Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/GA/1752
           23 November 2000
     Member States Commend Oversight Office Activities in Fifth Committee
     

     NEW YORK, 22 November (UN Headquarters) -- One of the most important indicators of an oversight office’s success was the degree to which other bodies and programme managers embraced its suggestions, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) was told this morning as it concluded its general discussion of the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services. 

    Continuing, the representative of the United States said that the 73 per cent implementation rate achieved by the Oversight Office for its audit recommendations translated into considerable improvements within the Organization and measurable savings in virtually every aspect of the United Nations operations.  While credit must be given to the Oversight Office’s staff, it was also important to give recognition to programme managers and other staff for using the recommendations to improve their work.  Since the Office had expertise in planning and conducting many types of evaluations, it should continue to play a key role in developing standard evaluation methodologies and training staff throughout the United Nations, he said.

    [Established in 1994, the Office provides a comprehensive range of internal oversight services, in particular for strengthening internal controls and improving management performance.]

    Stressing the importance of audits of peacekeeping operations in view of their growing scope, the representative of Cuba said that the work of the Oversight Office should be strengthened in that respect.  However, she believed that in the light of the general conservative trends of the budget, financing of the Office should be provided on the basis of a formula similar to that applied to other departments. 

    Regarding its investigation functions, she said that the Investigations Section was very important, and its workload had exceeded expectations.  However, given the importance and sensitivity of the work of the Section, concrete regulations should be issued to provide the Section with a regulatory framework.  

    The representative of Bangladesh said that, as the United Nations became more of a field organization, changes were needed in the operations of thee Oversight Office itself.  One of the functions of the Office was to provide management support.  In enhancing management, he supported determining and implementing best practices across the system.

    The representative of Libya addressed efforts to improve the oversight of funds and resources for peacekeeping, saying that such measures as surprise inspections and mechanisms to receive complaints might help prevent fraud or misconduct in the field.

    Also this morning, the Committee took note with appreciation of the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the investigation into the misdirection into an individual account at Chase Bank of Member States’ contributions to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Trust Fund account.

    Responding to comments and questions regarding the activities of the Oversight Office was the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, Dileep Nair.  

    Speaking on other matters this morning were the representatives of Nigeria and Cuba. The Committee’s Chairman, Gert Rosenthal (Guatemala), and its Secretary, Joseph Acakpo-Satchivi, also spoke. 

     The Committee will continue its work at 10 a.m. on Monday, 27 November, when the Secretary-General is expected to make a statement regarding the present phase I of the Brahimi Report.

    Committee Work Programme

     As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning, it was expected to conclude its general discussion of the reports on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and on the misdirection of contributions intended for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (for background information, see Press Release GA/AB/3412 of 21 November).

    Statements

     DONALD S. HAYS (United States) said that last year’s decision to reaffirm the mandate of the Oversight Office was well justified.  The establishment of the Office had been one of the most important reform measures passed by the General Assembly in recent history.  The report before the Committee was filled with examples of how the Office had helped improve the functioning of the Organization, saving millions of dollars, improving operations, identifying fraud and correcting instances of non-compliance.  

     He had always been impressed with the high quality and easy readability of the Oversight Office reports, he continued, and the latest annual report continued that tradition.  Other offices in the United Nations could greatly enhance their reports by using similar approaches.  One of the most important indicators of an Oversight Office’s success was the degree to which other offices and programme managers embraced its suggestions.  He was impressed by the 73 per cent implementation rate achieved for its audit recommendations.  That translated into an improved Organization, more efficient activities and measurable savings in virtually every aspect of the United Nations operations.  While it seemed natural to give credit to the Oversight Office staff for that, it was also important to give recognition to programme managers and other United Nations staff members for using those recommendations as a means for improving their work.

     Programme managers and their staff were at the front line of efforts to make activities more efficient and relevant, he said.  While oversight bodies often pointed out areas for strengthening  -- in many cases, after the fact –- it was really up to those who did the work to step back regularly and take a look at what they did.  The revised regulations and rules for programme planning, budgeting and evaluation, in fact, required that.  Since the Oversight Office had expertise in planning and conducting many types of evaluations, it should continue to play a key role in developing standard evaluation methodologies and training staff throughout the United Nations.  Of course, resources for the Office should be in line with its needs.  Since field activities were large and frequently at high risk for management problems, the Oversight Office auditors and investigators must be able to review them regularly.  He also supported the need for the Oversight Office to provide the full range of oversight services to the new activities, as well as the many separately administered funds and programmes of the United Nations.

     He was impressed by the reach of the Office’s work, he continued.  It appeared that the United Nations implementation of its global vehicle procurement project had been successful in standardizing the peacekeeping vehicle fleet and saving substantial amounts of procurement dollars for various missions.  The first purchases under that project had resulted in $6.2 million in savings.  That was good news, and he applauded those in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and elsewhere for their efforts.  However, the project had not been carried out properly in several areas, thus costing the Organization $1.2 million more than necessary.  

