Reviewing Whistle-Blower Policies, New Accountability System, Fifth Committee Delegates Underline Need for Increased Efforts, Shift in Current Culture

GA/AB/4316
22 March 2019
Seventy-third Session, 30th Meeting (AM)

Reviewing Whistle-Blower Policies, New Accountability System, Fifth Committee Delegates Underline Need for Increased Efforts, Shift in Current Culture

United Nations entities and their senior managers have been given delegated authority to make decisions, but they are also held accountable for results, speakers said today, as the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) examined ways to improve the Organization’s accountability.

The Director of Finance in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, said that, since 1 January, numerous authorities held at Headquarters or other centralized offices have now been delegated to entities across the Secretariat.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report on strengthening the Secretariat’s accountability system under the new management paradigm, he explained that those entities expanded their decision-making power associated with financial matters, administration of staffing, management of property and procurement of goods and services.  The expansion, however, is accompanied by a strong accountability framework for monitoring the exercise of such delegated power.

He went on to note that, on 1 January, the Secretary-General established a dedicated results-based management function in the Department of Management to ensure a strong link between Organization-wide planning and budget documents, the compacts of senior managers, and the work plans of individual staff.  The newly created Business Transformation and Accountability Division is expected to strengthen accountability by guiding and helping managers to implement results‑based management, he added.

The Chair of the Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introducing a related report of that entity, urged the Secretary-General to provide concrete information and examples of improvements resulting from the implementation of results-based management measures, together with details of progress in operationalizing the Business Transformation and Accountability Division.  In addition, the Assembly should ask the Secretary-General to report on progress towards embedding risk ownership and risk management, he said, emphasizing that the Advisory Committee expects the statement of internal control to be fully operational by the first quarter of 2021, as planned and without further delay.

Delegates welcomed the progress made on accountability, but recognized the need for greater efforts.  Switzerland’s representative, also speaking for Liechtenstein, said increased authority must be delegated to managers and staff, who, in turn, must be held accountable for their decisions, performance and conduct.

Echoing that view, the delegate of the United States said that improvements to accountability frameworks reduce risks by helping managers identify areas of concern and providing a road map forward.  “Results-based management is key to maintaining this focus and effective application,” she emphasized.

Delegates also agreed that the newly established Business Transformation and Accountability Division will play an important role in managing and overseeing the quality of the monitoring framework.

An observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed concern about the lack of information on the implementation status of General Assembly resolutions on administrative and budgetary matters, emphasizing that such reporting constitutes part of the accountability system.  She also underscored the necessity of implementing principles and guidelines for appraising performance and managing the recognition of different performance levels approved by the General Assembly.  Agreeing with ACABQ, she requested that the Secretary-General intensify efforts to ensure implementation of the Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Framework.

The European Union’s observer highlighted the need for a shift in the current culture, calling upon the Organization to continue its efforts to prevent and address misconduct.  More specifically, he emphasized that a comprehensive system focused on prevention and accountability in tackling sexual exploitation and abuse is essential.

In other business, the Committee reviewed the report of the Joint Inspection Unit on whistle-blower policies and practices within the United Nations system.  Introducing that document, an inspector with the Unit pointed out that not a single whistle-blower policy across the 28 participating entities fully meets all best practices criteria and that poor handling of cases, fear of retaliation and personal risks contribute to under-reporting.

Organizational leadership must develop and support a culture of accountability and integrity, she said, recommending the adoption of measures by 2020 by legislative bodies to ensure that all policies relating to misconduct and retaliation specify channels and modalities to report and investigate allegations against the executive head and other key functions within the organizations.

A senior programme management officer in the Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination introduced the Secretary‑General’s note transmitting his comments and those of the Board on the Joint Inspection Unit’s report.

The Committee also discussed the budget for the United Nations Monitoring Mechanism for Syria.

At the end of the meeting, the Chair of the Fifth Committee said she was pleased to report that it has completed work on the first item on the agenda of its resumed session, dealing with the Organizational Resilience Management System.  She hoped this development would encourage progress on other items.

Also speaking today was the representative of Syria.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 29 March, to continue its work.

Accountability

PEDRO GUAZO, Director of Finance, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introducing the Secretary-General’s progress report on strengthening the accountability system of the Secretariat under the new management paradigm (documents A/73/688 and Corrigendum.1), outlined the measures that have been undertaken or ongoing as part of reforms related to delegation of authority, results-based management and the establishment of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division.

