference, has the responsibility to advise the Assembly on the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the audit activities and other oversight functions of the OIOS.
Those recommendations were introduced by the Chairman of the IAAC, David Walker, who said that, being best placed to do so, the Committee had taken an opportunity to define OIOS operational independence in practical terms, in order to clarify its role. Practical recommendations had also been made to address other issues relating to OIOS effectiveness, including the establishment of an internal oversight charter. Significant issues in the IAAC report related to timeliness of OIOS reports, number of recommendations issued and high staff vacancy rates.
Commenting on those proposals, the representative of New Zealand, also speaking on behalf of Australia and Canada, said that a clear definition of the operational independence of OIOS would empower all stakeholders and result in a more effective and transparent internal oversight function. He also said that IAAC’s suggestion that OIOS could add value by including input from programme managers and staff prior to, and after, the preparation of draft audit workplans was interesting. That would give OIOS the opportunity to more fully consider program priorities, before finalizing workplans.
Presenting the OIOS annual report, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, said that the Office had undertaken initiatives to keep pace with growing governance challenges. Among them, it now delivered risk-based workplans for the Internal Audit and Inspection and Evaluation Divisions and continued to work on aggregating results of risk assessments into a comprehensive, Secretariat-wide assessment, in order to identify specific systemic risks. This did not replace the need for United Nations managers to conduct their own risk assessments, or diminish the urgency and responsibility of management to initiate individual risk management processes. She also underscored the need for the Organization to develop an accountability framework, outlining management’s responsibility for internal control.
She said that from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, OIOS had issued 390 reports, including 12 reports to the General Assembly and 59 closure reports of investigation. Further, it had issued 1,941 recommendations to improve internal controls, accountability mechanisms and organizational efficiency and effectiveness. The implementation rate for all recommendations issued as of three years was at 95 per cent, which was consistent with previous years.
Several speakers also addressed the implementation of the Board of Auditors’ recommendations, with several delegates commenting on the fact that, even though the number of recommendations made by the Board had declined by 22 per cent from the previous biennium, the implementation rate had also fallen, from 52 per cent to 47 per cent.
Sudan’s representative, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the Organization must promptly redouble efforts to implement the recommendations of the Board and ensure a dedicated follow-up mechanism, strengthen sufficient inter-agency coordination in the implementation of recommendations that pertained to more than one organization, and avoid addressing recommendations in a symptomatic manner. He agreed with the Advisory Committee that the Organization needed to take measures at the most senior level, to overcome deficiencies in the implementation of the Board’s recommendations.
The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the reasons for non-implementation might vary, but, still, the Board pointed to specific elements that were common for several United Nations entities that needed to be addressed transversally. The Board’s recommendations often pointed to structural problems that needed to be dealt with more systematically, and he strongly encouraged measures to that end.
The Committee also considered the Board of Auditors’ report on the financial statements of the voluntary funds administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, for which the Board had issued a qualified audit opinion this year, with three emphasis of matters.
Introducing that document, Imran Vanker, Chairman of the Audit Operations Committee of the Board of Auditors and Director of External Audit of South Africa, said it was of concern that the matter that had resulted in the qualification of the accounts this year was not a new matter, but had been emphasized by the Board in its previous report. The issue related to a lack of adequate assurance as to the validity of certain expenditures incurred by UNHCR through its implementing partners.
Donors had expectations that systems of accountability for monies they provided were functioning, he continued. Where those systems managed large sums of money, but didn’t operate as designed, it was the fiduciary responsibility of the officials to take an interest in addressing the problem, so that they could be sure that their projects were being implemented as promised, with full accountability for all funds advanced.
At the opening of the meeting, the Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution, by the terms of which the Assembly, agreeing that the failure of the Central African Republic, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia to pay the minimum amount necessary to avoid the application of Article 19 of the Charter was due to conditions beyond their control, would allow those countries to vote in the General Assembly through the end of the sixty-fourth session. [According to Article 19, Member States lose their right to vote in the Assembly if the amount of their arrears to the Organization equals or exceeds their dues for two full preceding years.]
Also participating in the debate were representatives of Central African Republic, Pakistan, Singapore, Russian Federation and Switzerland. Other reports were introduced by Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) Susan McLurg, and Neeta Tolani, Director, Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management.
The Committee will take up programme planning and the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 13 October.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was expected to take up several reports of the Organization’s oversight bodies this morning, including those of the Board of Auditors, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the newly-established Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC).
The first document before the Committee was the report of the Board of Auditors on the financial statements of the voluntary funds administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the year ended 31 December 2008 (A/64/5/Add.5).
According to the report, the Board of Auditors has issued a qualified opinion on the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) financial statements, relating to the inclusion, in the figure of $1.628 billion shown as total expenditure in statement I, the sum of $498.6 million representing expenditure incurred by the Office on projects performed through implementing partners. That amount was subject to independent audits by third-party auditors. As at 29 June 2009, however, of the total amount that required audit certification, certificates covering $252 million (50.5 per cent) had not been received by UNHCR, although the audit reports were generally due by 30 April 2009.
In addition, concerning prior years, approximately 10 per cent of expenditures for 2005 had not yet been substantiated by audit certificates, as at June 2009. For 2006 and for 2007, 14 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively, were not covered. Of the audit certificates received by UNHCR for 2008, $29.5 million, or 12 per cent of the value of audit certificates received, reflected qualified audit opinions. The Board was, therefore, unable to obtain adequate assurance as to the validity of a significant portion of expenditures incurred through implementing partners. The matter had been emphasized by the Board in previous reports, where it recommended improvements to the controls over the management of expenditure incurred by implementing partners.
