20 October 2005

Regional Commissions' Implementation of Oversight Recommendations Taken up by Budget Committee

NEW YORK, 19 October (UN Headquarters) -- The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning reviewed a Secretary-General's report that looked into how the United Nations' five regional commissions had implemented the recommendations of a 2001-2003 audit by the Organization's primary oversight body.

Introducing the report (document A/60/378), Kazi Rahman, Acting Chief of the Regional Commissions' New York Office, noted that the executive secretaries of the regional commissions had cooperated closely with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) during its audit and undertook follow-up action on all recommendations.  They transmitted recommendations needing decisions by intergovernmental bodies to the commissions at their recent sessions, or brought them to the attention of the respective Member States.  The recommendations addressed such areas as self-evaluation, the annual report to the Economic and Social Council, and fund-raising.

As the United Nations primary oversight body, the OIOS has a unique mandate that combines a range of duties from monitoring to inspection to internal audit.  The Organization's five regional commissions, which stretch from headquarters in New York City to Addis Ababa in eastern Africa to Bangkok in Asia, play a dual role in the Organization.  They serve as regional outposts of the United Nations and as important parts of the institutional landscape in their respective regions.

The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of the European Union, told delegates she welcomed the specific nature of the recommendations in the report and their ability to help the regional economic commissions reorganize and refocus their work.  However, she noted that, regarding some recommendations, there was little information on the concrete steps taken to address the issues that the OIOS had suggested needed attention and there was no assessment of the impact on programme delivery.

For example, with respect to improving fund-raising, the Union read that focal points for fund-raising had been introduced, but there was little detail on how fund-raising activities could be made more effective.  She said that one of the more significant recommendations in the report focused on a reassessment of intergovernmental machinery to streamline processes and avoid duplication.  The Union had the impression that the recommendation was not followed up, in certain cases.

The representative of Japan welcomed the report, but wondered whether the scant information actually helped Member States view the overall functioning of the regional commissions.  On the issue of fund-raising, she said each commission had a division, or focal point, for fund-raising activities, but the Member States received little information on whether the focal points were functioning as they should.  On the topic of publications, she said she wanted to be sure the commissions avoided duplication when issuing their publications.

As he updated the Committee on the latest developments, Mr. Rahman said that the latest meeting of the commissions' chiefs of programme planning had been held last month.  The meeting decided that issues related to the follow-up on the recommendations of oversight bodies should be taken up as a standing item to develop a common approach and ensure harmonized reporting to the global bodies.  Two task forces had been established:  one under the leadership of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) on common policy on evaluation, and the other under the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on the establishment of a mechanism to better manage publication activity.  Their work was expected to be concluded next year.

With regard to a recommendation on exchanging best practices on the use of regional advisers, ESCAP's experience had been noted as good practice among the commissions.  That included the adoption of results-based work plans.  New guidelines on regional advisory services prepared this year by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) clearly emphasized a results-based approach, and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) was updating its own guidelines.  Responding to another recommendation, most commissions had clearly assigned focal points for fund-raising.  He said the issue of fund-raising in the regional commissions would be also under active consideration during the executive secretaries' meeting at Headquarters this week.

Report Summary

The Secretary-General's report on implementation of recommendations of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) following its 2001-2003 audit of the Organization's regional commissions (document A/60/378), indicates that during its audit, the OIOS found that while the commissions had established adequate financial and administrative controls, they had not developed consistent and effective methods of self-evaluation.  The Executive Secretaries were urged to adopt a common policy for conducting self-evaluations, to include these findings in their regular reporting, and to regularly exchange best practices.  Among other things, the Office recommended as a top priority that the New York office of the regional commissions trim and reorganize its annual report to highlight shared concerns and any specific proposals to improve cooperation with related United Nations entities.

According to the document before the Committee, the Executive Secretaries undertook follow-up action on all the recommendations and transmitted recommendations requiring decisions by intergovernmental bodies to the commissions, or brought them to the attention of respective Member States.  The commissions conduct regular self-evaluations in accordance with programme performance reporting guidelines provided by the OIOS.  Self-evaluation issues are reviewed at the meetings of chiefs of programme planning, to which the OIOS and the Budget Division are invited.  Self-evaluation findings for 2004-2005 are being incorporated into regular reporting under the results-based budgeting framework.

While covering various issues of concern and combining three separate reports mandated by the Economic and Social Council, the report presented to that body in 2005 was more succinct and substantially shorter than the previous one, the Secretary-General states.  As for the recommendation relating to the commissions' interaction with the Economic and Social Council, the Secretary-General states that in November 2004, the Council decided to hold a dialogue with the executive secretaries immediately after the high-level segment of its session.  The first such dialogue was held on 5 July 2005.  Also, to improve overall coherence and facilitate exchange of best practices, meetings of the commissions' executive secretaries and chiefs of programme planning frequently review intergovernmental structures of their respective commissions, including their alignment with regional priorities.

Among individual actions by various commissions, the report lists a comprehensive review of the state of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), which has been undertaken by external evaluators engaged by the Commission.  Following a 2001 comprehensive review of the conference, programme and secretariat structures by ESCAP, the Commission adopted a new programme and conference structure, which were later endorsed by the Assembly in December 2002.  At its session in May 2005, the Commission decided to further amend its subsidiary structure as from 2006.

Further, according to the report, the 2004 review by the ECA included an assessment of its intergovernmental machinery.  At its May 2004 session, the Commission also recommended an expanded role for Member States in setting priorities.  In preparing the 2006-2007 budget proposal, the recommendations of intergovernmental machinery were reviewed and incorporated into the work programme.  The ESCWA is currently conducting an overall assessment of existing intergovernmental bodies.  By a recent resolution, ECLAC decided to maintain the current intergovernmental structure and the existing pattern of meetings, and approved its calendar of conferences for 2004-2006.

Also included in the report are the commissions' actions in connection with the recommendations relating to the establishment of focal points for fund-raising, the use of regional advisers, strengthening of the statistics functions and assessment of publications within the commissions.

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