Since the introduction of a revised framework for delegation of authorities on 1 January, he said numerous authorities that have been held centrally at Headquarters or other centralized offices have now been delegated to entities across the Secretariat, expanding their decision-making power associated with financial matters, administration of staffing, property management and procurement of goods and services.  This delegation has been accompanied by a strong accountability framework for monitoring the exercise of delegated decision-making authority.

He noted that, on 1 January, the Secretary-General established a dedicated results-based management function in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance to ensure that there is a strong linkage between the Organization‑wide planning and budget documents, senior managers’ compacts and individual staff workplans.  The new Business Transformation and Accountability Division is expected to strengthen accountability by guiding and helping managers to implement results-based management.  The report provides an overview of the status of accountability in the Secretariat against the six components of the accountability system.

CIHAN TERZI, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related report (document A/73/800).  Welcoming efforts to improve the clarity of the current progress report, he recommended that the General Assembly reiterate its request for future reports to include more information about Secretariat-wide managerial performance and accountability trends.  Noting the Organization’s new management paradigm, the Assembly should be assured that safeguards are in place to ensure the responsible exercise of delegated authority and stewardship of resources, he said.  The Secretary-General must also provide concrete information and examples of improvements stemming from the implementation of results-based management measures, together with details of progress in operationalizing the Business Transformation and Accountability Division.  In addition, the Assembly should ask the Secretary-General to report on progress towards embedding risk ownership and risk management.  He emphasized that the Advisory Committee expects the statement of internal control to be fully operational by the first quarter of 2021 as planned, without further delays.

Whistle-Blower Policies and Practices

EILEEN CRONIN, Inspector of the Joint Inspection Unit, introduced the oversight body’s report on the review of whistle-blower policies and practices in United Nations system organizations, referred to in the Secretary-General’s related note (document A/73/665).  In recent years, there have been many instances of whistle‑blowers from United Nations system organizations resorting to public disclosure of their cases for a variety of reasons, including a perceived lack of adequate action by their employer organization in response to their initial reporting of misconduct and retaliation.  “These cases point to policies and practices that appear to be falling short of the necessary standards of accountability” adopted by the United Nations entities, she said.

The Unit analysed protection against retaliation policies and other documentation from the 28 participating organizations, and interviewed more than 400 stakeholders, she continued.  Key findings include that not a single whistle‑blower policy fully meets all best practices criteria and that poor handling of cases, fear of retaliation and personal risks contribute to under‑reporting.  Organizational leadership must develop and support a culture of accountability and integrity.  The final report contains 11 recommendations, she said, noting that such proposals include the adoption of measures by 2020 by legislative bodies to ensure that all policies relating to misconduct and retaliation specify channels and modalities to report and investigate allegations against the executive head and other key functions within the organizations.  It is further recommended that legislative bodies request executive heads to ensure the independence of the heads of ethics, oversight, ombudsman and mediator functions.

FEDERICA PIETRACCI, Senior Programme Management Officer, Secretariat of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination, introduced the Secretary-General’s note transmitting his comments and those of the Board on the Joint Inspection Unit’s report (document A/73/665/Add.1).  While the good practices and approaches identified in the report are valuable, specific tailoring will be needed to meet the characteristics and needs of individual organizations, given that the United Nations as a whole has a differentiated system of addressing wrong-doing.  She added that the report could have been enriched by a deeper analysis of the root causes of the challenges involved in ensuring whistle-blower protection.  It could also have given more prominence to the legal and administrative tools that each entity has in place to guarantee justice for staff members.  Implementing the report’s recommendations could be challenging for smaller entities, particularly those with no ethics officer or ombudsman, due to timeline and resource implications.

NADA TARBUSH, observer for the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, welcomed the Secretary-General’s report for offering progress in the context of improving the system of delegating authority, strengthening the implementation of results-based management and the establishment of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division.  However, she raised concerns about the lack of information on the status of implementing General Assembly resolutions on administrative and budgetary matters, emphasizing that such reporting constitutes part of the accountability system.  She also underscored the necessity of implementing principles and guidelines for performance appraisals and managing the recognition of different performance levels approved by the General Assembly.  Agreeing with ACABQ, she recalled General Assembly resolution 72/303, requesting that the Secretary-General intensify efforts to ensure the implementation of the Anti‑Fraud and Anti‑Corruption Framework provisions.  “The implementation of recommendations of oversight bodies is an essential part of the system of accountability,” she said, adding that the submission of an annual progress report to the General Assembly will continue to be necessary in this context.