     Humanitarian assistance activities in the field were as vulnerable to mismanagement and non-compliance as peacekeeping missions, he said.  He wanted to know what changes the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had implemented to make sure that unsuccessful projects were promptly closed down and unspent funds were recovered, so they could be used on more deserving activities.  A large and growing responsibility had been placed in the Office of the Iraq Programme to oversee implementation of the “oil-for-food” programme and a variety of humanitarian activities.  He commended the Oversight Office for expanding its oversight coverage of those activities and coordinating the audits of the several organizations involved.  He was concerned, however, to read about poor contracting practices and project implementation, which had led to millions in added costs.

     The activities of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had also been cited for a variety of management shortcomings, including an almost total lack of management controls of several field offices, he said.  He wanted to know what had been done to strengthen management while minimizing delays in critical processes.  He was also disappointed that the implementation of the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) was not efficient or streamlined, and he asked how the Secretariat would pursue changes in that respect.  He also had questions about the measures to strengthen controls and pursue accountability in connection with cases of travel fraud at the Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It was also alarming to learn of the Oversight Office findings concerning the wasteful practices at the United Nations publishing office in Geneva.  As that situation was completely unacceptable, a full report was needed on the efforts to restructure that unit and hold its managers accountable.  He would also like the Secretariat to examine how the unit might be phased out.  

     He expressed satisfaction with the report on the investigation function of the Oversight Office.  As for the report on the United Nations funds and programmes, he said that extra time would be needed to survey the many organizations in order to develop a more comprehensive study on the issue.  In the meanwhile, he was pleased to read about the steady improvements in oversight of the funds and programmes.

     EVA SILOT BRAVO (Cuba) said that the annual report was quite illustrative and comprehensive, providing important information on the work of the Office and its impact on the activities of the United Nations.  She saw that the introduction to the report contained reference to General Assembly resolution 54/244, which reaffirmed previous resolution 48/218 B.  The mandate of the Office was supplemented by both resolutions.  

    The Office intended to submit a set of measures to improve oversight and to determine the impact of its activities, she continued.  Awaiting those measures with great interest, she also wanted to know more about their objectives.  Would they involve changes to the United Nations rules and regulations and existing procedures, and what did the Office intend to do?  She welcomed the fact that the work of the Office had led to recovery of some losses to the Organization.  However, there should be a clear distinction between what the Office did to recover costs and what it did to achieve savings.  Those two types of activities may seem similar, but it was necessary to make a distinction between them.

    She also saw much information about peacekeeping activities, she said, and the findings in a number of cases were very interesting.  That was particularly true regarding the cases of violations revealed by the Office.  She felt that audits of peacekeeping activities were very important, particularly in view of the increase in their scope.  The work of the Office should be strengthened in that respect.  One of the priorities of the work of the Office related to human resources, and a number of the planned activities in that area were of interest.  She wanted to know about the new priority issues in implementation of the decisions of the Millennium Summit and of the observations of the Brahimi Report. 

    She noted emphasis on the comprehensive work of the Office and the need for additional resources, she said.  While understanding the needs, she felt that in the light of the general conservative trends of the budget, a formula similar to that applied to other departments should be used in respect of the Oversight Office.  The report also contained a description of the impact of the work of the Office for programme delivery, and it was particularly important to further develop its activities in evaluating the efficiency of programme delivery.  Despite important findings of the Office, its findings were not always fully used.  She hoped that during this session, the problems related to the implementation of previous recommendations would be resolved.  She also awaited an updated report from the Office. 

    Despite the legal opinion provided in 1994, the issue was still pending concerning the scope of the work of the Office, she said.  Assembly resolution 48/281 B provided a context for what was expected from the Office.  As for investigation functions, the Investigations Section was very important, and its workload exceeded expectations.  However, given the importance and sensitivity of the work of the Section, concrete regulations should be issued to provide the functions of the Sections with a regulatory framework.  

     RIAZ HAMIDULLAH(Bangladesh)said that the report was correct to realize that, as the United Nations became more of a field organization, changes were needed in the operations of the Oversight Office itself.  One of the functions of the Office was to provide management support.  In enhancing management, he supported determining and implementing best practices across the system.  That would help the Oversight Office to replicate small but valuable steps taken in various areas.  He also asked how the discreet investigations and fund controls mentioned in the report would be undertaken.

     THOMAS REPASCH (United States) commented on the investigation of misdirection of funds to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) trust fund account.  He noted with interest the fact that the misdirection occurred because of only one mistaken digit.  Even though Chase Bank had restored the funds to UNEP in full, he wondered if the word accommodation was an accurate description of their activity; it seemed like the bank had either not been willing or able to be responsive to the problem at first.  He also wondered about compliance measures undertaken in Nairobi, and what had been done to correct some of the problems that had been created.  There were some measures recommended by Chase, and he wondered if the United Nations had implemented those or had found other ways to deal with the problem in the future.  He commended the Oversight Office on its investigation of the matter.  Several contributors, he noted, had also helped, by alerting the United Nations that their contributions had not been recorded in a timely manner.

