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Oversight: Evaluation, Audit, Inspection, Investigation and Compliance Monitoring

Samuel M. Witten, Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration
U.S. Delegation Statement to the 59th Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee
Geneva, Switzerland
October 9, 2008

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  An essential component of UNHCR’s Change Management Process is enhancing the organization’s oversight and evaluation functions. They are an absolutely indispensable part of UNHCR’s protection function and mandate. Stronger evaluation, audit, inspection, investigation and compliance monitoring are key to UNHCR’s goal of becoming a more effective organization. All of these tasks require, once again, the right people in the right jobs. This brings to mind lesson eight of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s lessons on leadership, which states that an “Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.” An unstated, but implicit, goal of the reform efforts is to have a more effective organization responsive to its beneficiaries that keeps attracting the very best people.

We appreciate the Report from the Inspector General’s office outlining recent activities undertaken by the IGO and are pleased to see that there is a 93% compliance rate from inspections undertaken in the field and at headquarters. We encourage the respective units and offices to finalize and submit the remaining reports to the IGO to ensure 100% compliance. Of note in the report, we welcome the initiative of the Deputy High Commissioner to improve and harmonize UNHCR’s standards for working and living conditions in the field, for both international staff and national staff. We look forward to more detailed information on this issue in future inspections reports.

The United States also welcomes UNHCR’s active participation in the UN-NGO Task Force on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and is pleased to see that SEA cases involving beneficiaries are given high priority by the IGO. While it is a requirement that all staff and implementing partners sign a Code of Conduct with regard to exploitation and abuse, we urge UNHCR to establish transparent and clear complaints and reporting mechanisms that are easily accessible by staff and beneficiaries alike. We also urge UNHCR to publish its inspections reports promptly while considering publishing periodic field updates on progress of implementations. We look forward to the outcome of the review of the role, functions and modus operandi of the IGO which was expected to be concluded by the third quarter of this year.

Mr. Chairman, we also thank the Board of Auditors for their latest report. We encourage UNHCR to fully implement the recommendations contained therein as soon as possible in order to ensure that the organization is fully accountable, not only to its donors but also to its beneficiaries. We cannot emphasize this point enough: accountability is a necessary ingredient for effective protection.

UNHCR should continue efforts to improve its indicators and global strategic objectives so that they more accurately measure achievements. We are concerned that the BOA Report notes that despite UNHCR efforts made in developing performance indicators, the results of numerous projects could not be quantified or measured.

Regarding the Report on Internal Audit, the United States is also concerned that inadequate internal control systems were again highlighted this year, particularly given that the underlying cause emanated from the attitude, insufficient awareness, and lack of action by management and staff. Serious attention, starting at the top, needs to be paid in addressing these issues, especially amid the planned decentralization and regionalization process.

We note that gender issues are not well addressed in recent audit, oversight, or human resources reports. We believe that UNHCR could continue to improve focus on gender equality, given the already existing policy and several in-house experts on gender issues. We would be interested in an update from UNHCR's Gender Task Force in the coming year. In doing so, we encourage any update to be forward looking and action-oriented. We want to ensure that there is buy-in by staff and senior management as well as enhanced accountability for the work of the Gender Task Force.

We urge UNHCR to continue to take NGO input and concerns into account as it moves forward with its Change Management Process. We would like to acknowledge the continued improvements in UNHCR’s working relationship with NGO partners regarding the management of sub-project agreements, especially at the field level. These improvements include more timely signing of agreements and more rational resource allocation for activities. We anticipate that the right kind of regionalization/decentralization will improve this relationship. Linked to these efforts, UNHCR needs to ensure standardization and consistency in its application of rules and regulations. Given the continued emphasis on and the need to strengthen partnerships, we note the marked increase in disbursements to implementing partners and hope that this means increasing confidence by UNHCR in their work. As UNHCR partners increase, there is also a need to ensure that accountability mechanisms are also strengthened.

We are heartened to hear that UNHCR is now in the process of finalizing its accountability framework, which we hope will lay out its long- and short-term goals for increasing accountability and include concrete plans to achieve them. We look forward to continued consultations and sharing of information regarding this important framework in the near future.

We commend the work undertaken by UNHCR’s Policy Development and Evaluation unit with regards to refugee protection and solutions; return and reintegration of displaced populations; and UNHCR’s role in the Cluster Approach. We are particularly interested in how elements in the PDES papers on UNHCR’s role in return and reintegration and on the Cluster Approach fit into the redesigned budget structure as well as into larger UN reform efforts. We encourage UNHCR to continue to strengthen and integrate its policy development and evaluation functions and ensure effective dissemination and utilization of evaluation findings and recommendations. We suggest that UNHCR periodically share with EXCOM members ways in which it is concretely following up on recommendations made by PDES. All of these efforts will continue to promote the principles of transparency and accountability within UNHCR.

Although much has been accomplished, much more remains to be done. Our goal is a UNHCR that is more accountable to the populations of concern that it serves. For this to happen, sustained support for UNHCR, continued donor and NGO engagement and oversight, and active participation by refugees and others of concern are all essential prerequisites. Accountability is not an option; it is the foundation of any successful undertaking. Organizations like UNHCR – with the ability to strengthen and enhance accountability – should not hesitate to make it a permanent job requirement and a standard core competency for every position.

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