The Board has also emphasized in its opinion the following matters:
(a) The disclosure of the value of non‑expendable property, based on use of a database, the shortcomings of which have been highlighted in the Board’s previous reports. The Board notes that several anomalies have not been corrected and expresses concern about their impact on the accuracy of the amount disclosed as UNHCR assets;
(b) The value of expendable property inventories was not disclosed, as required by the United Nations system accounting standards. UNHCR estimated the value of expendable property to be $109.3 million as at 2 March 2009, but the Board found that the expendable property database was not fully reliable;
(c) As a result of the provision made in the accounts for end-of-service and post-retirement liabilities, including health insurance, the reserves and fund balances reflected a deficit of $130.1 million, which highlights the need for UNHCR to identify funding to cover the liabilities.
The Board’s findings and recommendations cover such areas as after-service health insurance liabilities, progress made towards implementation of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), cash management, management of non-expendable property, expendable property, human resources management, programme and project management, internal audit activities, write-offs, ex gratia payments and cases of fraud and presumptive fraud.
The Committee also had before it a report on the implementation of the Board’s recommendations relating to the biennium 2006-2007 (document A/64/98), which covers 15 organizations, on which the Board reports on a biennial basis to the Assembly. The Board reports that, despite a decrease in the number of its recommendations from 651 to 507 during the biennium, the rate of implementation as at 31 March 2009 has also declined, compared to the rate as at 31 March 2007. For example, in the category of implemented recommendations, the rate of implementation decreased from 52 per cent to 47 per cent.
With the recommendations covering a wide variety of topics across many organizations, no reason could be identified for the change in the overall rate of implementation, but the Board has identified some common elements, which include: the lack of dedicated follow-up mechanisms at some organizations; the lack of sufficient inter-agency coordination in the implementation of recommendations that pertain to more than one organization; introduction of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards remains pending; and entities focusing mostly on the main recommendations, rather than other recommendations of the Board. The Board also points out that some activities, such as human resources reform, implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Panel on United Nations System-wide Coherence and the enterprise resource planning project, will take some time to come to fruition. The Board will keep those matters under review.
According to the report, the Board also identified good practices in relation to the implementation and follow-up of its recommendations, which include: identification and monitoring of a list of priority auditing issues; validation by internal auditors and related tracking of management’s assessment of the status of implementation; identification of the causes of recurring audit observations and development of appropriate action plans to address them; and establishment of time frames and completion standards for the implementation of recommendations.
The Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), in a related report (document A/64/469), trusts that UNHCR will make every effort to implement the recommendations. Noting that the situation has not improved with regard to the non-receipt of audit certificates, despite repeated recommendations by the Board, the Advisory Committee emphasizes that audit certificates are an important internal control mechanism. The absence of a verifiable audit trail for such a large sum could lead to a heightened risk of exposure to potential fraud. While acknowledging the often difficult environment in which UNHCR operates, the Advisory Committee urges UNHCR to take practical measures to address the substantive concerns raised by the Board. With regard to IPSAS, the Advisory Committee recommends that UNHCR submit to the Board proposed revisions to the Financial Rules required for full adoption of those standards, when available.
The Advisory Committee notes that the rate of implementation of the Board’s recommendations for the biennium 2006-2007 has decreased when compared to the biennium 2004-2005 and urges the organizations concerned to intensify their efforts to ensure implementation of the recommendations of the Board of Auditors. The ACABQ underscores the need for the organizations to take measures, at the most senior level, to overcome the deficiencies in the implementation of the Board’s recommendations.
The Advisory Committee concurs with the Board in connection with its assessment that most of the organizations will not fully implement IPSAS by the planned implementation date of 1 January 2010. The Board emphasizes the need for effective monitoring of the project timelines and deliverables, to ensure full implementation by the newly decided deadlines.
According to this year’s report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (document A/64/326, Part I), from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, the Office issued 390 oversight reports, which included 1,871 recommendations to improve internal controls, accountability mechanisms, and organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Of those recommendations, 615 were classified as critical to the Organization. The financial implications of OIOS recommendations issued during the period amount to approximately $49 million. The recommendations were aimed at cost savings, recoveries of overpayment, efficiency gains and other improvements. The financial implications of similar recommendations that were satisfactorily implemented during the period totalled approximately $32 million.
The report indicates that assignments conducted by the OIOS during the reporting period underscore the need for the Organization to develop an accountability framework, including formal internal control, to ensure that risks are managed consistently and systematically through focused control processes across the Organization.
The addendum to the OIOS report (A/64/326 (Part I)/Add.1) provides a detailed analysis of the status of implementation of the recommendations, a breakdown of recommendations with financial implications and an analysis of selected recommendations of particular concern.
Addendum II to the OIOS report (document A/64/326/Add.2) contains the Secretary-General’s comments on the OIOS report and its addendum.
The report on the activities of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC) for the period from 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2009 (document A/64/288) covers the Committee’s four sessions during that period. The report contains an overview of the activities of the Committee, the status of its recommendations and its plans for 2010, as well as follow-up on the implementation of its recommendations. It has submitted three reports to the Assembly in the current reporting period, including its reports through the ACABQ, on the budget for the Office of Internal Oversight Services under the support account for peacekeeping operations for the period from 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2010 (A/63/703) and the proposed programme budget of OIOS for the biennium 2010-2011 (A/64/86). The Committee also submitted a report on vacant posts in OIOS (A/63/737).
The report also presents detailed comments of the Committee, which include calls for improved coordination among OIOS, the Board of Auditors and the Joint Inspection Unit by means of an annual joint planning session, to ensure that their workplans are taken into consideration before OIOS workplans are finalized; the reorganization of the OIOS Investigations Division using a hub and spoke structure that retains some investigative capacity at high risk missions; and the need for a definition of key oversight terms, such as “savings,” “loss” and “damages,” which should be undertaken by OIOS in consultation with the Office of Legal Affairs and the Department of Management.
