15 March 2021
Seventy-fifth Session, 10th Meeting (PM)

Economic Impact of COVID-19 Demonstrates Vital Need for Stronger Accountability System in Secretariat, Speakers Say as Fifth Committee Reviews Ongoing Management Reforms

The global COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economic health of Member States is driving home the critical importance of a robust culture of accountability within the United Nations, delegates said today as the resumed session of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) took up the latest reports on the subject against the backdrop of the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts to reform the Organization.

Boubacar Diallo (Guinea), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that a strong accountability system is more important than ever, given that all Member States are suffering great fiscal restraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The reports before the Committee today, while important, will be dwarfed in significance by those expected in 2022.  “In the face of the current financial constraints, we believe the Secretary-General must continue strengthening internal controls in the accountability system through the constant monitoring of effective expenditures in order to fully implement agreed mandates and programmes,” he said.

He expressed appreciation for the work now under way to implement a system of delegation of authority, adding that integrating and aligning that system with the Umoja enterprise management system is an indispensable part of the wider system of checks and balances on the Secretariat’s work.  He acknowledged that the pandemic has delayed the establishment of an anti-fraud task force and, in turn, the preparation of an anti-fraud and anti-corruption guidebook.  He added that while the concept of enterprise risk management originated in the private sector, its implementation within the United Nations must be adapted for international public service purposes.

Katarina Sulaj, European Union, speaking via video-teleconference, commended the Secretary-General for the progress made so far towards achieving a new management paradigm at the United Nations, with the new framework for the delegation of authority proving to be critical as the Organization navigates the COVID-19 pandemic.  “The member States of the European Union continue to emphasize the need for a cultural shift within the Organization,” she said.  She welcomed the Secretary-General’s commitment to address and prevent misconduct, including sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse, adding that United Nations staff should feel safe to report any wrongdoing, with protection against retaliation.  During the Committee’s resumed session, the European Union will pay particular attention to the Joint Inspection Unit’s recommendations on enterprise risk management, she said, adding that it looks forward to the results of the ongoing review of the accountability framework by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Unit.

Elisabeth Millard (United States), also speaking via video-teleconference, said that accountability is a critical pillar of the United Nations and vital to all reform efforts.  In that spirit, she noted with appreciation several recent innovations and strategies, including a Budget Results Dashboard and an updated risk register.  Such tools enable staff and Member States to track, monitor and measure the Organization’s work, thus sustaining and enriching a culture of accountability.  Going forward, the United States expects the Business Transformation and Accountability Division in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance to provide effective management functions related to accountability.  She underscored Umoja’s key role in providing transparency and accountability and encouraged the Secretariat to fully leverage and mainstream the benefits that Umoja can bring.  “It is essential for the sustainability of an accountable culture to maintain the momentum of innovation and reform,” she stated.

Guo Zhiqi (China), associating herself with the Group of 77, said that her country is the only major economy to achieve economic growth in 2020, yet it is striving for fiscal restraint in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  “We save every drop of water, every kilowatt hour of electricity and every piece of paper,” she said, adding that all Member States are facing similar fiscal pressure.  Given the circumstances, the United Nations must work with Member States to establish a culture of thrift and diligence, she said, stressing:  “We will demand results when resources are used and seek accountability in case of failure.”  Resources should go towards priority areas, such as the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.  In addition, the Secretariat should pursue fiscal discipline through comprehensive budgetary performance and internal controls as well as improved supervision and management of extra-budgetary resources, she said.

Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled “Tenth progress report on accountability:  strengthening accountability in the United Nations Secretariat” (document A/75/686), saying that as a new management paradigm takes root in the Secretariat, efforts to strengthen the accountability system are following a structured approach, with the focus on results rather than activities and deliverables.  The Secretariat is also leveraging real-time data to improve organizational performance, an approach that leads to greater transparency.  By way of example, she pointed to a new integrated project management solution as part of Umoja Extension 2 that makes it possible to form a clear link between resources and results.

“Decentralization of decision-making embodied in the new system of delegation is being well supported,” she said, noting how the approach is being applied to the monitoring of discretionary decisions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic in line with Secretariat guidelines.  The first annual statement of internal control for all entities is currently being prepared, she said, adding that the document will aim to assure Member States that Secretariat-wide mandated activities are being implemented effectively and efficiently.  She went on to say that the Secretariat is fully committed to working with all stakeholders to further improve accountability in the United Nations this year and beyond.

Conrod Hunte, Vice-Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced its related report (document A/75/804), saying that in future, the Secretary-General should focus his reports on the practical aspects of institutional and personal accountability.  Those reports should detail the outcomes of the processes and measures intended to promote accountability, including quantitative and qualitative results, and associated costs.  He trusted that the strengthening of an indicator related to implementation of oversight body recommendations will result in more efforts by senior managers to implement those bodies’ recommendations.  The Assembly should ask the Secretary-General to provide information on how various activities come together to form a sustainable and holistic accountability system and to clarify how implementing results-based management and budgeting — and their potential alignment across the three related sources of funding — can do the same. 

Given that an evaluation by OIOS will be concluded in June, the Advisory Committee looks forward to the results, he said, including on the role and functioning of the Business Transformation and Accountability Division.  It also expects that the findings will be presented in the Secretary-General’s eleventh progress report.  He concluded by recalling resolution 74/271, which requests the Secretary-General to ensure the inclusion of a managerial indicator in the senior managers’ compacts, stressing that, although a high rate of timely submission has now been reported, this “does not reflect the reality” of the often-delayed submission of documents by the Secretariat to the Advisory Committee.

Carlos Amorín (Uruguay), Committee Chair, said at the start of today’s meeting that the Committee is on track to complete its resumed session on time.  However, he urged delegations to cooperate and show as much flexibility as possible during ongoing negotiations on human resources management, a key agenda item on which the Committee has taken no decision in recent years.

Also before the Committee today was the report of the Joint Inspection Unit titled “Enterprise risk management:  approaches and uses in United Nations system organizations” (documents A/75/718 and JIU/REP/2020/5) as well as the comments of the Secretary-General and those of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination thereon (document A/75/718/Add.1), with related introductory statements made available on the Committee’s website.

The Fifth Committee will meet again at a time and date to be announced in the Journal.

For information media. Not an official record.