18 October 2002


Governance and accountability were among the key matters addressed by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) during its three-day consideration of the Board of Auditors reports, Auditor-General of South Africa and Chairman of the Board, Shauket Fakie, said this morning at the conclusion of that discussion.


In his summary of the debate, Mr. Fakie further said that the Fifth Committee and respective administrations should consider closer compliance with governance structures and principles in line with international best practices, while simultaneously meeting the needs of Member States.


Addressing delegates’ concerns in connection with the auditors’ findings, he stressed the importance of timeliness in order to optimize the benefit of the Board’s reports.  This year’s reports had been transmitted on time, but subsequently the documents were delayed due to some editorial and translation problems.  The Audit Operations Committee had discussed the quality of translations with the Administration, which had agreed to consider the necessary steps to prevent future problems.


As noted by delegations, he said, there were a number of trust funds that had remained inactive for lengthy periods of time.  Although the Board had noted a significant effort by the United Nations in resolving the issue, it would encourage an increased effort to resolve it on behalf of the administrations involved.  It was disconcerting that some trust funds and projects were actually in deficit, which meant that the United Nations organizations were pre-financing activities in some instances and also that those organizations were facing certain difficulties in seeking reimbursement later on.


Concerns had been raised about the financial position of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), he continued.  In this regard, the Board considered that overall, the steps taken by Member States to address the financial viability of that entity might have a significant impact on its financial position.  The audits had also disclosed that problems regarding engagement and payment of consultants and the hiring of personnel were mainly due to the failure by the administrations to apply existing guidelines and procedures.  Regarding concerns over the lack of a completion strategy and related defence counsel costs for the Tribunals on Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, the Board would continue to follow up on the implementation of its recommendations in the context of its next audits.


Also responding to questions and comments from the floor, United Nations Controller, Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, said that external audit was an essential function, which deserved particular attention.  There had been significant improvements in the implementation of the Board’s recommendations, and the Secretariat intended to continue in that direction.  The Board’s input was very important for the Organization’s everyday work.


Regarding trust funds, he said an overall study was under way to improve management of funds, which implied streamlining of procedures for their administration.  On the central emergency revolving fund, by and large, the advances were dispersed in a timely manner.  In several cases, however, the processing of advances had been held up in an effort to speed up reimbursement for previous advances.


He agreed with the auditors’ opinion regarding the closure of inactive trust funds.  More could be done in that respect.  Corrective action had already been initiated, and he hoped that next time he would be able to report significant progress to the Committee.


The Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. Monday, 21 October, when it is expected to be briefed on the financial situation of the United Nations.  Monday’s work programme also includes agenda items related to the pattern of conferences and programme budget for the current biennium.

For information media. Not an official record.