Given the fundamental importance of the independence of OIOS to the fulfilment of its functions, IAAC also recommends how the term “independence” should be applied to OIOS. It further advises the Assembly to consider instituting a requirement for the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services to provide assurance to the Assembly in the annual report of OIOS that the Office was independent during the reporting period and, if not, disclose the specific details of impairment.
Included as an annex to the report is the advice of the Committee on the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the audit activities and other oversight functions of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, submitted for the Assembly’s consideration in its review of the functions and reporting procedures of that Office.
IAAC proposes, among other things, a definition of the role and operational independence of OIOS, based on the General Assembly resolutions and the standards developed by the Institute of Internal Auditors and the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions, and then further elaborates on that basic premise.
As an internal audit, evaluation, inspection and investigations unit within the United Nations, OIOS should seek a constructive working relationship with management, the IAAC states. It should consult with management in determining its concerns and the areas in need of attention, prior to establishing any final engagement plans. OIOS should also comply with all United Nations regulations, rules, policies and procedures relating to personnel, ethics, contracting and other administrative matters, provided that they are consistent with the guidance on operational independence noted below.
OIOS should have an appropriate degree of real and perceived independence from the management of the United Nations and funds and programmes for which it provides oversight services, the IAAC states. Operational independence includes the ability of OIOS to: determine its final workplans and the content of its final reports; make requests for adequate resources to undertake its work; conduct its work with the cooperation of management and all applicable parties, free from intervention; select staff for the Office; and communicate directly to the General Assembly and the Secretary-General in connection with matters of critical importance to the United Nations and/or the Office.
Further, IAAC recommends, among other things, the preparation of an internal oversight charter which would serve as the terms of reference of the Office, encompass all elements of the relevant decisions of the General Assembly and contain a detailed description of the mandate, authority, functions, accountability and reporting procedures of the Office and its relationship to the Assembly (including the relationship with the Independent Audit Advisory Committee), the Secretary-General, management and other oversight bodies. Such a charter should be updated to include all subsequent Assembly decisions concerning OIOS. The IAAC could provide advice to the Assembly regarding the completeness of the internal oversight charter reflecting the legislative decisions of the Assembly.
Action on Draft
At the opening of the meeting, the Committee approved, without a vote, draft resolution A/C.5/64/L.2, by the terms of which the Assembly would agree that the failure of the Central African Republic, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia to pay the minimum amount necessary to avoid the application of Article 19 of the Charter was due to conditions beyond their control and decide to permit those countries to vote in the General Assembly until the end of its sixty-fourth session.
[Under Article 19 of the Charter, a Member State, whose arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the United Nations shall have no vote in the Assembly if the amount of its debt equals or exceeds its dues for the preceding two full years. The Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond that country’s control.]
Also by the draft, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General to continue to bring to the attention of Member States the deadline for payments and urge all countries requesting exemptions under Article 19 to submit as much information as possible in support of their requests.
Introduction of Board of Auditors reports
IMRAN VANKER, Chairman of the Audit Operations Committee of the Board of Auditors and Director of External Audit of South Africa, presented the Board’s report and a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the document on the implementation of the Board’s recommendations for 2006-2007.
He said that the presentation and the discussions this morning would indicate the concerns of independent external auditors about certain matters. Through those reports, independent auditors raised awareness of challenges, identified some root causes and made recommendations about the steps that could be considered to address the problems, and to guide oversight bodies in discharging their duties.
After issuing a modified report with three emphasis of matters with regard to the accounts of UNHCR for the prior year, the Board had noted more serious circumstances in the accounts of UNHCR for this year, he said. The Board had, thus, issued a modified report again this year, but this time including a qualified audit opinion, with three emphasis of matters. It was of concern that the matter that had resulted in the qualification of the accounts this year was not a new matter, but had been emphasized by the Board in its previous report. The issue related to a lack of adequate assurance as to the validity of certain expenditures incurred by UNHCR through its implementing partners.
Donors had expectations that systems of accountability for monies they provided were functioning, he continued. Where those systems managed large sums of money, but didn’t operate as designed, it was the fiduciary responsibility of the officials to take an interest in addressing the problem, so that they could be sure that their projects were being implemented as promised, with full accountability for all funds advanced. The third party audit verification was one element of that accountability, which was supplemented by UNHCR’s own monitoring activities. By highlighting the matter, the Board was drawing management’s attention to the need to find ways to close an apparent gap, so that the interests of donors, recipients and the Organization alike were all protected.
Out of the three matters emphasized in the report, two had been emphasized in the prior report, and one was new. The two old matters related to non-expendable property and the provision for end-of-service and post-retirement benefits, including health insurance. Although some progress had been observed in the management of non-expendable property, several anomalies had not been corrected. The third matter emphasized by the Board related to the non-recording by UNHCR of its expendable property inventories in its financial statements and the challenges it faced in its expendable property database. The qualification and those emphasis of matters reflected negatively on the control environment of UNHCR, and the Organization should give the highest priority to addressing the concerns, so that the trend of modified audit reports was broken and a strong expression of good management was made.
The report of the Advisory Committee was introduced by its Chair, SUSAN MCLURG.
In connection with the Board’s continued review of UNHCR efforts to implement IPSAS, she said that the Advisory Committee had been informed that, in response to the difficulties encountered by the Office and a number of other organizations, the Board was preparing an IPSAS-transition paper to clarify the requirements to be met prior to implementing those standards. Further, the Board of Auditors had stated its willingness to review UNHCR’s revisions to its financial rules in relation to the full adoption of IPSAS, as it would do for other organizations. The Advisory Committee welcomed the Board’s initiatives.
