Strong Accountability System Must Be Upheld for Organization’s Effective Management Reform, Delegates Tell Fifth Committee
Delegates in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) meeting today urged the Secretariat to uphold its commitment to a strong accountability system, a core component of the Organization’s effective management reform.
The delegate of Cuba, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing nations and China, said accountability is the vehicle by which delegates determine whether General Assembly decisions are respected and fully implemented. The Group will review the accountability system, he said, particularly watching how reforms should contribute to improving accountability mechanisms. The Group also looks forward to reviewing the upcoming Joint Inspection Unit review of accountability frameworks in the United Nations system organizations, which the agency aims to complete in 2023, he added.
Switzerland’s representative, speaking also for Liechtenstein, said a strong and effective accountability system starts with senior managers, who must encourage others to follow by setting an example. A robust system must involve all personnel, who need appropriate tools to integrate a culture of accountability at all levels within the Organization.
Mexico’s delegate said accountability is essential for the success of management reform. Therefore, the Organization’s accountability instruments should be strengthened as a crucial part of its culture. Internal and external oversight mechanisms also play an important role in producing a more efficient Organization that can deliver on its mandates. He stressed that the Organization’s credibility and impact depends on independent oversight and adequate risk management frameworks to combat fraud and corruption.
Christophe Monier, Director, Business Transformation and Accountability Division, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the issue, which lays out the Secretary-General’s continued focus on making accountability a cornerstone of the Organization’s culture.
Abdallah Bachar Bong, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report, noting that the Secretary-General’s and Advisory Committee’s tenth and eleventh reports on the accountability system are no longer on the Assembly agenda. He stressed that Assembly policy guidance is crucial to encourage the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts to promote accountability in the Organization.
The Committee today also considered the Standards of Accommodation for Air Travel, an agenda item under the 2023 programme budget. Martha Helena Lopez, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, which provides information on standards of accommodation for air travel for the two-year period from July 2020 to June 2022.
Taking the floor again, Mr. Bong introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report.
Review of Efficiency — Accountability
CHRISTOPHE MONIER, Director, Business Transformation and Accountability Division, Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, introduced the Secretary-General’s “Twelfth progress report on accountability: strengthening accountability in the United Nations Secretariat” (document A/77/692). The report lays out the Secretary-General’s continued focus on making accountability a cornerstone of the Organization’s culture. In alignment with its data strategy, the Secretariat is leveraging data to help its decision-making and enhance transparency.
The Management Dashboard, available to all Secretariat entities, has been expanded with additional data sets, data sources and indicators, he continued. Newly developed data models in human resources are being leveraged to enable the pilot release of the new United Nations Secretariat Workforce portal for Member States, giving delegates greater insight into the United Nations workforce composition. The report reflects the Secretariat’s steady progress in implementing key initiatives that reinforce accountability as a central pillar of the new management paradigm. The Secretariat remains fully committed to working with all stakeholders for continuous improvement in 2023 and beyond, he said.
ABDALLAH BACHAR BONG, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report (document A/77/743). Noting that the Secretary-General’s and Advisory Committee’s tenth and eleventh reports on the accountability system are no longer on the General Assembly agenda, he underlined the importance of Assembly policy guidance to encourage the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts to promote accountability in the Organization.
Regarding the performance management system, he underlined the importance of a credible performance rating system, adding that he trusts that comparable information by entity, based on staff performance evaluation ratings, will be included in future relevant reports. He also noted that the Advisory Committee is backing additional efforts to ensure a link between high-level deliverables outlined by legislative bodies and the individual staff workplans.
Regarding the delegation of authority, he went on to say that there is a need to define individual accountability, as well as instances of co-responsibility, between Headquarters and field locations, particularly during transition periods. This means, for example, during the establishment and liquidation of field missions and prior to the arrival, and after the departure, of the Head of mission. In this regard, the Assembly should ask the Secretary-General to provide concrete proposals on delineating and sharing delegation of authority between headquarters and field locations during periods of mission transition.
The Advisory Committee’s report contains its full recommendations, including on agreements with donors, implementing partners and oversight bodies, he said. To that end, he said that ACABQ recommends that the Assembly note the progress made and the plans to continue to strengthen the Secretariat’s accountability system.
RICHARD TUR (Cuba), speaking for the “Group of 77” developing nations and China, said the Group looks forward to the upcoming Joint Inspection Unit review of accountability frameworks in the United Nations system organizations, which the agency aims to complete in 2023. He emphasized that accountability is a central pillar of effective and efficient management and needs strong commitment throughout the Secretariat. Further, accountability is the means by which delegates determine whether Assembly decisions are respected and fully implemented. The Group will review the accountability system, he said, particularly watching how reforms should contribute to improving the accountability mechanism. While recognizing the efforts made towards a more robust system, he urged the Secretariat to incorporate more practical steps of institutional and personal accountability into future progress reports. In light of current financial constraints, the Secretary-General must continue to strengthen internal controls in the accountability system by constantly monitoring effective expenditures in order to fully implement agreed upon mandates and programmes.
He went on to say that the Group looks forward to receiving more information about the United Nations Values and Behaviours Framework, launched in 2021 across the Secretariat to help shift the Organizational culture, and the accountability handbook. He expressed hope that additional details will be included in the next Secretariat report. He also asked the Secretary-General to intensify his efforts to adequately implement the Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Framework, adding he trusted that the Handbook on Fraud and Corruption Awareness, issued in 2022, will be made available in all six official languages within existing resources. Noting that the implementation of recommendations of oversight bodies is an essential part of the accountability system, he underlined the need to hold programme managers accountable for the non-implementation of recommendations. He also noted that he trusted all future reports on accountability will have more information on this facet. He also stressed that future reports on the accountability system, including by agencies, funds and programs, should use the definition of accountability laid out in Assembly resolution 64/259, which plays a central role in all reform efforts, as well as all organizational, administrative and operational changes.
