Fréchette unveils UN reforms responding to Volcker panel's criticisms

17 May 2005
Louise Fréchette

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today unveiled a series of reforms undertaken by the United Nations in response to criticisms of UN management from entities appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and from the world body's own staff.

Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today unveiled a series of reforms undertaken by the United Nations in response to criticisms of UN management from entities appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and from the world body's own staff.

"Unprecedented challenges" faced by the UN have shown that the world body must immediately reform those areas that are in the Secretariat's purview and are not dependent on approval from Member States, said detailed background information distributed prior to a press briefing by Ms. Fréchette.

Noting that reform has been on the UN agenda since 1997, it said, "The UN must take real action now where it is in the Secretary-General's authority to do so directly, particularly in the critical areas of management, oversight and accountability."

"We hope that the September Summit will signal a willingness on the part of Member States to tackle the fuller review we are advocating in the report," Ms. Fréchette told reporters, referring to a meeting of world leaders to discuss Mr. Annan's document, "In Larger Freedom," which deals with progress towards achieving a set of socio-economic targets as well as UN change.

The major criticisms have come from the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) looking into the UN's Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq and headed by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. It raised questions about the selection, briefing, oversight and accountability of senior management.

In addition, the UN staff responded somewhat negatively last year to an integrity survey on internal misconduct while Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, the Jordanian Ambassador to the UN, surveyed problems of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeeping staff contributed and disciplined by Member States but under UN supervision.

"It is clear that a more robust approach is needed to ensure that once senior officials are appointed, they are briefed on the broader system of UN rules, regulations, codes of conduct and managerial systems," Ms. Fréchette said in her informational notes.

"The UN is therefore developing a formal induction programme to provide in-depth training in these areas for senior officials of the Secretariat," with the first session scheduled for next month, she added.

The quality and speed of executive-level decision-making was improved by a Senior Management Group, established in 1997, to coordinate policies in the UN System, but that group had become too large for timely decision-making, Ms. Fréchette said.

Two new senior management committees, meeting for the first time this month and weekly or monthly thereafter, would ensure clear action-oriented outcomes with better definitions of responsibilities and improved time lines, she said.

"Perhaps the most obvious shortcomings identified by the Volcker Inquiry and other crises are in the area of oversight and accountability. The current 'control' systems for monitoring management performance and preventing fraud and corruption are insufficient and must be significantly enhanced," she said.

The independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which does internal audits, would be strengthened, Ms. Fréchette said, while a new Oversight Committee was being established and would meet this summer in response to the IIC and the General Assembly, and a new Management Performance Board (MPB) would meet this summer.

UN Controller Warren Sach was leading a working group to draw on existing best practices against fraud and corruption, including a model recently developed by the World Bank, she said. The UN Department of Management was also preparing recommendations to expand the scope of the financial disclosures prospective senior officials would have to make, even when they were to be employed for short terms or under special conditions.

After an expert recommended by the non-governmental organization (NGO), Transparency International, reviewed best practices, Mr. Annan issued "a robust new whistleblower policy" for staff members to comment on before he formally promulgates it, she said.

On the problem of eliminating sexual abuse and exploitation from peacekeeping missions, the General Assembly was considering a request for additional resources to strengthen the UN's capacity to investigate accusations and to create code of conduct enforcement units in all peacekeeping missions. The Headquarters unit would be launched on 1 July, she said.

The IIC criticized procurement in the early years of the Oil-for Food programme, with Under-Secretary-General for Management Joseph Connor heading procurement from before the start of the programme in 1996 until he retired in January 2003, but Ms. Fréchette said a major overhaul of the UN's procurement process was undertaken during that time, starting in the mid-1990s.

The UN Department of Management had commissioned a new review to make sure the current system met the highest global standards and that report was expected by the end of next month, she said.

 

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