MAGID YOUSIF (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that the observations and recommendations of the oversight bodies were crucial in allowing Member States to ensure that the Organization adhered to proper procedures and practices and fully disclosed financial statements. It was crucial to the Organization’s work for those observations and recommendations to be implemented. He noted with concern the findings of the Board of Auditors, that for the year ending 31 December 2007 with regard to the voluntary funds administered by UNHCR, only 7 of 21 recommendations had been implemented, 11 partially implemented and 3 had not been implemented. Of those not implemented, one had first been raised in 2002, one in 2006 and one in 2007.
He further expressed concern at the ageing of previous recommendations implemented only partially, or not at all, and concurred with ACABAQ that UNHCR must find a way to implement those recommendations, which touched on areas such as after service health insurance liabilities, progress made towards implementation of IPSAS, cash management, management of expendable and non-expendable property, human resources management, programme and project management, internal audit activities, write-offs, ex gratia payments and cases of fraud and presumptive fraud.
He said that the Organization must promptly redouble efforts to implement recommendations of the Board and ensure a dedicated follow-up mechanism, strengthen sufficient inter-agency coordination in the implementation of recommendations that pertained to more than one organization, and avoid addressing recommendations in a symptomatic manner. He agreed with the Advisory Committee that the Organization needed to take measures at the most senior level, to overcome deficiencies in the implementation of the Board’s recommendations.
He noted that the Board had conducted its audit on the capital master plan and would keep matters, such as human resources reform, under review. He drew the Board’s attention to the fact that such issues as implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Panel on United Nations System-wide Coherence and the enterprise resource planning project were under consideration by Member States and that, as yet, there had been no intergovernmental decision on the way forward. Therefore, caution should be exercised in evaluating the impact of those processes on the Organization’s work.
HENRIC RÅSBRANT (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, commended the Board for the high quality of its reports and noted with concern a qualified audit opinion regarding the financial statements of the voluntary funds administered by UNHCR for the year ended 31 December 2008. Among other specific areas highlighted by the Board, he recognized the inadequate record-keeping on expendable and non-expendable property. The Union was all the more concerned over the fact that it had been a matter of emphasis in the Board’s previous reports.
On a broader perspective, the Union noted with great interest the report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Board relating to the biennium 2006-2007, he continued. It was with concern that he noted a decline in the implementation rate. The Union could only but stress once again the importance of the implementation of the Board’s recommendations. The reasons for non-implementation might vary, but, still, the Board pointed to specific elements that were common for several United Nations entities that needed to be addressed transversally. In that context, he shared the concern raised by the Board that recommendations often were addressed in a symptomatic manner, where reported issues were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The Board’s recommendations often pointed to structural problems that needed to be dealt with more systematically, and he strongly encouraged measures to that end.
In conclusion, he reiterated the importance of the implementation of IPSAS, saying that he was concerned over the Board’s assessment that most of the organizations that it audited would not fully implement those standards by the planned implementation date of 1 January 2010. The Union agreed with the Board’s opinion that the timelines and deliverables needed to be effectively monitored. To achieve a successful implementation of IPSAS, it was important for the Board to continue to review the implementation process.
EILEEN P. MERRITT (United States) said that her delegation generally supported the auditors’ conclusions, as well as the ACABQ, and she believed the Committee should approve the reports.
On the UNHCR, she was pleased, overall, to see that the strong donor support for UNHCR and higher contribution rate for 2008 had resulted in a funding level of 101 per cent of the Annual Programme Fund, she said. That was a significant improvement from just two years ago, when the funding level had been only 84 per cent. On the other hand, she noted with disappointment that the Board had issued a qualified opinion for UNHCR’s financial statements for 2008, due primarily to the unacceptably low receipts of audit certificates from implementing partners. The auditors had been unable to validate a significant portion of UNHCR expenditures. That was a significant deficiency. The ACABQ urged UNHCR to take practical measures to address the issue, and she would like to know what measures were going to be taken.
She also noted with concern the Board’s conclusion that UNHCR had made only limited progress in implementing IPSAS, apparently because the agency had not devoted the required resources to that important project. She would like to receive an update from UNHCR on the efforts to correct that, and get IPSAS on track. In connection with other findings of the Board, she said that, as similar deficiencies had been seen in other areas audited by OIOS, she would like to know specifically what had been done to reverse that.
On the implementation of the Board’s recommendations, she said that the report before the Committee provided clues about organizations that might not view the implementation as seriously as they should. She noted from the report that even though the number of recommendations made by the Board had declined by 22 per cent from the previous biennium, the implementation rate had also fallen, from 52 per cent to 47 per cent. In looking at the report’s details, she did not notice any egregious examples of recommendations not implemented. Still, she would appreciate hearing from the Board if there was anything that Member States could do to encourage better implementation.
In conclusion, she reiterated that effective oversight, such as that performed by the Board of Auditors, could only make United Nations activities stronger: recovered resources reused, ineffective practices terminated, and culpable officials held accountable. For those reasons, she appreciated the efforts of the Board and expected United Nations managers to implement its recommendations expeditiously.
Mr. KOMBA (Central African Republic) said he supported the statement of the Group of 77 and thanked the Committee on Contributions for responding in the affirmative for the article 19 waiver, as well as those countries that had supported the waiver.
Introduction of OIOS and IAAC reports
INGA-BRITT AHLENIUS, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, presented the Annual Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services Part I (document A/64/236), which covered OIOS work for the period 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009. It did not cover oversight activities pertaining to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Department of Field Support, or the peacekeeping and special political missions, as those would be provided to the General Assembly in Part II of the report during the resumed sixty-fourth session.
During the reporting period, OIOS issued 390 reports, including 12 reports to the General Assembly and 59 closure reports of investigation. Further, it issued 1,941 recommendations to improve internal controls, accountability mechanisms and organizational efficiency and effectiveness. The implementation rate for all recommendations issued as of three years was at 95 per cent, which was consistent with previous years. She underscored the need for the Organization to develop an accountability framework, outlining management’s responsibility for internal control, including their assurance that risks were managed consistently and systematically through focused control processes across the Organization.