     Responding to comments and questions from the floor, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services DILEEP NAIR said that information about follow-up to recommendations would be collected by the Department of Management and reported to Member States.  The Office of Internal Oversight Services took it upon itself to monitor the progress of implementation of recommendations, and all measures taken had to be reported to the Office.  It was also necessary to develop standard evaluation methodologies, and the Office intended to continue that work in the coming months.  He was cognizant of the fact that, in many ways, Assembly resolution 54/244 supplemented resolution 48/218 B and developed its provisions.  

    Turning to the question of the difference between savings and recovery of costs, he said that “recovery” was a straightforward term.  However, apart from recovery of funds lost through mismanagement and financial violations, it was also necessary to improve management to avoid waste.  Thus, some recommendations of the Office would result in savings, which would be appropriately recorded in the reports before the Committee.  

    As to follow-up on the recommendations made during the Millennium Summit and in the Brahimi Report, he said that the Office was involved in their implementation, in particular where delegation of authority was sought.  A system of checks and balances should be in place when authority was delegated, especially in the field.  The Office was being consulted on that matter.  The Office was also aware that it had enjoyed some budgetary increases in the past, but some activities, including those of the Investigations Section, required additional funds.  

    As for future reports, they would be taken up in the forthcoming informal consultations, he said.  There was sensitivity regarding the scope of the mandate of the Office vis à vis the funds and programmes.  One possibility under consideration involved a way the Office could help those funds and programmes without encroaching on them.  That was the case with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where oversight activities were being carried out in a proper manner.  It was necessary to see if that model could be followed for other funds and programmes.  

    Responding to a question about the rules for the Investigations Section, he said that it followed the existing rules and regulations in its work.  Whether any additional explanatory regulations should be promulgated was up to Member States.  Another mandate of the Oversight Office was to provide management consulting, which had always been in place, but was exercised judiciously.  It was again a question of resources.  That area could still bear fruit for improving the management of programmes.  

    On investigations, he said that there was no fund or programme other than the World Food Programme (WFP) which had internal mechanisms to carry out that function.  In general, cases of suspected misconduct or abuse of power were referred to the Oversight Office for investigation, but it mainly played an advisory role.  Whether funds and programmes should reimburse the Office for its investigative efforts was under consideration.  

    Turning to the report on UNEP contributions, he said that the case was complicated. The recommendations on the matter had been accepted by all concerned.  The fact that Chase had refunded the money testified to the fact that it admitted its mistake, for UNEP’s name had been provided with the transfers.  If put in place, a proposed system of checks and balances should help to avoid similar situations in the future.  He would report further to Member States on future developments.

    KHALIFA O. ALATRASH (Libya) commended the constructive efforts being made by the Oversight Office and said that such efforts should be intensified.  The Office should be provided with the necessary resources to carry out its tasks.  He noted, however, that only a percentage of the Office’s recommendations had actually been implemented in the past three years.  He hoped that they would be fully implemented in future.  If they were not, he asked what recourses were possible.  In addition, he felt that Committees for the oversight of funds and resources for peacekeeping were necessary to prevent fraud and abuse, and asked if there were also proactive plans on preventing such abuse in the field, for example, surprise inspections, or mechanisms to receive complaints.  Such measures might help prevent fraud or misconduct in the future.

    Under-Secretary-General NAIR said he welcomed additional measures that could be imposed if the Office’s recommendations were not implemented.  At present, he merely reported the percentage of implementation.  One possibility that could encourage wider implementation would be to separate out the recommendations that had most impact so that Member States could take an active interest in those, and deeper inquiries could be pursued in those areas.  Another suggestion he had made was that funding could be dependent on the implementation of oversight recommendations. 

    Concerning proactive prevention of abuse in field operations, he said that there were, at present, resident auditors and investigators stationed on the ground for extended periods.  They were able to establish  procedures and controls for particular operations and bring problems to the attention of the Office as quickly as possible.  That mechanism worked quite well as long as adequate staffing was available.  Surprise checks were also a possibility and something that would be looked into.

    The Committee then took note with appreciation of the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the investigation into the misdirection of Member States’ contributions to the UNEP trust fund account, contained in document A/55/353.

    Other Matters

     HASSAN MOHAMMED HASSAN (Nigeria) presented a request by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China in connection with the beginning of the month of Ramadan, which would start on Monday, according to the Islamic calendar.  A break would be needed for some delegates from 4:15 to 5:15 in the afternoon.

     GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala), Chairman of the Committee, said that the Bureau would take that into account.

     JOSEPH ACAKPO-SATCHIVI, Secretary of the Committee, said that arrangements were under way by Conference Services to facilitate the fast, which would begin on Monday.  Every afternoon, there would be a suspension of the meetings at 4:15.  The meetings would resume at 5:30 and continue through 6:30.  Evening meetings would start at 7 p.m.  

     Ms. SILOT BRAVO (Cuba) said that a statement had been made yesterday in informal consultations by the representative of Canada, who referred to a number of delegations, including her own, saying that they should cooperate more seriously in the attempts to finish the Committee’s work on time.  He also suggested that the Group of 77 should hold fewer meetings.  Her delegation wanted to stress that respect for every Member State was required in the work of the Committee.  She asked the representative of Canada to abide by the rules and by decisions of such groups as the Group of 77.  Her delegation intended to cooperate closely in the work of the Committee.

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