GINA ANDREA SCHMIED (Switzerland), speaking also for Liechtenstein, voiced her commitment to the Secretary-General’s management reform as well as her support for all efforts to its related elements, including the strengthening of accountability and transparency. A strong and effective accountability system starts at the level of senior management, which must set an example and encourage others to follow. It must also involve all personnel, who must be given the appropriate tools to integrate a culture of accountability at all levels within the Organization. In that light, she expressed her strong support for a solid system that delegates authority and is sustained by a functioning accountability system.
She also welcomed the improvements to the delegation of authority portal and the revised tools that will be introduced later in the year. For the continued strengthening of accountability and the implementation of reform, efforts must continue to identify remaining challenges and address them more closely, she stressed. As such problems can only be addressed by knowing where they lie, transparency is essential and data serves as a strategic tool for discerning trends. Accountability is a task that all share, both the Secretariat and Member States, she emphasized, reiterating the need to ensure the timely publication of documents in order for States to fulfil their share of this responsibility.
JOSÉ DE JESÚS CISNEROS CHÁVEZ (Mexico) said accountability is essential if management reform is to be successful. The Organization’s accountability instruments should be strengthened as a crucial part of its culture. Internal and external oversight mechanisms also play an important role in producing a more efficient Organization that can deliver on its mandates, he said, stressing that the Organization’s credibility and impact depends on independent oversight and adequate risk management frameworks to combat fraud and corruption. Efficient codes of conduct and discipline that promote transparency are necessary. These various oversight bodies must use recommendations that promote consistency among the Secretariat’s various accountability initiatives. The independence of the internal and external oversight bodies must be guaranteed as they apply recommendations in a timely manner. Follow-up mechanisms that are dynamic and flexible are important, with ongoing monitoring, he said, adding that the effective use of staff must adhere to ethical rules and norms.
Programme Budget for 2023 — Standards of Accommodation for Air Travel
MARTHA HELENA LOPEZ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources, introduced the Secretary-General’s report “Standards of accommodation for air travel” (document A/77/629), which provides information on standards of accommodation for air travel for the two-year period from July 2020 to June 2022. It includes information on the travel of delegations, travel of the Assembly President, exceptions authorized by the Secretary-General, updated information on air travel activities and use of frequent flyer miles. In Sections 7 and 8, the Secretary-General makes two proposals to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of travel management.
The first proposal relates to the lump-sum option, she continued. In its resolution 67/254 A, the Assembly decided that as an interim measure, the travel-related lump-sum payment shall be 70 per cent, rather than 75 per cent, of the least restrictive economy class. In accordance with the International Civil Service Commission’s decision to encourage United Nations common system organizations to provide lump-sum options for entitlement travel at the rate of 75 per cent, the Secretary-General proposes to discontinue the remaining part of the interim measure. It aims to revert to the normal rate of 75 per cent to determine the lump-sum payment for entitlement travel.
The second set of proposals relates to a single threshold for the use of business class by staff members below the level of Assistant Secretary-General and their eligible family members, she said. In that regard, the Secretary-General proposes to establish that the standard air travel accommodation will be business class if the total flight time is more than 9.5 hours. The proposal will apply to air travel for official business, appointment, change of duty station and separation.
The proposed single threshold aims to simplify and streamline the travel approval process, generate better understanding and transparency of the travel policy, and increase opportunities to automate travel processes through increased use of online booking tools, she said.
Taking the floor again, Mr. BONG introduced the Advisory Committee’s eponymous report (document A/77/7/Add.41) and said that while it supported a 9.5 hour single threshold limit in principle, more time may be necessary to establish a “new normal” comparator travel volume benchmark. He reiterated the Advisory Committee’s view that determining the number of hours of travel time to be applied with a single threshold is a policy matter for the Assembly’s decision.
Regarding the travel-related lump-sum option, he said the decision also is a policy matter of the Assembly’s decision. He outlined information for the Secretary-General to include in his next report on the issue. The Advisory Committee recognizes the limitations of online booking tools under the current dual threshold system and that a transition to a single threshold for business class may expand acceptance of self-ticketing. In that regard, ACABQ recommends that the Assembly ask the Secretary-General to review the use of online booking, including how ticket price options can be transparent to the traveller through an online booking price controls mechanism. This could also ensure that self-ticketed bookings adhere to the Organization’s travel policy.
Mr. TUR took the floor again for the Group of 77 and encouraged the Secretary-General to intensify his efforts to minimize the use of exceptions when the standard of accommodation of air travel is applied. He also voiced support for efforts to make the administrative process for the official travel of eminent and prominent persons more effective. Disappointed with the low compliance rate of the advance ticket purchase policy, he urged the Secretariat to redouble its efforts in this area. The low compliance rate is particularly regrettable when travel can be better planned, such as in entitlement travel.
Further, managers must be held accountable for the judicious use of travel resources, he continued, noting the feedback the Secretary-General received on lessons learned from COVID-19-related travel restrictions and air travel management. He encouraged the Secretariat to study this information in detail and determine how it could more cost effectively use air travel resources, while upholding the quality of work. It is very important that the procurement process for all air travel management services contracts is fully compliant with general procurement principles, as set out in financial regulation 5.12. The Group will seek detailed information, during informal consultations, on the specific measures the Secretariat is taking, he said. Regarding the Secretary-General’s proposal to revert to setting the travel-related lump-sum payment at 75 per cent, he also said the Group will aim to ensure resources allocated to air travel are used effectively.