Citing one example, she said that the OIOS audit of the contract between the United Nations and the American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. for the provision of travel management services, found that the procurement process had not been in compliance with United Nations procurement principles and that inadequate control over contract implementation had resulted in ineffective cost containment. The contract technical evaluation had shown that two other vendors had presented lower bids, but that those bids had been rejected, although they met the technical criteria.
The report also found $1.8 million in improperly documented travel management service expenditures in 2008, an amount that had increased annually since 2006. Such instances exposed the Organization to unnecessary risk and a potential waste of resources. Deficiencies in internal control remained a significant problem for the Organization.
Fifteen years ago the General Assembly had passed resolution 48/218B, establishing OIOS to assist the Secretary-General in fulfilling his oversight responsibilities in respect of the Organization’s resources and staff through the provision of audit, investigation, inspection and evaluation services, she said. OIOS had undertaken initiatives to keep pace with growing governance challenges. Among them, OIOS now delivered risk-based workplans for the Internal Audit and Inspection and Evaluation Divisions and continued to work on aggregating results of risk assessments into a comprehensive, Secretariat-wide risk assessment in order to identify specific systemic risks. This did not replace the need for United Nations managers to conduct their own risk assessments, or diminish the urgency and responsibility of management to initiate individual risk management processes.
Further, during the reporting period, all three divisions had updated and expanded their respective manuals to reflect changes in the work environment and to ensure consistency with international norms and standards, she continued. To enhance transparency and understanding of the Office’s work, those manuals were publicly available.
In closing, she stressed the importance of transparency as the primary condition for accountability. She drew attention to the importance of the “Transparency Resolution,” resolution 59/272, which decided that OIOS reports should be submitted directly to the Assembly and that the original versions of reports not submitted should be made available to any Member State upon request. The United Nations was a publicly financed Organization, accountable to its stakeholders and financers. “While such transparency in the very short run might not always be pleasant, transparency serves in the long run to improve the Organization and to establish the culture of accountability,” she said. There could be no trust without transparency.
Introducing the Secretary-General’s note on the report on the activities of OIOS for the period from 1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009, NEETA TOLANI, Director, Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Department of Management, emphasized the Secretariat’s commitment to the full and timely implementation of OIOS recommendations, and noted the positive contributions that such implementation made to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Organization.
DAVID WALKER, Chairman of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee (IAAC), introduced chapters I to III of that body’s report, saying that while it was the Committee’s second report on its activities, it was its first covering a full 12-month period of operations. The IAAC was dedicated to working strictly within the terms of reference, using them to guide the scope and extent of its work. During the reporting period, the IAAC had continued the past practice of meeting with a broad range of key United Nations stakeholders, including representatives of Member States, the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General and the ACABQ. The IAAC had met routinely with the Under-Secretary-Generals for Internal Oversight Services and Management, or their representatives, at every session.
With regard to the IAAC’s plans for 2010, the report included a preliminary work plan. As for the results of the Committee’s activities, the IAAC had made a total of 29 recommendations, including two recommendations on the OIOS proposed programme budget for 2010-2011. Out of those, 13 recommendations had been implemented and a further 13 were in progress. The IAAC would continue to closely monitor implementation of its recommendations.
While the Committee’s recommendations on the activities of OIOS would be presented separately, he highlighted some the issues of importance to the IAAC, saying that OIOS needed to compile its risk-based work plans, taking into consideration, among other factors, the quality and effectiveness of internal controls and other risk-mitigating activities by management. The IAAC had drawn attention to OIOS work planning in its report on the Office’s budget under the support account for peacekeeping operations and the report on the OIOS proposed budget for 2010-2011. The IAAC would review OIOS’ progress with implementation of those recommendations at its December session. The OIOS should also take the lead in defining some of the key oversight terms, such as savings, damages and loss. A common understanding of those terms would be constructive for the users of OIOS reports. And, finally, OIOS needed to develop suitable metrics and performance indicators that would focus on the value that the oversight functions delivered to the Organization. The IAAC would provide its support and advice to OIOS in the development of those metrics and indicators.
Looking ahead, the IAAC had listed in the report three significant events that would take place next year, he said. Those included the end of the five-year non-renewable term of the current Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services in July 2010; the expiration of the first three-year term of three of the five IAAC members in December 2010; and the mandated review of the terms of reference of the IAAC by the General Assembly during its next session. The IAAC would provide its comments in that respect in next year’s report.
MAGID YOUSIF (Sudan), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that the OIOS had an essential role to play in improving internal controls, accountability mechanisms and the Organization’s efficiency and effectiveness, in accordance with its mandate. The coming five-year review of the OIOS was a key opportunity to take stock of the work of the Office and consider its future challenges. In this connection, the Group wanted to reiterate its support for the operational independence of the OIOS within the context of resolution 48/218 B, and its role in assisting the Secretary-General in fulfilling his internal oversight responsibilities, in respect of the resources and staff of the Organization, through internal audit, monitoring, inspection, evaluation and investigations.
The Group also reaffirmed the separate and distinct roles of internal and external oversight mechanisms, he said. In that regard, he appreciated the OIOS initiative to have regular coordination with other United Nations oversight entities, including the Board of Auditors and Joint Inspection Unit. Such oversight coordination helped to avoid duplication and overlap in the conduct of oversight work. It also minimized the gaps in oversight coverage.
On the annual activities of the OIOS, he noted the Office’s initiatives to strengthen its existing functions: inspection and evaluation; internal audit; and investigations. He appreciated the ongoing efforts to improve oversight strategies, processes and methodologies, in accordance with international standards. He also reiterated the importance of achieving the goals of equitable geographic distribution and hiring suitably qualified personnel in the OIOS. When carrying out its functions, the Office should fully respect the legislative mandates of the Assembly and other relevant intergovernmental bodies. While appreciating the work of the OIOS, he was concerned that some recommendations contradicted the mandates and decisions of the General Assembly. The Group would be following up on specific issues of concern with regard to those matters.