JAN DE PRETER of the European Union welcomed the Secretary General’s report on measures to strengthen the accountability systems, while expressing support for the establishment of structures and systems that provide the basis for a sound accountability framework.  Improving the delegation of authority system, strengthening the implementation of results-based management and establishing the Business Transformation and Accountability Division contribute towards that end.  While some progress has been made, he encouraged the Secretary-General to accelerate the implementation of those measures.  At the same time, a cultural shift is needed, he said, calling on the Organization to continue its work to prevent and address misconduct.  More specifically, a comprehensive system that focuses on prevention and accountability in tackling sexual exploitation and abuse is essential.  Welcoming a comprehensive review by the Joint Inspection Unit of whistle-blower policies and practices within the United Nations system, he encouraged greater efforts to protect whistle-blowers and prevent retaliation.

FELIX SIEGFRIED WANNER (Switzerland), also speaking for Liechtenstein, endorsed the Secretary-General’s proposals to shift the management paradigm of the United Nations and strengthen the Organization’s accountability system.  Greater authority must be delegated to managers and staff, who, in turn, must be held accountable for their decisions, performance and conduct.  The newly established Business Transformation and Accountability Division will play an important role in managing and overseeing the quality of the monitoring framework.  Another key element is the strengthening of results-based management.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s efforts to uphold ethical standards and integrity within the United Nations system, he called for him to continue to take appropriate measures to protect against retaliation and prevent both sexual harassment and abuse.

ANCA S. DIGIACOMO (United States) expressed support for the Secretary‑General’s effort to strengthen the United Nations system’s accountability framework through enhancing transparency, strengthening oversight and aligning authority with responsibility.  Improvements to accountability frameworks reduce risks by aiding managers in identifying areas of concern and providing a road map towards improvement and prevention.  “Results-based management is key to maintaining this focus and effective application,” she observed.  As such, establishing the Business Transformation and Accountability Division constitutes an important new element of the accountability system and must serve as a key oversight and planning tool across the Secretariat.

Monitoring Mechanism for Syria

Mr. GUAZO introduced the Secretary-General’s report on revised estimates relating to the programme budget for the 2018‑2019 biennium for the United Nations Monitoring Mechanism for the Syrian Arab Republic (document A/73/729).  Noting that the Security Council, through resolution 2449 (2018), extended the Mechanism’s mandate for 12 months until 10 January 2020, he recalled that the General Assembly previously approved $3.8 million for the Mechanism only for the year 2018.  The current report sets out the Mechanism’s requirements for 2019 as $3.0 million net (or $3.3 million gross), he said.  Taking into account the unencumbered balance against approved resources for the Mechanism in 2018, he said an additional appropriation of $2.8 million, net of staff assessment, or $3.1 million gross, is sought under the current programme budget.

Mr. TERZI introduced the related ACABQ report (document A/73/799), noting that the Mechanism is being financed through its unused fund from 2018 and an additional arrangement by the Secretary-General to meet unforeseen and extraordinary expenses.  The Advisory Committee expects that the Secretary-General will provide a detailed explanation on these arrangements.  Given that cross‑border deliveries from Jordan discontinued in 2018, the Advisory Committee considers that a permanent presence of the Mechanism in Amman is no longer merited, he said, recommending the adoption of the Secretary-General’s proposal to abolish nine positions in the duty station and the P-3 Monitoring Officer on 30 June.  ACABQ also recommends a 5 per cent reduction of the budget for official travel due to the Mechanism’s persistent failure to comply with the advance ticket purchase policy.

AMMAR AWAD (Syria), emphasizing his Government’s commitment to cooperate with the United Nations to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance in line with the Organization’s guiding principles, said it would have been better to use the funds mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report to increase humanitarian assistance through international organizations already operating in his country in cooperation with the Government.  He said the Mechanism is incapable of monitoring humanitarian assistance to ensure that it gets to those for whom it is intended.  Such assistance sometimes goes to those such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and others on the Security Council’s sanctions list.  He expressed his Government’s regret that the Secretary-General is disregarding the fact that the corridors mentioned in his report are used by foreign terrorist fighters to enter Syria.  The Secretary-General also rejects the important monitoring role played by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.  Noting his Government’s efforts to oust terrorists from the southern part of the country, he expressed reservations about two paragraphs in the report dealing with the purposes of the Monitoring Mechanism.  As such, Syria rejects the Mechanism, which should be limited to the Organization’s cross-border work, he said, adding that he hopes the Committee will take his Government’s reservations into account.

For information media. Not an official record.