Continuing, he expressed concern at the decreased rate of implementation of the OIOS recommendations and the higher number of recommendations that had received no response during the reporting period. The Group was also concerned over the growing number of recommendations not started, especially those listed as critical ones. He appreciated that over 99 per cent of entities had provided OIOS with a status update about the implementation of the recommendations and commended those entities that had accepted and implemented them. He reiterated the importance of the implementation and full cooperation of all departments and entities with OIOS. Likewise, the Group urged OIOS to engage closely with the Secretariat with respect to OIOS recommendations and to resolve differences before presenting matters to the Fifth Committee.
In addition to the status of OIOS recommendations, the Group also noted the oversight findings of the OIOS on the seven risk categories, as outlined in the report, he said. The classification by OIOS of its work in those categories reflected a comprehensive approach that covered the full spectrum of potential risks faced by the Organization. He also noted the highlights on the Capital Master Plan and the United Nations Compensation Commission.
Turning to the report of the IAAC, he said that the Group thanked the Committee for its work and noted that it had presented concrete suggestions to enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the audit activities and other oversight functions of the OIOS, in conjunction with the review of its functions and reporting procedures. He looked forward to a comprehensive discussion on those matters in informal consultations.
HENRIC RÅSBRANT (Sweden), speaking for European Union, began by expressing appreciation for the continued risk-based approach of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, in order to prioritize the work of the Office and draw up its workplans. At the same time, he reiterated that management had the primary responsibility for assessing and managing organizational and related risks. He welcomed the information on the efforts of the OIOS to streamline its standard operating procedures and update its manuals to ensure consistency with international norms and standards and promote fairness and due process rights.
Continuing, he said he appreciated the positive trend in implementation of OIOS recommendations and stressed the importance of recommendations being fully implemented, unless reasons were given for why it was not possible. He welcomed the close coordination between the OIOS, the Joint Inspection Unit and the Board of Auditors, in order to avoid potential duplication and overlap in the oversight work. Lastly, he said he also appreciated the works of the IAAC, adding that he would carefully study the detailed comments of the Committee, including on the OIOS, and would revert to issues raised in informal consultations.
JIM MCLAY, (New Zealand), speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, welcomed OIOS initiatives aimed at strengthening internal procedures to assist the Secretary-General, management and Member States in the execution of their respective responsibilities, particularly the adoption of risk-based workplans for the Internal Audit and the Inspection and Evaluation Divisions. That approach could enable OIOS to better focus its audit and investigations functions on the Organization’s high risk operations and activities.
Further he said that the operational independence of OIOS was critical to its effective functioning and noted the definition of operational independence in the report of the IAAC. A clear definition would empower all stakeholders and result in a more effective and transparent internal oversight function. He also said that IAAC’s suggestion that OIOS could add value by including input from programme managers and staff prior to, and after, the preparation of draft audit workplans was interesting. He agreed that this would give OIOS the opportunity to more fully consider program priorities, before finalizing workplans.
He also found merit in the IAAC proposal that OIOS prepare an internal oversight charter to serve as the terms of reference for the Office. Such a charter could encompass all elements of relevant General Assembly decisions and contain a detailed description of the mandate, authority, functions, accountability and reporting procedures of the Office and its relationship with the General Assembly.
JOSEPH MELROSE ( United States) said that his Government considered the work of the OIOS to be of key importance to the ongoing viability and effectiveness of the United Nations. Indeed, he continued to believe that the creation of the Office in 1994 had been one of the most important United Nations management reform measures in the last 25 years. He, therefore, welcomed the five-year review as an opportunity to discuss measures that could be taken to strengthen OIOS, in order to maintain and improve its effectiveness. For this latest five-year review, he was pleased to have the views of the IAAC.
The latest OIOS report underscored why the work of the Office remained so crucial to the ongoing effective and accountable functioning of the United Nations, he continued. The United States commended OIOS for identifying $49 million in recommended savings, recoveries, efficiency gains, and other improvements during the past year and for actively recovering $32 million from implementation of previous recommendations. He urged the Secretary-General to take appropriate action to realize the savings recommended by the OIOS, but not yet recovered. The operational independence of OIOS was crucial to its effective functioning, and his delegation wanted the Office to have sufficient resources to perform its core functions, free from any real or perceived influence by the very bodies or officials it was intended to oversee. He strongly agreed with the preface to the OIOS statement that “a well-performing organization rests upon two strong pillars”, including strong management, with responsibilities outlined in an accountability framework, and operationally independent oversight.
Resolution 48/218 B, which created OIOS, had stipulated that operational independence and provided that reports of the OIOS should be made available to the Assembly, as submitted by OIOS, he continued. Subsequently, resolution 59/272 had clarified that Member States should have access to OIOS reports. That measure had strengthened OIOS and reinforced the principles of independent and transparent internal oversight, by allowing Member States to more fully and effectively exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to oversee the activities and operations of the Organization.
It was clear that OIOS activities in the areas of internal audit, monitoring, inspection, evaluation and investigation had been extensive, he said, citing the Office’s annual report to give examples of its work. While he was pleased to learn that OIOS had worked hard to conduct risk assessments in collaboration with programme managers as a basis for developing its audit plans, he had frankly been disappointed to see frequent reference in the Board of Auditors and other reports that OIOS had consistently not been able to complete its audit plans on time. One of the reasons, it appeared, was that a large number of authorized audit posts had been vacant for long periods. He was concerned about that, and would like to get an update on OIOS efforts to reverse those problems.
The Secretary-General’s comments on the OIOS report seemed both comprehensive and thoughtful, he continued. At the same time, he was concerned with what he perceived to be the defensive, if not at times adversarial, tone of some of the comments. While he would look forward to hearing from both sides on those specific matters, in the meantime he strongly encouraged both parties to seek to develop a more cooperative and effective relationships.
Turning to the OIOS report, he said that, overall, the document provided Member States with much food for thought about the practice of internal oversight in the United Nations. With independence being of paramount importance to oversight, he was pleased to see the IAAC provide very specific recommendations for ensuring that independence for OIOS and looked forward to discussing them. He noted with concern the Committee’s comments on the OIOS treatment of management comments in audit reports and their possible impact on the legitimacy of critical findings and recommendations. There was merit to those recommendations and he looked forward to discussing them with all the concerned parties. Also, as previously mentioned, confirming Member States’ access to OIOS reports five years ago had been a significant step. The United States and other countries had regularly used that access to be better informed and equipped to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities in overseeing the activities of the Organization. He appreciated the issues raised by IAAC and looked forward to discussing how to maintain and enhance the transparency that had been achieved.
Finally, he said his delegation was dismayed by continuing vacancies in OIOS, particularly at the D-2 level. He urged the Secretary-General to work with OIOS to find a way to move forward in an expeditious manner on the vacancies, consistent with the operational independence of OIOS, as endorsed by the Assembly.
AMJAD HUSSAIN B. SIAL (Pakistan) aligned himself with the statement of the Group of 77 and China and, agreeing, for the most part, with the reports, said that the issue of selection and appointment of OIOS staff had been settled in paragraph 19 of resolution 54/244, which emphasized that the recruitment and promotion of staff of OIOS should accord with the provisions of the Charter, relevant resolutions and decisions of the General Assembly, Staff Regulations and the Organization’s rules, taking into account Article 101, paragraph 3 of the Charter. Given the specialized nature of the Office’s work, however, the Office itself could participate in the process, while leaving final authority to the Secretary-General. He said that the provisions of Articles 97 and 101 of the Charter should be implemented without deviation.
He expressed support for the independence of OIOS and, citing resolution 48/218 B, said that the General Assembly had explicitly enunciated the operational independence of OIOS. It was now an internal matter between the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General to decide how to realize General Assembly decisions and provisions in the Charter, in that regard. Suggestions beyond that would be an attempt to micromanage the Secretariat.
He noted some seeming contradictions in paragraphs 1 and 3 of General Assembly resolution 59/272 on OIOS. The first paragraph called for OIOS reports to be submitted to the Secretary-General, who would then transmit them to the General Assembly, while the third paragraph decided that reports should be submitted directly to the General Assembly. The issue should be revisited to ensure clarity and conformity with Article 97 of the Charter, in conjunction with Article 98.
On access to OIOS reports that were not submitted to the General Assembly, he said that, for the sake of transparency, all finalized reports should be submitted to the Assembly without exception. Reports not submitted to that body were an internal matter of the Secretariat. Requests for access to them by Member States would be intrusive and amount to interference in the internal affairs of the Secretariat. He cautioned that there should be no question of discretion in submitting certain reports to the Assembly, while withholding others and called for further reflection on the matter. He also said that both internal and external oversight functions must receive adequate resources, but that it must not come at the expense of other programmes.
He expressed extreme concern that there was no accountability framework in the Secretariat, noting that it dealt with a budget of more than $12 billion. It must not be the sole responsibility of oversight bodies to enforce accountability in the Secretariat. A system had to be put in place for ensuring that programme managers were held accountable for how they functioned. The role of oversight bodies was to assist and facilitate that process. He also said that there must be no duplication of effort between oversight bodies, to ensure appropriate use of resources.
CRAIG LIM ( Singapore) affirmed his country’s strong belief in the value of improving accountability and oversight at the United Nations. But, while Singapore remained fully supportive of a robust Oversight Office, it believed the internal and external oversight mechanisms should be separate and distinct. The work of various United Nations oversight bodies, including the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Board of Auditors, the Joint Inspection Unit and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee, served to complement one another in improving the Organization’s overall functioning. Still, effective coordination between the oversight bodies to maximize resources, experiences, knowledge and best practices was important.
Regarding internal audits, he underlined that the need for stronger controls and oversight had grown, due to the increasing scope, volume and complexity of United Nations activities, particularly in peacekeeping, where the 2009-2010 budget exceeded $7.7 billion. The management, operation and control of many peacekeeping operations and related oversight projects had for too long been dominated by a select group within the membership, leading to the misuse of contributions. Indeed, that misuse in the oil-for-food programme had totalled billions of dollars. The breakdown of internal controls should be a firm reminder why constant vigilance was needed.
He said the evaluation function of the Office of Internal Oversight Services should, therefore, be a source of information on what works and what did not. That Office’s investigation function should also be scrutinized, as the United Nations made a transition to a new administration of justice system. Singapore also supported strengthening investigations to combat corruption and wrongdoing at all levels of the Secretariat, so that no one was exempt from accountability. Investigations should be conducted fairly, in a transparent manner without abuse or bias, with regard for due process and the protection of the rights of staff members. Moreover, all stakeholders in the triangular relationship between Member States, management and the Office of Internal Oversight Services should strive to implement good working methods and to achieve “win-win results”.
He said the Independent Audit Advisory Committee had provided useful insights on how the OIOS could improve its work. But, Singapore shared concerns regarding the current low rate of implementation by management of the recommendations of oversight bodies. That said, the quality of those recommendations, as well as management’s implementation, were arguably more important than the quantity. While assurances provided by management on improving the implementation rate were notable, more attention should be focused on quality and value-added recommendations.
Singapore was further prepared for a serious discussion on ensuring the OIOS was not impeded in its work, he said. In that regard, the IAAC had made thoughtful and valuable recommendations, like its suggestion that the OIOS prepare an internal oversight charter to improve clarity. Finally, he noted the concerns raised by several senior managers regarding the inaccurate recording of their comments in OIOS reports. Those reports should be perceived as unbiased, credible and accurate, and there was merit in the recommendation by the IAAC that the complete and agreed record of response by management be included as an annex in future reports.
VLADIMIR N. PROKHOROV ( Russian Federation) said that accountable and effective management of the United Nations must keep in step with the times, if it was to fulfil the ever growing, in both quantity and complexity, tasks before it. This was especially important with regard to oversight bodies and their strict adherence to the Organization’s rules and procedures, and optimal use of expenditures for their activities, one of the principal tasks of internal and external oversight. Success in the work of the oversight bodies provided security for implementation of Member States’ decisions. For that reason, it was important for the Secretariat to carry out the recommendations made by those bodies.
Particular attention must be given to implementation of the recommendations of oversight bodies and to the interrelationship between the Secretariat and those bodies. He further said that an understanding must be reached on the operational independence of the management of oversight bodies, in adherence to existing rules and procedures. To avoid increased expenditures, there must be no duplication of effort between oversight agencies.
Review of Implementation of Resolutions 48/218B, 545/244 and 59/272
Inviting the Committee to take up the agenda item, Chairman of the Committee PETER MAURER (Switzerland) recalled that in paragraph 16 of resolution 59/272 of 23 December 2004, the Assembly had decided to review the functions and reporting procedures of the OIOS and any other matter it deemed appropriate at its sixty-fourth session. Attention of the Committee was also drawn to paragraph 12 of resolution 63/265, by which the Assembly recalled that one of the responsibilities of the IAAC was to advise the Assembly on the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the audit activities and other oversight functions of the OIOS.
DAVID WALKER then introduced annex I of the IAAC report contained in document A/64/288. He said that the Committee’s approach to collecting data for its review included a survey of 191 selected senior staff members and 19 interviews with senior managers. Notwithstanding a low response rate to the survey (45 per cent), the data gathered proved useful and, in many respects, served to corroborate the IAAC members’ own observations over the past 18 months.
Significant issues that had emerged related to the perception by management that the Office appeared to be more of an external oversight entity than an internal one; that the OIOS work plans did not reflect the priorities of the programmes it audited; and that management’s response to OIOS findings and recommendations were not recorded adequately in the final internal audit reports. The IAAC, being best placed to do so, had taken that opportunity to define OIOS operational independence in practical terms, in order to clarify the OIOS role in the United Nations. Practical recommendations had also been made to address other issues relating to OIOS effectiveness, including the establishment of an internal oversight charter. Significant issues in the IAAC report related to timeliness of OIOS reports, number of recommendations issues and high staff vacancy rates.
He said the IAAC would monitor the timeliness of reports issued by OIOS and follow up on the management’s concern regarding the number of recommendations issued. Any issues of concern would be reported to the Assembly. The Committee had also submitted a report on the high level of vacant posts in OIOS. General Assembly resolution 63/287 had subsequently called for expeditious action in filling the vacant posts. The IAAC had since noted an improvement in the overall vacancy rate, with the exception of the Director-level posts. Of those, the Director for the Investigations Division had remained vacant for the longest period.
The principles contained in the existing General Assembly resolutions relating to OIOS were relevant and consistent with best practices, he added. That also held true for the legislative decisions that had increased transparency and facilitated Member States’ access to internal oversight reports. However, in the IAAC’s view, consideration should be given to how reports were made available and the impact that further dissemination of those documents had on the role that OIOS played as an internal oversight function. In connection with disclosure of internal oversight reports, the IAAC recommended that the process and procedures for requesting reports and making them available to Member States, and the circumstances under which the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight would exercise discretion in modifying or withholding reports, should be formalized and included in the internal oversight charter.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, HENRIC RÅSBRANT (Sweden) said that he would carefully study the observations, comments and recommendations of the IAAC on the effectiveness, efficiency and impact of the functions of OIOS and looked forward to discussing them in informal consultations. The overall objective was to have an effective and efficient internal oversight function to assist the Secretary-General in fulfilling his internal oversight responsibilities.
THOMAS GÜRBER (Switzerland), also speaking on behalf of Liechtenstein, said it was essential to continue to support and strengthen the Office of Internal Oversight Services to further reduce the risks facing the United Nations and to make the implementation of its mandates more efficient and effective. To this end, he welcomed the efforts of that Office to strengthen its functioning. The survey and interviews of senior managers by the Independent Audit Advisory Committee showed that most of them respected and appreciated the work of the OIOS.
Still, he shared the Committee’s analysis that clarifying certain aspects of the mandate of OIOS could further strengthen its function and welcomed the recommendation that an internal oversight charter be prepared to serve as that Office’s terms of reference. It should contain all relevant General Assembly decisions and provide a detained description of the Office’s mandate, authority, functions, accountability and reporting procedures, as well as its relationship with other stakeholders.
He went on to say that operational independence was an indispensable prerequisite for any internal oversight function and Switzerland and Liechtenstein were grateful for clarification on that term’s meaning and scope provided by the IAAC. He said the OIOS was created by the General Assembly as a “hybrid entity” with separate and distinct internal and external oversight roles. Its hybrid character became apparent when its current practice of making oversight reports available to Member States upon their request was analyzed. Currently, those reports appeared on the Internet before management could react. That practice was difficult to reconcile with the Office’s original purpose of assisting the Secretary-General in fulfilling his internal oversight options. Thus, the protocol for making these reports available to member States should be clarified. Under no circumstance, however, should the principle of transparency be challenged or the prerogative of the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight be diminished to bring the oversight reports to the General Assembly’s attention, if she deemed that necessary. Finally, he expressed concern that the vacant posts in the OIOS remained unfilled.
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